What do animals see in the mirror?

Contradictory self-awareness test divides the animal kingdom


The idea of ​​a tool capable of probing the basis of consciousness came to mind to Gordon J. Gallup Jr. when he shaved. “I suddenly thought,” he says, “wouldn't it be interesting to know if other creatures could recognize themselves in the mirror?”

The chimpanzee show of their reflection in the mirror seemed just a little fun when Gallup first tried to implement his idea in 1969. He could not imagine that this would be the most influential and most controversial test in comparative psychology , immersing the mind in the realm of experimental science and anticipating questions about the degree of suffering of animals. “The inability to recognize oneself in the mirror is important,” he decided eventually. “The bottom line is that this ability speaks about your ability to be aware of yourself.”

Gallup was a new professor at Tulane University in Louisiana, where he had access to chimpanzees and gorillas in the department, which would later become the National Primate Research Center in Tulein. The local chimps were caught at a young age in Africa and transported to America, where they were used in biomedical research. But his experiment was not at all so invasive. He isolated two chimpanzees in cages and placed them in a mirror for eight hours at a time each day for 10 days in each cage. Through a hole in the wall, Gallup observed changes in the behavior of chimpanzees. At first they thought that reflection was another chimpanzee, and showed him a combination of social, sexual and aggressive gestures. But over time, they began to use it to study their own bodies. “They used a mirror to look into their mouths, make faces, examine their genitals, remove mucus from the corners of their eyes,” Gallup said.

Gallup was sure that chimpanzees learned to recognize themselves in the mirror, but believed that other researchers might not believe his description. He moved to the second phase of the experiment. He put the chimpanzee under anesthesia, then painted one eyebrow and the opposite earlobe with red paint that the chimpanzees could not feel or smell. If they really recognized themselves, he thought that he knew what would happen: "It seemed obvious that if I saw myself in the mirror with some marks, I would touch them and study them."

This is exactly what chimps did. For Gallup, this was proof: “the first experimental demonstration of animal self-consciousness,” he wrote in the resulting 1970 report for Science. “It was completely obvious,” he recalls. - I needed a mistress. It happened. Victory!"

But what really impressed Gallup during the monkey tests was that they behaved differently. The ability to recognize one’s reflection turned out to be an unacquired skill that some creatures learn more slowly than others. This was the result of the work of a higher intellect. Gallup received the first hard evidence that our next of kin has some semblance of self-awareness or even reason. Finally, an instrument was obtained for experiments on a topic that has been discussed for thousands of years: what is the nature of human consciousness?

How to conduct a test with a mirror with your own hands


Learn the identity of your child, puppy or parakeet at home. Reactions will vary depending on the subject. Place a large color sticker on the child's hair when he is not in front of the mirror, so that he does not feel or see it. Bring the child to the mirror. A child may point to a sticker, but not understand that his own face is looking at him from the mirror. When you remove the sticker and show it to the child, he will be surprised.

By the age of two, a child should experience a cognitive shift in self-awareness, after which he can easily use a mirror to detect a sticker. Puppies and kittens are not impressed by the sticker so easily, but often play with their reflection in the mirror without recognizing themselves. Adult cats and dogs usually ignore the reflection, perhaps because of a lack of interest.

* * *

Gallup was not the first person to decide that the ability to recognize himself in a mirror can play an important role. He later learned that Charles Darwin was showing the mirror to the orangutans, but they could not cope with the mirror, at least in his presence. Darwin also noted that in the first years of his life his children did not recognize themselves in the reflection. In 1889, the German researcher Wilhelm Preyer first suggested a connection between self-recognition in the mirror and the self-consciousness of people.

After more than 50 years, the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan decided that in the development of children there is a “mirror stage” in which mirrors help to shape their ego. By 1972, developmental psychologists began using tests with markings similar to those that Gallup did to find out at what age children begin to recognize themselves in the mirror. It turned out - from 18 to 24 months.

And Gallup, who transferred to the University of Albany, wondered if anyone except primates could take the test with a mirror. In the early 1990s, he and his student Lori Marino decided to study this question. Working with Diana Reis at the Marine World of Africa / USA Oceanarium in California, Marino showed a mirror in an aquarium to two bottlenose dolphins . Like the chimpanzees, the dolphins learned to use the mirror in different ways, they even “had sex in front of the mirror, and we called these records our dolphin porn,” says Marino. Three researchers published the results of the work, claiming that they "talk about recognizing themselves in the mirror."

But there was still a dozen years to the critically important test with marking. The anatomical was the biggest barrier: the dolphins had no hands to touch the mark. But Reis and Marino, who were already working in the New York Aquarium, had developed a revised test. They marked the dolphins with black ink on different parts of the body, and the dolphins turned and wriggled to see these marks. This convinced the researchers and many others that they recognize themselves in the mirror.


