Is a Social Mind Aware of Its “Self”?
TWCF Number
Project Duration
July 25 / 2018
- July 24 / 2021
Core Funding Area
Big Questions
Amount Awarded
Grant DOI*

* A Grant DOI (digital object identifier) is a unique, open, global, persistent and machine-actionable identifier for a grant.

Alecia Carter
Institution Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique

What can we learn about self-awareness from baboons?

Individual intelligence is the ability to respond flexibly to information in the environment in ways that advance individual aims. “Social intelligence,” meanwhile, is the ability to recognize and respond appropriately to social opportunities and threats, to perceive and predict the actions of others, and to create and maintain social bonds. This project will probe the social mind of baboons for forms of self-awareness, specifically “social self-awareness,” that conventional tests fail to capture.

Baboons fail to pass the long-established, conventional test of self-awareness: the mirror test. But the mirror tests have been challenged for their flaws, including a lack of ecological relevance and a debatable interpretation. This leaves a pressing need to propose other tests and theories of self-awareness in animals.

Progress requires an interdisciplinary approach that combines empirical investigation with philosophical reflection on the complexity of understanding non-human minds. Crucial to this project is its unique collaboration between a philosopher and a field biologist, thus combining philosophical analysis of what self-awareness is and what constitutes evidence for it with. Research methods include field observations and novel computer-based experiments on wild baboons at the Tsaobis Baboon Project in Namibia.

Alecia Carter’s team will publish research results in both philosophical and scientific journals, communicating the lessons gleaned from intensive interdisciplinary collaboration between philosophers and scientists. This is necessary for future progress in the science of animal intelligence and for future insights into the relationship between social intelligence and self-awareness. They will also present their research at conferences in the sciences and philosophy and to advocate further collaborative endeavors to advance these fields.

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