Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Thinking about thinking - not just for human beings now

The ability of humans to think about what they are thinking about (Metacognition)has long been considered by many as a uniquely human behavior. Maybe not. Maybe it's just easier to test for in humans because humans can talk about what they are thinking about, while similar tests in animals require observing the animal behavior and inferring what they are thinking about. This from Live Science at Yahoo News:
Some animals are more thoughtful than others, according to a comparative psychologist who says evidence is mounting that dolphins, macaque monkeys and other animals share our ability to reflect upon, monitor or regulate their states of mind.

J. David Smith of the University at Buffalo notes that humans are capable of metacognition, or thinking about thinking. "Humans can feel uncertainty. They know when they do not know or remember, and they respond well to uncertainty by deferring response and seeking information," Smith writes in the September issue of the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences.

And accumulating research, he says, suggests metacognition is not unique to humans.

"The idea is that some minds have a cognitive executive that can look in on the human's or the animal's thoughts and problem-solving and look at how its going and see if there are ways to guide it or if behavior needs to pause while more information is obtained," Smith told LiveScience.
So what, you say?

Metacognition is a critical part of what it means to be conscious. If we can understand metacognition, then we are further down the road to understanding what consciousness is.

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