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9.4 Mirrors

9.4.2 The mirror picture

Mirror recognition can only be argued to be truly a pictorial mode competence if it can be shown that the perceiver is not dependent on continuous feedback from the image to understand it as a reflection of real events. Even if the image would magi-cally stop moving the subject must show that it still recognises its own image. Or a short delay in the feedback can be induced and the ape should still be able to use the image to guide its actions.117 Otherwise mirror use has very little in common with pictorial understanding and can at best be described as an isolated case; A case which is probably made possible by a striking correspondence between reflection and real-ity. But such correspondence need not be striking on all accounts. Movement corre-spondence has probably a very high level of salience in this process. Self-recognition in chimpanzees can namely occur also in distorting (concave and convex) mirrors, or mirrors that reflect multiple copies of an image (Kitchen et al., 1996).

The instantaneous visual feedback to one’s own movements which allows self-recognition is what Mitchell (e.g. 1997) calls kinaesthetic-visual matching. It allows the mirror observer some sort of understanding of the reflection of the viewer’s own body, without requiring a self-concept as a source for this perception of correspon-dence. This has a parallel to the stretchability of reality mode processing. A plausible principle in reality mode is that “what works, works.” If an individual appears to be in two places at once in photographs, so be it. If one can attend to and use such in-formation, there is no need to reflect on its improbability. Likewise it is a fact that a body is reflected in a mirror that perfectly matches one’s movements. Bodies are very special and interesting objects, and it makes sense to investigate its unknown places when such a reflection allows it. There is no need to wonder how this is possible, or who the person in the mirror really is.

While Mitchell (e.g. 1997) seem to suggest that appreciation of reflective corre-spondence in mirror surfaces is already present when kinaesthetic-visual matching

116 Such play arguably gave ample opportunities to learn that projected pictures have a very real source.

117 Typically only a sensitivity to the difference between live and recorded video is measured in terms of occurrence of contingent movements. See Brooks-Gunn & Lewis (1984) for a review regarding children.

occurs, the argument can also be made that kinaesthetic-visual matching is in fact responsible for the discovery of these reflective properties in the first place. The data reviewed above strongly suggest that experience with mirrors is important for recog-nition to occur, but most accounts also report that contingent movements follow after eventual social responses, and always before self-directed behaviours. It is kin-aesthetic-visual matching that is kicking in during the contingent phase. In fact it would be very difficult indeed to learn about the reflective properties of mirror im-ages if one has never been able to view the contingent reflection of one’s own body, if so only an arm sticking out of a hole in a search-task (i.e. Menzel et al., 1985). As an illustrative anecdote, remember that Köhler’s (1925/1957) chimpanzees did not start to use reflective surfaces until after they had been subjected to self-recognition tests.

Without the possibility for kinaesthetic-visual matching two entities cannot be bridged outside and inside of mirrors. They would forever be tandem events. How-ever, a correspondence between “tandem events” can also be learned, and be utilised in mirror-guided tasks. Understanding of reflection per se is then not necessary, only the appreciation on an if-then relationship. Such learning of reflected images has been demonstrated in e.g. pigeons (Thompson & Contie, 1994).

The mirror image, as well as the live video broadcast, is set apart from other pictorial media in that its nature is directly testable. With continuous visual and bodily feed-back the subject can learn about the nature of the reflective surface and how it re-lates to the objects outside of it. The same manipulations cannot be done with static pictures, replicas, or video recordings. This means that a picture – referent relation-ship, including differentiation, can be discovered on its own by a subject, without social scaffolding.

However, while mirror-image use seems the most promising picture-like compe-tence in apes, it might be confined to the media and not generalisable. While an ape probably learns a lot about reflective surfaces with mere exposure, it learns probably nothing about static pictures from those experiences. While one borders a pictorial mode with mirror reflections, one can therefore still view photographs in reality mode, and perhaps drawings in surface mode.

Even monkeys (Macaca fuscata), following extensive training on using mirrors to guide their hands in a search task (Itakura, 1987a), can use mirrors to recognise that an object is fastened to their own body (Itakura, 1987b), and presumably not to that of a monkey in the mirror, although this cannot be ruled out. Remember the con-cerns about “tandem events” above. However, when seeing objects, photographic slides of objects, or individuals in the mirror, these macaques typically turned around after observing the reflection to view the objects directly. Furthermore, illus-trating my claim above regarding different modes being active under different cir-cumstances, the macaques made social responses towards photographic slides, but not to the mirror reflections of these (Itakura, 1987b).

