Do animals have a "sense of self"?


Registered Senior Member
This one's for you, Typha! I got the idea from your thread.
Let's animals have a "sense of self"? Upon first reflection I would say no. But there are a great many possible phenomena.
Anyway, here are your arguments for:
a) hunger
b) fear

A) HUNGER...When a thing is hungry it will eat. If it has no sense of self, it will not eat? Yes, it will. While you, as a human, may contemplate your hunger, an animal would simply go out and satisfy it. You eat to stop yourself from being uncomfortable. An animal eats to appease the hunger, not itself.
B) FEAR...True, everything has an instinctual desire to stay alive. But why? Humans because we (most of us) like living. We avoid injury because it hurts and we don't like that. Animals desire to continue their lives because it is ingrained in them to procreated as many times as possible before they reach the ends of their life spans. Of course, we do too! But they do it because they're more concerned with the continuance of their species rather than themselves. If they become injured, that would complicate the foremost concern, living and breeding. DNA is more important to them than a nonexistant "self".
Now that I've successfully bashed my own arguments- hey! what are fair people suppose to do? -I would like to enter into evidence exhibit C...
C) TERRITORY...Animals show a great aggression when it comes to their territory. They mark what they want as their own and go about life mauling intruders. The point? In order to own territory, the animal must have some basic sense of self that separates it from its environment and others in it. When it marks it is sending out a message: This is MY territory. Stay away from what belongs to ME. I don't want you on what is MINE. The clincher?...I can hardly wait!...
Studies done on the development of toddlers show that the little ones don't even begin to realize their individuality until around the time they begin to talk. They don't recognize themselves in a mirror, or use words like "I, me, myself, mine". But when they do they go about exercising their new skill with almost intolerable trial and error people skills. They latch on to what they finally consider as theirs and will not share because they haven't gotten that far yet...I guess some animals don't know about that either...Nor some adult humans for that matter...
Anyway, there it is. Enjoy picking it apart if you will. Any, Typha...I'm expecting to see a post from you. I'm sure it will be brilliant.
I think they do. Have you ever seen a dog,a cat,or even a bird that knows it's looking good after a bath and brushing,ect? A dog prancing around after ya put it's favorite sweater on it,just going from person to person with a Just look at ME look in it's eyes? Or when they do something dum and they look around real quick hopeing no one saw? I could go on andd on, but I think I said enough hopefully.
NanAutaben said:
A dog prancing around after ya put it's favorite sweater on it,just going from person to person with a Just look at ME look in it's eyes? Or when they do something dum and they look around real quick hopeing no one saw? I could go on andd on, but I think I said enough hopefully.

Firstly, who puts sweaters on their dog?!

If a dog does something 'dumb', it may be looking around because it associates that behavour with being punished.
Most primates have a sense of self. When scientists painted their foreheads and and showed them their reflection, they tried to wipe the paint from their foreheads.
willakitty said:
Studies done on the development of toddlers show that the little ones don't even begin to realize their individuality until around the time they begin to talk.
That backs into a different issue that is one of the fundamental differences between Homo sapiens and other animals.

Our babies are born at a much "younger" stage of their life than most other mammals. Baby giraffes hit the ground able to stand up without falling over, and within a very short time they can walk and then run. Predatory mammals are the closest to ours, they are born with their eyes closed. But even they can crawl around.

Because of our oversized brains, our babies have to be expelled from the birth canal before their heads get too big to fit through. Their brains are much less fully developed than any other mammal. By their standards, our babies are collossally premature fetuses.

So don't read too much into what goes on in the first few months of a human baby's life. It's all stuff that was supposed to happen inside the uterus.
scroll maker--I was going to post that! Most animals do not know they are alive or have a sence of identity. I think ,willakitty, u r seeing the animalistic instincts that we still use.
yes fear and hunger can be controlled by a sentient being like humans, but its just another chemical impulse from the brain.
Yes, of course animals have a (SENSE) of self.
I would tend towards more of a definition of self preservation however.

Unfortunately, most humans have only developed a (SENSE) of self as well.

The difference lies in our ability to IDENTIFY ourselves with the use of our minds.

Our senses only tell us that something exists, it is the responsibility of our minds to to tell us WHAT it is.

Do animals have the ability to develop there minds to a point of having an individual identity, and make choices based on this fact.
No, they're actions are built in with automatic knowledge for survival, do you think a daddy fish sits it baby son on it's lap and explains the birds and the bees to It is automatically programmed into the animal.

Humans are not born knowing what is good or bad for him.
A human has to developp it's mental falculties to progress in life.
Most peoples mental development is self arrested at a level neccessary only to continue a life of mere survival and satisfy the basics of physical drives.

Anyone who makes decisions basred on emotions or what everybody else is doing, has only developed a sense of self, and probly can relate very much to animals as being at their level of existence.

Don't get me wrong, I love animals, and at times, more than most people,
But animals can not develop an identity of self,which takes mental effort, only a sense.
I read an article about study of wasp behavior. It showed that wasps identified each other by various markings around the "face". I think it mentioned "friend" type relationships between wasps as well. One might think that it's not that large a step between recognizing others and recognizing self as opposed to others. Surely an animal with a brain should be even more likely to recognize such a thing. Now it's a long way from "I think therefore I am", but surely a sense of "self".

