I was recently considering which animal species are capable of self-recognition as this probably reflects an image of oneself in the analog world of the mind. It turns out the list of animals with this ability is fairly short and includes humans, apes, orcas, some Asian elephants, dolphins, the Eurasian Magpie and ants. Surprisingly dogs do not make the list, but perhaps they can distinguish themselves and others by the senses of smell and hearing. But these senses do not provide a “self” to occupy the analog mind., at least in a visual sense. All of the above species pass the “mirror test” in which individual self-recognition is accomplished. And why is this important? In order to form a memory of oneself within the mind, it is necessary to first recognize oneself as distinct as opposed to some other individual of the same species. Some species like the common house mouse likely have a rudimentary analog mind, especially with the use of hippocampus place cells so that paths to rewards may be remembered along with qualia like color, smell, shape. But the mouse brain is likely skewed on the sensory scale towards olfaction and perhaps mice can distinguish each other with this sense. But in my view this is inadequate for elaboration of the analog mind which is mostly a visual phenomenon. Therefore, your average mouse does not rehearse itself moving in its own mind or do any planning.
Humans can recognize themselves in a mirror and distinguish themselves from other humans. This ability is linked to the social nature of the species in that the most important factor in living socially is the ability to form memories of faces and forms of the individuals with whom you co-exist and upon which your struggle for survival is dependent. An unusually large portion of the human memory is given to facial recognition which allows us to populate the analog mind with the faces of acquaintances and our own. The only reason we became self-aware is because our social nature required that we be aware of others and be able to link memories to various faces. A mouse perhaps does not know one mouse from another visually, but may use the olfactory sense to remember different individuals although they cannot populate an analog mind. The evolving social hominid, and the other social species listed and perhaps more, had to know and remember the characteristics and relationships within their respective social hierarchies. The faces of the other members of their groups were the most important memories that could be formed including the apparent submission and domination relationships. The “self” that now populates the human mind as a self-perception likely began as a necessary adaptation among the individuals of social species. Many species have some degree of analog mind, but what they lack is an area of the brain that can distinguish themselves from others of their species and therefore, for all cerebral purposes, they don’t exist. The evolution of the analog mind and behavioral control mediated by the medial prefrontal cortex likely evolved together as the “self” began to act in a less impulsively, lest they insult an alpha-ape that would let them know of their trespass. “Self” was preoccupied for millions of years with the social environment, knowing the members of the group and their characteristics, the hierarchical order, so that cooperation and competition could be managed with the co-evolving medial prefrontal cortex which places limits on our social behaviors, depending upon the environment of cultural mores and values in which we find ourselves.
After making faces in the mirror for several minutes, President Obama finally determined it was indeed himself in the mirror and thereby passed the mirror test.
President Trump had to be pulled away from the mirror by three secret service personnel and then took this selfie. He too passed the mirror test.
President George W. Bush aka “Mona Lisa” didn’t show-up for his mirror test but was found later at the Louvre. Authorities decided the mirror test would not be necessary.
There is no reason to possess a “self” in an analog mind when the social context is missing. Other organisms can do quite well without themselves in their minds, behaving in a more algorithmically controlled way, with some degree of analog mind but without a picture of themselves within their own minds to plan and rehearse future actions.
The human mind and its social preoccupation doesn’t seem to have changed much. People still spend most of their time socializing and competing with other humans, trying to pick behaviors that will elevate themselves within pertinent hierarchies. There is much grooming, talking, gossiping and fighting just like chimps under the banana tree. Washington, D.C. Must be the chimp capitol of the world and this has led us to our likely future, banana republic, led by venal chiefs and ton ton macoutes. Your brain will allow you to recognize them and your prefrontal cortex will plan the proper etiquette before you make a hasty retreat. Current leaders are not using their lofty thought processes to address the problems of the cancerous growth of civilization. Instead, they are acting like apes, fighting for the highest position in the hierarchy so they can receive the most sex and food (wealth) while deceptively pledging fealty to the Gods that keep the underlings in line.
As is apparent in the current culture, most people are preoccupied with the lives of the rich and famous and their Facebook and Twitter tribes and don’t seem to have much time or ability to think about anything else. This preoccupation with other apes goes back a long way as it was the most important knowledge one could have, other than recognizing the right berries to pick and where to kill and antelope or two. Most of reality was the reality shared by tribal members under the banana tree with a few good shared myths or stories to otherwise occupy the mind. As most of the remainder of reality is being ignored or candy-coated in favor of ape politics, it is likely that civilization will fail and we will return to a condition in which there is little else than social status to occupy ones’ mind.
It is apparent that human bonobos have risen to the top and will march towards the cliff, backs turned, as they hurl insults at each other and fight for ape supremacy, providing ample entertainment for the lesser apes whose attention is split between quarreling alphas and the awe and spectacle of technological shamans. The best solution is perhaps to load them into Elon Musk’s spaceship X (do they always have to use a Z or X in these names. I guess it came out of marketing.) and blast them into intergalactic space, but let’s be reasonable, they’re just doing what apes do. Too bad.
The ability to recognize others goes along with the ability to recognize oneself. The planning ability of the prefrontal cortex likely emerged to calculate and evaluate the potential effects of various actions within the social hierarchy. You, as an individual, are in your brain because you had to recognize personally all of the faces and personalities of your tribe. Without that necessity, it’s really not necessary that you exist. Most organisms exist very well without knowing they exist. And now that “you” or your image shares space in an analog mind with the specter of death, there can be constant fear allayed only by elaborate religious rituals and beliefs. Long gone are the days of being a mindless automaton without a “self” in the mind to fear death which has made a deep impression in the analog mind. Elephants have also been known to perform death rituals.
Humans like to think they’re very special, and they are in a pathological sense, but when humans with their analog minds and self-perception have passed, there will still be the ants which, although social, will likely never function as RNA. Hard to guess what the cetaceans like orcas or dolphins are thinking, but they’ll probably pass if the ocean environment changes too rapidly. The rules of evolution are written in thermodynamics and cancer has always been a possibility for the ecosystem just as it is for many organisms. But little modular cells will stick together again with the potential for millions of different combinations, but will a brain large enough to create an analog mind, and a social living arrangement that requires perceiving individual differences and by consequence self-perception ever happen again? I doubt it, not like the humans. Perhaps it will be the time of the ants whose social arrangement seems to have given them some self-recognition, although I don’t expect much of an analog mind in their diminutive neural ganglia.
Ants, somewhat self-aware? Be careful where you step.
Many things that humans are motivated to do stems from their self-perception and imagined perception by others within the social group. Having moved from living beneath the banana tree to functioning in technological cells, the impulse to gain power or relative position within the hierarchy promotes growth and wealth accumulation beyond what is necessary for bodily survival. Humans are continually at war with each other in a never-ending quest for dominance. With the apes at the helm the cancer will grow until it collapses and/or the supporting environment no longer favors hominid existence. If they should survive, sometime in the future the self may be lost along with any desire to achieve dominance in a hierarchical structure. But instead of living freely like most organisms they may simply function as human RNA with each functioning human unable to recognize any difference between self and co-workers. Instead of people with names we will be RNA with job descriptions. The future is here. It is called political correctness.
Human RNA work on maintaining a major artery of the technological system.