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The Role of Image Schemas and Superior Psychic Faculties in Zoosemiosis

Abstract

Image schemas are mental constructs central to human cognitive psychology. The neurobiological grounding of these structures has been suggested by experimental research both in non-human primates (Rizzolatti and Craighero 2004; Umiltá et al. 2001) and lower animals (Knudsen 2002, 1998). However, their applicability as concrete cognitive products has not been explored yet in zoosemiotics. This study shows that image schemas are highly instrumental to making sense of the impersonations of two animals featured in biology research studies and wildlife documentary films: the mimic octopus (Thaumoctopus mimicus) and the Gibb’s sea spider crab (Pisa armata). In analysing the movements and postures of these animals, it is argued that image schemas underlie recurring patterns of animal bodily experience and response, which ties image-schematic structures to non-human intersubjectivity. In line with the pluralistic view of zoosemiotics (e.g. Maran, Martinelli and Turovski 2011), this paper takes an intermediary position in the continuity–discontinuity debate regarding communication in humans and animals. In this regard, the complexity of the creative behavioural models of the animals examined leaves the door open for the existence of sophisticated mental life in non-human species.

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Notes

  1. These film clips are part of the supplementary data of the research study conducted by Norman, Finn, and Tregenza (2001). This work has been published by the Royal Society’s biological research journal Proceedings B (see References for full details).

  2. This way of swimming is atypical of octopuses, which normally advance across the sea well over the seafloor, or simply, walk on it (see http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/video/7906/octopus-movement).

  3. In cognitive psychology and linguistics, a gestalt is a whole whose constituents are more easily understood as a holistic structure than as separate individual elements.

  4. The warning lionfish mimicry model of the mimic octopus has also been found in other Indo-Malayan long-armed octopus, the Wunderpus photogenicus n. gen. and sp. (cf. Hochberg, Norman, and Finn 2006).

  5. Landscape should be understood here as envisaged by the theory of landscape ecology (e.g. Farina and Pieretti 2014). According to this theory, a landscape is not only a geographical entity, but also a cognitive medium, i.e. a semiotic context used by organisms to locate resources and interact with intra- and interspecific individuals.

  6. As Barbieri (2013: 39) highlights, perceptions are distinct from sensations. A sensation is what comes from the senses, and has a specific physiological effect (colour, sound, smell, tickle, and so on). A perception is what the brain decides to do with the information from the senses, according to its own set of processing rules.

  7. This is the website of documentary filmmaker Rubén Casas Oché, who specialises in the filming of aquatic wildlife and marine environments. He took part in the filming of the documentary film Marenostrum after dark, where the crab Pisa Armata is featured. The documentary film is a Chello Multicanal and New Atlantis production, and is free available by clicking on the link Marenostrum after dark on the home page. The whole sequence of the Gibb’s sea spider can be seen from minute 15:27 to 15:48.

  8. The behaviour of Pisa armata provides evidence that one of the most fundamental properties of cognition is its power to predict and anticipate events not only in humans, but also in animals (Trevarthen 2012: 8).

  9. Conceptual metaphor, an integral and essential part of human thought processes, consists of understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another (Lakoff and Johnson 1980: 5). The original and most prolific model of figurative thinking is Conceptual Metaphor Theory (Lakoff and Johnson 1980, 1999; Lakoff 1987, 1993). According to this model, people relate two domains of experience, which are stable cognitive patterns, by means of cross-domain mappings that give rise to conceptual metaphors.

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Correspondence to José Manuel Ureña Gómez-Moreno.

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This research was carried out within the framework of the projects RECORD (FFI2011-22397) and VARIMED (FFI2011-23120), both funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation.

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Gómez-Moreno, J.M.U. The Role of Image Schemas and Superior Psychic Faculties in Zoosemiosis. Biosemiotics 7, 405–427 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12304-014-9200-5

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Keywords

  • Compound image schemas
  • Impersonation
  • Interpretive brain
  • Superior psychic faculties