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    Thread: The Evolutionary Benefits of Self-Awareness

    1. #1
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      The Evolutionary Benefits of Self-Awareness

      Compared to the millions of species that exist and seem to have existed in the past, it strikes me as strange the apparent rarity of self-awareness. One of the unique factors of humans relating to their success could be argued to stem from our self-awareness as being agents in a world, rather than totally subjective 'theaters of experience'.

      I know very little about evolutionary biology, but in the great race of life it feels counter-intuitive that something like self awareness would be selected as preferable to other traits. Is it beneficial? If it wasn't for self awareness, suicide wouldn't exist, for example. Suicide being the most hilariously counter-evolutionary move anyone can make.

      Perhaps self-awareness is just more or less an unexpected side consequence of the evolution of other more directly useful features of the brain, but I'm having trouble imagining how it fits in.

      What do you think? Why are we self aware, and why is it beneficial over say, a robotic insect-like "mentality". Is it just more or less luck?

      I don't know. Either way, its strange how few animals have this 'self-awareness' thing.

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      I am become fish pear Abra's Avatar
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      Define self-awareness. How you seem to describe it, it appears it means you have a theory of mind which includes others, as well as yourself. Recognizing that you are not the only thinking being. Is this a requirement, to be self-aware? Or is this merely awareness of the body? Recognition of the self? What parts of the self?

      Self-awareness, from my own definition (so I don't know if it's applicable here: includes recognizing yourself as separate from others, and recognizing that others 'think' or at least have 'will') would greatly aid the social aspect of many species, knowing who you are, and who others are, allows for tit-for-tat and trust relations, which is beneficial to species survival (would you like me to spell out why?). Crows develop trust bonds with other crows, and stay with those specific crows the next day, after retiring to and joining the flock. Do you think it's possible that crows have 'reasons' for choosing to forage with one crow over another? Would this provide support for what you consider self-awareness?

      If we're going the theory of mind route, then I'd say a great deal of mammals have self-awareness. They need to be able to predict their predator/prey's behavior. There's an intelligence arms race in certain predatory relationships, just not the same intelligence humans glorify.

      If you go by mirror-test metrics (which is a very narrow yet hard to refute metric) then elephants, magpies, dolphins, and some apes are self aware in the sense that they recognize themselves and try to remove body alterations (not self) in the mirror. Other animals could be self-aware, but just don't give the response humans are looking for. Pigs, for example, somewhat pass the mirror test.

      But I need your sufficient and necessary conditions of self awareness for a better response.
      Last edited by Abra; 03-28-2013 at 10:46 PM.
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      Abraxas

      Quote Originally Posted by OldSparta
      I murdered someone, there was bloody everywhere. On the walls, on my hands. The air smelled metallic, like iron. My mouth... tasted metallic, like iron. The floor was metallic, probably iron

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      Quote Originally Posted by Abra View Post
      Define self-awareness. How you seem to describe it, it appears it means you have a theory of mind which includes others, as well as yourself. Recognizing that you are not the only thinking being. Is this a requirement, to be self-aware? Or is this merely awareness of the body? Recognition of the self? What parts of the self?

      Self-awareness, from my own definition (so I don't know if it's applicable here: includes recognizing yourself as separate from others, and recognizing that others 'think' or at least have 'will') would greatly aid the social aspect of many species, knowing who you are, and who others are, allows for tit-for-tat and trust relations, which is beneficial to species survival (would you like me to spell out why?). Crows develop trust bonds with other crows, and stay with those specific crows the next day, after retiring to and joining the flock. Do you think it's possible that crows have 'reasons' for choosing to forage with one crow over another? Would this provide support for what you consider self-awareness?

      If we're going the theory of mind route, then I'd say a great deal of mammals have self-awareness. They need to be able to predict their predator/prey's behavior. There's an intelligence arms race in certain predatory relationships, just not the same intelligence humans glorify.

      If you go by mirror-test metrics (which is a very narrow yet hard to refute metric) then elephants, magpies, dolphins, and some apes are self aware in the sense that they recognize themselves and try to remove body alterations (not self) in the mirror. Other animals could be self-aware, but just don't give the response humans are looking for. Pigs, for example, somewhat pass the mirror test.

