Our signs systems as interpretations: Lions

imageimageWhile doing these readings this week, I was also reading the book, Animal Internet which discussed the future of networked technology and our relationship to animals and the wild. It came to my attention how cultural relationships between humans and the environment happen through sign systems. Rarely do most citizens interact with the reality of a living animal. More often humans are interacting with the sound of the name of an animal, a written name of an animal, or very commonly a graphical interpretation of the animal.

Our relationships with animals revolve around our relationships to the symbol that is made to embody their essence. I began to analyze how Peirce would descibe our relationship and the psychological process that we go through when interacting with symbols of animals instead of the reality of them. An example of this may be the varying depictions of Big Cats throughout history, including lions and tigers.

Imagine a painting of a lion fighting a gladiator in Ancient Rome. We then begin Peirce’s triadic model. The object itself is a lion. The lion is depicted using paint into a piece of clay pottery. This is the representamen or sign vehicle. An ancient Roman is then looking at this pottery and with their own cultural and personal lens they interpret that lion as being vicious, aggressive, and often in fights with humans.

All of that meaning is not contained in that piece of pottery nor is an actual lion. The only way that the meaning is derived is from the relationship between the representamen and the interpreter. In this final process, meaning is made.

Does a simple example like this also help explain the notion of “double articulation” in linguistic patterns? From our Chandler reading we learned about the infinite amount of meanings we can make from a low-level of units. Chandler discussed that visual representations could fall into this duality of patterns in that elements of artistic design like lines are the sub- units that make up visual media. Could I go as far as to say that varying those lines across visual media in such a particular way has also allowed us to depict potentially the same thing (a lion) in visual representations in infinite different ways? For example lions have been looked at as brave, regal, terrifying, cute, cuddly, and helpless across pictorial depictions for millennia.

While I am focusing on animals in this piece because of personal interests, I think they also make for a good example of how we interact with other life forms and the universe through our relationships to signs interpreted to be the actual material things. I feel that this makes signs the most powerful tool in experiencing emotions towards causes like wildlife conservation.