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The mirror test for animal self-awareness reflects the limits of human cognition

Neuroscientists have been calling for a new more expansive view of consciousness. Animals may not all respond to the world the way we do, but that doesn’t mean these living things are ignorant of their own existence.

EPHRAT LIVNI: ‘The mirror test is often used as a way of measuring whether animals possess self-awareness. But now that a species of fish — the cleaner wasse — has also spotted its reflection, some scientists are wondering if the mirror test says more about the way humans think than how, or if, animals experience their individual existence…

Consciousness, in humans or animals, is not easy to measure or understand, regardless of the species. Philosophers and neuroscientists alike have long wrestled with the question of how a sense of self is assessed, and how this perception relates to physical processes…

Alex Jordan, an evolutionary biologist at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany, is one of the authors of a study on cleaner wasse consciousness… tells Quanta that he thinks self-awareness may exist on a spectrum. The cleaner wrasse, he believes, is self-cognizant, but not to the same extent as a human. Just because the fish can respond to an unusual mark reflected back at it in a mirror doesn’t mean it can also contemplate philosophy, he notes.

That means scientists need to reconsider how to study animal consciousness. For one thing, they might have to come up with a better definition of self-awareness. For another, they probably need new tests to measure animal cognition. Jordan says, “I think the community wants a revision and a reevaluation of how we understand what animals know.”

And in this claim, he is certainly not alone among consciousness researchers. Naturalists, neuroscientists, and even plant biologists have been calling for a new more expansive view of consciousness. Octopuses, lobsters, dogs, and greenery may not all respond to the world the way we do. But that doesn’t mean these living things are ignorant of their own existence’. SOURCE…

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