Re: Evolving Self-Awareness€€

Mike Reid (
7 Sep 1995 20:13:11 GMT (EVELYNE STALZER) wrote:
> Mike Reid ( wrote:
> MR> As far as becoming "self-aware," this is as difficult to
> MR> determine as it is to define. Thought processes are not
> MR> preserved in the fossil record.
> This is true. But aren't there at least some indications in the
> fossil record that can provide evidence for self-awareness? Two
> candidates come to mind--burial customs and artwork.
> MR> We know that a likely ancestor, Homo habilis, had a large brain
> MR> and was making primitive tools more than 2 million years ago,
> MR> perhaps long before then.
> The difficulty I have with using tool-making as an indicator of
> self-awareness is that it is different more in degree than in kind
> from the behavior of other animals. Admittedly, that difference in
> degree is pretty substantial between a culturally transmitted school
> of stone tool making among humans and an opportunistic use of sticks
> to collect termites among chimps.
> On the other hand, no animals as far as I know practice
> representational or abstract art, nor have they developed elaborate
> burial customs. (And if I'm wrong, I'm sure the people here will
> let me know about it!)
> Evelyne Stalzer

I agree with you that artwork and ritualized burial sites can tell us
more about self-awareness than primitive tools. However, if we are
speculating about the level of self-awareness achieved by hominids
going back hundreds of thousands or even millions of years, bones and
primitive tools are usually all we have and even that is fragmentary.
Of course, the meaning of the term "self-awareness" is vague in itself
and what can be deduced about it from fossil sites is mainly just
conjecture. But hey, I see nothing wrong with conjecture in an open
newsgroup as long as its not being represented as anything more! :)