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In, "Stumbling on Happiness" [0] Gilbert's explanation of conditioned actions we just perform without it registering in our "awareness" hit home with me and may provide a model for understanding how animals (humans included) can do something that looks like it requires this invented empathy, awareness, etc. but can in fact be done without any "awareness" of what you're doing. Exploring consciousness isn't the point of the book at all, but the one section where he touched on it seemed to speak to your question some.

[0] http://www.amazon.com/Stumbling-Happiness-Daniel-Gilbert/dp/...

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