Animals are conscious and should be treated as such

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Now that scientists have belatedly declared that mammals, birds and many other animals are conscious, it is time for society to act


Are animals conscious? This question has a long and venerable history. Charles Darwin asked it when pondering the evolution of consciousness. His ideas about evolutionary continuity – that differences between species are differences in degree rather than kind – lead to a firm conclusion that if we have something, “they” (other animals) have it too.

In July of this year, the question was discussed in detail by a group of scientists gathered at the University of Cambridge for the first annual Francis Crick Memorial Conference. Crick, co-discoverer of DNA, spent the latter part of his career studying consciousness and in 1994 published a book about it, The Astonishing Hypothesis: The scientific search for the soul.

The upshot of the meeting was the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness, which was publicly proclaimed by three eminent neuroscientists, David Edelman of the Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla, California, Philip Low of Stanford University and Christof Koch of the California Institute of Technology.

The declaration concludes that “non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”

My first take on the declaration was incredulity. Did we really need this statement of the obvious? Many renowned researchers reached the same conclusion years ago.

The declaration also contains some omissions. All but one of the signatories are lab researchers; the declaration would have benefited from perspectives from researchers who have done long-term studies of wild animals, including nonhuman primates, social carnivores, cetaceans, rodents and birds.

Written By: Marc Bekoff
continue to source article at newscientist.com

52 COMMENTS

  1. We humans are sometimes conscious and sometimes not.  What other criteria could you use than the how closely a creature behaves like a conscious or unconscious human?  Perhaps that could be fine tuned with an MRI.  Which creatures are declared conscious is a religious and economic determination. If it would be inconvenient or humbling to presume a creature conscious, it is declared incapable of pain without any objective evidence.

  2. Anyone with dogs knows this.

    Old anthropomorphic me, poo pooing the attribution of human qualities to other creatures I’d come across throughout my life.

    After a while it becomes hard not to understand that these are more mammalian qualities than human; joy, pain, sadness, heartbreak, hope, delight, loss, victory, fun, contentment, anxiety, malice, play, jealousy, love, hate, humour…

    All of these must have existed long before bipedalism, tool use, large brains, language,  and culture.

    If it is not these then that distinguish us what else should our knowledge and culture give us beyond morality, ethics, if not responsibility and accountability to other sentient animals.

    These creatures are our kith and kin.

    Apart from the halal ones.

    Anvil.

  3. Humans — who enslave, castrate, experiment on and fillet other animals — have had an understandable penchant for pretending animals do not feel pain. A sharp distinction between humans and “animals” is essential if we are to bend them to our will, make them work for us, wear them, eat them — without any disquieting tinges of guilt or regret. It is unseemly of us, who often behave so unfeelingly toward other animals, to contend that only humans can suffer. The behavior of other animals renders such pretensions specious. They are just too much like us.
    ~ Carl Sagan (born: 1934-11-09 died: 1996-12-20 at age: 62)

     

    People must have renounced, it seems to me, all natural intelligence to dare to advance that animals are but animated machines… It appears to me, besides, that [such people] can never have observed with attention the character of animals, not to have distinguished among them the different voices of need, of suffering, of joy, of pain, of love, of anger and of all their affections. It would be very strange that they should express so well what they could not feel.
    ~ Voltaire (born: 1694-11-21 died: 1778-05-30 at age: 83) [François Marie d’Arouet Voltaire] Traité sur la tolerance

     

    The question is not, “Can they [animals] reason?” nor, “Can they talk?” but rather, “Can they suffer?”
    ~ Jeremy Bentham (born: 1748-02-05 died: 1832-06-06 at age: 84)

     

    We must fight against the spirit of unconscious cruelty with which we treat the animals. Animals suffer as much as we do. True humanity does not allow us to impose such sufferings on them. It is our duty to make the whole world recognise it. Until we extend our circle of compassion to all living things, humanity will not find peace.
    ~ Albert Schweitzer (born: 1875-01-14 died: 1965-09-04 at age: 90) The Philosophy of Civilization

  4. This is why I don’t like zoos.  I don’t like to see animals in what I consider to be the equivalent of prisons.  I know that zoos sometimes do important conservation work such as breeding programs for endangered species, but still, the animals are penned up, not allowed to act, eat, sleep, or mate naturally, and subjected to the constant stress of noisy crowds of human gawkers.  

  5. Also on this subject, I was recently outraged to find out that my state is going to pay game wardens to wipe out an entire pack of 16 wolves because they killed three cows belonging to a local rancher who runs his 1,000 head herd of cattle on public lands.  I guess the assumption is that the rights of one human family to dictate the proper use of so-called public land is more important than a endangered native animal species’ need to eat and right to exist.

  6. I’m sure the definition of consciousness involves things like a central nervous system.  That’s why neuroscience is part of the discussion. Since plants don’t have one the chances of consciousness being expanded to them is rather small.

    This is a common argument against animal rights in general.  As if recognizing that animals can feel pain and that such pain shouldn’t be ignored implies you have to give them all the rights of people. I’m not sure myself where I stand on some issues. I’m against animal testing that involves pointless, prolonged, and extreme pain but I’m not against all testing. It makes sense to me to test out a vaccine on animals before we use it on humans.

    To me the real issue is  recognizing that animal suffering is not something we can  pretend doesn’t matter. That is a significant leap for a lot of people and once you admit it it makes certain things (e.g. many factory farming techniques) seem immoral. It doesn’t mean everyone has to become a vegetarian or that we have to stop using animals for all types of research.

  7.  

    ganggan
    Is this the first step toward global vegetarianism? If some day we find that plants have feelings, what should we eat?

    While plants themselves may not feel pain, taking over wild lands for agriculture and killing mammals, birds and insects to protect the crops, is an issue I think vegetarians do not address.

  8.  Actually they do.  One of the reasons people are vegetarians is for the environment. Using land to grow crops uses orders of magnitude less fuel, water, etc. and creates far less waste. There are literally lakes of crap around factory farms in the US.

