The start of it came when I read an article which described how depraved the animal kingdom was. Murder, rape, assault, slavery, and child abuse occur in levels much higher than in human populations. Why are animals so immoral when compared to humans? If I could find the difference between animals and humans, I could find the reason for our behaviour.
Then I read an article about levels of consciousness. There are basically three levels:
- Awareness - All animals are aware of their environment at some level, whether it is through sight, smell or touch. All behaviours are driven by instinct and are reactions to their environment.
- Self-Awareness - A tiny sliver of animals possess self awareness, the ability to identify themselves as unique. Some primates, like orangutans, and maybe dolphins possess this ability. The main method to study this is to put red dye on the animal and place them in front of a mirror. If they touch the spot on their body (usually the top of their head), then it means they understand the animal in the mirror is them, not just another animal. They figure orangutans evolved this ability to prevent them from falling out of trees (clambering theory).
- Others-Awareness - The final level is when you become aware that other people are self-aware. Only humans possess this ability, which is often described as empathy. It is interesting that children under 4 or 5 do not possess this ability. For example, if you put an object on a table, put a screen in front of it so the child can't see it but you can, and then ask the child, "Can I see the object", the child will answer no.
Of course, it is more complicated than that. Some selfish behavioiur is required, or else you would die of starvation because you gave all your food away. But many ethical problems can be solved by applying this.