Are Animals Self-Aware?

by J.D. Roth on 19 November 2007 · 34 comments

in Implications

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?]

{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

somebody;) 12 December 2007 (23) at 11:52 pm

I think that mammals are self-aware.Sure,you have primates,elephants,and dolphins that can pass a mirror test,but there is some evidence besides that.Ther was that metacognition test for rats.Social animals,like dogs and horses,have
social hierarchies within their groups,and so it
would seem that they would have a sense of self.
They have to learn where they fit in amongst the
other animals.Perhaps some mammals use scent
to distinguish between themselves and others.A
dog can differentiate between its own scent and the scent of others.

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CP 11 November 2010 (00) at 12:45 am

It seems like you’re taking a lot of assumptions into consideration. The fact that social animals have a hierarchy doesn’t necessarily imply that they are self-evident. First, I think you would have to disprove the idea that these social groupings are genetic. It’s quite possible that through natural selection, these animals have adapted a trait which makes them social which makes sense because the animals who have a genetic predisposition to group together would have a higher chance of surviving. If this is the case, then the idea that these animals are social isn’t enough to suggest self-awareness. Additionally, being aware of other animals doesn’t necessarily imply self-awareness. It’s possible to be aware, unconsciously, of light but not be aware of your self in relation to light. It seems almost far-fetched and hard to imagine because we live in our minds and can’t imagine a world without conscious thought; however, it’s been proven in humans who have had extreme damage to a certain part of their brain at a young age so that they can’t see, that although they are “blind,” when asked to “guess” visual things such as the shape of a book they are accurate above 80% of the time which is too high to be attributed to chance. In this example, they are unaware that they are aware of their visual abilities because their brain can’t process vision the same way a normal human brain can but they can still show what they see. So although they are not self-aware of their visual abilities, their subconscious mind is aware of the world outside of it.

It’s these arguments which lead scientists to argue that not all mammals have consciousness; however, it is a “curse” of human self-consciousness to anthropomorphize.

So I think your argument needs to be better defined and assumptions cleared up.

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jim 12 December 2007 (16) at 4:17 pm

i dont believe animals are self aware – i think they all run on instict and agree (as in domestics) they read emotion – 2 emotions, if they are considered so, are self survival and procreation(which the later, might well( in the grand scale of things) come under self survival).
but regardless, that shouldn’t mean we take for granted and breed them for easy food . . . . . . . .
looking from an aliens view , how inhumain are we

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Benjamin Scott-Pye 07 July 2013 (06) at 6:06 am

Well some animals are definitely self aware. Chimpanzees, dolphins, elephants, magpies and crows have all passed the self awareness test.

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jim 12 December 2007 (16) at 4:26 pm

wake up and smell the coffee—————————————————————————————-we have enveloped the whole world, there is no stronger mental animal on this planet, damn, we breed them, eat them, wear them, sit on them, its a f###ing prodution line, and me;you;everyone are the controllers.

if i was a self aware animal, i’d be praying for a new ice age…………………better luck next time- GOD. back to the dinos, they could understand the circle of life – IGNORANCE IS BLISS -

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C. Breedlove Weaver 12 December 2007 (00) at 12:05 am

I was watching survival stories on Larry King tonight and he interviewed a surfer who told how he was attacked by a great white shark and was saved by a dolphin pod. This incident made me extremely curious. I’ve heard other stories of dolphins saving humans. What does this actually MEAN about the thinking, behavior, and intelligence of dolphins? I’m extremely interested in what is actually going on with these creatures.

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M@ 12 December 2007 (22) at 10:09 pm

Are animals aware?

*I* am. This debate reminds me of Julian Jaynes’ theory about how humans only became “conscious” six-thousand or so years ago.

Are WE aware?

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Bill Meacham 02 February 2008 (16) at 4:35 pm

There is lots of research that indicates that some animals have a sense of self. I’m currently reading _Moral Minds_ by Marc D. Hauser, which cites lots of it. I plan to read his _Animal Minds_ as well. Instead of (or in addition to) relying on anecdotal evidence or supposition, look at the scientific literature.

