That's true of some people. If you mean me... I'm probably as twittish in real life.Sylphisonic wrote:It brings out the true personality of people as being complete twits? Internet identities, lol.
Simone de Beauvoir was making a point about women and mirrors, but you'll notice I adjusted the argument to say people and mirrors.Women and mirrors? No, the same behaviour is present in our cousins the apes. I believe it is correct to say that they are the other animal that can look in a mirror and actually recognise themselves. They are fascinated with their own appearance in one, and will react to it, going so far as using a mirror to pick things out of their teeth, or groom themselves to heighten their appearance. This is not just a modern socially costructed type of behaviour, it is innate in us as the self-concious animals we were derived from. I guess even King Louey wants to look his swingingnest when he parties on down to his jungle lifestyle.
I'm glad you brought up the higher primates, though, as the similarities allow me to point out that apes, etc. are social animals, and that their attempts to heighten their appearance have everything to do with reproductive success and social hierarchies...
And a lot of these behaviors are, in fact, context-specific.
Some of the behaviors you've described-- picking things from between teeth, etc.-- have a lot to do with hygiene. Hygiene plays a role in both reproductive success and in the establishment and maintenance of hierarchies, but its value has a lot to do with the fact that a primate with good hygiene is likely to stay alive longer and to produce a number of healthy offspring. Hygiene is a basic function, very much rooted in biology and in the drive to propagation.
When we can observe these things are work in a social hierarchy, we begin to realize that, at a certain point in evolution, cultures arise within species.
Scientists were looking at the possibility of animal "cultures" as far back as the 1950s. Jane Goodall put forth a case for non-human primate cultures in the 1980s. And in fact, recent primate research indicates that, for example, orangutans have something like cultures-- non-genetic behavior patterns specific to particular groups or social units of animals (but not to species as a whole) and passed on, through conditioning and modelling, to younger members of the group. (A good amount of this research was published in Nature last year.) So while one can say that all apes search for food-- searching for food is a biologically-based thing-- a particular grouping of apes might in fact-- and several do-- search for an acquire food differently from other groups of apes. And while all apes are communal, the natures and behaviors of those communities vary. And different groups-- let's call them tribes-- of apes from the same species will use different means of cleaning their teeth. Apes from one tribe will simply poke and grab rotting matter with their hands and examine each others' mouths, while members of the other tribe daintily pick between teeth with bits of wood. Same thing happens with food-gathering. If you take two groups of the same species living in proximity, one might use tools while the other doesn't. Going back a ways, there's the whole nudity-versus-clothing issue, which entered into discussion when some captive primates began demonstrating behaviors that we associate with shame at our nudity-- but no one was teaching the simians to cover their genitals. The question of what shame might mean for, say, a chimpanzee entered into cognitive science and anthropological and primate studies circles. And the differences-- why one set of animals acts one way, and others behave differently-- aren't based in genetics or biological evolution.
And these differences are hugely important to scientists.
They have to do with cultural transmission.
In short, the so-called higher primates are subject to something like memetic evolution.
And memes are very much about culture and identity, as genes are about biology.
And these simian social structures have everything to do with a basic economic principle-- scarcity versus abundance. The use of tools, presence or absence of aggressive behaviors, different mating rituals, the "customs" of grooming, etc. correlate with the amount of food that's available in the environment. When the food supply changes, the behaviors-- the culture-- changes. When the culture changes, the individual's role-- its worth-- within the social structure changes.
As I've suggested, there's a sort of series of feedback loops between the environmental, the cultural, and the biological. Aggression is held in check and frowned upon by primates when prosperity arrives and lingers for a time. When it doesn't...
Notice that I've basically been asking how free one's free will is, how one's individuality arises and functions. And I've suggested that the "Self" is far more porous and flexible-- to describe it by material analogy-- than most of us would care to think.
I said that the way one views oneself is contingent upon one's culture, not that self-awareness-- self-consciousness-- whatever one chooses to call it was culturally conditioned.
