Scientific thought as we know it today, is based upon the assumption of an objective, external world. This conviction is supported by a rationale that calls upon mechanical laws of causal efficacy and determinism. Fundamentally, the correspondence between the hypotheses and their predictions through experimental research build the empirical success of Science. Nature, however, does not conform to the conditions required by a classical thermodynamic theory in which a physical state irreversibly evolves from its most probable, uniform, inert and unchangeable macroscopical precursor. The reductionist approach applied to ecology has shown limitations within its own domains of excellence. The homeostatic balances directed by determinism are often accompanied by unforeseeable instabilities where the dissipation of energy becomes the source of new macroscopic structures (May 1974, 1976, 1986, Kauffman 1993, Prigogine and Stengers 1984).
There is presently considerable interest in understanding the complexity of ecosystems (Merry 1995, Cilliers 1998, Bradbury et al. 2000, Manson 2001). Many disciplines have an interest and a contribution to make, but barriers between disciplines are a major limiting factor for the development of an integrated problemsolving science (Graham and Dayton 2002) with the capacity for a higher ethical profile (Haber 2002). However, the separation between social, economic, and environmental sciences is a matter of fact, and progress in developing suitable interdisciplinary appears to be a requirement for the advancement of Science. A rich theoretical framework developed during the past few decades (General System Theory by von Bertalanffy 1969, autopoietic organization by Maturana and Varela 1980, zoosemiotic by Sebeok 1968, bio-semiotic by Hoffmeyer 1997, eco-semiotic by Kull 1998a, b, and Noth 1998) is setting the ground for the development of new approaches to overcome the existing limitation.
The need for operational tools to fill the gap between empirical and theoretical sciences operating in the environmental scenario has led to a redefining of the notion of landscape. The landscape is no longer a self-standing physical entity described and interpreted by direct and remote sensing techniques. The landscape is now considered as a mainly human-related entity composed of many processes that are
A. Farina, Ecology, Cognition and Landscape, Landscape Series 11, 103
DOI 10.1007/978-90-481-3138-9_8, © Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010
ultimately detected by our senses, thus existing only in our mind (Farina 2000). Such a change from an absolute system of reference to a cognitive referential has represented an important contribution for acquiring new knowledge of the environmental context (Wu and Hobbs 2002). Cognition is a state of knowledge of the surroundings and each organism has this capacity, even organisms without an explicit nervous system (Maturana and Varela 1980, Capra 1996, Hoffmeyer 2008). In this chapter I extend further the role of cognition in order to establish a bridge between evolutionary biology and landscape ecology. By introducing the "eco-field" paradigm I aim to present a conceptual framework for the assessment and interpretation of the biocomplexity of the environment, the "real world."
This vision creates a species-specific space (landscape) in which processes and patterns are perceived differently according to the species. In this way I dismiss the hypothesis of a landscape that is commonly shared and perceived.
In order to advance in this direction it is necessary to integrate ecological principles with the foundations of cognition, semiotic, and autopoiesis theories. Cognition is the capacity of every organism to interact with the surroundings, and for many scientists cognition is equal to life. I agree with this vision. Every living organism has a cognitive capacity, and in vertebrates, especially in man, this capacity is particularly developed and sophisticated.
Cognition can be addressed from different points of view and becomes an interest for ethologists as well as for semioticians, cybernetists, and scientists of complexity.
An extraordinary contribution was made at the beginning of the past century by Jacob von Uexkull (1992 (1934), 1982 (1940)). This scientist elaborated a theory of meaning, from which I will extract the parts most useful in understanding my hypothesis of the eco-field. I intend for "field" to refer to the space of a specific domain. Remember that space, in this context, is a synonym of landscape, and that domain is the necessary space to include all the relationships and integrations for a certain function or process.
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