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Natalie 02 February 2008 (06) at 6:47 am

Yes, there is a lot of research. Mark Bekoff has a number of books on the subject, including animal emotions. If you search through studies on consciousness/philosophy of mind, you can also find sources, as well as looking at different books on animal ethics. These sources refer to scientific studies and provide an analysis of them. American Zoologist also has a special edition from 2000(?) or so just on this topic, that includes a number of studies on all kinds of different species.

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Doug 03 March 2008 (17) at 5:56 pm

It has been proven that chimpanzees and orangutangs do have self-awareness through various comparative psychology experiments. If you want to research this topic for yourself then you should go to a university library and search for animal self-awareness in the American Psychological Association (APA) journals.

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Joy 03 March 2008 (17) at 5:44 pm

I asked my dog and she said, “what kind of a stupid question is that?” So there ya go.

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Edward 03 March 2008 (14) at 2:23 pm

Animals live in the now and are not stuck with all the crap associated with a so-called “human mind”. Self-aware is not necessarily a good thing. Humans live in the past and the future which really have no existence at all. It’s always NOW. Humans think because they can dominate other sentient beings that they are automatically better, more valuable or more intelligent. Many animals have abilities that humans will never have. It’s going to be devastating to some when they realize that as a life form they are no more or less valuable than a mosquito.

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leinaD_natipaC 05 May 2008 (14) at 2:57 pm

Hey, I bet you would find this interesting: this is an extract from national geographic’s march 2008 article on animal intelligence:
“Although imitation was once regarded as a simpleminded skill, in recent years cognitive scientists have revealed that it’s extremely difficult , requiring the imitator to form a mental image of the other person’s body and pose, then adjust his own body parts into the same position-actions that imply an awareness of one’s self.”

I think this is pretty convincing, even if you tried to give out excuses for whatever other experiments have been done.

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Dr. Leslie Brown 06 June 2008 (06) at 6:13 am

Hello, I’m an ex-scientist. I studied Materials Science for 10 years. What a great blog!

I think the notion that animals are self-aware doesn’t even need testing. Of course they know they exist! And I’m sure than many animals have feelings, not just the mammals.

I’d go so far as to say that amost all multi-celled animals communicate with eachother to some extent… even things like cuttlefish are intelligent enough to communicate amongst themselves. They can be communicating with one cuttlefish using one side of their body, and a second cuttlefish using the other side. If that doesn’t show a great level of intelligence, I don’t know what does.

By the way, you might like to see this article I wrote about animal intelligence:

http://tenerife-training.net/Tenerife-News-Cycling-Blog/2008/06/inspirational-people/animal-intelligence/

Thanks,
Leslie.

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Satine13 07 July 2008 (15) at 3:20 pm

Are animals self-aware?

Well, it has been scientifically documented and widely accepted that bottlenose dolphins, apes and elephants are self-aware.

I personally think that there are far more animals that are self’aware than has been identified yet, and I also take in to account the varying levels of intelligence between these creatures, as the parallel to human intelligence was previously explored.

That “animals do not use tools” and that “animals do not have emotions” is clearly incorrect. More and more evidence is mounting as people are actually witnessing animals using tools like sticks to get bugs, open nuts or rocks to smash shells to obtain the meat inside. Examples of a few animals who use tools-Woodpeckers, Finches, Egyptian Vultures, Hooded Monkeys, Chimps, Green Herons, Crows, Macaws, even Sea Otters. I find it grossly dissapointing to meet individuals who haven’t observed an emotion on a living creature outside of humans. Maybe they have mispoken; to say that one has never heard the calling of a baby to the mother; a yelp, a whine, a cry, a whimper, or purr; to never have interpreted a wagging tail and ears straight up is just simply not true. Most people know when thier dog is happy, excited, embarrassed, or miserable, and all of those are emotions. Animals display physical and verbal signs of thier physical and mental status, it’s just not common for humans to be able to interpret these signs. Things we do not easily see are rarely acknowledged. Fortunately, many, and more and more, people now have the time to sit and watch and think and learn about the most basic aspects of nature.

