It has been found that canines and various other animals have a conscience. A conscience is thus not a phenomenon that is restricted to human beings alone.
The experts have found that animals especially dogs do have a conscience and that conscience involved a lot of self-consciousness. Every owner of a pet such as a canine would say without a moment’s hesitation that his or her pet has a conscience.
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He knows instinctively that the mutt feels and senses more than is obvious to an outsider. The only problem is the fact that science demands proof before you can say something with certainty.
Just pure intuition and instinct are not enough to go on when it comes to a scientific hypothesis. Solid evidence must be provided or else it is a case of anything goes. Self-consciousness has been studied in animals and children by seeing how they respond to their reflection in the looking glass.
The ultimate acid test is for the child or pooch to show self-consciousness by touching a red dot while being in a state of distraction. This requires ability and acumen. It is not such an easy thing to perform for a being with little to no consciousness.
The mirror test has been performed before with children and chimps. They often manage to touch the red dot placed somewhere on their body. The main crux is for the living entity to recognize itself in the mirror. For this to occur it must have a sense of self and other.
This is the gist of the whole experiment. Based on this experiment, a number of other traits such as empathy may be deduced about the animal or child. It is precisely the capacity to differentiate between oneself and another being that is the basis of all morality and feelings of happiness and sadness.
This aspect of ethology has a lot of literature behind it. Few if any animals actually recognize themselves in the mirror. At that stage in evolution it is all about participation mystique. The animal sort of blends in with its environment.
Up until now, humans, great apes, dolphins, elephants, magpies and ants seem to have passed this test. Dogs have failed at the mirror test. But that seems to be because they are less sensitive to visual stimuli and are more likely to respond to smells.
A sniff test of self recognition was carried out and its results were conclusive. The dogs tended to smell the other canines’ urine samples rather than their own. And their ages corresponded to the time spent sniffing. Thus they show awareness and a conscience despite what was thought of previously.
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This study has been published in the journal Ethology, Ecology and Evolution.