The question as to how far down consciousness goes is still a matter of debate. The idea that consciousness goes all the way down, i.e. to rocks et al. is called panpsychism in philosophy. I don't think that's likely, since our best bet is that consciousness is maybe/probably an emergent property of information processing in the brain. How complex that information processing has to be to result in consciousness is an interesting proposition, and could be hard to determine given the subjective nature consciousness to begin with.
Still though, I can't imagine experiencing consciousness, responding to stimuli the way I respond to stimuli, and thinking that animals/bugs that also respond to stimuli in the same manner as we do are not conscious. The fact that this assumption has permeated culture throughout history seems like a very obnoxious oversight and has probably led morally sane people to enact morally insane abuses towards animals and I think that is a shame.
It's known as motivated reasoning. Specimens of our species are not known for disinterested rationality. We have deep interests in doing things to animals that animal cognition could make more unpleasant or expensive. An ancestor without this talent would have been less likely to become an ancestor. Think of how much tougher it would be to put a spear into a boar if you thought it was as sentient as your mother. You'd still do it if you were hungry enough but would pay a greater price.
From my viewpoint, our current views on the killing of animals are as much a reflection of our cultural fear of death as anything.
Death used to be an ever-present part of life. Killing an animal was viewed as taking the life of something else to prolong your own. And all to often, people would die in horrific ways anyway.
Now, death is a thing we try to hide away and not talk about. So we also hide away the killing of animals for meat. Death is a taboo in our society in some ways.
This is clearly not the case, else nobody would be willing to work for a factory farm.
The opposite appears to be true. People become desensitized - at least the ones who can handle the initial shock. Also, in some regions of the world (and in developed countries), generations have grown up with a company mentality and seem incapable of considering things from any other perspective.
As someone who has recently joined that club, I agree. I have been hunting for years but this year I killed my first deer. The whole process changed something inside of me.
Because of my actions, this gentle creature went from breathing, living and doing whatever it wanted to being food.
While I was aiming my shot, she turned her head towards me and looked at me. I can clearly remember seeing her blink.
I put the arrow through her heart and lungs. I dragged her out of the woods. I gutted her and hung her up. I packed her body in ice.
These were things that I had seen done before but never did myself.
As I was field dressing the body, I looked at her and apologized, then I thanked her for providing healthy meat to feed my family.
In my mind, it changed venison from butcher paper wrapped meat that was leaner than beef into the flesh of an animal that was killed.
I don't know what she thought but I think she was, on some level, self aware.
Not sure exactly what that implies, but it would seem to suggest that it's hard to wrap these sorts things up with a bow.
There is also the simple, brutal reality of the food chain.
Being most aware and capable, also means seeing all of that, where the lesser beings are, and treating the world with respect.
Should anyway. Our nature easily demonstrates otherwise.
Animals are a lot like us. Simpler mostly.
Animals are a lot like us.
But please, continue dismissing millions of people's beliefs as "paranoia".
OTOH, large numbers of people can absolutely exhibit collective paranoia. How many subscribe to Alex Jones?
It frankly seems no more or less odd to me than any other form of religious asceticism. From a purely practical perspective, sweeping the ground in front of you is probably not any more of a nuisance than the vow of silence that some Christian monks and nuns take. I'd personally find it to be less of one.
But I'm not budging on the paranoia statement. If your beliefs make you worry about killing random things you can't even see, say "bye" to any semblance of good mental health.
Even when we're extremely selfish and petty, if we take too much effort to take care of ourselves, that's generally fine, as long as it's legal and not too annoying -- but when others worry "too much" about yet others, and change their own behaviour accordingly, they can't possibly have "any semblance of good mental health"? Come on..
The insects at least actually exist, what of caring about random people that don't even exist yet, wouldn't that be even crazier?
> Well, suppose that we believe what we are taught. It follows that if there are dollars to be made, you destroy the environment. The reason is elementary. The people who are going to be harmed by this are your grandchildren, and they don't have any votes in the market. Their interests are worth zero. Anybody that pays attention to their grandchildren's interests is being irrational, because what you're supposed to do is maximize your own interests, measured by wealth, right now. Nothing else matters. So destroying the environment and militarizing outer space are rational policies, but within a framework of institutional lunacy. If you accept the institutional lunacy, then the policies are rational.
-- Noam Chomsky
In fact looks like my browser scrolled right past 3-4 paragraphs.
Now that I look, there was a stupid advert that pushed the content up and out of the way. Way to make a site, guys.
I wouldn't put a spear into a boar, but from a detached and clinical perspective I don't see why its sentience would make a difference. Advanced societies like China, the Europeans and the United States don't generally have any problem fielding an aggressive expeditionary army of people nominally willing to kill sentient humans, so I suspect the blocks are more economic and cultural norms than innate.
