The experts say that cats are not self aware. I thought that I agreed with them. But a friend of mine said that she thought they might be. In any case it depends on what you mean by “self aware”. To me it means being aware of oneself as an individual, sentient living creature. It is similar to sentience (to feel, perceive or be conscious, or to have subjective experiences) but different. The Wikipedia authors say that it is the ability “to reconcile oneself as an individual separate from the environment and other individuals”.
This is a really tough question and maybe it is a question that is somewhat pointless! However, I would quite like to know what visitors thought about it based on their experiences. Does your cat give you the impression that he or she realises that they are an individual; that they exist?
For example, when cats look at themselves in a mirror they don’t seem to recognise themselves. We look at ourselves in a mirror and think, “Uhmm, I look nice today!”. Or, “does my bum look big in this?” But cats look at the mirror and seem to have no awareness of what they are looking at. Cats never look at themselves in reflections. Whereas we are a little bit obsessed about our appearance. There is quite a contrast in behaviour, in this regard, between cats and humans. Which is the better behaviour?
A follow up point is this. Does it matter? If cats are not self aware perhaps life is better. As humans we are self-aware but because of our nature we tend to convert this into self-consciousness. If one is too self-conscious it can have a negative impact on how we live. Not being self-aware promotes self-confidence and naturalness. Cats are very natural in their behavior. Their behavior is not qualified by an internal discussion on the subject of how they will be seen or thought of in the eyes of others. Cats just do it, if it is natural to do it. We love them for that.
You may have heard of it – the mirror test. I refer to it here. Wikipedia discusses it too. Apparently children to the age of 18 months fail the mirror test. While a barn owl named Wesley passed it! Some primates pass it and some fail it. Gorillas pass it and are declared to be self aware.
If you don’t have a conscious understanding of the fact that you exist – if it does not enter your head – then life is simplified. A whole range of issues are cut out of life. You will act more naturally. Try it out!