  9. Well, I think it’s a bit utopistic to think that we would actually start caring about the well-fare of animals on a global scale since we hardly care about other human beings on a global scale. Of course this could have a more limited local impact on how people perceive animals… But, in general I’m quite pessimistic with regard to animal well-fare.

  10. Well, I see your point… on the other hand Zoos are vital in order for people to get in touch with exotic animals (well, in highly populated areas animals in general). There are a lot of people who might not have seen a living animal in real life (except from a few birds or dogs). When you actually get to see these animals in real life the emotional response is much different from what you get from watching the Discovery Channel. So I’m a bit torn on this one. On one hand I see your point, but on the other hand I realize Zoos are helpful tools to get people to understand and appreciate the beauty of nature and all the creatures that live on this earth.

  11. I don’t know the specifics of this case and I think to hunt down a whole pack of wolves seems quite cruel and unjustified. I’m sure there are more peaceful options available. But, in general. Don’t you think ranchers have the right to protect their cattle? I mean, is the life of a wolf more important than the life of a cow?

  12.  Any movement to advance basic rights always meets with that kind of response. The early abolitionists in the US were told that they were Utopian and that the Southern economy couldn’t survive without slaves. The people in the early US civil rights movement were told that there was no chance that enough white people, let alone white politicians, would accept integration and voting rights for blacks.

    To me the realization that animals experience pain and that such pain is morally negative is just one more step in the evolution of human ethical thinking.

  13. Yes, but that does not mean that they were always wrong… You can just as well say that within any movement to advance basic rights there are people who get carried away and expect too broad changes and too soon. These are the people who might become cynical when they realize their goals are not realistic. I never said I did not hope for change…

  14. The cows are not native to the area, and the ranchers also kill native species like elk and deer that compete with the cattle for grazing resources, as well as killing ground squirrels that eat grass and dig holes which can cause broken legs for cattle and horses.  The other issue is that these ranchers are running their cattle not on private ranchland, but on public lands (BLM, USFS), without consideration of how the rest of the “public” might want the land to be used.  I personally would rather see this land in its natural state, with native predator and prey species doing their natural thing.  If this rancher has too many cattle for his own ranchland to support, then he has too many cattle.  

  15. What are the odds plants will be found to have consciousness?  We don’t have anything that directly measures consciousness.  We presume it is something that happens as a side effect of neural activity, but it is a different thing from neural activity.  We presume it is associated with living creatures, though there have been cultures that presumed even rocks were conscious. The question will get quite distressing when androids start telling us they are conscious. 

    Even defining consciousness is difficult. It has something to do with whether you should be concerned about distressing a being. Is there something inside enjoying an experience? Is there anybody home? It smacks soul, ghost in the machine, infinitely regressing homunculus.

    I have read anything that gave me the feeling the author had grasped this octopus firmly.

    I get the feeling it is a fundamental property of the universe like space or time, and we won’t be able to define consciousness in terms of matter or other fundamentals.

  16. The Cambridge Declaration, and many of the comments here, are just silly. The very notion of defining consciousness is absurd. Consciousness is not another substance to be described and analysed, but the means of perception through which all other substance is apprehended.

    Everything else I “know” is derivative: consciousness is primary. I can, and should, doubt the veracity of whatever I perceive – things, ideas, events, etc. – but the fact of my consciousness is known directly. I suppose that other humans are conscious in a similar way, likewise animals, but this supposition is provisional.

    The attempt to study consciousness objectively can never “explain” anything. Consciousness must be studied subjectively, through meditation.

  17.  B.F. Skinner would agree with you but few modern psychologists would.   I agree consciousness is a very tricky thing to define but I don’t think its impossible nor do I see why its somehow beyond the realm of science.

    The fact that everything you know is derived from your conscious experience isn’t at all convincing to me. True but why does it follow that therefor consciousness itself is out of bounds for science? Everything you know came to you via the perceptions of sight or sound as well at least initially. Does that mean we can’t study those senses scientifically?  If you are a rational person everything you know is dependent on logic, does that mean logic can’t be studied? Of course not, in fact we know a great deal about how to define and categorize logical systems such as knowing that they can’t be both complete and consistent (Goedel’s theorem).

  18. Sure, I think its pretty clear that mammals and birds are conscious, at  minimum in some certain senses of the word.

    But I like eating and/or wearing some of them (none an endangered species), and will continue to do so.

    Heartless?  Maybe so.  But we’re all mortal, and every animal that I’ve eaten, or will eat, was mortal.  Death is part of life. 

    Most humans for most of our history have been omnivores–animal protein is a natural part of our diet.  If I’m viewed as barbaric by some, that’s fine–everyone is entitled to their opinion, and the tut-tutting of moralists and scolds, whether of my own or future generations, are more a source of bemusement than worry to me.

    When I’m dead, my tissues and organs are to be made available for donation, and I would like my post-transplant carcass to go to science, or to a medical school.   To me, those are clearly the most noble uses of a human corpse.  Scientific research, leather for clothing, belts, and shoes, and meat to eat, strike me as the most noble uses of an animal corpse. 

    We’re all going to die.  Deal with it.

  19.  Yes we are all going to die.  And I can understand people still wanting to eat animals. But what I can’t understand is people who have no interest in the senseless suffering that many factory farm animals have to endure. Not to mention the fact that factory farming also is bad for humans in terms of the antibiotics that are injected into the animals on a regular basis because the barbaric conditions they live in make them especially vulnerable to disease.

    That seems to me to be an excellent question to start discussing once we agree that animals can suffer and that animal suffering is bad. Do we really want to continue the current way most meat is produced that subjects the animals to lives of continuous suffering where death must be a welcome relief all so that we can have hamburgers a few cents cheaper?

