Fertilisation: The Unification of the Immaterial Interpersonal (Social) Reality and the Biological Reality Constituting Personhood in Human Beings

A model is a scientifically derived product of our brain and only an approximation of the phenomenon observed by humans in real time. Since models or images influence the way we deal with the phenomena they represent in everyday life, the importance of the models becomes evident as does our responsibility for the models. This is of vital relevance for the phenomenon of human beings and the "need for a new model of man" in medicine. 1

As is well known, every human being in real time comes into existence as the result of interpersonal interactions within everyday life, i.e. the lived-in world of humans, triggering biological processes which bring forth an incarnate organism. The biological processes are represented by the current model of reproduction basically being valid for all mammals and vertebrates including homo sapiens. However, the tacit assumption, that the quality of the lived-in worlds of humans and mammals are as similar as the biological processes are, turned out to be erroneous and distorts our image of man by reducing humans to almost exclusively biological products.

Lived-in worlds of animals and humans

Lived-in worlds of animals or of humans have not been a subject of science until the beginning of the 20th century, when the biologist Jakob von Uexküll showed on the basis of empirical physiological studies, that a living organism integrates itself into a complex environment and becomes a part of it by actively creating its individual phenomenal world (“niche”) by the perception and transmission of signals onto which a meaning is marked (sign-processes) according to its significance for the living organism.2 These sign related cause-and-effect-relations between the sensorial capacities and the effective capacities of the organism and its surroundings correspond to and sustain the living organism as the centre of these sign-processes within its environment. Since the sensorial and effective capacities differ from species to species, each species lives and moves in its own species-specific world, though physically living among other species within the same surroundings.3

As the worlds of mammals and vertebrates are constituted in that species-specific way as well, their “outer world” of objects in this respect is quite similar to the one of homo sapiens.

However, the decisive difference between homo sapiens and other mammals rests on the ability of man to create from the second year of life onward, an additional “inner world” of his own in his imagination4, and to build up and maintain interpersonal5 micro-and macro-social realities by symbolic (“animal symbolicum6) interpersonal (social) interactions, i.e. a lived-in world or humans or everyday life7, thus improving his own survival by generating stability and predictability.

Fertilisation: a social event

The unique bi-personal (micro-social) reality or “world” of a couple is built up by code-adaptation from the two individual realities of two partners within the context of their everyday life. This common reality is mainly characterized by the individuality of the involved persons, i.e. the unique history of their relations, their unique living conditions, their biographies, their local and social origins, their individual ways of having been socialised by “relevant others” etc. etc. Thus the common reality of a couple is made up by the characteristics of the individual and common realities of the parents and their ancestors. In contrast to the genes, the interpersonally constituted realities are bequeathed by interpersonal (social) actions. The fact of creating and inheriting interpersonal or social realities in humans has been well known throughout time and was utilized in arranged (dynastic) marriages.8

From that point of view a pedigree doesn’t represent simply biological or genetic realities but also social “worlds”. Therefore fertile couples represent an area of growth in the present as their unique common reality is in a perpetual change either by external influences originating in their macro-social reality (everyday life) or induced by individual actions and interpersonal interactions. The common reality of a couple is being solidified by specific social events (e.g. sexual behaviour, engagement, marriage). From a (phenomenological) sociological point of view parents continuously determine the potential starting conditions for their offspring by their actions. Vice versa the arrival of a baby as a biological and a social event most deeply impresses the common reality of a couple.9 (Fig.1).

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Fig.1: Human pedigree as a model of the interpersonal (social) and the biological reality of a family. Areas of potential growth (1, 2, 3) may be described without any doubt by social characteristics alone. If fertilisation occurs a unique incarnate organism is constituted biologically. From a social point of view (social interpretant or code) each embryo (1-3) represents a semaphore to which his/her (immaterial) social characteristics (the subject’s social character) are “attached”. Thus every human being is to be seen as a twofold reality or a sign (= semaphore and meaning). See text for further details.  

