Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Sense of Self

(Cross-posted on the Blue Rose Girls)

More things that have been on my mind lately, in addition to preparations for my trip to CA for ALA and a vacation afterwards, are the various amazing stories I've been hearing on Radio Lab.

Radio Lab is my new obsession, an NPR radio show produced by WNYC. It's been recommended by several friends, and is also one of the favorites of This American Life host Ira Glass. And as This American Life is also one of my favorites, I thought I'd check it out.

I've been downloading many of the old podcasts, and one in particular that I found fascinating was the episode "Who Am I?" with discussions about the concept of self. It included a story about how a scientist experimented giving chimps a mirror to see if the chimps would eventually recognize themselves. At first, the chimps thought that their reflection was another chimp, and treated it as such, but after a few minutes, it started to seem that they recognized that it was a reflection of themselves--for example, they would test the reflection with motion, and appeared to be "checking themselves out," etc. But to prove this, the researchers used anesthesia on the chimps, and while they were asleep, painted a red mark on their foreheads. When the chimps woke up and looked at the mirror, seeing their reflection with a red mark on the forehead, they would touch their own foreheads to see what the red mark was, a sure sign that the knew that the reflection was themselves.

I was curious as to when babies are able to recognize themselves in a mirror, and found that it's generally at nine months of age. While doing a little additional research, I also found an article that stated, "Self-recognition has traditionally been considered a sign of superior intelligence, since so far only species such as chimpanzees, dolphins, orangutans and humans have managed to achieve it." To take this a step further, the article is about a robot at Yale that is also able to recognize itself in a mirror.

And here's another article about monkeys who don't seem to know that the monkey in the mirror is a reflection, but also treat the reflection differently than they would treat another monkey.

Anyway, there's so many more incredible stories in that episode and others. The shows on laughter and deception are also fascinating.

And what does this all have to do with children's books? Nothing, I guess. It was just on my mind!


For those of you who were curious, last week's Focus meeting went fairly well, I think. And also, I'm still leaning towards a Mac. I'm tempted by the black, but am still drawn to the white. Hmmm...

I may not be able to post for the next few Mondays because of the aforementioned ALA and vacation, but will do my best!


Rita said...

That is fascinating! I will check this program out. :D

Anonymous said...


Have you seen these You-tubes? I think you will enjoy them. It is all about story (delivered by Ira Glass)