  20.  If you read about the animal agriculture system, you will find that the morally salient aspect of it all isn’t that the animals are killed, but rather how they are treated when they are alive. Just to cite a few of examples, cows are castrated without pain-killers, de-horned and given third degree burns (branded). Layer chickens’ beaks are painfully seared off – this is to prevent them from cannibalizing because they are crammed so tightly together cages that the stress drives them to violence. I could go on for quite a while in this vein. The actual slaughter process is nothing short of hellish. You should learn about this system. These animals’ lives aren’t just ended prematurely; they are tortured throughout life and are tortured to death. I suggest reading Peter Singer and Jonathan Safran Foer on the subject of factory farming. 

  21. The argument of vegetarians is irrelevant and needs to be set aside: that plant food crops are more efficient than farming animals for food.

    Humans evolved to eat animals. So it would probably take >100,000 years of intensive selection pressure-driven natural selection before humans adapt to food sources other than meat.

    Whether growing plant food crops directly or indirectly for humans is efficient agriculture is not the point. Efficiency has a role to play in human evolution, but eating meat is also efficient. Saturated fat from animal carcasses has a very high energy density and can be efficiently stored internally in much greater amounts than alternatives (glycogen in muscles or cannibalising internal protein to scavenge energy in a crisis).

    Humans eating plant food and internally converting it to fat is no more efficient than ‘persuading’ our domestic farm animals to eat plant food and internally convert it to fat and protein. And then we eat the domestic animals. If both options were equally efficient then most people would opt for the meat, just because it tastes good. (An evolutionary clue that it is probably better for us.) If anything then humans eating domestic animals is more efficient that growing plant crops for humans because domestic animals can eat the cheaper and more fibrous plant foods which are inedible by humans. We also have to transport food to markets, and meat is less bulky than shipping vegetables.

    If there are too many humans alive to feed effectively with meat then the problem is not the relative efficiency of growing meat versus vegetables but that there are too many humans.

    There is obviously scope for improvement in how animals are treated. But again the problem is not that animals are farmed for food but that too many humans are idiots. Seeing as some humans will always be idiots, the underlying problem again is that there are too many humans alive. Plus that what should be the routine social function of mitigating the impact of idiots seems to have been delegated to another bunch of idiots – with unsurprising results.

  22. If you look again, you will see that I’m not abandoning the enquiry into consciousness. On the contrary, I’m proposing an alternative methodology, which is entirely empirical and demonstrably effective. Meditation = subjective science.

  23.  
    Vijen
    The Cambridge Declaration, and many of the comments here, are just silly.
    The very notion of defining consciousness is absurd. Consciousness is not another substance to be described and analysed, but the means of perception through which all other substance is apprehended.

    Neuroscientists and biochemists would differ with this claim.  All brain activity works on electrical biochemistry.

    Everything else I “know” is derivative: consciousness is primary. I can, and should, doubt the veracity of whatever I perceive – things, ideas, events, etc. – but the fact of my consciousness is known directly. I suppose that other humans are conscious in a similar way, likewise animals, but this supposition is provisional.

    That is why study requires independent objective observers and scientific monitoring equipment.

    The attempt to study consciousness objectively can never “explain” anything. Consciousness must be studied subjectively, through meditation.

    You have got it backwards here.  Like studying brain activity during sleep, you can’t do it yourself, – for practical reasons, as well as confirmation bias, wishful thinking etc.  The brain does not have self diagnostic functions built in.

  24. Hi Peter,

    Pete H

    The argument of vegetarians is irrelevant and needs to be set aside: that plant food crops are more efficient than farming animals for food.

    I agree that efficiency should have no import on a decision based on morality or ethics. It would be efficient to get slaves, or prisoners, or genetically tweaked primates to grow the vegetable biomass, eat it themselves, then we eat them.

    (Though just out of interest I wouldn’t mind the thoughts of a physicist on the entropy of this system?)

    Humans evolved to eat animals. So it would probably take >100,000
    years of intensive selection pressure-driven natural selection before
    humans adapt to food sources other than meat.

    Well, due a wide variety of selection pressures, humans are omnivores. Early Hunter gatherer societies were presumed to have had diets heavy in gathered foods supplemented by meat obtained through meagre hunting or scavenging.

    I was aware that (sorry, haven’t got the time to look up the research) various studies had looked at modern hunter gatherers and found surprisingly high rates of meat consumption (50%, 60%, or 70%) considering the absence of cardio vascular disease, but I’d always thought that there were variables to explain this; lack of competitors, better weaponry, localised social and health initiatives and intervention by governments. 

    I think the thing to remember here is that 70% of fuck all is 30% less than fuck all.

    Geography is a variable that plays an obvious role here, too, given the rapid expansion of the human omnivore; a hunter gatherer fishing through a hole in the surface of a frozen lake, or chasing off a seal from its pup, is hardly likely to be thinking of balancing his or her diet with pineapple for pudding.

    Conversely different pressures exist when other food stuffs are available in differing locales that would lead to a diet containing little, or no meat at all.

    Economics, too, dictate whether humans adapt to food sources other than meat. My own experience (not evidence, I know) of childhood, and of travelling as an adult, recalls meat being an expensive – and therefore very small part, of the diet of whole swathes of the population of the planet.

    Whether growing plant food crops directly or indirectly for humans is
    efficient agriculture is not the point. Efficiency has a role to play
    in human evolution, but eating meat is also efficient. Saturated fat
    from animal carcasses has a very high energy density and can be
    efficiently stored internally in much greater amounts than alternatives
    (glycogen in muscles or cannibalising internal protein to scavenge
    energy in a crisis).

    Yep, that’s why we’re agreed that it is irrelevant.

    Humans eating plant food and internally converting it to fat is no
    more efficient than ‘persuading’ our domestic farm animals to eat plant
    food and internally convert it to fat and protein. And then we eat the
    domestic animals.

    Again, I thought this was irrelevant, but the thoughts of a physicist or engineer would still be interesting.

    If both options were equally efficient then most
    people would opt for the meat, just because it tastes good. (An
    evolutionary clue that it is probably better for us.)

    This is merely opinion. There is no evolutionary ‘clue’ here. I prefer the taste of strawberries to pork.

