Thursday, 2 July 2015

Do Lorikeets See What Humans See?

No — in two senses: one material, one semiotic.

1.  Birds have 4 types of colour receptors, whereas humans only have three.  So their visual systems detect a wider range of the light frequencies, at the very least.

2.  If semiotic systems construe experience as meaning, then lorikeet visual experience is construed through their protolinguistic social semiotic system, whereas human visual experience is construed through language.

One way to think of raw visual experience — before it becomes construed as meaning — is as a partially animated pattern of (nameless) shapes and colours — as a sort of Jackson Pollock painting in which some of the coloured shapes can move around.

Detecting change is key to survival, and for humans, language provides clause transitivity as the key means of construing visible change as meaning.  It enables visual experience — the partially animated Jackson Pollock painting — to be mentally construed as processes, their participants and circumstances.  Humans see things that delimited by their names, doing things that also have names, in places that have names.*

For lorikeets, on the other hand, the partially animated visual patterns are construed as protolinguistic meaning, in terms of the microfunctions — personal, instrumental, regulatory and interactional — in ways that have proved successful for their ancestors — rather than ours.


* This is consistent with Oliver Sacks' account of his patient Virgil who was blind until an operation gave him sight as an adult, after which he had to start making sense of the swirling colours he saw, by reference to language.

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