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Speciesism - Index
Do animals have selves?
Self is the billboard we decorate to make an appropriate presentation to others, or that's one of the definitions I'm toying with. Does an elephant looking into a mirror wipe the schmutz off her forehead in an attempt not only to clean herself but to present an acceptable appearance to her fellow elephants? Does she carry around an internal audience of significant others-the mother who raised her, the head of her herd, and others likely to ostracize her if she looks abnormal? We humans do.
Dogs who've been well trained look ashamed and tuck in their tails when they relieve themselves accidentally in the "wrong" place--even if they think no humans are watching. This may be operant conditioning, or, just as likely, it may be the imagined anger of an audience-the absent owner-screaming in their ears. If the elephant is not arranging her appearance to make a good impression on other elephants, what is she doing? Simply preening to keep herself clean? Or is it the other way around?
Do even birds preen not only to keep their feathers in top flying condition but to insure they retain their social standing, their rank and privileges in the group? Since birds use feather displays when it comes time to compete for females and leadership, presumably what evolved as a way to rid the body of parasites and other burdens was coopted by evolution for a number of other functions (evolution, how clever she is, and how insistent on multiple-purpose adaptations).
Is preening with a mirror or without one a diligent effort not to look like the poor, unkempt chicken at the bottom of the pecking order whose feathers are a mess-should she be lucky enough to have feathers at all? Considering that seabirds, primates, and many other animals will peck or pummel to death one of their own number who shows signs of injury and distress, making an appropriate social presentation may be a bottom-line necessity--at least if you want to stay alive.
Elephants Recognize 'Self'
By Deborah Blum
Aug. 28, 2000 -- Just as a person looking into a mirror and seeing a dirty face will try to clean up, an elephant studying its reflection will try to rub smudges off its forehand with its trunk. The basic finding that elephants recognize themselves in the mirror is a startling one for scientists who had long assumed that only humans and a few higher apes were smart enough to achieve "self-recognition."
Many behavioral researchers consider that ability to be a hallmark of complex intelligence. "Actually, one of the reasons I did the study was that I got tired of hearing people say that only humans and chimps do this, only humans and chimps do that," said Patricia Simonet, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Nevada in Reno.
"Elephants are so smart -- I was sure they could do it."