Archive for August, 2010


This is for my English class. The subject is consciousness and my post is more specifically about self-consciousness, its role in our lives, and similarities  between our self-consciousness and that of other mammals’.

One of the things that sparked interest in the reading that we were assigned is the relationship between self-consciousness and social relationships. What has stuck with us throughout evolution is undoubtedly part of the reason we are still here. One of self-consciousness’ roles in our survival is that it helps us keep tabs with how others view us. This is especially true during teen years, and in high school may seem like the equivalent of finding out where you stand in the pack. Although we aren’t nomads anymore this is something I can remember happening around me and examples of animal-herd like behavior are still around us.

In almost any social setting with both male and female, someone can be found who seems to fit the role of alpha male or the role of a nurturing mother. At a Greek social a few days ago the “leader” of the fraternity was pretty easy to spot, he himself announced his standing in the fraternity and his ownership of the house we were in. This reminded me of a pack of lions. The alpha male lion will defend his role if threatened by another lion who may try to take his place. Also, I am sure many of us are ready to defend our position in our family and group of friends. If we as humans are aware of our role in a group and are ready to defend it, then is an animal that is ready to defend his role somehow aware of what that role is? Is the animal self-conscious because of its willingness to stay in its position?

Another interesting part of our reading was the explanation of self-consciousness as self-recognition and how we are similar and different to monkeys and apes in this field of consciousness. The experiments involved chimps, monkeys, mirrors, and in a follow up experiment, paint. Chimps seemed to eventually understand that they were looking at themselves rather than an intruder. Monkeys however do not, as the writer puts it, “include themselves in their inventory of the world’s contents.” This is where we lose the monkey in similarities of self-consciousness, although the monkey is self-conscious as self-detecting in that it can “recall and register recent sensations”, it does not have an idea of its self. Chimps on the other hand do, but they too are cut off in similarities in self-consciousness when the next definition is explained.

Self-consciousness as aware of being aware is an understanding that we all experience things differently, and also similarly to others. This is where humans, after around four years of age, differ from all other animals. What is the importance of this step forward and what purpose does it serve in our survival? The writer of the piece would answer that understanding that we all experience the world in different ways helps us in our social relationships. For example, in a place with less medical care for its people, someone with an extreme case of autism may have a lesser chance of survival than someone who understands more complicated mental states. Thankfully, there are people who have and understanding that life is difficult for people with autism and by understanding and helping each other our chances of survival as human beings increase.

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