Although some might disagree with me. In some schools of thought, self-consciousness is an illusion, and one can condition oneself to control and perhaps extinguish self-awareness.
But I think you were talking about feeling self-conscious, aware of one's body, etc.
Perhaps those conditions are related.
I'm not sure you adequately described why and how self-consciousness works, for either apes or humans.
In other words, how we use our mirrors and what we look for is based in culture and history and the domain of the social.This sort of goes back to Simone de Beauvoir's argument about mirrors in The Second Sex, but to me, it seems to be a more recent development of the phenomenon de Beauvoir was describing, one predicated on the spread of late-stage capitalism and on the cultural diffusion of what was once called "bourgeois individualism".
I don't think de Beauvoir was saying that looking in the mirror was always evil...
And I didn't deny that self-consciousness was something one could be free of...
I said that the way we behave now is merely a different form, a more recent development, of the sort of thing one finds described in The Third Sex. Because that book operates at a point in time, in a culture, in a history. It's the articulation of a (particularly interesting) reading of a given moment, and one which resonates, in some places, today.
But I suggested that there are different ways of being self-conscious, because we're within culture, within history.
I think de Beauvoir's discussion was, in some ways, based upon a naive post-Cartesian view of the Self and of agency. And I suggested as much in my post.
Grooming, strong teeth, etc. relate directly to the structure of primate social hierarchies... and the nature of those hierarchies depends upon the enivironment, and upon access to food and water. And the interplay between hierarchy and environment directly impacts the behavior of individual apes. Their "personalities" arise through a complex interplay of the individual with the social, the social with the environmental. And the biological is in there.
Based on what you've stated, the fascination with what we see in mirrors, to say nothing of what we do while looking at ourselves in mirrors, is either innate-- by which you seem to mean, "inherited genetically and/or through biological evolutionary processes"-- in which case we should be able to point to a gene, or to a particular part of the brain or body, or some such as a cause of the fascination-- or it's something else. Something related to biology, but not quite what we think of as biology.
Can we prove or say in any meaningful way that a creature with a different brain structure, a different sort of nervous system, a different possible array of neurochemical reactions thinks or feels the same way we do? We can probably do this, declare that its behavior is the same as our behavior, if we assume that thought-processes etc. aren't part of or just aren't relevant to an action or behavior, if we can isolate the exact moment in which an isolated stimulus-- one without a history behind it, without context-- gives rise to a discrete and historically weightless response. In which case we're right back at a simple (and probably simplistic) mind-body dualism...
Or we could say that because the biological components of apes and humans are similar, the behaviors are similar.
But this tells us little about how the behaviors work, and it is to confuse biology with behavior across the board.
Unless we posit some other way in which actions among species can be described as similar without being the same, unless we can come up with a way of looking at similarities between group behaviors-- a way that accounts for differences.
We have to find the structures common to the variety of behaviors.
Knowing that biology is a diverse realm-- that it differs from species to species and manifests subtle differences from individual to individual-- realizing that a complex organism's individual behavior can only be examined meaningfully in a broader context-- we posit the realm of memes and cultures. Related to, but not the same as, the realm of genes and biology.
Can we observe memes at work, and see cultures change over time? Yes.
Do they shape individual behaviors, impose limits on those behaviors? Yes.
Are these things purely biological? No.
Do contemporary evolutionary theory and primate studies take these things into account? Yes.
Do these models account for everything? No.
I might concede the point, if someone explains to me in terms of evolution and biology and neurochemistry-- in terms of the empirical-- and without recourse to abstraction or to purely historical concepts, why we feel the need for mirrors or even why we make useless but beautiful things-- even when they serve no practical purpose.
Unless it is for some Other, whether the Other exists as an actual community or only exists in our heads.
Otherwise, a certain kind of abstraction is necessary, and it's valid-- if the abstraction relates to something that can be measured, quantified, studied. If the abstraction relates in a coherant way to empirical reality.
To borrow a phrase from Dawkins and use it in a way he might not like, that Other, real or imagined, is part of our extended phenotype.