Jakob von Uexküll’s “Theory of Meaning”

Excerpted on Larval Subjects:

An angry dog barks at me on a country road.  in order to get rid of him, I grab a paving stone and chase the attacker away with a skillful throw.  In this case, nobody who observed what happened and picked up the stone afterward would doubt that this was the same object, ‘stone,’ which initially lay in the street and was then thrown at the dog.

Neither the shape, nor the weight, nor the other physical and chemical properties of the stone have changed.  its color, its hardness, its crystal formations have all stayed the same– and yet it has undergone a fundamental transformation:  it has changed its meaning.  As long as the stone was integrated into the country road, it served as a support for the hiker’s foot.  Its meaning was in its participation in the function of the path.  It had, we could say, a “path tone.”  That changed fundamentally when I picked up the stone in order to throw it at the dog.  The stone became a thrown projectile– a new meaning was impressed upon it.  It received a “throwing tone.”

The stone, which lies as a relationless object in the hand of the observer, becomes a carrier of meaning as soon as it enters into a relationship with a subject.  (A Foray Into the Worlds of Animals and Humans, 140)