Week 7/Animal Self Awareness/Jay Park


I have a dog named Georgie. He’s a three-year-old black and white mini schnauzer and he has been in many of my experiments. Don’t go off to call PETA yet though, as I can assure you that no harm came to my dear Georgie. I’ve done two self awareness experiments on Georgie—I had previously vested interest in these sorts of things from my biopsychology class. To test his self awareness, I applied a red dotted sticker on his forehead, and then placed him in front of a mirror. He momentarily looked at his reflection on the closet mirror and trotted away. Either he didn’t notice, or he had no problem. As a second test, I placed him in front of the closet mirror, and stood behind him while waving a treat in the air. His head would follow the treat with his eyes. When I gave the signal that he can have the treat, he immediately turned around and gobbled it up. Traditional assumptions of the self awareness test using mirrors would indicate that my dog is unaware in the first test, and aware in the second test. The contradiction leads me to believe that the analysis of the mirror test is inconclusive either by design or interpretation of the experiment.  Does my dog, who is very intelligent for its kind, not feel self-aware? Why would I first think to defend the dog’s intelligence when inquiring his self-awareness aptitude? Well, higher forms of intelligence can develop more sophisticated forms of self awareness. Reacting to one’s image by “recognizing one’s self in the mirror is the act of certain types of intelligent thinking processes, not self awareness.”

To understand the delineation better, the definition of self awareness must be solidified. Dot-on-forehead testers define self awareness as the ability to identify images of self from a reflection, which is conclusive evidence of spacial awareness and the individual’s participation in that dimension. Self awareness, in contemporary understanding, is “the many behavioral patterns which animals exhibit which suggest, without the shadow of a doubt, the possessions of certain mental stimuli; some of which are: status, pride, self esteem, territoriality, self punishment, self love, supremacy, and submission.” Those animals that do get irritated by the dot through the mirror in the first experiment would not have conclusively indicated their self awareness, but rather would have implicated existences of sophisticated mental stimuli—namely those safeguarding self-appearance. The animal could be reacting due to the scare of a potential new threat, or feel embarrassed of the alteration in its appearance. Whatever it may be, it is folly to attribute the causality of the irritation exclusively to self awareness. Georgie, though reacting to the second test, did not react accordingly to the first test, leaving the dot in place. Assuming that self awareness wouldn’t just disappear and reappear in a conscience, I can only explain Georgie’s “lack” of self awareness in the first test to be inconclusive in terms of traditional assumptions. The contemporary belief of self awareness can easily explain the distinct results. Georgie possibly felt no need to react to his altered image, as it did not affect any of his mental stimuli to the extent that warranted action. Considering that he has proven his clear understanding of his image and spacial occupancy in the second experiment, he must be unresponsive to dot in his head because of an intelligent assessment he made that considered the dot irrelevant.

During the winter shopping season, my sister managed to find a sale on dog clothes. Bags of new pink collars, sweaters, socks, and shoes filled the doggie closet. For some reason, maybe because he’s my boy, Georgie always disliked being dressed up in pink. The blue complimentary bandanas from the Petco barber didn’t bother him, but the red ones did. The same apparel, weight, and discomfort, didn’t seem to matter to Georgie. This peculiar distaste for a certain color pervades the assumption that self awareness is a form of objective consciousness. If self-awareness is determined by the automatic reaction to a contradiction in the mentally formulated image of self to the mirrored reflection of self, than there should be no room for subjective rationalization for the contradiction. There shouldn’t be a choice between approval and disapproval. There should only be a contradiction that profoundly disturbs the individual’s consciousness. But, this is not the case. Many animals can have many kinds of expressions for the contradictions—dogs can feel embarrassment over a close-shave haircut and lack of covering fur. The multitudes of reactions to the image contradiction act as a trail of clues to the higher mental stimuli at work, assessing the spacial-cognitive inconsistency.

Of course, the possible revisiting trauma caused by my mom and sister dressing him up every day in pink when he was a puppy, or–I’d like to think—the possible assimilation of the cultural ideal “blue for boy, pink for girl” (where he picked up on the sense of embarrassment for a boy dog to wear pink from the  tone of my voice when quarrelling with my family over his subjection to cross-dressing) can be socio-culturally affecting his behavior in the experiments. After all, dogs are based on social hierarchies and sense how they “fit” amongst the other animals. Maybe Georgie isn’t the fashion fanatic type. He hates baths and loves the mud. It would be interesting to take him to the dog park and see if he’s still willing to keep the red dot around all the other dogs while he shows off his Frisbee-catching skills.

I find a contradiction in my interpretation of Georgie’s affinity for certain colors that leaves me in questioning the context of which I assumed Georgie’s self awareness in the first experiment. The dot in the first experiment was red, a color he removes in contrast to other colors, like blue. Despite all the possibly secondary interpretation for any of these results, it remains quite clear in my mind that self awareness is something very difficult to grasp, because it is barely understandable amongst ourselves. Like love or faith or the notion of luck, explaining self awareness can only be qualified as much as we qualify our interpretation of what self awareness exactly is. It will ultimately require an arbitrated understanding of the concept, which will be explicated until the next movement in though comes to change our perspective on it once again.



One Response to “Week 7/Animal Self Awareness/Jay Park”

  1. admin says:

    well done. 9.5/10

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