    If anything then
    humans eating domestic animals is more efficient that growing plant
    crops for humans because domestic animals can eat the cheaper and more
    fibrous plant foods which are inedible by humans. We also have to
    transport food to markets, and meat is less bulky than shipping
    vegetables.

    If there are too many humans alive to feed effectively with meat then
    the problem is not the relative efficiency of growing meat versus
    vegetables but that there are too many humans.

    I think the efficiency arguement has to be set aside.

    There is obviously scope for improvement in how animals are
    treated. But again the problem is not that animals are farmed for food
    but that too many humans are idiots. Seeing as some humans will always
    be idiots, the underlying problem again is that there are too many
    humans alive. Plus that what should be the routine social function of
    mitigating the impact of idiots seems to have been delegated to another
    bunch of idiots – with unsurprising results.

    I think the most efficient answer, therefore, would be to eat the idiots.

    All facetiousness aside, it is, arguably at least, the ability to adapt to various diets that has produced a large brained cooperative altruistic omnivorous mammal that  experiences a wide variety of feelings and emotions and can describe itself as conscious.

    This large brained cooperative altruistic omnivorous mammal can now reason that it is arguable that it’s existence is due, in part, to the ability to adapt to various diets – and can now see that other sentient creatures experience a similar variety of feelings and emotions and appear to be conscious, too.

    This is where we have come too. This is where we stand, historically, scientifically, rationally.

    This is not an arguement about ‘need’, here. There is no biological determinism, here. We do not ‘need’ to kill and eat these creatures. This is not an arguement about’ innate disposition’.

    The question then that remains is: ‘should we?’

    If, as you say, the arguement for efficiency should be cast aside, then we are left with nothing more than the arguement from tradition (and, of course, the argument from profit).

     Few would say I quote A.J. Gould out of context when I repeat, “The hallmark of humanity is not our mental capacity but also our mental flexibility. We have made our world and we can change it.”

    Sorry, long post.

    Anvil.

  25. Yes, you are probably right… but that was not my question. My question was if the life of a cow is less important that the life of a wolf. It is not the cow’s fault that it is on public land. And does not the cow deserve protection from predators regardless of the reasons for why the cow is in whatever situation it is in? I mean, this discussion about natural habitat is a bit strange in this regard. 

  26. “Humans evolved to eat animals.”

     You are committing the Naturalistic ethical fallacy, something that Dawkins and Harris have written vociferously against many times.  I don’t agree actually that its all that natural to eat lots of meat, as other have pointed out we are omnivores not carnivores but even for the sake of argument if you were 100% correct just because humans “evolved” to do X  doesn’t mean X is moral. 

    As Harris said in The Moral Landscape:

    “We must continually remind ourselves that there is a difference between what is natural and what is actually good for us. Cancer is perfectly natural, and yet its eradication is a primary goal of modern medicine. Evolution may have selected for territorial violence, rape, and other patently unethical behaviors as strategies to propagate one’s genes—but our collective well-being clearly depends on our opposing such natural tendencies.”

    Harris, Sam (2010-10-05). The Moral Landscape (p. 101). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

    I’m arguing (based on scientific evidence) that it is rational to extend Harris’s notion of “well being” not just to humans but to some animals as well.

    And the reply that “well we can’t all turn into vegans immediately” is not at all convincing to me. Those kinds of absolute arguments apply to Kantian morals, which are based on absolute principles not to a consequentialist system of ethics that Harris uses and that I think is mostly correct. For a consequentialist less suffering is always better than more suffering. So eating less meat, eating meat raised humanely, are moral steps that a rational person should feel inclined to take even if they aren’t able to stop eating factory farm meat all together.

  27. Hi Vijen,

    Vijen
    The attempt to study consciousness objectively can never “explain”
    anything. Consciousness must be studied subjectively, through
    meditation.

     
    Surely all these things; consciousness, sense of self, the mind, awareness, spirituality, the soul, etc’, are functions (or dysfunctions) of the brain?

    Studying consciousness through meditation is just philosophical navel gazing, isn’t it? Forgive me if I’m putting words into your mouth or misunderstanding you but are you saying that in order to understand consciousness we should simply ‘ponder’ a bit about it? See what comes up, sort of a thing?

    What would this achieve?

    Don’t get me wrong, I like to ponder, think, mull, guess, it’s great fun, and useful, too, although I probably do it too much? My partner certainly thinks so? My Mother thought so, too?

    “You ought to apply yourself, you should. Head in the clouds, that’s you!” she’d cry as I rolled said head back into the pillow to ponder on the mysteries of life, the universe, and everything.

    “Bit of application, that’s what you need!”

    After a while I wouldn’t hear her anymore. Perhaps she was still speaking? More likely applying herself to a dualistic philosophy of domestic and godley servitude? Either way, I wouldn’t hear her as I pondered, thinked, mulled, and guessed as to the exact amount of matches lying next to the spider in the matchbox hidden amomg the fluff on the lino under the bed.

    ‘Four?’ I would guess, and there was nothing wrong with that! ‘Seventeen?’ would be another, and there was nothing wrong with that, either, for wasn’t it Feynman himself who said that all great science starts with a guess?

    I’d then ponder a while longer. Then think. Then mull. Then guess again, ‘Two!’

    ‘Two?’

    There was nothing else for it, I’d have to look.

    Sorry, went a bit Alan Bennet there for a minute? See what comes of pondering? Point being that pondering doesn’t explain anything without a bit of application – Christ! I’m turning into my Mother!

    Besides, I think Dennett (who see’s consciousness as one of the last great unexplained mysteries) would have something to say about not being able to explain anything regarding consciousness through objective analysis. His book, by the by, ‘Consciousness Explained’ is worth a read.

    It’s a bit of a tome, mind, but sometimes he catches the essence of something in a few short words – this (from elsewhere, I think?)  applies to my addiction to navel gazing, pondering, mulling and guessing:

    “What you can imagine depends on what you know.”

