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Kalevi Kull “On the logic of animal umwelten”

Kull, Kalevi 2017. On the logic of animal umwelten: The animal subjective present, or zoosemiotics of choice and learning. In: Marrone, Gianfranco (ed.). Zoosemiotica 2.0: forme e politiche dell’animalità. Palermo: Museo Pasqualino, 143–156.

Interpretation, in all these cases, has some obligatory features. The main one of these is that it assumes the existence of options. This is because interpretation as a semiotic process differs from physical (non-interpretative) interaction by the choices it can make. Interpretation assumes a certain arbitrariness, a contingency, since it only works if there are options, which means freedom. Neither determinism nor a fixed probability distribution provides the freedom necessary for enabling interpretation. (145)

Options can only be plural and simultaneous. A single possibility is not an option, by definition. For the same reason, the options cannot be just sequential – then they would be single, at each moment. (145)

An important consequence we arrive at here is that the existence of the specious present is coextensive with semiosis. This means that semiosis is what happens in the present and only in the present. In other terms, representamen, object, and interpretant occur simultaneously. Semiosis takes place in the Now. (145)

Interpretation in the situation of presented options always includes an aspect of novelty and unpredictability. This is because the situation of true choice as a part of interpretation assumes the unavailability or unaccessibility of algorithm that would apply for the given situation. “The present in our common experience always contains a part of radical novelty, a genuinely new part”, observes Jacques Coursil (2015, p. 232). This is evidently a universal characteristic of Now in all living beings. (145)

Knowledge is acquired by learning7. Learning, from a fundamental semiotic point of view, is the creating and establishing of new sign relations, or modifying the existing ones. Different types of sign relations can be products
of different mechanisms of learning. (146)

3.1. Imprinting, and icon
The simplest form of learning would be the one that just makes a sign connection with something one. Among the options, one is chosen. We use for this type the name imprinting. In case of imprinting, the temporal coincidence of anticipation and option is required. Following the Peircean tradition, the simplest sign relation can be called iconic. An iconic sign is then a sign which refers to the existence of something. Iconic semiosis is the process of recognition, and it can be described as a reference to something that fits into the recognition window8. Iconic relations imply classification. The recognition process constructs similarity as based on indistinguishability in the context of the recognition window. Thus that is not the mind-independent similarity, but the similarity as mediated and constructed via the operation of the recognition window, i.e., the mediation-created similarity. (147)

3.2. Conditioning, and index
In the case of conditioning as a form of learning, the coexistence of two icons provides a condition for creating a link – a new relation – between them. The icons have to be temporally close enough, in order for the integration to be possible. The link itself may become stronger as a result of repetition. This means that the link – the index – represents correlation between icons. An index is a relation between two signs – a sign which refers to another sign: i.e., a sign which refers to correlation (correlatedness) between icons. An index certainly does not require a causal relation between the objects (as is sometimes stated) – correlation is enough. There exist many forms of conditioning. These include classical (Pavlovian) conditioning, operant conditioning, etc. However, all these can be seen as constructing indexes. (147)

3.3. Imitating, and emon
In the case of imitation as a form of learning, the link or sign relation that should be made is more complex than in the case of conditioning. It requires a connection between a certain behaviour perceived in two ways and the same behaviour created. Imitation requires the linking of proprioceptive and exteroceptive recogniton of a particular action. On the one hand, due to proprioception, or feedback from the organs of action, a link between perception of behaviour and the action that produces this behaviour in the same organism is commonly established by the functional cycle. Via conditioning, the proprioceptive recognition with exteroceptive recognition, a link between e.g. seeing one’s behaviour and making (producing) it can be developed. For instance – an animal can see a movement of what is recognised as a leg. Without yet distinguishing between one’s own and another’s leg while seeing it, there is thus a link between seeing a movement of another’s leg and operating one’s own leg – thus imitation can happen.
The sign relation produced by imitation is more complex than the index and less complex than the symbol. We term this type of sign as emon. An emon is a sign which refers to the identity between signs. […] The word emon as proposed here for the name of the sign type can be seen as a derivation from the Greek ημων (ἡμῶν), meaning ‘company’. (148)

The ability for imitation is what is necessary for social learning (e.g., learning certain behaviours from parents or other specimens of the community). Accordingly the availability of emonic signs may be limited to vertebrate animals. (149)

