Are Animals Self-Conscious, or are Scientists not Self-Conscious Enough?

So Grim's recent post "Bird Thoughts" which looked at the questions of consciousness, how it may have developed, and where it may originate reminded me of some related news: a recently done experiment attempted the famous "mark test" that has been used on dolphins, higher apes, and Eurasian magpies to show the possession of self-awareness (by recognizing that seeing themselves in a mirror is not another animal, but is a reflection of themselves) on a *fish*- and lo and behold, they responded as though they did recognize themselves.  So it would seem then, that they are on a level of intelligence and self-awareness on the plane of dolphins, if the test is to be believed.  Now, the common sense test suggests then that perhaps the test itself isn't as good as some thought it might be (no offense to the blue streak cleaner wrasses out there).

The Blue Streak Cleaner Wrasse

I find this in line with my own inclinations- almost every time I hear about a test showing how smart some animal species is, with the obligatory implication from the scientists conducting the experiments that there is more to the animals than we know (and I infer from either the scientist directly, or the journalist reporting on it that maybe they're more like us than we'd like to admit, and we're not so special), I become highly skeptical, and find at least a thing or a few that seem to me to be interpretive suppositions and perhaps reflecting biases that call into question the reliability of the test used.  Of course, I have to also be wary of my own biases in that I think humans are different from the animals, so I try to keep an open mind.

In the end, I think this test result will do much good in forcing some self reflection of the researchers and perhaps the development of more rigorous tests less prone to interpretive bias.

As one of the interview scientists said- "If we want to understand the complexity of life, and our place within that complexity, we must ask questions in a way that avoids the inherent bias we as narcissistic humans have." 



Grim said...

It's definitely true that confirmation bias is a problem in science, as are the other major cognitive biases. We have to be skeptical and careful.

Still, maybe the problem is just the assumption that you need a high degree of self-awareness to recognize yourself in a mirror. It might be only the level Aristotle attributes (which is fleshed out more in Hans Jonas' recent work The Phenomenon of Life), i.e., all animals need the capacity to distinguish between themselves and the food they are seeking. Being able to sort out that you are being fooled by a reflection is then a basic part of the animal level of consciousness.

Instead of requiring a robust self-conception, it might only require a recognition that the sensory input seems to be responding to internally-created orders. Thus, it must be me, not food.

What would be really indicative of a theory of mind is if an animal that didn't evolve to do so were to learn to mirror a predator accurately enough to fool the predator into taking it for a reflection. But if Jonas is right, we're unlikely to encounter that, as predators require more intelligence to seek prey than those animals that feed on vegetation. It might come up where one predator preys on other predators, though.

douglas said...

Agree fully. Also why when they have tests that seem to show that animals can "count", I think 'of course- they know the difference between some and more and lots more, and they make choices based on that- it's not that complicated'.

Ymarsakar said...

When the Divine Counsel helped create and maintain the Heavens and the Earth, which is to say almost all of Creation, the number of stars (energy frequencies placed in water and made to vibrate at certain frequencies, sonic and quantum) varied in their "glory", which is to say their vibrational characteristics and quanta.

Thus in order to create avatars for this Earth mmo rpg, different stars may have incarnated into different avatars. The higher, more intelligent, members of Divinity were granted the status equal to a Prince, a Son of God, or other higher priority position as the Divine counsel, the assembly of gods that obeyed the Will of the Creator or Higher Father in Heaven.

The Indians and Buddhism called this reincarnation and the cycle of moksha, spiritual liberation seeking, dharma, karma, etc.

Humanity was the avatar form closest to the divine, although corrupted easily in time due to the illegal intercession of some of the Watchers of the Divine Counsel. Certain console cheats rendered as forbidden knowledge was given to ancient civilizations due to the nephilim, and as a result the World was purged via a Divine Flood, which was more of a server reset than a flood.

For those spirits incapable, unwilling, or barred from experiencing Earth as a human avatar, the animals were sufficient to hold the spirits of such lower order entities and elohim. Even demons can habit such avatars. Demons are correctly classified as the half dead soul of a Watcher, due to the hybrid characteristics of a nephiliim, or as the Greeks called Hercules, a giant "demi god".

In other words, Earth itself is a testing and learning academy for the stars and the elohim. Those that succeed can graduate and become stronger. Those that fail, will be sent back as lesser forms of life so that they can learn to rebuild their flaws before the Final End of Creation.

This world is the Middle Earth, that which sits directly between Hades and Heaven. The other realms are slightly more or less adjacent to Hades and Heaven however, although quantum dimensions and hyper dimensional objects cannot be said to be "adjacent" in the Euclidean sense.

The upgrade needed to comprehend the above is not available from Amazon or other online stores. Nor are credentialed universities allowed to offer the program.

Ymarsakar said...

The human knowledge called the Theory of Evolution is not merely flawed. It is flat out wrong. For obviously, how can humanity has evolved if our sizes decreased from the gaints of the past? That would be de-evolution, not evolution even by the logical standards of Darwin.

And certainly if the brains of crows are smarter than that of apes, then why did humanity evolve from apes and monkeys? In fact, why is evolution even required if you can have the intelligence of a human child imprinted and miniaturized in the efficiency frame of a crow?

Human knowledge is pretty pathetic in the end. People think they know things that they rather ignorant on. They dare not question the HIerarchy, the State, or the Authorities. They lack a spine so they can only research how animals "evolved" a spine.