    As if that didn’t say enough to sap me of my meditative juices, he finishes with:

    “Philosophers who know only philosophy consign themselves to a janitorial role in the great enterprises of exploration that are illuminating the mysteries of our lives.” 

    Daniel C Dennet.

    Shit! That bastard Dennet had me mopping the toilets in the Theme Park of the Mysteries of Life!

    Pondering without knowledge doesn’t lead us to truth – it leads us to Gods.

    Anvil.

    ps:  Sorry – Ten, exactly, and the spider had gone.

  28. Just look at it: you are a conscious being, but you insist on pretending that you don’t really exist. Of course there are biochemical and neurological correlates of consciousness – what else would you expect? Does that prove causality? Get real!

    Consciousness has been studied intensively, systematically, and entirely
    empirically, for many thousands of years. There is an extensive body of
    literature reporting the findings, and the results are remarkably coherent. I’m talking about mysticism: the exploration of one’s own subjectivity. Of course, this is almost universally misunderstood, and routinely conflated with philosophy or religion.

    It takes many years to get a real science education, so few people can be
    bothered. It takes even longer to develop an authentic understanding of your
    own nature, so even fewer people take the trouble. Meditation = subjective science. Try it…

    Reality is not stuff.

    You are not your mind.

    Consciousness simply doesn’t reduce to information.

    You are capable of knowing this. If you limit yourself to thinking, then yes, your understanding will be defective; but there are other cognitive technologies available.

  29. Dennet is a lovely man, who has done much to assist those deluded “religious” victims; and yet he’s also a pratt. It doesn’t matter how long the words are: heterophenomenology is still bullshit. You aren’t a third-person – nobody is. Brains don’t “emerge” into consciousness, that’s just pseudoscientific woo: “I don’t know how it works, but I’m going to pretend I do!”

    Consciousness simply can’t be finessed into non-existence. I AM, and even though my nature is obscure, still nothing is more directly observed than the fact of my own existence.

    So you “pondered” a while. Try harder…

  30. If you are talking about recording people’s brain patterns as they meditate that kind of thing fits into the paradigm of existing neuroscience. If you are talking about using your subjective internal state as evidence in a scientific debate that is clearly NOT science and if you think it is you obviously don’t understand the most basic things about the scientific method: verifiability and repeatability.

  31. Vijen
    Just look at it: you are a conscious being, but you insist on pretending that you don’t really exist.

    No I don’t pretend!  That is just philosophical obfuscation.  If we don’t exist, all arguments and perceptions are void – including yours – and mine, so continuing the debate is pointless.

    Of course there are biochemical and neurological correlates of consciousness – what else would you expect? Does that prove causality? Get real!

     

    Physics, biochemistry and data analysis IS real!  Subjectivity is real FEELINGS based on biochemical reactions to stimuli, but that does not make subjective interpretations real;  -  Just plausible to those involved.

    Consciousness has been studied intensively, systematically, and entirelyempirically, for many thousands of years. There is an extensive body of literature reporting the findings, and the results are remarkably coherent.

     

    Even the psychology of 100 years ago is very confused and largely speculative.  Some selected bits of ancient literature from careful observers and rational thinkers have merit, but most of it is speculative conjecture.

    I’m talking about mysticism: the exploration of one’s own subjectivity. Of course, this is almost universally misunderstood, and routinely conflated with philosophy or religion.

    Pleasant feelings, emotions and spiritual feelings give sensations, but they should not be confused with accurate perceptions of living things or the material universe.

     

    It takes many years to get a real science education, so few people can be bothered. It takes even longer to develop an authentic understanding of your own nature, so even fewer people take the trouble.

    .. and many fail, but mistakenly believe they have grasped it when they only see illusion!

      Meditation = subjective science. Try it… 

    Done that, but it is not science it is relaxation and entertainment.  Subjectivity is never the scientific method, and it has been consistently shown to give unreliable results.

    Reality is not stuff.

    It really is!  If you take away matter and energy, there is nothing left.

     

    You are not your mind.

    You are in your own perception of it, but that has no bearing on its physical properties.

     

    Consciousness simply doesn’t reduce to information.

    It does, but it is the information of the material universe and laws of science, not the perceived information of individuals.  Brains do not do self diagnosis or self analysis, so are not aware of much of their functionality.

  32. Replying to Anvil and Red Dog on the morality of meat:

    Apologies: I too am a serious repeat offender with long posts. But as the saying goes: I didn’t have time to write a short letter.

    Yes, eating slaves was routine practise in many ancient cultures. So morality can be more complex than it seems. It’s not just a pure emotion of taboo or disgust.

    There’s a moral difference between eating humans or animals that’s a continuum. Morality naturally arises, via evolution, to influence behaviour to long term advantage (from the genes’ perspective). Aside from emergencies it would be detrimental to consume breeding stock or working animals, like highly trained sheep dogs, or egg-laying, wool-growing, milk-secreting livestock. Same applies to humans. Other humans have inherent value to us owing to their minds, language, and ability to cooperate, which gives them that ability to acquire new knowledge and skills and reciprocate value to ourselves. We are better off along the lines of the economic law of comparative advantage. Even a human who is otherwise useless, like being physically weak with poor eyesight, has enormous value – but more so in a civilised society with sophisticated markets and division of labour. So our moral position on this is selfish. We don’t eat other people because we’re better off if we don’t. Not just because we don’t want to be eaten ourselves.

    Humans can adjust their morality to eat other people. This has occurred in famines and war. But humans don’t normally eat other people because it doesn’t normally make sense. It can make sense in abnormal circumstances. People who are squeamish about butchering a human would be equally squeamish about butchering an animal. But you can get used to it. Just as med students get used to butchering cadavers.

    or live humans at least 1 other person is likely to value the prospective meal more highly than its weight in meat. Which implies a risk of retaliation in response to the undefinable lost opportunities (a form of property theft). This game theory inevitability (of revenge deterrence as a moral imperative) also influences subjective moral judgement to avoid risking serious offence to others.

