By Tom Warner
You may have heard of the ‘realisation of self’ in a few different contexts, such as literature and writing about one’s self. The fact that it could apply to animals as well is something that may not be as obvious. Humans can easily be defined by their ability to recognise and understand themselves. This is then processed by the brain.
Production and comprehension are two aspects of the acquisition of language that are separate for a valid reason. Production could mean as little as being able to produce a sound or action and getting a desired outcome (whatever that may be). Comprehension opens a whole new area of potential intelligence, because then what is produced and heard can also be processed. This can lead to having an opinion or thought about what has been communicated, indicating a higher level of intelligence.
Now as of yet there is no known animal that can comprehend the concept of self. Dolphins have been thought of as one of the most intelligent animals in the natural world. There have been extended studies analysing dolphins’ reactions to seeing themselves in mirrors. Many conclude that dolphins now have a realisation of self, but I don’t think that this can be reliably proven. The main reason is the communication barrier. Dolphins’ communicative sounds can not be comprehended by humans due to higher frequencies and other dissimilarities. If we could understand them and a sentence to the effect of “I know that is me in that reflective surface over there…” was uttered then, and only then would it be reliable.