      But I need your sufficient and necessary conditions of self awareness for a better response.
      More or less I would define self awareness in the same way you did. It is an understanding of the existence of a spatiotemporal world of which the self is one part of. I'd be slightly more hesitant to say that understanding the existence of other 'selves' is required, as that would seem to rule certain mentally disabled people as being 'not self aware' if they dont understand the existence of others. I think the key is the understanding that you are an agent in the world. I can't very well describe what it would be like to not be self aware, obviously. Whilst I wouldn't want to reduce it to the body, I think it's more inclined that way. To clarify I do not have a theory here, I'm wildly speculating about vague definitions. Generally people have an understanding of what they mean by self awareness, I think? Perhaps not.

      I'm thinking now more and more about if say an extreme psychopath would not be considered self aware. I find it very hard to imagine.

      Your definition of self awareness seems more geared towards the external, to other animals etc.

    4. #4
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      Most animals seem pretty self-aware to me. My cat seems to know that he exists as a free agent. He knows that he affects other things. He recognizes that people and other animals have minds, that he needs to approach other cats cautiously so that they aren't afraid of him. When I'm sleeping and he wants to leave my room, he'll meow or paw my face because he knows it will wake me up. I don't think he knows this through mere trial and error. He knows that when he's asleep and someone makes a loud noise or touches him it will wake him up. He recognizes that I have a mind and am the same in that way, so if he makes a loud noise or touches me I'll wake up. Even lesser animals seem to know that they can affect the external world and seem aware of other free agents, although perhaps in some cases this is an illusion and it's only instinct that's driving them to act similarly to mammals in some social situations.

      I don't think that being self-aware is even necessarily related to consciousness. One could imagine a robot being programmed to be self-aware but not conscious. It might have a section of its memory dedicated to external things, and another to internal things, and something which tells it that its entire self and the program that it is, also exists in other instances external to itself as other thinking beings. And that that should be considered while interacting with these external beings that are like itself. That realization that one is a free agent and can affect other things and people isn't very complicated. I don't think one must necessarily even be conscious to do it. In fact I don't think consciousness is a necessary emergent property of anything, no matter how complicated. Consciousness is somewhat magical to me and I don't understand it.
      Last edited by Dianeva; 03-29-2013 at 12:42 AM.
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      I am become fish pear Abra's Avatar
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      Quote Originally Posted by Car˘usoul View Post
      More or less I would define self awareness in the same way you did. It is an understanding of the existence of a spatiotemporal world of which the self is one part of. I'd be slightly more hesitant to say that understanding the existence of other 'selves' is required, as that would seem to rule certain mentally disabled people as being 'not self aware' if they dont understand the existence of others. I think the key is the understanding that you are an agent in the world. I can't very well describe what it would be like to not be self aware, obviously. Whilst I wouldn't want to reduce it to the body, I think it's more inclined that way. To clarify I do not have a theory here, I'm wildly speculating about vague definitions. Generally people have an understanding of what they mean by self awareness, I think? Perhaps not.

      I'm thinking now more and more about if say an extreme psychopath would not be considered self aware. I find it very hard to imagine.

      Your definition of self awareness seems more geared towards the external, to other animals etc.
      I was trying to contrast your "subjective experience theater" by introducing the acknowledgement of others. I think recognition of others (and yourself) as agents is sufficient, but not necessary, for self-awareness.

      Self-awareness is tricky, and Kant and a shitton of other speciesists like to think it's very much only human. I think self-awareness is a gradient, it's not 'you have it or you don't.' You just, have less and less of it with lesser brains. I think self-awareness in the most basic sense, knowing that you are hungry, knowing that you need food, is prevalent across most animal boards. Self-awareness is heightened in social frameworks, and includes awareness of hierarchy within a group, social norms, and in species with monogamous life-long pairings, possibly a sense of unique identity. I think an improvement in self-awareness of these species co-evolved, feedback style, with the benefits of social living.

      We need to look for self-awareness in species in new ways, and create more rigorous definitions. I don't know whether to look at the psychologists or the philosophers here for the best definition. It's also not good science to say that what "looks like" self awareness means there is a subjective experience of self awareness actually going on. It just seems most credible to me, that since we share common ancestors and time, our self awareness has been evolving on a gradient. There may be species that are only self-aware in certain situations, and completely instinctual in others. I think we need to look at the means animals problem solve rigorously, to separate false anthropomorphisms. As an example, we once thought ants were smart, because they built sand bridges to get to an island full of helpless larva. The experiment was repeated again, without larva on the island, and the ants built a bridge anyway. Turns out it's just instinct to cross waters by building bridges (probably for a variety of reasons, but the ants aren't 'aware' of these reasons). I think devising experiments that can distinguish instinct from problem solving is a crucial component to animal psychology. Fuck Skinner's black box.