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Kevin 09 September 2008 (14) at 2:21 pm

Just the fact that animals can sense fear is evidence that they are self-aware on some level.
Anybody that has pets can usually tell what they are feeling or what they want when they talk to you.

I also just recently moved into a house with a small dog and my cat doesn’t and has never cared much for small dogs, yet she was raised around the biggest dog I have ever seen. I can’t explain it, but it suggests some level of intelligence.

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Jay Walker 09 September 2008 (22) at 10:29 pm

The most important thing to relize when asking, “Is an animal self-aware?” Is that the question is flawed from the start. I believe that the mirror test is a very good one, but it makes me wonder why some animals wont feed on their own kind (whilst still not identifying them selves in the mirror) obviously they know what type of animal they are. Are all humans self aware? i would say defiantly not. If I had to make a list of animals that were self aware (in general), i would put all primates, most rodents, and marine mammals like dolphins and whales in that category, Fido and meow meow, I love you both, but I don’t think you are self aware in the way chimps are or even rats for that matter

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somebody;) 10 October 2008 (15) at 3:24 pm

It certainly makes sense to me that animals have emotions. The basic emotions have survival value. Fear motivates an animal to run from a predator,or even fight for self-preservation when cornered. Love,or if you’d prefer to refer to it as a bond, between mother and offspring motivates the mother to care for the offspring,which gives the offspring a better chance for survival and helps the continuation of the species. So, I think that many animals have at least the basic emotions.
In the wild,many animals live in social hierarchies. each one needs to find their place in the group. They understand when another is dominant and they are subordinate,and vice versa. They can also be possessive or territorial.
So I think that they are self-aware.

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NiceRoboT 10 October 2008 (13) at 1:56 pm

Wow, this is a good blog!

Can anyone tell me what the general concensus of what self-awareness actually IS?

I’m not at all satisfied in settling at a “sense of self” means that I can recognize my face in the mirror, but that is why I deduce we cristen a few select mammals as being self aware. That’s the study? Stick an elephant in front of a mirror and see if she fixes her collar? Don’t make me laugh!

This would be a good test if self-awareness was akin to humanities insatiable self-consciousness. Recognizing ourselves in the mirror is more of a curse than a blessing in this light. We try to see ourselves through the perspectives of others, which makes sense as we evolved in groups. Looking attractive to the opposite sex requires certain behavior, and we obseve the behavior of others and learn how to shape our behavior– causing us to behave with mannerisms that sometimes conflict with our emotions.

I would assert that ALL animals (including humans) have a self-awareness; it’s just that humans are more self-CONFUSED than self-AWARE.

p.s. (Which is perhaps why being drunk can make you feel confident–slowing the brain functions lower’s your self-awareness to a level closer to that of another animal, animals who think less about the reprecussions of their actions–in a non-social OR social setting, and more about the impulses they feel at that moment.)

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Jamie 03 March 2009 (14) at 2:25 pm

I recently think my cat may have passed the mirror test by accident. She is very obsessive compulsive about the mirror lately. She doesn’t exactly play with it, she seems to observe herself in it. One day for kicks I put the handle of a plastic bag around her head like it was a cape.

(it wasn’t choking her or harming anything but her pride really it was almost too easy the first time, i dont think I would have as much success if I tried again)

It was a very quick action, just for a quick laugh. She didn’t seem to mind having it on after a second. As soon as she decided to start moving with it on the very first place she went was right in front of the mirror where she appeared to be looking at her self. This makes me curious if she has developed the capacity to recognize herself. Sometimes I hold her, since she doesn’t mind and I pet her while in front of the mirror. She also watches me use it as well, you know how cats follow you around. Just a point to ponder I suppose. The whole laser pointer thing isn’t really valid when it comes to a cat because they just don’t give a fuck, but when its something large like a plastic bag… I don’t think they can help but notice.

