Essays on animal metaphor

All of these engage our cognitive abilities. Theory of mind is the ability of one individual to guess or attribute the mental states of another, and this ability is thought to be essential in human and interspecies communication Premack and Woodruff Cognitive universals give writers the scaffolding for guessing what a reader will understand and how the reader will do so. Universals allow humans to interact through make-believe with rules. To emphasize that literary activity probably grew from faculties we share with other primates, the course presents various aspects of human emotional and social life as part of an animal—human evolutionary continuum.

Gossip, for instance, is a social bonding experience thought to have replaced primate grooming Dunbar Gossip serves other important functions, such as helping us to keep track of cheaters or learn of new opportunities Pinker Whether in the form of gossip or fiction, stories engage our social monitoring instincts Boyd We are inclined to care about the life choices other people make and to compare them with our own; to get emotionally caught up in stories of their conundrums; to want to discuss them and, sometimes, to let our passionate involvement drive on a discussion that has exhausted any other rational purpose.

The question as to whether or not we are animals may arise from our inherent curiosity about other members of our species. We also have an innate tendency to notice and pay attention to animals. Indeed, our focus on animals may be another automatic and evolved module. New et al. Depending on the image, an animal or building might disappear. The kind of object determined the speed at which humans could detect the change in the scene: humans and animals were detected faster than a variety of objects, both fixed and movable.

We test this hypothesis in our course in a slightly different way. Students are briefly shown images, only some of which contain animals.

Metaphor - Examples and Definition of Metaphor

They are asked to write down their first impression of each image. For example, they are shown a picture of dramatically counterposed ice floes and open water. A small dark bird, making up less than two percent of the surface of the image, was visible flying over the ice. According to the animate monitoring hypothesis, most humans would automatically detect the bird over non-animate ice or sea. As students learn to analyze metaphors in literary texts, they continue to learn evolutionary theories of human and non-human animal behavior, emotion and cognition.

This helps them recognize literary animal metaphors as particular frames and to speculate on their purposes and effects from an evolutionary perspective. Thus, thematic universals to name only two in Romeo and Juliet include attachment and the formation of an in-group distinguished from out-groups. A plot development that draws upon our universal tendency to assume causal connection between two events that occur in succession the logical fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc is a literary universal.

Poetic repetition and variation, alliteration, rhythm, and rhyme are just some literary universals that emerged from other adaptations. Poetic meter, for instance, exercises our capacity for synchronization, an adaptation thought to promote cohesion and cooperation in human groups Boyd Thus, poetic meter and the practice of singing or reciting aloud in groups are both literary universals. Since fear of death is a human universal and our working assumption is that humans often distance themselves from animals to manage such fear, we propose anxiety about being animals, induced by evolutionary theory, as an underlying preoccupation of the poem.

One way the poem grapples with such anxiety is by establishing a notion of progress. Another way is through the use of poetic rhyme and meter, thought to promote positive feelings of social harmony and a sense of group purpose. In his work on religion and group selection, Wilson has shown that such feelings better enable a group to compete with other groups.

We have the students read this stanza aloud to experience group chanting. Entire narratives can be metaphorical when they serve the purpose of expressing one story in terms of a different story Burke This idea of narrative as extended metaphor is consonant with misattribution theory, which Hogan uses to explain why we respond emotionally to stories. Hogan proposes that fiction activates emotional memories, but we misattribute these feelings because our attentional focus is on the events of the literary work Hogan This misattribution is explained, in part, by simulation theory.


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Behavioral and neurological evidence indicates that humans mentally simulate—as part of their representational machinery constructing the activities of the narrative—sensations, movements, and feelings for review, see Barsalou, Thus, misattribution is part of the cognitive process, an inferential system with unavoidable indeterminacy since it depends on individual factors.

After escaping from Maghrebi nomads, he seeks refuge in a cave, only to discover that he is sharing his new abode with a leopard. Surprisingly, the leopard responds with affection when he caresses her. The two of them form a sustained and intimate bond until one day the soldier admires an eagle soaring overhead, causing the leopard to growl with what the soldier imagines is jealousy.

Here, the written account ends in suspension points. Fearing for his life, he killed her with his dagger. When members of his regiment finally located him, he was still weeping.

Common Speech Examples of Metaphor

The embedded narrator and foreign setting remove nineteenth-century readers several times from potentially threatening real-world scientific questions of the day concerning how to classify humans in relation to animals. It is riveting for readers of the story who identify with the soldier and are weighing the consequences of the situation in the hope of a positive outcome.


