Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

Posted on May 9, 2014. Filed under: Nature, Psychology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

…who is the smartest one of all?

Aw, shucks!  That is just too easy.  Why, it’s Homo smart sapiens, of course.

Your proverb for todayKnow thyself.

(It’s Greek; a Delphic maxim from the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.  That means it is very, very old so it must be highly respected.  Actually, I would not have thought those old Greeks would speak in King James’ lingo.)

Your words for the day:

  • Narcissus = a Greek-myth guy with a thing for himself
  • mirror = a reflective surface that says, “Right back atcha, big guy.”

The vaunted, and much invoked, mirror test for self-awareness is an exceptional choice for scientist to use in validating their superior observations about the lesser smarts of other life forms.  Of course, the test is useless without defining the parameters of “self-awareness.”  Who better to define those parameters than the League of The Great Learned?  What better standards to use than those that define The Great Learned themselves?  I mean, they are the epitome of H. smart sap., are they not?

“Okay, Lesser Beings, here is the mirror that Narcissistic types (such as we scientists) like to drool at.  Do you understand that you are beholding your very own self?  C’mon, show us the drool.”

  • The lizard, who gets attacked by almost anything its size or bigger, has only a split second to respond to the presence of another.  It has no time to see if all its scales are in place or which angle presents his best profile (take that, Geico gecko).  There is also the matter of lizard social protocol that must be adhered to, and, since the image looks like a good matchup to himself, he figures he can take the other guy and goes on the offense.  This lizard may not give any thought to killer asteroids or last days on the Mayan calendar — big subjects for the science dudes — but you can bet your sweet bippy he gives a lot of thought to the care and maintenance of HIS ass.  To be concerned with HIS, he has to be aware of HIMSELF.
  • The pasture cow, who lives day in and day out with a herd of very peaceful look-alikes, says, “Ho hum.  If you want me to show interest here, slip in an image of the Big Bull out there and sprinkle this thing with some of that cologne he uses.  Now, that’s something I could stand still for.  Otherwise, get this thing out of my face and get me another wad o’ cud.”
  • Tomcat domesticus, full of tomcat hormones, might go for the glass like the lizard; yet, that same tomcat, relaxing in the shade and giving his best impersonation of The Great Sphinx (over there in the mother of all sand boxes) with tail stretched out behind him, can take time from his busy schedule to fiddle with the last 3 inches of that tail.  It stands like a snake, tip twirling slowly, then dipping to the side toward the ground, then back up.  Tomcat looks like a stone lawn ornament, but, you know he is having a good time.  One short kitten leg away from the tom’s twitching extremity is a kitten, and it just knows he can swat that wiggling thing.  For quite a while, this tableau continues.  The tomcat, looking ever so stoic, knows full well the excitement he is creating in the kitten’s mind, and he is enjoying the game as much as the kitten.  The tomcat knows who he is and where his personal boundaries are.  He is aware of HIMSELF.

I could do this for quite a while, given the number of different creatures that have survived on this planet for a lot longer than H. smart sap., but I hear that, for maximum effect, you repeat something no more than 3 times.  The law of diminishing returns, or something like that.  Maybe I heard it from Johnny Carson.

A long, long time ago (if you knew my age, you might want to add one more “long” in there) I devised a couple of mental exercises to illustrate self-awareness in other creatures.  Now, don’t tell me that mental projections prove nothing, ’cause H. smart sap., sub-species science dudes, have built veritable cults around an imaginary dead/alive cat* and an imaginary razor** purported to be so sharp it can slice intangible arguments right down the exact middle.  My tests are a little different…   they can actually be tested in real-time with real subjects.  If real-time is opted, these tests for self-awareness can only be performed by real representatives of The Great Learned.  Only they can truly appreciate the outcomes.

TEST 1.  THE SILVERBACK CHALLENGESetup:  A line of 3 strong cages.  Cages Number 1 and 3 each contain a very contented silverback gorilla.  Cage Number 2 in the middle is empty.  Our observer/actor (preferably a Great Learned One with a Ph. D. in something or other that sounds real smart) has been outfitted with a medium weight baseball bat, a note-book and pencil for note taking, and a hit of Valium — it is the humane thing to do.  Oh, yeah!  And a mirror for later reference.  The test proceeds thusly:

  • The observer/actor enters Cage Number 3, walks over to the contented silverback, who looks at him with only slight interest.
  • The observer/actor lifts the bat and attempts to get a base hit using the silverback’s head as a baseball.
  • This is the critical part:  The observer/actor will now take detailed notes as to whether the gorilla in Cage Number 3 reacts as though it was the gorilla way over in Cage Number 1 that took the bat upside his head.
  • If the gorilla in Cage Number 3 has NO sense of self-awareness, the observer/actor can exit the cage, leaving the mirror for the bleeding gorilla to play with later.
  • If the gorilla in Cage Number 3 DOES have a sense of self, the observer/actor can keep the mirror so that someone else can hold if for him at the hospital where he can see what self-awareness really looks like.

TEST 2:  THE FIRE ANT CHALLENGE.  Setup:  2 fire ant mounds 10 feet apart.  One observer/actor as in test number 1, equipped with that note-book and pencil and an assistant holding a syringe full of a local anesthetic.  The test proceeds thusly:

  • The observer/actor walks up to one of the mounds, his choice.  Removing the shoe and sock from one foot and rolling up the corresponding pant leg, he vigorously and with great gusto stomps the selected mound back into the ground.
  • The observer/actor leaves his bare-naked foot and leg in the middle of the destruction, and, lifting that note-book and pencil, takes detailed notes on whether the ants in the stomped nest reacted as though it was the OTHER NEST, 10 feet away that got the crap stomped out of it.
  • A Giventhe ants in the stomped mound would flunk the mirror test, if anyone could figure out how to administer one to them.
  • If the disrupted colony has no sense of SELF, the nervous assistant will not have to moonlight as an EMT.

A human-vanity mirror test to determine whether other life forms are self-aware, science dudes stating emphatically what a life form IS or IS NOT thinking…   give me a break.

__________________________________

*Schrödinger’s cat                      **Occam’s razor

 

 

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[…] not watching before it would trundle off to its little hidey.  Even without that self-awareness mirror, it is evident the bird was acutely aware of itself and that it needed to be careful to protect […]


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