Norman Allan
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Further musings on the Animal Mind : self awareness

I've been thinking about consciousness in animals lately, and something that that controversial professor, J Peterson, said struck chords. Peterson was speaking about the concept of self awareness, which, at some point, some thought was the defining, or at least a defining function for human intelligence. Some animal psychologists came up with the so called mirror test. They'd put a mark, a red dot perhaps, on an animals forehead, let it look in the mirror, and see if it then did anything about the "mark" on itself. If so, the argument ran, it showed that the animal was aware that the image in the mirror was an image of itself, and therefore it has a concept of self.
     So, great apes pass the mirror test, and dolphins and orcas (they haven't tested other whales), and elephants! and magpies! Speaking of this, Peterson then mentioned that dogs do not pass the mirror test, but he felt that it was not a fair test for dogs as they are so fundamentally olfactory, rather than visual. And that set me in mind of several anecdotes concerning my blue healer, Lucky. None of these directly demonstrates self awareness, though the first anecdote, I feel, is strongly suggestive.

Lucky was sitting beside me on the sofa. I had a book of dog-breed-identification pictures open (at the Cattle Dog page) on my lap. I pointed to the picture, and said, "Dog". In response to this, Lucky bent his face down and sniffed the picture, but only for a moment. "Not so," he obviously concluded: it was not a dog!
     In a somewhat different sense, we have the observation that puppies, and more demonstratively, kittens display to mirrors as though to another puppy, or kitten, but soon learn that things in a mirror are not things that will interact with them, are not of any use, and soon enough mirrors are not of any interest. Self awareness is not an issue here, though kittenness, or puppiness, is.
     On the subject of visual clues, Lucky once, from the sidewalk, noticed a black metal silhouette of a cat standing arched on a window ledge, a piece of "art" on a house, set back behind a modest front yard (fifteen feet?). Lucky hastened over, stood on his hind legs to get a closer look, saw (as with sniffing the dog picture) that it was but a ruse, and summarily came back to me.
     Last observation here: when Lucky was quite young, Jaye was unpacking, among other things, a brown rabbit skin hat. Lucky rushed over to smell it, and then went to smell the cat.

Dogs are interested in dogs. Cats are interested in cats. And I have no doubt that Lucky, at least, was well aware that he was a dog.








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