Re: past lives (and related theories as to cause) -- my understanding is that a fair amount of these recollections occur at an early age, and often depict experiences that aren't tied to direct [or even indirect] ancestry. I haven't studied this topic in earnest however.
With respect to the spider staring at the mirror -- a few posts above, by Harvey -- I happened across this article a week or so ago.http://nautil.us/issue/47/consciousness ... -mirror-rp
What Do Animals See in a Mirror?
A controversial test for self-awareness is dividing the animal kingdom.
Gallup was sure that the chimps had learned to recognize themselves in the mirror, but he didn’t trust that other researchers would be convinced by his descriptions. So he moved on to phase two of the experiment. He anesthetized the chimps, then painted one eyebrow ridge and the opposite ear tip with a red dye that the chimps wouldn’t be able to feel or smell. If they truly recognized themselves, he thought he knew what would happen: “It seemed pretty obvious that if I saw myself in a mirror with marks on my face, that I’d reach up and inspect those marks.”
That’s exactly what the chimps did. As far as Gallup was concerned, that was proof: “the first experimental demonstration of a self-concept in a subhuman form,” he wrote in the resulting 1970 report in Science. “It was just clear as day,” he remembers. “It didn’t require any statistics. There it was. Bingo.”
But the result that really blew Gallup’s mind came when he tested monkeys, and discovered that they did not do the same. The ability to recognize one’s reflection seemed not to be a matter of learning abilities, with some species being slower than others. It was an issue of higher intellectual capacity. Gallup had obtained the first good evidence that our closest relatives share with us a kind of self-awareness or even consciousness, to the exclusion of other animals. Here, finally, was an experimental handle on a topic that had been the subject of speculation for millennia: What is the nature of human consciousness?
Gallup suggests that a powerful sense of self may have evolved because it helped great apes deal with complex social situations. “Intellectual prowess supplanted physical prowess as a means of achieving dominance,” he says. And, he suggests that strong self-awareness may also entail death-awareness. “The next step, it seems to me logically, is to confront and eventually grapple with the inevitability of your own individual demise,” he says.
As for why dolphins and other non-primates recognize themselves in mirrors, Gallup isn’t yet convinced they do. He suggests an alternative explanation for why his former student’s dolphins wriggled in the mirror: to see marks on what they perceived as another dolphin peering back at them. And he requires replication of recent studies finding that elephants use their trunks to touch white crosses on their foreheads, and magpies dislodge stickers on their chests with their beaks.
Then there are researchers who discount whether the mirror test says anything about theory of mind in any animal, including humans. Most notably, Gallup’s mentee, Daniel Povinelli. Like a son who witnesses his father’s foibles and decides to become his opposite, Povinelli, now at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, has become one Gallup’s most outspoken critics, even as they remain close on a personal level. He’s come to believe that a chimp doesn’t need to have an integrated sense of self in order to pass the mirror test. Instead, it needs only to notice that the body in the mirror looks and moves the same as its own body, and then make the connection that if there’s a spot on the body in the mirror, there could also be a spot on its own body. That ability would still be pretty sophisticated, Povinelli adds, and it might reflect a keen awareness of the position of body parts that would likely be very helpful for swinging through trees. Indeed, he speculates that this high-level physical self-awareness may have developed when our tree-dwelling ancestors increased in size and faced more challenges while navigating their branchy, leafy world.
Povinelli’s concerns stretch to other landmark studies on theory of mind in chimps, such as those that document how a subordinate chimp refrained from hidden food when she watched a dominant chimp see researchers hide the food. The authors of this study argued that this was because the subordinate chimp reasoned about what the dominant chimp had seen and what it would do. Combined with results from other experiments, they concluded that chimps can “understand both the goals and intentions of others as well as the perception and knowledge of others,” and they can predict the action that will result.
But Povinelli calls this reasoning “folk psychology”—unscientific inferences made based on our own human experiences. The subordinate chimp doesn’t have to know the dominant’s mind, he says, all she has to know is to avoid interfering with the dominant chimp.
To apply Povinelli’s logic to humans, we may think deep, reflective thoughts when using a mirror to brush our teeth, but that doesn’t mean that the part of the brain that’s using the mirror to direct our toothbrush is the same part of the brain that’s contemplating the self. Those two abilities may develop at the same time in children, but that does not mean that they’re related, much less one and the same.
Povinelli’s critiques aside, most comparative psychologists say there’s something to mirror recognition, not least because it’s only been observed in intellectually superior animals. Neuroscientists are now trying to shed light on the matter by searching for a physical basis for the ability in the brain. Although they haven’t found a clear signal yet, Gallup remains undeterred. After nearly 45 years of fending off challengers, he is not likely to wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, and change his mind.
Personally, I think the nature/origin/explanation for consciousness, if ever we identify it, will be considerably more interesting/paradigm-shifting than the postulations indicated in this mirror article.