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Fred 07 July 2009 (03) at 3:59 am

Sorry to be so late to this party.
Whenever I hear about a human passing judgment on an animal’s intelligence or ability to be self-aware I think about the ignorance of earlier “scholars” by today’s “enlightened” point of view.
Why is our understanding of the real world any more accurate than those in the past who thought that the world was flat and if they conceived that it was round, the sun revolved around it.
That dark skinned people were inferior to light skinned people (or visa-versa) or that regular bathing was a health risk.
These were points of view that were held by the most renown (western) scholars of their time. To question them was folly, at best.
Punishable by death at worst.

I submit an opinion from a now deceased comedian who claimed that all of this stuff we call knowledge and awareness is nothing but illusions caused by a hyper-developed skull organ.
Dogs lick their genitalia. They all do. Humans are disgusted by it. All of them to some extant. Why?
For the same reason that dog licks his genitalia!
We are genetically predisposed.
If we were physically able I suppose it would be as normal as picking our nose.
What we think is reality today becomes fodder for the comedians of the future.
…but by all means let’s keep trying. We just may be on the right track unless that’s just my skull organ trying to trick me again.
The point being when it comes to animals. Think less and listen/observe/perceive more.
Take it for granted that the more you have to say on the subject of animal awareness, the more likely you are to be wrong….which also disqualifies me as being right at this point.

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JAcob 08 August 2009 (20) at 8:22 pm

I think that it depends on the type of animal. I’m sure that some recognize themselves and others while others don’t know whats happening. Maybe god (for those offended, evolution, Ali, or tree spirits) put them like that so they can become increasingly intelligent or hunt better, or something…

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JAcob 08 August 2009 (20) at 8:26 pm

also, does a rabbit know that it is a rabbit, a vegetarian who primarily uses its legs for transportation, or does it concentrate on the things for survival of its species? I thinks thats what seperates us some, but my dog does seem to like its belly rubbed… hmmmm…

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Tavis 08 August 2009 (01) at 1:06 am

I agree, Many animals, even Cats and Dogs, are at the very least, capable of understanding the difference between themselves and other living things. Ill have to look into what tests have been done in this fashion, but, I introduced a kitten to a large mirror at ground level in our common room where the cat plays most of the day. I’ve had the cat for 6 years now. It tries to talk to me, for that im certain, as sometimes it literally goes on and on and on and doesnt want anything that I can ascertain, has food, water, toys, an open door, anything you can imagine an animal whos just focused on survival would have available, and still it is standing in front of me meowing on and on like he were telling me about his exciting night life that i missed while i was sleeping.

I would say that there is one major portion of human thought that seems to be lacking in animals, which is the ability to override survival instincts, or I would say more directly being capable of ignoring the subconscious. I’ve never witnessed animals who have previously experienced something life threatening, be completely OK with the idea of doing it again. And yet human beings will jump out of planes repeatedly, stab themselves, even purposefully Murder themselves. I admit, there seems to always be an exception.. like.. the lemming.. although it could be argued that they just have no clue whats going to happen when they start migrating but they go at it head on without worrying…

What are your thoughts in that department?

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mig 12 December 2009 (14) at 2:45 pm

some are some are not…
dolphins, elephants, and primates are…

they know who someone is, who they are,
for example a dolphin and an elephant know whether a dead carcus is someone they knew or didnt know, if they new them they tend to have some sort of death ritual… on the other hand cows are not, when cows see another dead cow they freak out but dont seem to know who it is, or that they might be next, they just freak because they sense danger

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Hilda French 12 December 2009 (16) at 4:40 pm

Of course animals are self aware. Especially dogs. I grew up around cows and they are also. they look out of their eyes and think about finding food and such.

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yechiel g 09 September 2010 (12) at 12:56 pm

what would be the definition of the word ”think” in that case? does it mean that they try to figure out where their food is or does think mean that animals base it on sense?

