Re: Evolving Self-Awareness€€

9 Sep 1995 14:13:58 GMT

: 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!)

Jared Diamond in his book "The Third Chimpanzee" reviews the research
into self-awareness in higher primates. One test that has been used is
whether the animal recognizes itself in a mirror. If a colored spot is
put on the chimp's face, how does it react when it sees its reflection?
Chimps have been known to reach to the spot on their faces; some say this
indicates they are aware that it is themselves they see. If higher
primates have self-awareness, there is no need to seek it in early man;
it could probably be assumed. Of course, all of this can be debated.
Some humans seem barely self-aware; others are completely self-absorbed,
and unaware of the humanity of others.

David Wasserman (
Curmudgeon-At-Large (
"The older I get, the more value I place on experience."