You should read "The Gap" by Thomas Suddendorf for a long conversation of animal abilities.
Theres a parsimonious and liberal way to interpret what apes see in mirrors. But I think we should try to make sense of what apes think - in
particular, chimpanzees and bonobos - before we start according to them human like reflective abilities.
Chimps are highly social, but they are not empathic in the sense that they reflect upon the pains of others during the experience an emotion. Their
experience - and how they live in the wild - would not support such an interpretation. Instead, chimps, when they see themselves in a mirror, are
probably experiencing at a very embodied level that they exist. By embodied I mean Chimps - and other primates with this ability - are aware of
themselves as physical
agents. This is an important distinction to make. Human beings are aware of themselves ontologically. Meaning, that they
reflect upon the contents of their awareness
. In cognitive neuroscience, this is called "representing a representation".
In animal behavior, we can refer to 3 basic levels of being. Instinct/Emotion. Social Awareness. And Executive awareness. Reptiles and Amphibians have
basic instinct/emotion. Mammals, and in particular, primates, have a higher level social awareness. Social awareness is an "addition" to primal
homeostatic emotions i.e. seek food, etc, by adding social behaviors of all sorts. But these behaviors are not engaged in a strictly conscious way.
They are mostly anoetic - they occur without forethought. This means they have "representations" of their emotions in terms of the contents that pass
through their cognitive awareness. But they do not represent this awareness like we do. Their cognitions occur unconsciously, or implicitly. They are
"conscious", just not in the same way that we are.
Each member of the troop, or pack, is conditioned by the other; each of their individual behaviours occur in terms of the system they are a part of.
They have not developed the brain regions that human beings have - and human beings have the largest brains relative to body size of any creature on
this planet - that allows them to put even the contents of their mind under analysis. Although the bulk of human behavior is determined by unconscious
processes - just as in animals - we still have this "focus" ability that we can call into action whenever we want to. This allows us to continuously
update what were experiencing in our environments. This allows culture to form. And the rest is history.
When a chimp sees itself in the mirror, it is experiencing something interesting. If you put a sticker on his head without his knowing, he will reach
for it when placed in front of a mirror. But there is no reflection upon this reflection. Apes dont have that "existential" level of awareness.
edit on 16-5-2014 by Astrocyte because: (no reason given)