It also seems plausible that time and breeding has equipped a large number of people with limited emotions precisely so they can stab things without worrying too much about the philosophical aspects.
Furthermore, the soldiers who serve in the armies of the nations you mention who actually have to do any killing often end up with PTSD and sky-high suicide rates.
Humans may be more naturally hesitant to kill their fellow human beings than you think.
I don't know if I personally believe this is a good argument against panpsychism. The wasp may have a fractionally sized working memory in comparison to ours, yet still be conscious. I find it unlikely that panpsychism is realistic; rocks don't have nervous systems, for example, so the likelihood of them having the sensory peripherals necessary for creating experiences is unlikely in my perspective. As far as the wasp goes, I'm probably agnostic as to the answer to that.
It's a popular viewpoint because, from an ethical perspective, it's extremely convenient to hold. It limits your exposure to the sorts of tricky and uncomfortable questions that got me kicked out of Sunday school at a young age.
It crossed my mind recently in respect to AI consciousness, that all animals appear to be conscious at least to an extent - there aren't any that appear to be zombies I can think of, maybe they all got killed off. It made me wonder if consciousness as we know it, rather than requiring some step change for AI, is simply an inevitable outcome of sufficient processing, information storage, evolution and maybe some other factors. And therefore very much a continuum.
In the former case, and probably the latter, there is a definite acceleration when they begin to appreciate the power of language.
This hasn’t stopped anyone, on the whole, from investigating and debating the problems and concepts of the fields.
Perhaps animals think without language and experience a state that could be termed consciousness despite not having language. Sure, why not? But my point is that there is at least some grounds for this "high-horse proposition" because there is at least one important dimension along which humans differ from all other known animals.
Anecdotally, I definitely am thinking first and later applying words to the underlying concept. It takes practice, but it is possible to introduce a lag, of sorts.
Further, the best hunters, I’ve heard, are the most empathic. All the better to manipulate prey.
Even more, my cat is very expressive despite not having English. I can even identify patterns in his speech that clearly repeat for similar reasons. I spook him, there’s a meow for that. He’s hungry, there’s a meow for that. He’s tried and I’ve ignored 2 attempts of his to ask me for something and he’s pathetically resigned to his fate, there’s a meow for that. (Gets me every time)
You can also think without words. You do that any time you visualize something. Imagine an apple floating in an empty black space. Just reading these words probably put that image in your head. Now turn the apple around, look at it from all sides, above and below. I can definitely give you directions on what to do, but I have no idea how to think that visualization in words.
This isn't what I meant, or what is generally meant, by language.
Humans are distinguished by our ability to generate and understand novel sentences. This isn't a question of scale -- it's not a question of the number of things we have names for. It's a question of the ability to create and understand sentences that have never been created before. No other animal does this, as far as we know.
> You can also think without words. You do that any time you visualize something.
I'm not sure I can visualize something without naming it or describing it.
Say you're playing basketball. You're thinking in terms of the ball, the net, the other players, and so on, not thinking in terms of a language.
I can imagine that (for example) a bird building its nest finds itself in a similar situation. It's thinking in terms of the nest -- what shaped sticks to gather and where to place them -- even though it doesn't have any capacity for language.
Other cultures with different spiritual beliefs often much more commonly attribute more complex thoughts and feelings to non-human animals...
Only if approached from a materialist perspective. The thing about consciousness -- which is to say the experience of being that people believe separates them from, say, a brick -- is that it can only be verified subjectively. I have consciousness because I experience it, I only assume other human beings have consciousness because they are like me, but I have no way of proving that they are not just sufficiently complicated automatons pretending to be human.
The materialist(?) view that consciousness is entirely contained within the "material things" seems pretty clean and consistent. If you're experiencing consciousness, and I seem to be experiencing consciousness, and our brains - to the best we can tell - are essentially the same "sufficiently complicated automatons", then you can assume I'm experiencing consciousness too.
I don't think it goes 'all the way down'. In order to have consciousness we need a few ingredients: one of them is learning, another is having a task to accomplish - like finding food and fending predators. Another important characteristic is evolution and its requirement, self replication - without evolution there is no way to get to consciousness. That would restrict the places where it can apply, but notably it can apply to AI agents living in virtual worlds just as well as it applies to humans and animals.
In my view consciousness is that which protects the genes and the body (life and procreation). In the case of AI agents, genes could be related to architecture and hyper-parameters, and procreation could be an evolutionary algorithm. It's a simple and concrete definition which also asserts a purpose - the purpose of consciousness is to exist and to multiply.
That said, it's incredibly presumptuous to assume everything has consciousness just because you do. We are not all alike. You might have had a fever when you were young, and your consciousness emerged because of that fever. And people who didn't have that fever, don't have consciousness. A pretty silly possibility, but no sillier than "consciousness emerges from sufficiently many interacting neurons". Right now we basically have no clue, and it's arrogant to pretend otherwise.