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  • Within the play-space of fiction, readers can safely experiment with various conceptual blends, feeling fear and sadness for the soldier. They can ponder the question of what is true and what is imagined, without confronting head-on the possibility that humans and big cats share feelings of attachment because of a shared evolutionary heritage. Ecocriticism has been pursued as the study of the relationship between literature or other representational forms and the physical environment; between humans and the natural world in literature; or as literary criticism based on an ecological perspective.

    Though more recently it has focused on how humans perceive, behave, or respond to nature and environmental issues, Easterlin observes that ecocriticism lacks a methodology. Place is continuously constructed by humans through their evolved perceptual machinery. Place depends on cognitively mediated experiences that are tied to our interactions as animals with other beings in the physical world.

    Literary Techniques: Metaphor

    It is the statistical composite of selection pressures that caused the design of an adaptation. Thus the EEA for one adaptation may be different from that for another. It includes the composite of historical factors that caused the identity of a person. These attitudes, the film implies, are environmentally disrespectful.

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    We see close-ups of reptiles, insects, and other mammals. The calm with which they lead their camels is sharply contrasted with the desperation of French army soldiers unable to control their horses on the dunes, or even to keep themselves and their horses alive as water supplies dwindle. One may interpret this as a visual metaphor not only for the French invasion of Egypt but also for the fiction that the French soldier attempts to impose on the female leopard.

    Currier modifies the ending of the Balzac story. In the film, when the soldier sees his French comrades arriving, he is anxious for the leopard to remain where she is and tries to tie her up. The enraged leopard attacks him so fiercely that he is obliged to stab her. The last shot of the movie is of the grief-stricken solitary soldier carrying the dead leopard in his arms through the desert.

    The Silent Worker, Poem - Ant Metaphor

    It does so with scenes that trigger our subcortical emotive arousal and a protagonist whom we can relate to affectively. The most poignant emotion is attachment. Affective engagement and understanding of our human nature is, according to Easterlin, necessary to promote environmental concern.

    What is a Metaphor?

    It does not let us stick our heads in the sand. The biggest pedagogic challenge of this course was to find ways to connect with and engage students of many different majors. Even though this was a topics course required for the environmental studies major, it was open to students across the curriculum. With such a wide range of interests and backgrounds, we created assignments that were meant to serve interests both within the larger context of the course and the specific interests of the environmental studies major. The hunting grounds were general and scientific journalism.

    We asked students to predict, and justify, which hunting ground they expected to yield more metaphors and to test their prediction by developing an explicit search methodology.


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    • Many were surprised at how hard it was to find obvious metaphors of the categorical assertion type defined by Glucksberg. Through this story, Balzac explores the possibility that wild animals traditionally seen as distant can rise to the status of human-like companions in the right circumstances.

      This assertion can be analyzed using the ideas of evolutionary psychology such as the association of animals with disgust and mortality, the inclination to sympathize closely with familiar animals like pets, the tendency to form in- and out-groups in dire situations and the concept of fair play. Focus on Vassar as a place mediated by culture and people, yet populated with animals, even if you also take into account the Hudson Valley in which Vassar is situated. What we found most fascinating were experiences that ranged from the anthropocentric to the abstract.

      All, however, were conscious of the humans-as-animals perspective. One of the most inventive projects used evolutionary theories of self-deception in an analysis of commercials warning about global warming and then warning about global warming alarmists. A commercial, produced in the UK, was set as a bedtime story for a little girl. Animals cavorted while humans drove cars that polluted and caused the oceans to rise and the animals to cry. The anti-alarmists used the same scenes but added a different voice-over, one in which the evil alarmists were causing young children to have nightmares and accept a lower standard of living.

      The anti-alarmist response used the same animals as metaphors for freedom and independence. Humans use animal metaphors to frame their ongoing relationship with the environment and their place in an evolutionary continuum. Animal metaphors are extremely powerful communication tools because they are automatically processed, focus on entities to which we preferentially attend, and tap into the wealth of thematic and literary universals that drive narratives.

      Narrative literature and film rely on evolved linguistic reconstruction processes that allow story to be reconstructed from fractured pieces of discourse. Humans are metaphorizing animals. Skip to main content Skip to sections. Advertisement Hide. Download PDF. Long Jr. Open Access. First Online: 12 January Overview of the Course Though a common term in literary studies, we intend animal metaphors to represent our particular approach to evolutionary studies. The second assignment was to write an essay. One student wrote: Through this story, Balzac explores the possibility that wild animals traditionally seen as distant can rise to the status of human-like companions in the right circumstances.

      The fourth assignment, a final project, was scaffolded into a proposal, an oral presentation, and a final paper. A topic in your own discipline.

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