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New Caledonian Crow 07 July 2010 (17) at 5:01 pm

I come from the future (relative to these comments)! [Making "Oooh" vocalizations]

(First paragraph is somewhat off-topic)
I stumbled upon this site while searching for a short-lived program that was on Animal Planet about animal intelligence (anyone do tell me if you know the title, please!) . On that show, they showcased a sea lion, or seal (I don’t recall) that had learned to fairly quickly classify symbols that were abstract to it (numbers and letters). After some practice, it was able to consistently pick the correct class to get a food reward, even when the sides were changed and even for letters, or numbers that it had not seen before. The scientist tested people with a near identical test, making shapes and colors correspond to the numbers and letters to make them abstract to the people (who were too familiar with letters and numbers) and found out that almost every person who ranked on the top of the spectrum for people were only about as quick on the uptake as the average pinniped that they tested!

(On-topic)
I have seen a caged crow on one of Jeff Corwin’s programs watch Corwin place food in a wallet that he left out, then closed it. Corwin left the room, while a running camera was recording the crow. The crow proceeded to unlock the hinge on his cage, open the cage door, hop out, flip open the wallet, take the food, return to his cage and . . . close and re-hinge his cage door! When Corwin returned, the crow would not make eye-contact with him. A quite similar thing happened to a college-aged male who had a crow perform tricks (typing on his laptop) to earn a peanut. He would show this off to his friends. It seems that the crow got tired of this, since one day, the guy left the cage unattended to and the crow opened it to wreck his laptop, then returned to his cage and closed and “locked” the door. These two crows aren’t even the same individual (and probably never met since I think one was from the UK and another was in California, I think), but still both made efforts to absolve themselves of blame.

When two Chimpanzees in lab tests were given treats of comparable value to them, they would happily eat them. However, when one chimp was given a superior snack (to a chimp’s perspective), the other refused the lesser treat, and waited for the proctor to give him/her a treat that was as good. In a similar, but much more remarkable test, chimps have more complex ideas of fairness and vengeance than shown in that last test. Chimps were set up in small, isolated areas for the test (they didn’t have to stay there after wards) and a rope that was tied to a trey with food went into only one of their boxes. That chimp pulled the food to himself, while the other chimp had to watch. In a later round, that second chimp that did not get the opportunity to pull the food to him got to pull a rope that would dump the trey (he was shown the effect before) so neither of them could eat. This disgruntled chimp always chose to not let the other eat, since that chimp would not be sharing with him and he seemed bitter. Another old chimp in a European zoo would be annoyed by zoo-goers and one day, he was seen gathering rocks to throw at the people . . . hours before the visitors arrived. He continued to do this for a while (I’m guessing they either eventually moved him, or removed the rocks). This shows that this chimp was planning for a future emotion, not living in the moment, and not just feeling something, but doing both!

In another case study of banded mongooses, one mongoose took on an infant to be his mentor (standard behavior, so far) when that infant could not open his eyes and was also a runt. This infant failed to open his eyes for days (weeks?), a long time for these mongooses, but the mentor still continued to raise him. One day, an adult male lion and three adult female lions started snooping around and then started chasing the community of banded mongooses. The mongooses ran, but the lions were gaining on them. The dedicated mentor made sure the blind charge he was to guard was with the others, then he and the leader of the banded mongooses charged the four lions. To give you perspective, these two mongooses combined likely didn’t even weigh as much as one of the lion’s heads, but they still attacked the giant cats, so their mob could run to safety. Both the leader and our favorite mongoose mentor died, but the rest of their entire mob, including that blind infant, survived. Instinct to sacrifice yourself for the community when they aren’t even all related to you and you’re not a mother fighting for your child? Not likely. That sounds more like altruism to me. By the way, the blind infant finally managed to open his eyes after that and continued to grow up well.

(Skip this paragraph if you’re a kid, or easily offended by sexual matters!)
Both female chimpanzees and female macaques on the Rock of Gibraltar have discovered (possibly long ago) that they can get males to give them food by offering to have sex with them. They initiate this by making eye contact with males while touching themselves, then refusing to have intercourse unless they are provided with food. Prostitution really is the world’s oldest profession! It’s older than humans (if you count the barter system, which you should, since many professions were created before currency).

To expand on what you guys said: The marks in the mirror self-aware tests are scentless. Also the animals that pass it go through the same 3-step process that people go through when they first encounter their reflection in a mirror (though a lot of them go through it more slowly). Many other animals, including some birds have passed this mirror test.