      Also, one thing on the problem of suicide:

      So what if it's a poor side effect of evolution of self-awareness? So is aging and menopause, but that still exists! Also, I don't think animals are trapped in "the system," and would not feel the same "no way out" feel. No way out? Run, bite, eat later because eating feels nice. Do they have to conceive of death to be self-aware? Do they have to connect suicide to death? And what idiot but a human or an animal in extreme pain would choose suicide? Would they even know death is an end to pain?
      Last edited by Abra; 03-29-2013 at 12:42 AM.
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      Abraxas

      Quote Originally Posted by OldSparta
      I murdered someone, there was bloody everywhere. On the walls, on my hands. The air smelled metallic, like iron. My mouth... tasted metallic, like iron. The floor was metallic, probably iron

    6. #6
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      Quote Originally Posted by Dianeva View Post
      Most animals seem pretty self-aware to me. My cat seems to know that he exists as a free agent. He knows that he affects other things. He recognizes that people and other animals have minds, that he needs to approach other cats cautiously so that they aren't afraid of him. When I'm sleeping and he wants to leave my room, he'll meow or paw my face because he knows it will wake me up. I don't think he knows this through mere trial and error. He knows that when he's asleep and someone makes a loud noise or touches him it will wake him up. He recognizes that I have a mind and am the same in that way, so if he makes a loud noise or touches me I'll wake up. Even lesser animals seem to know that they can affect the external world and seem aware of other free agents, although perhaps in some cases this is an illusion and it's only instinct that's driving them to act similarly to mammals in some social situations.

      I don't think that being self-aware is even necessarily related to consciousness. One could imagine a robot being programmed to be self-aware but not conscious. It might have a section of its memory dedicated to external things, and another to internal things, and something which tells it that its entire self and the program that it is, also exists in other instances external to itself as other thinking beings. And that that should be considered while interacting with these external beings that are like itself. That realization that one is a free agent and can affect other things and people isn't very complicated. I don't think one must necessarily even be conscious to do it. In fact I don't think consciousness is a necessary emergent property of anything, no matter how complicated. Consciousness is somewhat magical to me and I don't understand it.
      Well I would say that self awareness seems to be linked to your ability to reason. The human consciousness is largely existent because we are excellent at witnessing the change we make to the world around us, and even more important factor in our unique self awareness is that we have a strong sense for abstract reasoning, at any given moment we can analyze a situation, taking into account what kind of effects your actions will have on yourself, the world around you, and other life forms.
      Most animals are quite lacking in this respect, a cat for example is likely not thinking very far ahead when it does any action, not because it doesn't have self awareness, but because he just isn't able to. It's very clear what type of animals show this in greater amounts then others when doing experiments such as the one were you let an animal choose between one treat now, or two treats later. Animals like crows, parrots, monkeys and dolphins are all pretty good at this but others like dogs and cats take a significantly longer time to teach.

      It is actually funny to note that we can witness a child as he grows up, going through various stages in which he shows similar traits to a lot of different animals. A child of 1 for instance cannot count a number of items if they are not visible to him, or by the age of 3-4 a child has more trouble refusing a sweat than a crow would if they both have the knowledge that they will be rewarded a greater threat if they wait beofre eating it. Self awareness is gradually built into our mind at the same rate that our ability to reason is.

      @Carousoul
      Really self-awareness is just a term we have made up to describe a number of processes going constantly in humans related to our reasoning. I don't believe that self-awareness is either present or not present, it's obviously a gradual curve in most animals. The evolutionary benefit to reasoning is pretty clear, and as far as I'm concerned self-awareness is just a co-product of our excellent ability to reason.

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      I would rather have one treat now than two treats later. I want a treat now. I don't need two. (JoannaB goes off to search for her one treat.)

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      Quote Originally Posted by JoannaB View Post
      I would rather have one treat now than two treats later. I want a treat now. I don't need two. (JoannaB goes off to search for her one treat.)
      so funny XD

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