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Sorcerer

Is self awareness an adaptation?

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Is it advantageous to "know" "you" want to survive?

 

Did self awareness evolve from selective pressure in social groups?

 

Was it an opporunistic adaption available because of flexable functions synergistic with brain expansion for creative ability to make tools?

 

To what extent do other species exhibit self awareness, is it correlated with tool use?

 

Does ironically our theory of mind bias us from pursing an objective answer?

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Does ironically our theory of mind bias us from pursing an objective answer?

 

This question shows bias is definitely at work here.

Is it advantageous to "know" "you" want to survive?

 

I think most animals know a situation where survival is on the line. The way I'm using "know" is "to be aware of". If an animal is aware that a situation is potentially deadly, it treats the situation accordingly. It uses tactics to avoid it if the goal isn't worthy. It's more careful and hesitant. Or it may deem that the risk is worth the danger, such as retrieving food from a high tree branch that might not hold its weight, if they were starving.

 

I could argue, in that situation, that the animal has weighed its options, and whatever decision it makes, it's with survival in mind. Doesn't that mean it "wants" to survive?

 

Perhaps I'm not using the same definition of "self-aware", but animals know things about themselves ("This is my paw, I'm making these scratches in the dirt to point out what I did here, so animals that aren't me will know"), and many can recognize themselves in mirrors. I think animals have an awareness of self, commensurate with their intelligence. Human self-awareness seems special because it reflects our intelligence.

 

Maybe an animal's reaction to a lethal situation isn't impaired by a lack of self-awareness, so much as a lack of full understanding of the dangers involved. It may be thinking that if it falls into the water, it can just get back out like always, because it doesn't understand how deep and fast the water really is.

 

Allllllll that said, I do think self-awareness is an evolutionary adaption. I think it helps all us animals create a hierarchy of importance to our actions within our environments, which helps us survive to pass those genes along.

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This is assuming that self-awareness is a trait that could be selected for. But self-awareness is not well defined to begin with. We do not have a perfect grasp on degrees and differences, for example. As such we only have a rough idea of how self-aware other animals may be. As a matter of fact we cannot classify our own self-awareness very well for that matter (other that in a very descriptive way). We know more about the neuronal pathways that may affect awareness (mostly due to lesion studies, i.e. looking when things become odd).

 

Moreover, it is perfectly possible that self-awareness is just a consequence of complex brain function.

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Survival methods (hunger, fear, pain) often circumvent the prefrontal cortex. Even the most simple forms of life that are capable of sense and locomotion will take pains to survive. An amoeba, for instance, will travel towards water of a more neutral pH.

 

Creatures that are self-aware are able to solve problems much, much quicker than waiting for an evolutionary response. It's much quicker to figure out to smash nuts and shellfish with a rock than to evolve a solution that may never come. Self-aware creatures are at a great advantage to surviving.

Edited by kisai

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Moreover, it is perfectly possible that self-awareness is just a consequence of complex brain function.

 

It does seem like an influence on behavior that becomes more apparent the smarter the creature is. A matter of degree rather than have-it-or-don't.

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Self awareness is a thing that happens in stages. When I was a newborn I was not self aware, when I was a small child I was marginally self aware, etc. I find that even now, as I get older, I achieve new levels of self awareness. I think up until a high level is achieved, it's no different from running off of instinct. For self awareness to be beneficial for survival you have to be to the point where you can resist short term gains for long term, such as smoking the meat of the animal instead of just eating as much as you can now. Self awareness is an adaptation, but not one that exists for it's own benefit IMO. Meaning, the lesser stages of self awareness do not really benefit for survival purposes, but they are more a side effect of a complex neural network capable of processing more information.

Edited by TheGeckomancer

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Yes it is surely an adaption.Some people thing what you consider to be self-aware is not really that, but lets just assume it is for sake of conversation. Clearly humans are more self-ware than other animals. The thing is is that it is probably over-exaggerated how many of our decisions require our self-aware adaption to execute. In other words, we are making many decisions which don't require our self to decide them, like removing our hand from a red hot object. Mostly animals execute actions i this way if you treat the matter dichotomous for simplicity. Consider this quirky, yet incredibly informative research below, reported in a BBC article...

 

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20150925-blindsight-the-strangest-form-of-consciousness

 

The research clearly indicates decision making by the brain without telling the self-aware part.

 

One needs to think of the self-awareness as a function of the brain, when you think of yourself, it is in fact better to imagine just a part of the brain that likes to think of itself, a limited part of your brain function, an illusion that thinks it is fully in charge. Whats really interesting is to start to think why natural selection would select for a "module" in the brain that creates the effect that we call self-awareness, and creating this powerful illusion of self.

 

The centrepiece metaphor of this coevolved human user-illusion is the Self which appears to reside in a place in the brain, the Cartesian Theatre, providing a limited outlook on what’s going on in our brains. It provides this outlook to others, and to ourselves. In fact, we wouldn’t exist- as selves “inhabiting complicated machinery”, as Wegner vividly puts it – if it weren’t for the evolution of social interactions requiring each human animal to create within itself a subsystem designed for interacting with others. Once created, it could also interact with itself at different times.”

 

Above is a Daniel Dennett quote from Freedom Evolves. This hints at an answer to your question of selective pressures and social groups. An idea of a self interacting with others selfs in complex social societies...

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How clear is it actually, though, that humans are more self-aware than other animals? As has been discussed, we don't really have a very solid grasp on what self-awareness even is let along good ways to quantify or measure it.

 

I'm not arguing against the position that humans are more self-aware so much as pointing out that you can't just state that it is clearly true as if it's an incontestable fact. We don't really have concrete evidence to back that up.

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To be fair, I think I have my terms mixed up. Although in depends on who you read. Consciousness versus awareness. I would treat the latter as an ability to recognise that you recognise that you are an individual. As in, I realise that I recognised myself in a mirror, and reflect upon that.

 

Ultimately your right its difficult to assess where animals are along the spectrum.

 

But when comparing to humans its another matter. I'm not sure incontestable facts really exist in a meaningful form on this one, and that's not a methodological issue relating to the fact that animals can't speak. Observationally (in relation to behaviour), there are such huge differences between humans and other species, if you conducted an ethological survey of how humans and a variety of monkey, ape, elephant species responded to a mirror, you would have a difficult time getting the humans away from it, many of the individuals of the other species couldnt even recognise themselves.

 

People just take it for granted that the gap is massive, so they don't conduct a mountain of ethological research to be labelled incontestable.

 

I understand your acknowledging that humans are more self-ware, just saying we can't prove it technically. And while it depends what you mean by proof, in the sense that science can't really prove anything, after all even evolution isn't technically a fact, you could collect loads and loads of behavioural research to show the gap, but no is really bothered to and present it in modern academic journals.

Edited by tantalus

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