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Northern Saint 11 November 2010 (22) at 10:13 pm

Could you please post some links that show where you got this information?
Thanks!

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New Caledonian Crow 07 July 2010 (18) at 6:00 pm

I recalled a few more thoughts I had to share:

Chimpanzees fashioning “fishing” twigs to get termites is intellectual chump change compared to more recent things they have been observed to do. Chimps from multiple locations around Africa have been seen going through a process that is no less than three steps to create a hunting spear that they use on small nocturnal mammals while they sleep in holes in trees! However, that wasn’t the point of this; the point was that in an area close to the Rift Vally, one female chimp has been seen actively teaching (not a passive learning (show and expect to copy) method, but a hands-on approach) her daughter how to spear hunt. This mother not only showed her daughter how she would hunt, but then gave the spear to her daughter, showed her the angles she should try and grips she should use while making vocalizations, put her hands on her daughter’s to try to change the grip and tried to make her daughter watch her use the spear again.

People who know about studies of animal intelligence likely know about bees doing dances that basically uses calculus to give coordinates based on distance and the Sun’s angle, but a more in-depth study has been done. The scientists put a lot of nectar-filled flowers on a boat (or something like that) in the middle of a pond. The bees, who were familiar with the area, must have knew that a pond was at the coordinates the scout gave because even though she gave them a sample of what she found, her sisters didn’t take the time to investigate, even though that is typical bee protocol! They probably though she was mistaken, even though she continued to try to convince them. The sisters moved away from her, which would be analogous to people not listening to what someone has to say, since they were communicating using only direct-contact vibrations.

A New Caledonian crow who chose, snipped and broke twigs to antagonize grubs into biting the twig, then pulled them out to eat (normal behavior) was taken to a lab for testing. This crow was presented with a tube that had food at the bottom and a small, light weight that blocked her access. The weight had a loop on the top. With all of these foreign objects, she was only given another foreign object to solve the puzzle; a thin metal wire, the likes of which she had yet to encounter. She used a hole to bend the wire into a hook-shape, something she was not seen encountering in the wild, then used that hook to fish out the weight to get to the food. This seems like it’s an example of lateral thinking, ingenuity and general intelligence, but it is also proof that animals are not governed by instinct.

Interestingly enough, scientists are finding out more and more that when it comes to danger, attraction to potential mates, adultery and many other things, including the concept of beauty (look into the Golden Ratio), humans are more greatly influenced by instinct than we previously thought. It’s just that we notice our thoughts on these instincts and can communicate them easily (although we don’t always understand them; think about all the times everyday people can’t explain why they like someone).

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Brian Holtkamp 08 August 2010 (10) at 10:05 am

The scientific definition of “Self-aware” was meant to always have the simplest definitions, as a basis for scientific study.

That people want to advance those definitions to further than the simplicity of their original and FULL meanings, is just plain stupid, since one of the basest rules of science is not to oversimplify, nor to overly complicate, unless it is necessary.

They are merely baselines. Should their definition ever be expanded? Not so long as Ockham’s Razor exists. And what a razor’s edge it is, in when and where it should be used, though in the bases of science it most certainly should be.

Science is currently at the pinnacle of stupidity, if you haven’t noticed. That any of it could be called unscientific is extremely damning, but it can.

After all, for the past 150 years evolutionists have pushed an agenda that was never truly scientific in its basis.

And then there’s the DROVES of studies people stupidly rely on, which have NO COMMON GROUNDS FOR TESTING, not even ONE single standard on which the institutions that perform these studies can agree on in the first place.

That’s psuedo-science at best, both of them. Science’s work is never truly done, but its base definitions, so long as they warrant, should remain static. Thus far, I have seen no evidence on a scientific basis, that the definition requires changing. If someone gives me proof enough that these “scientific tests” on animals (which were at best, from my understanding, conducted much like I just declared studies are- with no singular standard, and therefore psuedo-science, in all reality, since the basis cannot be fully mutual, nor standard) are scientifically conducted by ALL my previous criteria in brackets, then I would gladly advocate for the term’s expansion.

