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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Intelligent Horses: A Cybersemiotic Perspective
by Garcia, Dulce M., Ph.D., California Institute of Integral Studies, 2013, 240; 3606925
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation is theoretical study of horse-human relationship, addressing the topics of communication, learning and cognition in the context of the cybersemiotic model developed by philosopher of science Søren Brier. This study found significant gaps in the literature with respect to how horses and humans communicate and learn together, and is an attempt to develop an integral conceptual model grounded in communication and learning theory.

The overarching theoretical platform is the cybersemiotic model, which is a transdisciplinary research platform that addresses knowledge creation from an objective and subjective vision of reality. The center of knowledge in this model is semiosis, the sign system and spheres of signification through which living beings create meaning and make sense of the world. The cybersemiotic model is inclusive of non-human languaging systems, grounded in the biosemiotic view that extends sign systems to the life world of animals. The analysis of horse-human communication is performed using Bateson's theories of non-verbal communication and learning, based on the second-order cybernetic science view. Likewise, the topic of the role of inner life and consciousness in horse-human interaction is analyzed through the phenomenological, pragmaticist philosophy of Charles Sanders Peirce and his triadic conception of semiosis.

The results of this theoretical and philosophical exploration point to the need to begin constructing serious, scientifically grounded conceptual frames that can inform equestrian activities across a wide variety of disciplines such as competition and entertainment, leisure, horse training, and equine-facilitated psychotherapy/learning (EFP/L). These disciplines are fairly divided in their view of horses, especially when it comes to communication protocols, equine intelligence, and the use of a shared language to describe horse-human interaction.

Besides starting to lay theoretical groundwork for conceptualizing how horses and humans communicate and learn together, this dissertation also addresses the fundamental issue of personal safety and ethics in horse communities. The horse industry is a billion dollar industry in the U.S. and other Western nations, with most horses living in captivity in human-controlled environments. As the horse industry grows, so do the number of related accidents, making equestrian sports one of the most dangerous. An understanding of ethologically grounded communication principles is essential in ensuring greater safety for horse handlers and the wellbeing of horses. It is also key in addressing the larger question of ethics in the relationships of humans to non-human others and the ecology of the Earth at large.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Combs, Allan L.
Commitee: Brier, Soren, Wells, Jennifer
School: California Institute of Integral Studies
Department: Transformative Studies
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 75/04(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Philosophy of Science, Communication, Behavioral Sciences
Keywords: Cybersemiotics, Equine ethology, Equine facilitated education, Horse-human communication, Horse-human relationships, Human-animal communication
Publication Number: 3606925
ISBN: 978-1-303-64261-6
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