In terms of evolution the fittest is the one that replicates copies that are also fit. This can be counter-intuitive; being stronger is better as you can win more fights, but you will have a higher energy use so it is a disadvantage when food is scarce. check out stick insects or slice cell anaemia for some intersting facts about evolution.

As organisms evolved so did the creatures that preyed on them. This causes a genetic arms race, a battle against resources and power. This is predator/prey evolution and it seems to have the effect of focusing and pushing a specialisation to it's limit.

Here is the crux of conciousness. When nerves appeared on the scene they were a paradigm shift. They can quickly react to something, they can change what they react to, they learn. At the start one can imagine the immense reactive nature of an organism with these nerves. They associate a certain type of thing with sometihng else and you have the ability to avoid predators.

It's useful to be psychic. Nerves can store information and match patterns very well. If they were joined together just right we could see prediction, e.g. ___ happened last time so it probably will again.

We develop a mental model of the physical world as we see it. Physics became a known concept. If a rock is thrown we know where it will land, this doesn't require thinking as such, just a plain input/output, reacting on it is the same old reactive part of the brain, wired up to these new parts.

As altruism develops we need a new model for dealing with these objects that don't obey our model of basic physics, animals. The way to do that is to have a model of what another animal is likely to do. It's then plugged in to the same old brain as before. We have a model of physics and of animals brains.

The thing is we are one of those animals. All we have is a few input processing modules, some reactive modules, and a couple of prediction modules. With that we can think about animals. It's still all input-memory-output based, there is no thinking or reasoning. We have no idea why we are doing anything, it's just the way we are wired.

The strange things is if we decide to reason about ourselves we can start to guess why we did something. The actual reason was the inputs and memory were such that it had to be. But it might be better to say that because red things cause pain we become aggressive when we see red.

This mental model of ourself allows real thought, a thought process. Because we can think "there is another person who is doing XXX therefore he will do ..." we can do "what if I did XXX, what would happen then".
  • brains react
  • brains predict (mental model of physics)
  • brains predict other brains (mental model of a brain)
  • brains can think about them-self
  • we become self-aware
If we accept this model of conciousness then we can draw some interesting points. One, the reason we acted like we did in most situations is that we didn't think (in the higher brain, self-aware sense) we acted. Only on reflection after the even can we guess why we did something. So when someone says for instance, why did you punch him, you can respond with:

"it was the only thing I could of done. I didn't think and couldn't 
given the time frame. Looking back it was probably because he was 
threatening me. If the situation came up again I would have acted 
differently but that is only because I now have had time to think 
about how to deal with it."

Not that I think this should change laws to reflect this. 

Secondly, we have a whole new paradigm of research for artificial intelligence. Can we make a creature self aware by applying these rules. It's far from an easy task, but at least with this we know where to look.

It also tell us a lot about other creatures. How self-aware is a dog? Well, how much do you think it understand of why other dogs are acting like they do. It probably doesn't have the level of reflection to understand. Judging from my dogs anyway. 

Now, there is a further complication brought about by disorder called autism. Autistic children can have a poor mental model of other brains, yet they can reason about why they did something. unfortunately I'm not an expert on Autistic Spectrum Disorders but think it would be a great area of study "does the level of Mind-blindness or Alexithymia correlate with a lack of reasoning about one's self". It could be explained with the fact that human reasoning has become massively important and as we are such social and communicative creatures we have a need for a separate "reasoning about one's self" part of the brain. If we are to accept this then to test the previous theory would require looking back in our genetic history to see how their level of self reasoning correlates with mind-blindness.