I must, at this time point out that sentience is an entirely different matter. Our definition of sentience WILL ultimately change, as we make new discoveries (scientific or not) about living things.

But as any good scientist knows, every scientific body of water yet unexplored, or perhaps just badly explored with holes in the map, requires a basis on which it CAN be explored.

I currently hold the belief that self-awareness should most certainly be that solid base (solid meaning literally unchanged in this context) on which we continue to explore the world of our companionship on this planet. (and eventually, others, in all hopes)

And in conclusion, I must point out that I myself am not a scientist by trade, only by casualty of living on this planet we call Earth. For as it would serve well to adapt a Newsweek cover’s title story, “We’re all scientists now”, in our own ways. I actually own said copy of Newsweek. It should also be remembered that this is an opinion, rooted heavily in my perceived facts. By no means is it set in stone, nor is it “god”. So don’t bash me for having one.

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Northern Saint 11 November 2010 (22) at 10:32 pm

I shan’t ‘bash’ you for having an opinion but merely for acting as an authority on a subject you admittedly are not an authority on. I wish not to insult your intelligence but it feels you are ranting on a subject you do not even understand. Your words are generally a rambling fluff and often contradict themselves. This being said I see one of the points you are driving at and will agree that modern day science is only at its very best truly objective. The remainder of the time it is feeling and fancy. We find what we search for because we are searching for it. We don’t find anything else because we have not opened ourselves up to that possibility.
I wonder what your definition of self-aware is as you failed to specify it despite saying that it needed to be set in stone. While I reject the mirror test I would argue all animals are self-aware. And for Mr. Fido and meow meow and all you others favoring elephants, primates and rodents may I point out that these are the creatures we have studied the most and whose intelligence we have irrefutable evidence of. That is the only reason you accept them under your own personal definitions. You poor individuals wishing to continue to believe you are unique should reread the comment posted by Edward and start thinking about mosquitoes.

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Marina ZS 12 December 2010 (12) at 12:42 pm

Self-awareness is defined by being capable of knowing the difference between themselves and others. Most animals do fall under this category, for example:
Smartest, and most self aware-Primates, dolphins, elefants, and perhaps a few other animals that i am not aware of can recognize themselves on mirrors and notice anything different about themselves, such as a new bracelet, or a patch of dirt.
Second smartest and most self aware- Many birds and other species are able to use tools to reach water or food, as was proven by a Cambridge(?) project where a bird, don’t remember which, used pebbles to raise the level of water to the point where he could drink it. They have many social bonds that are not forgotten over a long period of separation.
Third smartest and most self aware- Social carnivores like wolves and lions use cooperations and other skills to herd a target away from the original group and take them down. These animals can tell themselves apart from other animals in the group and have a basic set of communication signals to convey their happiness, sadness, dominance, submissiveness, Etc… . Overall, they are not dumb and use their intelligence to coordinate traps or make new strategies.
Fourth smartest and most self aware- Herd animals like cows, and zebras have a limited ability to have life-long bonds, if any at all. these animals live with a primary social structure, which is basically males fight over females, seduce them, and the herd travels in search of food. These animals are sometimes incapable of telling themselves apart from their herd mates, but can tell apart a herd mate form a predator. They are dumb compared to us, and usually follow the command of a leader, sometimes into their own death.
Least smartest and self aware- These beings have little to none self awareness. they live purely on instinct, and feel no emotions or very little. This group includes bivalves, worms, and many other animals which i frankly just don’t care enough about to know.
In conclusion, most animals are self aware, many enough to become the next race of world leaders if you give them a thousand more years and the extinction of humans. We cannot call all animals dumb (although there is a few that we can) and we cannot treat them like rubbish just because they will not speak back to us. How self aware a animals is depends on their species and the environment they grew up in as well.

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Eric 01 January 2011 (03) at 3:19 am

If you put someone that looked exactly like you in front of a mirror or a web cam and you didn’t move(or were strapped into place so you could not move even a muscle). would you get the feeling that is not you.

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