Self Consciousness_Jillian Cross

                This past week, Siddharth Ramakrishnan gave a guest lecture on the topic of consciousness and the evidence of such consciousness in animals. While the traditional definition of consciousness is “a type of mental state, a way of perceiving, particularly the perception of a relationship between self and other,” I found that a more evolutionary definition of consciousness also related to Siddharth’s lecture. “Consciousness can be viewed from the evolutionary biology approach as an adaptation because it is a trait that increases fitness.” The animals that Siddharth discussed that most exhibited consciousness as an adaptation were the naked mole rates and the cephalopods (i.e. octopuses).

                I found the discussion on the naked mole rats to be the most intriguing; partially because I have not heard much about them beforehand, and also I am very fascinated by the eusocial society in which they live. While Darwin’s theory (survival of the fittest) would suggest that the naked mole rats should strive to increase both their fitness and their reproduction success, the naked mole rats choose instead to facilitate the most dominant males and females in their quest for reproduction. Below the queen mole rat and those select few males who reproduce with her is a sort of hierarchy of the rest of the mole rats. However, they all work together to keep the queen and her mates happy. The entire structure of the mole rats’ habitat is made up of many tunnels centering on the main chamber where the queen and the babies stay. The mole rats are more beneficial to their society by helping the queen care for her babies than they would be by reproducing themselves (this is shown in first half of the national geographic video found here:

                This seems to be a level of consciousness I did not realize animals possessed. The naked mole rats are conscious enough of their family to be self sacrificing in order to ensure the success of the colony as a whole. This consciousness is also evident in the way they keep each other warm at night. Siddharth showed several pictures of the naked mole rats “hugging” each other (aka piling on top of one another to share heat). The naked mole rats seem aware or conscious of others in their society and use that awareness to help keep it running successfully.

                Bees and ants also share this same eusocial society; however, naked mole rats are the only mammals who run their colonies in this manner. A brief rundown of a naked mole rat colony can be found here:

                Another type of animal that uses its consciousness as an adaptation is a cephalopod. Siddharth specifically spoke about octopuses and their ability to change color and the way they move based on their environment. The octopus is aware enough of its environment to change its appearance to blend in.

                Besides using consciousness as an adaptation, animals are also surprisingly aware of themselves. Siddharth demonstrated this when he spoke about the experiment with the elephant and the “X” on its forehead. The elephant had an “X” taped onto its forehead and it was placed in front of a mirror. The elephant was aware enough of itself to know that the elephant in the mirror was not a different animal, but in fact an image of itself. The elephant immediately reached for the “x” on its own forehead, demonstrating what I found to be a surprising amount of self awareness.

                Siddharth opened my eyes to the concept of consciousness as a whole and how I view consciousness. I am conscious of myself and the things I need to do to coexist peacefully, but what does that really mean? Where do I really get this sense of self? I used to judge my sense of self based on those around me. This can fit in to the definition of consciousness as “the perception of a relationship between self and other.” For example, if other people liked me, I would consider myself friendly. If other people reacted to me a certain way, I would use that to judge my own behavior and my self-awareness. But Siddharth’s lecture on the innate sense of self these animals feel made me wonder how I would really know what my own self consciousness is. It’s definitely something to consider. Do I act this way because of an adaptation? Have I molded myself to my culture? Or is my consciousness and who I am embedded in me at birth? I believe that my self-consciousness is a combination of all of these things.




One Response to “Self Consciousness_Jillian Cross”

  1. admin says:

    Well done in analyzing eusocieties from a darwinian perspective but you could have analyzed this further rather than skipping to other topics. Also, links are mostly to wikipedia or other encyclopedic resources. 8.5/10

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