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Thread: Self Awareness

  1. #1 Self Awareness 
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    I think the one of the most difficult questions that faces meaningful scientiifc explanation is self awareness. Most animals live mentally in the moment with no concern for future actions. So is it a matter of degree between us and for example a dog's view of existence?


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  3. #2  
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    Welcome to the forum, this is best suited in perhaps philosophy or psychology subsection?

    In answer to your question self awareness is the function of the human brain that evolved after the reptilian and mammilian brains. Although animals do have self-awareness to some extent I believe the sapience and sentience that comes with our self awareness combines to create the overall effect that we describe as self awareness. A human baby is not self aware so one could argue it is a function of nurture and not nature also. Also may depend upon the survival situations that a human has to deal with, in other words the more intelligent a situation requires the human to be the more they will use their sapient brains and become more intelligent, more aware of the surroundings and of course as natural because of being human and needing that intelligence, becoming self aware.

    PS. I have a humourous video of myself when I am a baby and in a high chair, I am looking at my father and then suddenly I notice my hand and I pull a frowning gesture looking at it and move it around as though I just 'discovered' my hand. I believe the higher levels of self awareness come with age, take for instance a baby human, a cat or a dog seeing itself in the mirror for the first few times. It takes a while for them to become self aware in that situation.


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    I'd say it's a matter of degree - having watched one of our dogs, seeing another in the coveted comfy chair near the door, start barking as if someone was at the gate then immediately take possession when it was vacated, I'm not so convinced that animals are incapable of self awareness and intelligent thought. And tell lies!
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    I just finished reading "Inside of a Dog" by Columbia University psychology professor, Alexandra Horowitz. The subtitle is "What Dogs See, Smell, and Know". It's a #1 New York Times bestseller. Her comments on canine self-awareness run from pages 217-222.

    Amongst animal behaviorists, she cites the "mirror test" as being the most commonly used evaluation for determining self-awareness. What the observer looking into the mirror must recognize in proving its self-awareness, is that the image staring back at them, IS them. So how do animal behaviorists determine that heady realization in non-humans? The spot test.

    Chimpanzees and even elephants have passed this self-awareness test. A dob of red paint is applied to the animal's forehead. Then the animal is allowed to examine itself in the mirror. If it starts rubbing at the spot on its physical forehead with hand or trunk, then a state of self-awareness must certainly exist since they're cognizant of the fact that the mirror image staring back at them is their own, and that the red dot is actually on their own forehead.

    Dogs have not passed the spot test, but Horowitz isn't so fast in writing off the possibility that canine self-awareness is just as keen as that of other highly intelligent animals like chimpanzees and elephants. It's just that we haven't developed an empirical canine-specific self-awareness test yet. She opines that since dogs are such olfactory animals, they quickly lose interest in things like mirror images if no olfactory stimulus is part and parcel of the visual experience. Makes good sense to me.

    Horowitz then goes on to cite many examples of canine behavior that suggest a state of self-awareness. For instance, dogs know what size they are and they know how strong they are as well. These aspects of self-awareness are very important in play. My 80 lb Malamute is a tremendously strong dog. She jumps up on my bed for our daily 10-minute wrestling match about 3 in the afternoon. I still have long scars on my arms from when she was a little puppy. If she didn't draw blood, the game was no fun. Now as an adult dog, she knows how strong she is, and she knows exactly how much to restrain her bites so she isn't hurting me. A dog couldn't practice such traits of personality unless it was very much aware of itself.
    Last edited by pogomutt; October 19th, 2012 at 01:08 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by pogomutt View Post
    For instance, dogs know what size they are and they know how strong they are as well. .
    That might be so, but this function seems to be broken in my Jack Russel. He weighs only about 11kg but seems to have no fear in taking on 80kg Rotweilers! He does however play "softly" with his human family :-)
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken Fabos View Post
    I'd say it's a matter of degree - having watched one of our dogs, seeing another in the coveted comfy chair near the door, start barking as if someone was at the gate then immediately take possession when it was vacated, I'm not so convinced that animals are incapable of self awareness and intelligent thought. And tell lies!
    It's interesting that your one dog seems to "lie" to the other. I've often cracked myself up about one of my dogs making an ass out of themselves by falling of the bed or tripping over a stair or something, but they never seem to feel "embarrassed" about it. However, they may just be on the stupid side of the doggy scale of intelligence? If they look at a treat through a window for instance, they will take a long time (maybe forever?) to figure out that they can just run around the corner and enter through a door to get to the treat.
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    There's a lot more stuff comparing dogs and chimps. Dogs will respond to a human pointing to something, or just moving the eyes in a particular direction. Easily finding something hidden behind a particular object or door.

    Chimps, no matter how much you train them, never get the idea. They might grab the pointing hand - never following the indication. And they don't respond to the eye direction thing at all.
    "Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen." Winston Churchill
    "nature is like a game of Jenga; you never know which brick you pull out will cause the whole stack to collapse" Lucy Cooke
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    Quote Originally Posted by adelady View Post
    There's a lot more stuff comparing dogs and chimps. Dogs will respond to a human pointing to something, or just moving the eyes in a particular direction. Easily finding something hidden behind a particular object or door.

    Chimps, no matter how much you train them, never get the idea. They might grab the pointing hand - never following the indication. And they don't respond to the eye direction thing at all.
    Now that is really interesting! I would have thought it would be the opposite.

    Unfortunately, I think this is another example that proves that my dogs are stupid, even by canine standards. I can point as much as I want towards a bone that I threw to them whilst they weren't looking, but they never seem to get what I mean. They just stand there staring at me! I either have to walk over and show them the bone or leave it is a surprise for the next time they walk past there.
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    I saw that stuff on a TV documentary. It talked a lot about intelligence but it focused more on a quite plausible theory that the 'man's best friend' idea is really true - in the sense that it looks a lot like human selection of traits that make dogs better and better as working and companion animals as the generations continue. So that dogs' ability to follow directions and fairly subtle guidance from humans has become much more like human abilities than that of other animals which are just as social and just as intelligent as dogs are.

    (There are stories about naive psychological tests of animals like cats or wombats which concluded that they were a bit thick. It still hasn't got through to some people that you have to come up with tests that don't require the animal to be interested in satisfying a human request for performance. Most cats don't care a fig for human approval. And I've yet to hear of an adult wombat that took a blind bit of notice of anyone. When you observe them in their natural habitat however, you can see that they're quite resourceful, flexible and intelligent in solving problems that they see the need to solve.)

    There were a couple of seriously clever dogs in that program. Able to choose, on the basis of a single spoken word, particular toys from among a heap - and then to choose the picture of a named toy. Also some really good stuff about distinguishing shapes, but that's a bit hazy now. It was a couple of years ago.
    "Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen." Winston Churchill
    "nature is like a game of Jenga; you never know which brick you pull out will cause the whole stack to collapse" Lucy Cooke
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  11. #10  
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    I tend to agree - a molecule of DNA is not aware - its an awful wide spread of degree. One is always in danger of existenialism in this area, although my real interest is science. Could the "I" or the "me" represent the whole of existence? What determines which conceived child becomes you or me?
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  12. #11  
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    My point being is adavanced phyiscs unavoidably straying into philosophy inevitably, or is this simply my lack of understanding?
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    Quote Originally Posted by david10848 View Post
    My point being is adavanced phyiscs unavoidably straying into philosophy inevitably, or is this simply my lack of understanding?
    Much of modern cosmology and quantum mechanics is philosophy bordering on theology. How can string theory or the bubble universe theory ever be proved?
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