And what about the primates? Are you going to tell me that a chimp doesn't have a sense of self. They have highly complex social structures in a group. Their smart as hell. Cogito Ergo Sum? I doubt they could quite claim that yet, but who knows.

I think a sense of self is in many ways a direct consequence of a social structure. The nonsocial animals would have a "me, not me" mentality. With instincts playing a heavy part in finding mates, etc... But social animals almost need a sense of self to weigh social dynamics within the group.

What about the elephants? I've seen videos and heard reports about elephants retaining memories of friendships with individuals for years even after their deaths, fondling their bones when they pass by on their travels. Sure this is highly speculative, but even if it's just an acknowledgement of an elephant, a member of the same species, and not Bob the elephant, my buddy from years gone by, that's something that lends credence to a sense of self.

There are lots of other animal social groups one could mention, Lions, merecats, wolves, rabbits (at least social varieties, hat's off to the guy studying the rabbits by his house in another thread), the list goes on and on. All social relationships display a sense of distinction between others in a group, and why not oneself as well. Sure a lot of social hierarchy is based on instinct, but what do you think the sense of self really is? You think we're that advanced from the animals that we're free from instincts? Self is just another instinct, just like all the others. Social dynamics is also taught, a learned behavior. I've seen reports about how gangs of male elephants running around causing havoc. Supposedly, they are worse now than in the past because of a shortage of dominant bulls due to hunting in the old days. They didn't learn proper social behavior and as a consequence are running amuck. Also, chimp behavior depends on learning from others in the group. It's not all instinct.

I think where the main difference lies is that an animal's sense of self is more greedy. It is felt in a "how does it affect me" type way. The higher animals break away from this and have loving relationships much as we do. With give and take. Though I think even the chimp, which I view as the most advanced animal other than ourselves (what's the genetic similarity? in the 90 percentile ain't it?), still has a far greedier outlook than us, by several degrees of magnitude.

An interesting behavior is recognition of reflections. I love it when a dog sees his reflection and goes apeshit. I've seen reports about dolphins being fascinated with reflections. Going up to it, turning its head this way and that. Sense of self? Certainly makes one think. I haven't seen anything about chimps in this regard, but surely they're smart enough to figure it out wouldn't you?

Sense of self is also highly suspect. The whole left brain, right brain thing. The behavior shown by the lobotomy guys is absolutely outrageous. The enemy hand. Buttoning up your shirt with one hand, unbuttoning it with the other. Just who's in charge in there? The part you think of as you? The part that thinks in words, that part that rationalizes why it is that your body does the things it does. The other half of the brain is just as strong, it just can't explain itself to you. It expresses itself emotionally. Now that's the real whip to what we do. Emotions. People like to speak of being logical, but you do something because you're emotionally primed to do it. Anger, fear, hunger (would that be an emotion? which side of the brain deals with it if not?), love, hate, sorrow, happiness, boredom, these are what drive us.

I think dreams express this function of logic as well. The things you dream about are actually not formed in the order you "experience" them in the dream. Various things, mostly not related, flash through the brain while it's doing housework, and logic examines them and determines a pattern and creates a dream experience just for "you".

All in all, at least some animals, if not all, almost surely have some sense of self. It's all in the degrees. Their logic just isn't up to the task of lying to them to the degree that we have achieved.
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Nice interpretation.
Again the difference lies between "sense" and "identity".
If its alive it has at least one sense. Enough to have a sense of existence.
A sense of needing to take automatic actions to continue to stay alive, that is it's sense of self.
A sense of what to do and not do to survive or experience some kind of pleasure.
Even to the level of saying they have emotions.
But "IDENTITY", the abilty to identify and possess identity in the form of concepts grasped from reality is only done with the use of a mind.
Our senses can only tell us that "something exists".
Same with animals.
It is our minds that can tell us what this something "IS".
Our mind is our "I".
Without developing your mind to the point of independent thought, and not having anybody or anything be the middle man between your own thinking and actions, between your consciousness and existence, you will continue to only have a "sense" of your self, and not an "identity".
I'd love to read what David Attenborough would write in reply to this thread.

That being said, when reading the last reply from Moementum7 who mentioned 'identity', my thoughts went to animals who have a family structure. The head of the 'clan' certainly knows who's the boss and the mother and children have an awareness of their place in the food chain.

My feelings about this would have to be that animals are very well aware of their own sense or identity or self-awareness - it's just that they can't tell us.

Yeah, I'd like to hear what "the sir" (thats what i call david attenborough) had to say about a lot of things.
I wish he became a member:(
Any tests i could do on my hamster (he's the one on the flag), like with mirrors etc, to get some evidence?
I would tend to believe that a hamster is not intelligent enough to recognize itself in a mirror. But that's what experiments are for right? Well, when a dog (well, some dogs) sees itself in a mirror, it starts barking like crazy. It believes another dog is in it's territory. They will do this day after day for the rest of their lives. They lack the ability to associate the image in the mirror with themselves. Yet dolphins "seem" to recognize themselves and take great delight in looking at themselves. I would assume that chimps and other primates are similar.

To test a hamster, you would have to know how your hamster reacts to a different hamster, aggressively, curiously, suggestively ;), and then find out how it reacts to its own reflection. Possible problems are that I don't believe hamsters have very good eyesight, it might depend on scent or vibration and will just ignore the mirror.