There seems to be only one primate study that directly compares recognition in mirrors and photographs. Tobach et al. (1997) could not convincingly demonstrate self-recognition of life-sized portraits in six orangutans, but the one subject that showed most preference for her own portrait was the one, among two, that showed

self-directed behaviours in front of a mirror. In one session she gave the impression of possibly comparing the two representations of her own body by repeatedly mov-ing between the mirror and her own portrait, which she smov-ingled out among several.

Like other animals, human children seem to learn to recognise themselves in mir-rors before recognising themselves in photographs (see Brooks-Gunn & Lewis, 1984). One can argue that a more proper comparison is perhaps not recognition of themselves in the respective two media, but of static objects. However, remember the distinction between reality mode and pictorial mode processing. Even though self-recognition as such complicates matters, recognising oneself is a stronger case for a referential and differentiated view of the static picture.

Koko, the signing gorilla, gives us a concluding remark about the pictorial nature of mirrors, recorded in an interaction with a caretaker on a particularly boring after-noon. In response to the request to find an interesting picture in a catalogue Koko browses a few pages and points to a pot. (Koko is described to be in a bad mood.) When asked to show a pretty picture Koko points to a roasting pan. The caretaker, about to give up, asks Koko to find a scary picture, to which Koko replies by picking up a mirror and places it in front of the face of the caretaker (Patterson & Linden, 1981).

Chapter 10

Producing pictures

While this thesis focuses on receptive pictorial competence a chapter on picture pro-duction is in order, especially as there are claims of representational drawing and painting for several of the apes involved in language research (e.g. Fouts, 1997; Pat-terson & Gordon, 2001; Savage-Rumbaugh et al., 2001).

But let us first consider a more basic prerequisite for imbuing marks on a surface with meaning, which is that of attending to such marks in the first place. Singling out marks on a surface is indeed necessary for imbuing it with relevance.118 Specks of dirt where it is not supposed to be, cracks in a wall, mist on windows, are all deviat-ing details on somethdeviat-ing otherwise well known that can grab the attention of any curious ape. This is not trivial. The ability to be engrossed in one’s experiences of the world, which manifests itself in behaviours such as playing with one’s sensations, is frequently manifested in apes, but is perhaps not widespread in the animal king-dom. Common examples seen in apes are blindfolding oneself in play, toying with the feel of dripping water on one’s body, or ask to be tickled.119 Thus, apes sponta-neously and actively pay attention to and act on features of the world to seemingly construct experiences for themselves. Using pen and paper is one such activity that apes readily adopt and enjoy when provided with the means.

There is perhaps only one account in the literature of spontaneous possible draw-ing behaviour in apes that was independent of human intervention. A gorilla, be-tween one and two years old, at London zoo was observed in 1939 to trace his own well defined shadow on a cage wall with his index finger. This was made in an ap-parent air of focus and goal-directedness, and he directly repeated the action twice.

Later attempts to replicate the event by supplying the gorilla with shadows cast through artificial lightening failed. He was never observed to repeat the activity again in the one year before his death. This brief report was published in the journal Nature and called Origins of Human Graphic Art (Huxley, 1942).

A less ambivalent example from a human milieu is the chimpanzee Austin, who actively used his shadow in what seems like play. By for example stepping between a projector and the projection on a wall he would impose his shadow on projected movies in order to “chase the chimpanzees in the movies” (Savage-Rumbaugh et al., 1998, p. 35). When noticing his shadow on a wall outdoors he would also move in

118 For a more in-depth discussion of marks on surfaces, see e.g. Ittelson (1996)

119 Experimenting with one’s own sensations makes a case for subjective experience in animals. The forms and extent of such experiences is not the topic of this book, however.

unusual ways and note its effect on the shadow. While not being a case of drawing as in creating marks, it can still be argued to be an intentionally constructed image.

Shadow play in chimpanzees was studied by Boysen et al. (1994), but in an imita-tion context. Both a 3 year old and an 8 year old copied the making of manual shadow puppets on a brightly lit wall. They also showed that they understood the shadow cast by objects. Only the older animal, however, also displayed recognition of her own shadow.