RE: Love and friendship

Robert J. Bradbury (
Mon, 5 Jul 1999 10:39 PDT

> Rob Harris Cen-IT <> wrote:

> The
> conscious experience of "love" is currently thought to be brought about by
> one substance alone - I forget the name

I'm not sure that these substance(s) are completely known. A quick scan of PubMed indicates that oxytocin and vasopressin have been implicated in social bonding and control of the hypothalmic pituitary adrenal axis. [Psychoneuroendocrinology 1998 23(8):779-818]

As I recall there were some claims that substances in chocolate, perhaps phenylalanine (if memory serves correctly), have been claimed to produce feelings similar to love. However PubMed draws a blank on this so it falls into the rumor catagory... It is certainly true that our knowledge of neurotransmitters is incomplete at this time (but in 5 years or so the story will be much different).

> The question about other species relates to the consciousness question,
> which bugs thinkers the world over. We just don't have the necessary
> technology at present to detect consciousness, so we can't say whether or
> not any other species EXPERIENCE at all.

The consciousness question, begs the self-awareness issue. Psychologists have a very good test for that -- the "mirror test". If an animal looks into a mirror, does it recognize that it is seeing itself or does it think it is another animal?

I think most psychologists would claim that only the great apes can reliably pass that test, with chimpanzees coming out on top. I've had people claim that their cat can pass this test -- but does it happen on the first encouter with the mirror, or is it simply a learned response?

There was a great video on one of the "pet shows" on TV the other night, showing a small parrot, drawing close to its reflection in a bathroom chrome fixture, screeching "pretty bird, pretty bird...", clearly thinking it was another bird (unless you assume a very narcissistic parrot...). Parrots are supposed to have the intelligence of 3-4 year old humans, so, I would say that "mature" humans, chimpanzees and perhaps a few of the other great apes could be considered self-aware.

Does anyone know at what age children pass the mirror test? [They have to at least be able to focus first, so newborns definately fail.]

Whether self-awareness and consciousness are the same is open for discussion. I would say that all animals have some level of "consciousness" because consciousness is that part of the brain that selects a behavior or action in response to a stimuli (external or internal). However, just because your dog is "looks" consious doesn't mean it is "self-aware". After thousands of years of selective breeding, of course it is going to look like there is something going on behind those big brown eyes, and of course it is going to have behavior patterns (including learning stupid dog tricks...) that make *you* think there is someone home.