At the moment of birth unique parts of that current common reality of the parental couple are “attached” to the baby by the parents on behalf of the human society. These immaterial interpersonal (social) characteristics constitute the unique social character (essence, “soul”) of that specific subject and will be contained in the subject’s first sentence of the curriculum vitae. It will also contribute to the individual (subjective) reality of the newcomer. This, however, already happens during fertilisation. As soon as the organism is constituted biologically, i.e. the body of the embryo, then the body of the foetus, of the newborn etc. will represent the subject’s unique social character lifelong. Thus the organism acts as a semaphore or a sign standing for the particular history and the situation of the parents (as historical persons) immediately before fertilisation occurred.

From the 20th week of pregnancy onward in real time parts of the social reality are transferred to the subject’s offspring as the auditory system is maturing. Then the unborn engraves the signals of “relevant others” (e.g. the mother’s voice and language) into his/her organism, thus developing his/her own individual reality for life (“every human being is a world of its own”) (Fig. 2).

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Fig.2: The constitution of the twofold reality of the embryo in humans. The constitution of a bi-personal (common) reality by heterosexual partners within their everyday life (lived-in world) biologically bringing forth an incarnate organism by fertilisation. Parts of the parental social reality are “attached” to the embryo acting as a semaphore. From the 20th week of pregnancy onward the progressive exposure of the foetus occurs to his/her parent’s common reality by the maturation of the auditory system and imprinting by “relevant others”. See text for further details.

Fertilisation turns out to be not only an event of fundamental biological importance, but also of fundamental social relevance as every human being is ranged into an interpersonally constituted social reality as a unique historical subject (homo socius); only by practical reasons this action is performed officially by the responsible authorities after birth.

The interpersonal aspects of fertilisation, however, are no matter of consequences for biologists, as well as sociologists are not interested in the aspects of natural sciences, e.g. of genetics or embryonic development. Thus different scientific versions bring about the fragmentation into various scientific disciplines and thus the estrangement and distortion of the phenomenon of human beings and of human life. No wonder, that natural scientists are definitely unable to define personhood and all efforts to define it according to special biological or physiological abilities of the human foetus are doomed to failure.

Sociologists, however, realize the gradual development of the unique social character or reality of every human being, as may have become evident from the view presented here: first the immaterial meaning of the interpersonal reality constituting the unique social character of every human being depending from his/her interpersonal origin; secondly the actual input of the real time reality of the family via the auditory system and then, thirdly, the interpersonal interactions within human’s everyday life developing the personality life long.

The need of two scientific models

But without a scientific model which has been representing the interpersonal (social) quality of the humans’ lived-in world, the image of man in science could be nothing else but the actual model of reproduction in mammals for nearly three hundred years. Until now the decisive difference between the lived-in worlds of humans and the species-specific worlds of animals could be described only by the everyday knowledge of casuistic interpersonal situations. Now human’s everyday life may be represented regularly by a sophisticated scientific model, which has been elaborated on by phenomenological sociologists over the past decades. 1011 This model makes it possible to contribute to a more comprehensive and naturalistic description of the gradual emergence of the incarnate human embryo in real time. The scientific model of the construction of social realities (worlds) and of everyday life in humans and the current biological model of reproduction represent different but complementary realities or qualities of the phenomenon of human beings (similarly the wave- and the particle model represent different qualities of the phenomenon of light) act contrary to the reduction and distortion of the phenomenon of human beings.

The complementary character of both realities in humans was anticipated by the famous philosopher Immanuel Kant two hundred years ago. He distinguished between "objects" and "persons" attributing a mere “price” to animals and plants and “dignity” to rational beings, e.g. humans.12

Towards a more comprehensive and naturalistic scientific model of man

Two models representing different scientific realities stated in different scientific languages or sign systems, however, imply a lack of communicability and lead to the fragmentation of the phenomenon of man (the same is true for the model of reproduction and the everyday knowledge about interpersonal relations in everyday life) and its  estrangement thereby. This effect can be encountered at least to some extent (e.g. as parts of the facts are lost) by translating both scientific languages into everyday language as a common denominator.