    We obtain our moral compass via natural selection. When we apply reasoned argument and legal institutions to influence or amend our morality then we are probably no longer dealing with morality. Morality is inherently naturalistic. And many natural psychological phenomena: angry revenge killing and mob hysteria, might not be applicable in a civilised environment.

    Yes it’s a naturalistic fallacy to argue that morality is good or bad because it is natural or unnatural. But you need to be aware of the default state to which humans are adapted and will tend to revert to when under stress and effective reasoning ceases. Like physical stress like starvation, chronic fear and emotional arousal, or more subtle mental effects like the processes of social influence when uncertain and anxious. Perhaps there needs to be a distinction between natural subjective morality and more advanced and objective civilised morality.

    Yes humans are omnivores. But less omnivorous than most assume. It’s possible to survive in good health indefinitely on meat, with relatively little variety. To do the same without meat requires a wide variety of food sources. It may be that humans have retained the ability to eat plant food and alcohol for multiple reasons: 1. It broadens the available options to allow flexibility of diet and better survive in challenging circumstances, and 2. Consuming sugars and alcohol is unavoidable for scavengers, so there would be selection pressure favouring physiological processes that mitigate the toxic effects of sugars and alcohol by burning as energy or conversion to fat, our more fundamental fuel source.

    Regardless of the difficulty in establishing dietary practises in pre-historic humans I think it’s reasonable to assume that ancient hunter-gather humans lived in a good state of health. Same as modern hunter gatherers. Any wild animal in its natural state tends to be reasonably healthy. Evolution is reasonably reliable at optimising adaptation, though not particularly thermodynamically efficient compared to alternatives such as intelligent design. Owing to the attractiveness of central planning modern government health institutions tend towards ‘intelligent design’ origins. The flawed assumption of intelligent design is that there really is a sufficiently intelligent designer, so I would expect that modern hunter gathers would tend to be healthy despite enlightened government interference by highly intelligent expert authorities. Aside from cigarettes and alcohol, the major health issues faced by modern hunter gatherers is acute infectious diseases when in contact with civilised people (because civilised people tend to be so diseased). There is less of a problem with the chronic non-infectious diseases that most civilised populations experience.

    And yes, merely eating fuck all, whether meat or anything else, is suspected to have a significant influence on overall health. Researchers are getting amazing results using simple starvation as a cancer treatment. Statistics for civilised populations undergoing severe rationing during war and famine often show positive effects on chronic disease incidence, despite the negative overall impact from deaths via torture, bombs, and bullets. When a diet includes a high proportion of fat and low amounts of sugars then the incredibly complex hormonal and neural influences on appetite seems to revert to the wild animal situation where feeding behaviour is naturally synchronised with the body’s needs for optimum survival. People actually need to eat very much less than is commonly assumed.

    There’s reason to assume that humans are evolved to live a long lifespan, in excellent health, selected for via the grand-parenting feedback effects of knowledge transfer between multiple generations. (Kids with genes facilitating longevity may tend to assist in raising more surviving great grand-children.) Great physical condition is historically noted in relatively elderly hunter gathers. E.g. the Australian aborigines during early colonial times. Recent studies of modern hunter gatherers indicate that it is the older middle aged men who are the most productive in strenuous hunting activities. In contrast, there are civilised societies today, like Greece, where the official retirement age for their worn out and sick citizens is around the same age that our ancestors were just finishing their apprenticeships and ramping up to full productivity as hunters. Maybe it’s something to do with olive oil.

    Regarding our tastes and appetites influencing our food choice. A notable example is the Pepsi vs Coke test. Pepsi wins every taste test. Yet Coke always outsells Pepsi. The reason may be that there is a difference between consumption through the gut and body, compared to just taste in the mouth. Food responses are extraordinarily complex and people are also programmed to avoid sweet food in too great a quantity. (Perhaps because fructose is much sweeter than glucose – and much more damaging to body tissues.) Experience and other anecdotes (not much real science I’m afraid) indicates that when people eat relatively little, mostly meat with a high proportion of saturated fat as energy fuel, and also get a modest amount of exercise (similar to what anthropologists believe is normal for tropical hunter gathers i.e. a couple of short walks plus several hours lying in a hammock) then appetite naturally synchronises food choices and the sense of fullness to pretty much exactly what the body really needs. This is the basic idea of the paleo diet, the latest fad in the endless diet games.

    The evolutionary aspect is that humans are not adapted to consume high proportions of foods that digest to glucose and fructose. Sugars cause chronic damage to tissues and to cellular functioning. This damage, exceeding individually varying degrees of tolerance, is possibly the root cause of most chronic non-infectious disease. As omnivores, humans can tolerate a modest amount of sugar-based diet (as for alcohol), but the body’s protective systems can sometimes be overwhelmed over decades if meat (fats mainly) is not the primary energy food. A possible reason why humans develop a middle-age spread is a response to this glucose toxicity. A fat gut being a mechanism to strip glucose out of the blood as fast as possible, to mitigate damage to exposed artery linings otherwise leading to heart disease, alzheimers etc. and reducing the evolutionary advantage to grand-children the results from having healthy grand-parents.

    Even meat that’s too lean can be a problem, because most of the protein in meat is digested down to become sugar in the blood. Too much lean meat over a very long time can have an unhealthy impact. But some of the damage might be compensated by the carnosine consumed in meat.

    So humans certainly do need to kill and eat animals. At least until we develop the bio-technology to manufacture artificial meat and animal fats at an attractive cost.

    I’ve seen TV documentaries about modern African hunter gatherers showing that they have great respect for prey animals. They are unlikely to inflict careless or unnecessary cruelty. Human enemies are different. But cruelty to animals, regarded as conscious but not intelligent, provide no deterrent influence on the behaviour of other animals. There’s a religious influence as the behaviour of prey animals is complex and most hunts are unsuccessful – so the hunters are unlikely to risk anything that might offend the gods of the hunt. Farming animals for food is different because there is no challenge or randomness. Every ‘hunt’ is successful and brutal experience shows that there are no adverse consequences from gods when animals are mistreated. But being surrounded by easily harvested farm animals is not a natural environment for humans. So we wouldn’t expect natural morality to apply. In our modern era then it is up to other people, customers of the meat providers, to impose the relevant deterrents. i.e. to be the gods that retaliate in response to unnecessary cruelty.

