I propose that the basic idea of intelligence, and “higher level brain functioning” that we think of with various animal species, as well as within individuals, all comes down to the level of ability to assess things from multiple perspectives.
1st person perspective is the ability to assess the inputs and outputs of one’s own self. This is ego-centric thinking
2nd person perspective is the ability to assess the inputs and outputs of another individual perspective. This “other” can be any animal, vegetable, mineral, or other generally unique set of elements, including one’s own imagination/memory of oneself in the past or future. This is ethno-centric thinking.
3rd person perspective is the ability to assess the inputs and outputs of a second individual as seen from a third individual. This is world-centric thinking.
4th person perspective is, as you can probably figure out, the ability to assess the inputs and outputs of a second individual as seen from a third individual, as seen from a fourth individual. (Most humans either aren’t at this stage of brain development yet, or are only just beginning to be able to get to that point.) This is universe-centric thinking.
You can see a visual representation of this process at my Relationship Growth Patterns diagram.
This is why the older we get, the more “mature” we tend to become, as the brain develops the ability to see things from other people’s shoes more easily. For example, young folks might only be able to see that laws against abortion affect their own body or they can only see that the laws affect the body of their progeny. But when these young people get older and gain more intelligent, mature, world-centric brains, they can begin to see that both of these perspectives are true, and equally valuable, at the same time. They begin to understand that men and women not only want to protect the children that have been created, but also that women want to protect their own bodies from being forced to carry a child they don’t want.
Of course, the ability to effectively act on these higher levels of awareness exists less than half of the time for most humans. Which is why society hasn’t figured out a perfect way to take good care of everyone’s inputs and outputs just yet, as much as we living things are all working towards that goal, as the core element of evolution.
Also check out my earlier post on the dimensions of consciousness.