In order to supply the need for a more comprehensive and more naturalistic scientific model of man, however, the interpersonal (social) and the biological model have to be integrated into a larger reality by means of a general system theory of an interdisciplinary field of science which studies the nature of complex natural, social and scientific systems. 13  This would provide a formal interdisciplinary scientific theory of interacting elements (subsystems) and semiotics, the study of signs and symbols, which in turn would provide a common denominator for various sign-systems (codes) or realities. 14  By integrating both models into a more comprehensive scientific model of man and of human life we may act against the fragmentation of the phenomenon of human life into various scientific disciplines and its estrangement thereby. Human life may herewith be represented as a never-ending flow of signs through different realities (elements or sign systems) oscillating between interpersonal potentiality and individuality, and finally, creating all individual human beings and thus, the history of humankind.15 We thus may contribute to a “sustained reflection” on the “question of man”, which is “essential for a correct understanding of current cultural processes”.16



1 G. L. Engel, The need for a new medical model: a challenge for biomedicine. Science 196, 129 (1977). 

2 J. Uexküll von, Umwelt und Innenwelt der Tiere. Berlin, 1909 and Theoretische Biologie. Berlin, 1928A.

3 Rüting T, History and significance of Jakob von Uexküll and of his institute in Hamburg. Accessed March 6, 2008, at http://www.ut.ee/SOSE/sss/ruting32.pdf

4 Piaget J, Inhelder B, Mental Imagery in the Child: Jean Piaget: Selected Works: "Mental Imagery in the Child" (1971) Vol VIII. 1 ed. New York, U.S.A.: Reprint Routledge, 1998.

5 G. J. McCall, The organizational life cycle of relationships. Handbook of Personal Relationships, S. Duck, Ed. (Wiley & Sons, Chichester, 1988), pp. 467-484.

6 E. Cassirer, Essay on Man. Yale University Press; Reprint (June1992) ISBN-10: 0300000340).

7 P. L. Berger, T. Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality (Doubleday, New York, 1966).

8 Hansert A.: Familien- und Personengeschichte im Zeitalter der Biotechnologie. Archiv für Familiengeschichts-forschung 3, 2002, 203-210. – ders.: Welcher Prinz wird König? Die Habsburger und das universelle Problem des Generationswechsels. Eine Deutung aus historisch-soziologischer Sicht. Petersberg, 1998

9 Lenz K.: Soziologie der Zweierbeziehung: Eine Einführung. Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag 1998

10 Schütz A.: Der sinnhafte Aufbau der sozialen Welt. Eine Einleitung in die verstehende Soziologie, 2. Aufl., Frankfurt/Main, 1930

11 Schütz A., Th. Luckmann: Strukturen der Lebenswelt. UVK Verlagsgesellschaft mbH, Konstanz, 2003

12 Kant I. Metaphysik der Sitten. Frankfurt/M: Suhrkamp; 1997 available online at: http://www.ikp.uni-bonn.de/Kant/aa06/280.html.

13 von Bertalanffy L, General System Theory. Foundations, Development, Applications. Rev. Edition. New York, U.S.A.: Braziller, 1968 General System Theory (Braziller, New York, 1968).  

14 M. Krampen, Models of semiosis. In: Handbuch Semiotik: Ein Handbuch zu den zeichentheoretischen Grund-lagen von Natur und Kultur. Hrsg.: Posner R., K. Robering, T.A. Sebeok. De Gruyter, Berlin, New York, 1997 

15 Schmid-Tannwald I, Huber J, Human life: an endless semiosis through different human sign-systems. Gatherings in Biosemiotics 6, Salzburg, Austria, 5-9 July 2006. Accessed March 6, 2008, at http://www.biosemiotics2006.org/media/pdf/pdf94.pdf

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