The Role of Image Schemas and Superior Psychic Faculties in Zoosemiosis

Biosemiotics 7 (3):405-427 (2014)
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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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