A General Model for the Adaptive Function of Self-Knowledge in Animals and Humans

Consciousness and Cognition 6 (1):75-86 (1997)
This article offers a general definition of self-knowledge that embraces all forms and levels of self-knowledge in animals and humans. It is hypothesized that various levels of self-knowledge constitute an ordinal scale such that each species in a lineage displays the forms of self-knowledge found in related species as well as new forms it and its sister species may have evolved. Likewise, it is hypothesized that these various forms of levels of self-knowledge develop in the sequence in which they evolved. Finally, a general hypothesis for the functional significance of self-knowledge is proposed along with subhypotheses regarding the adaptive significance of various levels of self-knowledge in mammals including human and nonhuman primates. The general hypothesis is that self-knowledge serves as a standard for assessing the qualities of conspecifics compared to those of the self. Such assessment is crucial to deciding among alternative reproductive and subsistence strategies. The qualities that are assessed, which vary across taxa, range from the size and strength of the self to its mathematical or musical abilities. This so-called assessment model of self-knowledge is based on evolutionary biological models for social selection and the role of assessment in animal communication
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DOI 10.1006/ccog.1996.0271
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Lonnie W. Aarssen (2010). Darwinism and Meaning. Biological Theory 5 (4):296-311.

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