Reis and Marino this study not only convinced, but also prompted action. They, and their associates, argue that if an animal passes a test with a mirror, it has a certain level of self-awareness, and, therefore, it is unethical to keep them in captivity. “These animals have some level of self-awareness, and if so, they know where the limitations of their physical environment are and can be understood,” says Marino. She is currently working as a science director in the “ Project on the protection of the rights of non-people ”, and is trying to achieve respect for animal rights with high-level cognitive capabilities. Project participants want the courts to recognize such animals as "individuals" and protect the rights of dolphins. The key argument is the existence of scientific evidence that chimpanzees, elephants, cetaceans and other animals possess, as humans, self-awareness. They can not only suffer, but also think of themselves: "I suffer."

Gallup, who is now over 70, does not advocate for rights, but likes to philosophize on what a test with a mirror shows and why such an ability could develop in the course of evolution. Obviously, it has little to do with mirrors - except for the rare calm surfaces of ponds, our ancestors had little chance of meeting their reflection. He decided that passing a test on a mirror speaks of a high level of consciousness, including the ability of an animal to reflect on its thoughts and experience, as well as to imagine what others may think and experience. This ability is called the “ theory of the mind ” [or the model of a person’s mental state].

In confirmation, he points out that children begin to demonstrate a model of a mental state at about the same time as they begin to recognize themselves in a mirror. “To take into account what other people may know, want or desire, you first need to realize yourself,” he says. He notes that people with schizophrenia often cannot recognize themselves in a mirror, and also experience difficulties with a mental state model. For example, compared with the control subjects, schizophrenics were less likely to recognize the request hidden in the statement that the husband makes to his wife: "I would like to wear this blue shirt, but she was very crumpled."

Gallup believes that significant self-awareness could have come as a result of evolution, to help hominids deal with complex social issues. “Intellectual superiority has supplanted the physical as a means to achieve dominance,” he says. He suggests that significant self-awareness may include an awareness of mortality. “It seems to me that the logical next step would be to recognize and accept the inevitability of individual death,” he says.

As for recognizing oneself in the mirror by dolphins and other non-primate animals, Gallup is not sure yet. He offers another explanation for the dolphins of his former student wriggling in front of a mirror: to see the marks on the body of what they thought was another dolphin, looking at themselves. It requires a repetition of recent experiments in which elephants touched crosses painted on their foreheads with the help of a trunk, and magpies removed stickers from their breasts with a beak.

There are also researchers who exclude the connection between the test with the mirror and the theory of the mind in any animals, even humans. Among them - Daniel Povinelli, whose Gallup was the supervisor. Like a son who sees his father’s weaknesses and decides to become his opposite, Povinelli, who works at Lafayette University in Louisiana, has become one of Gallup’s most ardent critics, although on a personal level they remain close. He concluded that chimpanzees do not need to be self-aware in order to take a test with a mirror. Instead, he only needs to figure out that the body in the mirror looks and moves just like his own, and think that if there is a mark on that body, then it can also be on his body. Such an achievement is still quite difficult, adds Povinelli, and may reflect the presence of consciousness of the location of body parts, which may be useful for climbing trees. He believes that such an awareness at a high physical level could appear when our ancestors from trees increased in size and it became harder for them to move along the branches.

Povinelli's doubts extend to other key chimpanzee mind studies, for example, those in which the chimpanzee abstained from hidden food, if he saw that the dominant chimpanzee watched people hide it. The study authors argued that this was because a subordinate chimpanzee could reflect on what he saw and what the dominant could do. By combining this test with the results of others, they concluded that chimpanzees are “able to understand both the goals and intentions of others, as well as the perception by others of reality and their knowledge,” and can predict their actions.

But Povinelli calls this reasoning “village psychology” - unscientific conclusions based on human perception. Subordinate chimpanzees do not need to penetrate into the mind of the dominant, it just needs to understand that it is impossible to get across the road.

If we apply this logic to people, then we can dive into the depths of reflection, using a mirror for brushing our teeth, but this does not mean that the part of the brain that uses the mirror to direct the toothbrush will be the same one that ponders itself. These two possibilities may appear in children at the same time, but this does not mean that they are connected, and even more so they are one.

Putting aside the criticism of Povinelli, most specialists in comparative psychology believe that there is something in self-recognition in the mirror, and not least because this effect is observed only in animals with superior intelligence. Neuroscientists are trying to shed light on this topic, looking for the physical basis of this possibility in the brain. And although a clear signal has not yet been detected, Gallup does not change his opinion. After nearly 45 years of protection from critics, he is unlikely to wake up one morning, look in the mirror and change his mind.

Source: https://habr.com/ru/post/404607/

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