Reflecting on Self-Awareness: Part 1

Reflecting on Self-Awareness: Part 1

When you look in the mirror, what do you see? Ask an adult and they’ll say things like “You see yourself” or “You will see your reflection,” but what they’re really saying is that when you look in the mirror, you are in fact recognizing the reflection as you, and therefore you are capable of being self-aware. This test is used as a fascinating demonstration of how certain creatures are capable of realizing the “self,” and being able to distinguish it from all of the other possible “others” in the world. Is that, in fact, the essence of human consciousness? Since we’re all science-lovers at Superior Mirror, we thought delving into the human psyche would be a walk in the park…but things got really deep really fast. Take a look!

A Professor’s Insight
It might seem silly to admit, but recognizing one’s self in the mirror was such a casually-accepted phenomena that it took hundreds of years before college professor Gordon G. Gallup Jr. began exploring the idea at all. “It just occurred to me: wouldn’t it be interesting to see if other creatures could recognize themselves in mirrors too?” He chose two chimps and isolated them in private cages, then placed a mirror in each cage for eight hours at a time over a period of 10 days, observing their behavior. At first they behaved as if the reflection was another chimp, making aggressive and social gestures at their reflections as they would when seeing another chimp. But soon the chimps began inspecting the inside of their own moths and making faces, indicating a realization that they were seeing their own reflection and not a separate entity. Just to be sure, Gallup sedated the chimps and then placed a scentless red mark on their ear that would be impossible to see without the aid of a mirror. Sure enough when the chimps awoke, they noticed the mark immediately and touched it repeatedly, even trying to remove it or rub it off. For Gallup, this was impressive proof of self-recognition. But when he repeated the experiment with monkeys, he was shocked to find that they couldn’t recognize their own reflection. Both chimps and monkeys can learn things over time, both are intelligent, yet both cannot seem to recognize themselves. Does that mean that achieving consciousness means something more?

Talk about some deep questions! Professor Gallup’s little experiment seems to have revealed some very interesting questions about not only animals’ ability to maintain self-awareness, but humans as well. But we respect the scientific process at Superior Mirror. We want some more proof! And we’ll give it to you in our next blog: Reflecting on Self-Awareness. Stay tuned!


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