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Social mirrors and shared experiential worlds

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Abstract:

We humans have a formidable armamentarium of social display behaviours, including song-and-dance, the visual arts, and role-play. Of these, role-play is probably the crucial adaptation which makes us most different from other apes. Human childhood, a sheltered period of ‘extended irresponsibility’, allows us to develop our powers of make-believe and role-play, prerequisites for human cooperation, culture, and reflective consciousness.

Social mirror theory, originating with Dilthey, Baldwin, Cooley and Mead, holds that there cannot be mirrors in the mind without mirrors in society. I will present evidence from the social and behavioural sciences to argue that self-awareness depends on social mirrors and shared experiential worlds. The dependence of reflectivity on shared experience requires some reframing of the ‘hard problem’, and suggests a non-trivial answer to the zombie question.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 19 Rydal Road, London SW16 1QF, UK

Publication date: January 1, 2001

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