Digging through the archives at Ask Metafilter, I stumbled upon an awesome discussion from last month. User showbiz_liz writes:
What are the arguments for and against the idea that animals have self-awareness?
I’m in an anthropology class called Moral Consciousness that discusses human conceptions of selfhood. It’s a very interesting class, but I have one problem with it- the professor has stated several times, in an off-hand, of-course-this-is-true sort of way, that ONLY humans have selfhood. He seems to have a basic assumption that animals don’t, and that humans have overcome their instincts in a way that animals can’t.
I’ve always been very interested in the idea that humans and animals are far less different than we usually assume, and I’m not sure if I can just accept my professor’s assumption without some evidence. I’m reminded of statements like “animals don’t use tools” and “animals don’t have emotions” that were accepted for years and later disproven. So, when he says that only humans are capable of thinking of themselves as “I”, or of rejecting food when they are starving, or of sacrificing themselves, or of thinking abstractly, it bothers me that he isn’t presenting any evidence. I’m not sure if there actually IS evidence for these things, or if they’re just baseless assumptions.
So- where can I find some decent evidence for and/or against my professor’s statements? Are there actually papers and studies on the question of animal self-awareness?
Last year, I wrote that researchers have concluded that elephants are self-aware. One commenter notes that primates and dolphins have also passed tests of self-awareness.
From the discussion at Ask Metafilter:
- It seems obvious that animals have emotions. My own experience backs this up. Every animal I have ever known has moods, and most seem to have emotions of some sort. I’m not always able to decipher their exact emotions — is my cat sad, angry, or just bored? — but it seems clear that they’re feeling something.
- It also seems obvious that different individual animals within a species have different levels of intelligence, just as different humans have different levels of intelligence. Again, I’ve known some very smart cats. But I’ve also known some cats who were as dumb as posts. There’s some sort of statistical distribution at play.
Anyhow, this thread isn’t too long — it can be read in ten or fifteen minutes — and it’s filled with fascinating discussion on the subject. Well worth your time if you find this subject interesting at all.
[Ask Metafilter: Dogs: People too?]