You’ve likely heard it said that humans are distinguished by their self-awareness, but researchers are saying that such statements might be bull. According to recent research, humans likely aren’t the only creatures on this planet to possess self-awareness, with some animals possessing at least a primitive level of awareness of self. The key is mental simulation of an environment and the need for at least a low level of self awareness to do that, and signs that some animals are capable of such environmental simulation.
The research comes from a team at the University of Warwick which found that mentally simulating an environment and a degree of self awareness are paired. If an animal can form a mental simulation of its environment, then, it must also have at least a primitive level of self awareness.
To determine what animals have such mental abilities, the researchers turned to thought experiments, namely experiments that demonstrated whether an animal contemplated its future actions. Rats in a maze are pointed to as one such example, with observations showing them pausing at intersections in mazes to — it seems, at least — decide what future action to take.
With more modern technologies, it was shown that when animals do this some parts of the hippocampus indicated that mental simulation of the animal’s options and possible results of those were taking place. This hints things about self-awareness outside of the human bubble and points to the possibility of a future where robots possess similar self awareness.