    I can’t remember if I’ve read Harris’ ‘The Moral Landscape’. It’s the sort of thing I probably would have read. But Harris has it wrong: meat eating actually is naturally good for us. It is the very high incidence of cancer that is unnatural. And there are good reasons to believe that most cancer today may be a consequence of not consuming meat. Or at least consuming more glycation damaging, sugar-based energy foods than our bodies can successfully mitigate over many decades.

    And we cannot successfully oppose everyone’s natural instincts for rape, violence, etc. Attempting to do so is futile. We instead develop institutional responses like Rugby League where these behaviours are tolerated in a contained environment. People designated as professional rugby league players are culturally permitted to exhibit these behaviours without significant legal sanction, providing their victims conform to accepted standards. (Other players, drunks in bars, bouncers, and girls in short skirts.)

    It is natural moral behaviour to avoid cruelty to animals. But the same doesn’t apply to humans, due to the deterrent effect that can only work with a reasoning, intelligent animal with complex language. So you end up that natural morality indicates that it’s OK to be cruel to humans sometimes, but never to be cruel to animals.

    Doing something about animal cruelty in the meat industry is a problem. (Which will probably involve being cruel to some people, or at least threatening some unpleasant deterrent if they don’t comply.) Keep in mind that many people, even in a superficially civilised nation like Australia, are functionally illiterate. And that many people have no idea where food comes from and are typically unaware that meat is the muscle tissue of animals which have been killed and torn to pieces.

    People are rationally ignorant and it will take more than what is already happening to have significant political effects. Serious mistakes owing to populist policy have already occurred in Australia, where an entire component of the meat industry has been virtually destroyed in a futile effort to avoid cultural offence and influence the behaviour of our Islamic neighbours. If something is to be done then it needs to be based on reality and not the green politics and wishful thinking of vegetarian politicians.

  33. “We obtain our moral compass via natural selection”

    I disagree. We get our capability to make moral decisions via natural selection but any morality that I can accept is not based on natural selection at all. That was the point of the quote I gave from Harris:

    “We must continually remind ourselves that there is a difference between what is natural and what is actually good… Evolution [ie Natural Selection] may have selected for territorial violence, rape, and other patently unethical behaviors as strategies to propagate one’s genes—but our collective well-being clearly depends on our opposing such natural tendencies.”

    Then you say:
    “When we apply reasoned argument and legal institutions to influence or amend our morality then we are probably no longer dealing with morality. Morality is inherently naturalistic. “

    Your definition of morality is different than mine or that of Harris or Dawkins, they both agree with me that morality is inherently not naturalistic, that it transcends the predispositions we get via Natural Selection. 

  34. I’m not happy about cows suffering and dying, either – the onus is on the rancher.  He has not taken any precautions to protect his cattle ( the news article said he had not participated in measures that other ranchers had taken).  He cannot possibly keep a protective eye on cattle that are spread out all over the wilderness; if they were on his own ranch, protected by dogs and humans, they wouldn’t be getting eaten.  But he has no regard for cows except as sources of money; he has participated in killing off the wolves’ natural prey – then he wants the wolves killed for acting like wolves.  This is a classic case of considering human interests to be above those of animals.
    Anyway, it’s too late for the wolves.  The game wardens killed the alpha male today, along with the last of this year’s cubs.

  35. It’s probably just a language thing. We are conflating the concepts of ethics, morality, and legality.

    I’d call objective, reasoned morality, as a formula describing what we should do and which can be written down (as Popper would describe as ‘world 3’, independent of our animal bodies, memories, and psychological constraints). Objective knowledge emerges from intelligence and enables moral codes to be the subject of ethics. Natural moral behaviour is something we have in common with animals, but is indefinably codified in the nervous system rather than being in the form of human artefacts or cultural traditions.  Natural morality is a mix of various emotionally driven internal influences on our behaviour, and on other’s behaviour, which directs that behaviour to our gene’s advantage. We have gut reactions of aversion and emotions of shame that provide internal guidance and corrections to our social behaviour. Social animals have something similar. E.g. Anxiety in dogs when they don’t get to perform a role in pack behaviour.

    There’s plenty of natural moral guidance that impedes cruelty to animals by other animals, without involving reasoning. So there are very few examples of other non-human animals going out of their way to deliberately inflict cruelty on their prey. Perhaps males fighting over females, or orcas and cats – and even then there is an element of purpose: deterring rivals, play, social display, and hunting practise in juveniles. Where natural moral guidance fails is where those being guided are not living in their natural state. Which only applies to humans. Like the close familiarity with slaughtering and butchering acquired by abattoir workers and where people have to go out of their way to take specific action to prevent otherwise unplanned cruelty that would occur by default when animals are farmed.

    Only intelligent, reasoning social animals like humans are capable of the sophisticated technology and social structure enabling long term survival in an unnatural state like civilisation. So the next level of unnatural morality would need to be technology based to be effective. E.g. Via written documents, subject to scientific scrutiny (ethics), and applied by complex institutions developed for the purpose. Law is the discovery of these social rules and mitigation processes which enable civilisation while avoiding cruelty.

  36. “It’s probably just a language thing. We are conflating the concepts of ethics, morality, and legality.”

    To be honest I’m not sure what you are talking about but I’m not conflating anything. I’m talking about human morality, what are ethical choices for a rational person. That’s what I’ve always been talking about and its the same topic that Harris was talking about in my quote and that quote is from a whole book Harris wrote on the topic.

  37. Maybe I read too much social psychology and behavioural economics.

    Yes, the origin of the word morality in the conventional sense means the basis of ethical choices for rational people. Supported by social mechanisms that control behaviour which result in people being emotionally driven to remain consistent with their publicly stated or otherwise committed ethical principles.