3.4. Conventioning, and symbol
Establishing a connection on the basis of convention (e.g., naming) can also be a version of learning – though a more complex type than the earlier three. It assumes a capacity for freely combining and recombining different signs. The symbol is a relation that is based on the capacity of intentional (re) combination. This enables the creation of connections that may not depend on any specific features the objects combined possess. Hence the symbolic relation can be detached from similarities or correlations or causal relations the objects may have. Thus one can say that the symbol is the sign that refers to a difference between signs. This allows the interpreter to learn that particular sign is the sign of something else, i.e. to have a concept of the sign as such (see Deely 2005; Rattasepp, Kull 2016). These features of symbols are precisely those that enable an agent to freely create sentences as combinations of signs, and produce language, as it is common in humans. (149)

4.1. Vegetative umwelten
The simplest imprints are evidently single qualities. We can identify these as qualia, or qualisigns. An umwelt that does not include anything else than qualisigns, an umwelt that consists merely of separate acts of recognition-action, cannot represent a direction or movement, since there is nothing that would connect the qualisigns to a compound image. If there is no sign-to-sign connectedness due to the absence of associative learning, then this is an umwelt in which space cannot be constructed. We call such umwelt vegetative. This is because the type of learning that creates it may not require even a nervous system. A vegetative umwelt is an umwelt without subjective space or subjective
time (however there can temporarily be a subjective Now). Being as simple as this, it nevertheless can be responsible for collective phenomena like the organisation of swarms or structures based on family resemblance (see Kull 2016). (150)

4.2. Animal (and spatial) umwelten
The availability of indexes in addition to icons (as a result of associative learning) makes a huge difference in the representation of the world. A particularly impressive faculty concerns the construction of space. At first, it may not resemble much of the spatial cognition we humans are used to. The construction of minimal space may start from connecting spots either in rows or networks, but already this, as linked to the acts of moving the body, allows the organism to search the way back to the place already visited, on the condition of course that the difference between the spots as perceived is detailed enough in comparison to the heterogeneity of the habitat. Due to the capacity for associative learning, it makes sense to develop multicellular perceptual organs and to make use of sensory and motor categorizations. The functional cycles supplied to associations can enable an agent to establish relations of angle and distance and thus to build cognitive maps. (150)

4.3. Social (and emotional) umwelten
The operation of imitating provides a powerful mechanism of amplification. This can work at various levels of behaviour. For instance, reciprocal imitation enables the emergence of play. The capacity for imitation is also the basis for social learning and accordingly for social inheritance. As a consequence, group differences in behavioural rules can appear that may remind one the cultural or subcultural differences in many ways. Another significant feature that seems to be connected to this level of umwelt is the existence of emotions. Emotions provide the level of categorisation that delimits or channels the choices in establishing new relations simultaneously for all modes. Emotions as linking systems also organise the whole syndrome of behaviour. Moreover, together with emotions appears the faculty of empathy that considerably enhances the ways of cooperation. As said before, these phenomena are rather widespread among vertebrate animals. (151)

4.4. Cultural (and lingual and narrative) umwelten
The neotenic change that was accompanied by overcoming the symbolic threshold in early humans turned in the organisation of the umwelt via the means of language. The symbolic semiosis itself is evidently responsible for the capacity of counting and (re)ordering (manipulating) various things following a given example. A crucial change accompanied by symbolic reference is the origin of the operation of negation which can exclude the third. The oppositions available at the presymbolic levels do not exclude the third. The introduction of negation enables the development of syllogistic logic in lingual animals. A particularly important consequence of symbolic reference is the combinative reordering of images which results with the constructive representations of past and future. Together with the construction of narratives (earlier levels of semiosis being incapable of this) it creates the possibility for imaginable travelling in time, or chronesthesia (this concept has been introduced by Endel Tulving – see Tulving 2002). Accordingly, a true semiotics of time begins here, with symbolic semiosis. Time travel (or daydreaming) masks much of the external perception otherwise available in the animal umwelt. This often results in a certain decrease in attentiveness towards the current surrounding, causing to some extent alienation from life in the present. (151)

A distinct feature that the language faculty gives origin for is the capacity for true violence (see Kull 2011). Will and the ability for mindreading give humans the capacity to make intentionally bad decisions that may hurt someone. Thus, true violence – torture – is a result of language. This is radically different from animal predator-prey  relationships which cannot be considered as violent because they cannot include an intention to torture (Weber 2016). However, it is not only the world of suffering that enlarges – all the emotional world, including the modes of joy, become more elaborated and more diverse (see also Deacon 2006). (152)

Semiosis occurs in the Now. The second semiotic rule states that the movement from iconic to indexical to emonic to symbolic semiosis is taking place in connection with the widening of the internal present (the specious present). The advancement in the complexity of semiosis is dependent upon the extent of subjective present. Or, in other words, intellectual advancement is related to the expansion of the Now. (152)

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