CAMLAW: Complementary and Alternative Medicine Law Blog

Animals are self-aware

In Elephants Recognize Selves in Mirror, Study Says, National Geographic reports on a new study showing that elephants have self-awareness.

I've always liked elephants, perhaps because of their friendly, gracious quality and the fact that they certainly appear to be highly aware.

I had the opportunity to ride an elephant in India, and felt the same mysterious connection -- it cannot be explained, although the term 'soul level' has appeal -- as I do with my pets.

(or perhaps they regard me as their pet, I'm not sure, since they too have consciousness).

In any event, the study suggested that "Humans, great apes, and dolphins are the only other animals known to possess this form of self-awareness.

"All of these animals also lead socially complex lives and display empathy--concern and understanding of another's feelings--researchers report."

The report cited by National Geographic was apparently published in the online edition of the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"According to Plotnik, mirror self-recognition is a trait only known among animals that are thought to lead highly complex social lives, which may require a sense of self-awareness and the display of emotions like empathy....

"The researchers conclude in PNAS that mirror self-recognition might "underlie the social complexity and altruistic tendencies shared among these large-brained animals."

It's no surprise that scientific study should find that animals have consciousness, albeit different than ours, but somewhat overlapping. Many spiritual traditions from East and West, including shamanism, tell us that animals have a high degree of consciousness and that their emotions frequently map ours. Any pet owner knows this, and anyone who meditates can have access to realms in which pets have symbolic or other meaning.

We know that pet therapy has supporting evidence, whether labeled as a conventional therapy or a complementary and alternative medical therapy.

So again, these additional stories from National Geographic are not surprising at all: Elephants Show Special Interest in Their Dead (October 31, 2005) and Dolphins Recognize, Admire Themselves in Mirrors, Study Says (May 2, 2001).

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Michael H. Cohen, Esq.; 468 North Camden Dr. | Beverly Hills, California 90210 | 310-844-3173