    But there are other kinds of naturalistic non-human morality that apply to irrational minds in other social animals. Humans, being primarily animals and intelligent primates only second, spend most of their time affected by these irrational naturalistic influences. This usually produce advantageous outcomes for social animals, despite being non-rational.

    This naturally developed morality isn’t relevant to cruelty to animals because the situation (farming animals for their hides and meat) requires explicit action to avoid cruelty, yet doesn’t arise prior to civilisation, writing, and moral / legal codes. There’s reasons why ethical choices might imply occasional cruelty to specific humans, but this doesn’t apply to domestic animals because animals lack sufficient mind and language to communicate or comprehend the indirect threats. You can control both humans or cattle grazing boundaries with barbed wire and electric fences but you can’t achieve the same result for cattle with a buried minefield.

    Aside from religious superstitions there’s no natural driver to either be cruel or to not be cruel to other animals.

    When people are influenced mostly by their default irrational natural morality, and also become accustomed and immunized to animal suffering, then they are not emotionally driven to make much of an effort to mitigate animal suffering. Abattoirs might adopt more humane killing processes, but only for commercial reasons to avoid stress hormones contaminating the meat or for noise control to minimise the screaming.

    An alternative approach uses economic influences, price signals, which embody preference signalling information from the broader community. These are also a non-rational mechanism that influence behaviour. Because the information is made explicit and relative costs and benefits can be mentally calculated, however imperfectly, without requiring complex reasoning. 

    This is relevant because more people in Australia are rugby league players than are professors of ethics. And most people in Australia regard ethics as being defined by what is legal. There are many examples of very wealthy Australians who have acquired their status as a result of being able to influence what is specified as legal, or to influence legal processes and investigations. So it’s often not a matter of complying with any particular code, but of modifying that code or its enforcement processes, so that the code then complies with one’s short term desires for status via acquiring wealth and power.

    Any practical ethical choice to respond to mistreatment of livestock would involve taking action to mitigate the cruelty. Which implies finding out what action would actually be effective. Something that hasn’t been tried, similar to the ‘war on drugs’ situation. Australia’s response so far has been to put Australian farmers out of business, yet it is abattoir operators who are inflicting the cruelty. The meat consuming customers are oblivious and would have no awareness of abattoir practises.

    Ultimately this irrational policy is a consequence of vegetarian supporters of the green party, who naturally regard eliminating or impeding meat production as a reasonable policy to mitigate animal cruelty. Owing to the hung parliament situation in Australia it is ultimately the green party which calls the shots. Hence my confusing discussion above about vegetarian issues and the irrelevance of arguments that eating meat is poor economics as well as being unethical.

  38. “It’s consciousness, Jim, but not as we know it.”

    Consciousness is not a thing. It is something we attribute to ourselves, and some others (I am not so sure about you). It is not an all-or-nothing property. We have plenty of people who have had various degrees of brain damage who have capabilities much lower than highly capable “animals” but they (the animals) are conventionally assigned no ‘consciousness’ while the mentally defective humans are assumed to still make the grade.

    Those “some others” we credit with consciousness are really a matter of personal experience. I have had experiences with dogs, cats and especially parrots which leave me, personally, without doubt that there was “something it is like to be” them. This is yet to happen with any plant, or computer algorithm, although I recognize that algorithms are evolving much faster than plants, so I might live long enough for them.

    Temple Grandin has a kind of consciousness that is also not as we know it. She thinks it is closer to animals, and has an ability to relate to them better than most. She also understands that we raise them to eat them, and wants to do what she can to improve the conditions of their lives, and make their experience of death as free of terror and pain as possible. I recommend her work with Oliver Sacks to everyone here.

    The food issue is a red herring. We can make all the food we need out of molecules. On the other hand, once an animal is dead, it does it no harm to be eaten. Vast billions of animals have been eaten over the billions of years of our evolution. Eating is not what matters, what matters are the lives that we, and other animals live.

    (more here)

  39. The problem here is that you can only ever study your consciousness and that that will tell you nothing about anyone else’s, or indeed animal consciousness.

    I’d like to recommend Conversations on Consciousness by Susan Blackmore. Its a very good jumping off point for the general reader. Like you, Dr Blackmore uses meditation in her studies, but in this book she talks to many in the field, including Christof Koch. These people do have interesting things to say and varied views to balance against each other.

  40. @Ian:
    You will learn nothing from Blackmore’s “meditation”. But if YOU begin a enquiry into your own subjectivity, it will become obvious that consciousness is non-local. It doesn’t matter where you taste the ocean, it’s always salty.

  41.  
    Vijen
    @Ian: You will learn nothing from Blackmore’s “meditation”. But if YOU begin a enquiry into your own subjectivity, it will become obvious that consciousness is non-local.

    Strange term “non-local”?  Given that consciousness is a property of individual brains, it is “local to the brains of individuals”, but neuroscience indicates spiritual subjectivity is spread around various areas of individual brains, rather than “local” to one specific location in the brain.

    It doesn’t matter where you taste the ocean,
    it’s always salty.

    BTW:  The oceans vary in salinity from zero near various river mouths (eg the Amazon) to extra concentrated salinity in shallow tropical areas. 
    Also, we have just discovered 1½ million new species of plankton in the oceans.

  42. @OP:twitter  Are animals conscious? This question has a long and venerable history.

    Our cat is semi-conscious for about 18 hours a day, and a bit more active at other times!  Does that count?

  43. Descarte asserted that only humans were conscious. Animals just simulated it. They were like mechanical toys with nobody home. This is odd because he was aware of the similarity of the human nervous system to other animals.  He was thrown off by the Christian notion of the soul, which only humans had.  The soul was what created consciousness, like a little homunculus hiding behind the eyes.

    By the divine providence [animals] are intended for man’s use… Hence it is not wrong for man to make use of them, either by killing or in any other way whatsoever.
    ~ St. Thomas Aquinas 1225 1274-03-07

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