To all the virtue-signallers in this thread talking about how cruel it is to kill animals, I would say: what's your stance on late-term abortion? Funny how a lot of the people who claim to believe cockroaches have consciousness, actually think it's virtuous to support killing unborn children.
this is not necessarily as hard of a moral conundrum as it seems. some people draw a distinction between deliberately killing a being that can survive on its own and withdrawing support that a being requires to live. this is somewhat analogous to the trolley problem: is it worse to kill than to allow to die?
By that same logic, I can walk into a hospital, go to someone on life support who can't currently "survive on their own", and unplug their systems, thus "withdrawing the support they require to live". If they die, is it really any different from killing them any other way?
To make the analogy even more accurate, let's say you are in a coma and will come out of it in 9 months. You can't survive without support now, but we know for a fact that you will come out of the coma after the 9 months have passed and will then be able to do so. Is it fine for me to shut down your life support half way through?
in the specific case of pregnancy, the support is given at significant personal cost and risk, which is not captured in either of your analogies.
However, I do acknowledge that there are exceptional circumstances, such as the birth posing a health risk to the mother, both mother and child being likely to die if delivery is attempted, etc. That would be the case of "not being able to afford it" in my analogy, or the significant personal risk you mention (at least I assume that's what you mean, as normal pregnancy is nowhere near a significant risk, with the current maternal death rate being 1 in 10,000). In those cases, I'd be willing to agree with you.
I still think I'm conscious, but this “Diagram of All Space and Time” by Carl Sagan suggests the stimuli available to us is small, alarmingly small,
and perhaps nothing to boast about really. (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18658357)
One comment says, "What humans can directly experience is of course small compared to the “all time” and “all space” and it would be invisible without the logaritmic scales used."
I'd loosen up that and say 'neuron-like structures' instead of brain.
(Non-material in the sense where water flowing downhill vs. CPU computing gradient descent is material vs. non-material computation.)
If you look at how the London Zoo treated animals in the mid 1800’s, you’ll see how even the most scientifically advanced group (at the time) that was working with animals could have been so cruel without realizing it.
Sometimes it unnerves me that we’ll realize 100 years from now that animals were more conscious than even we me imagined possible and our treatment now of them (specifically livestock) is was really really bad.
To be fair, a lot of the changes have been motivated by a parallel trend of "it's actually not OK to make living creatures suffer". There were plenty of things in the not-too-distant past (public executions / torture in the middle ages, Roman circuses) which were perpetrated on clearly sentient creatures, as much for entertainment as anything.
If you extend the concept further and just assume that everything has some experience of reality, whether you can relate to it or not, what does that tell us about how we ought to behave?
~ GCK - The Napoleon of Notting Hill
Second, assuming for example that molecules have some experience of reality, and we just don't "relate" to the air around us, I am going to assume we will continue breathing.
> Plants lack nerves, let alone a central nervous system, and cannot feel pain or respond to circumstances in any deliberate way (not to be confused with the non-conscious reactions they do have).
The argument is circular. Plants cannot act in a deliberate way because they are not conscious and are not conscious because they cannot act deliberately. From a pure materialist perspective, the human mind is just as reactionary in its behavior as a plant, born of a combination of genetics and external stimuli. That it is sufficiently complex enough to obscure the direct relationships from our understanding is irrelevant.
We have very little understanding of a plant's experience of the universe, it may well be that they experience suffering through some mechanism other than having a central nervous system, it just isn't the same experience as our own forms of suffering. This whole thread is about how things different from ourselves can never the less experience the world similarly, why would we think this stops at animal life?
> Second, assuming for example that molecules have some experience of reality, and we just don't "relate" to the air around us, I am going to assume we will continue breathing.
Not an unreasonable position. The question is, why is this ok? I don't think it is one people should just write off and not think about, even though their conclusion will probably be the same as yours. In general, I think it is a trap to allow yourself to say "well, this is where the line is, because of X" and not also question your assumptions about X and, in particular, why X matters.
Why do people draw the line at sentience when it comes to what we can and cannot do to another entity? Why is sentience important? Why not simply draw the line at being human, or go the other direction and draw it at all life? On what axis are these two choices and why did we pick that one? Why is feeling pain important? Is it ok to kill someone afflicted anhidrosis?
I don't believe there are easy answers to these questions, or even necessarily answers at all if you insist on some kind of empirical and well defined rule, which is also why I think they're important to ask ourselves.
Then let's suppose this pill is a mash of different rocks (which we have to extract from the earth with all its consequences) but then we invent nano bots that change my organic needs to be fulfilled by the energy of the sun, then sign me up for that too.
When the first pig was shot, he fell and lurched for a bit while blood spewed. The rest of the pigs were alarmed by the noise and the human in the small trailer. One pig came to investigate the dying pig. Quickly it went back to eating with the others.
I mentioned this to the farmer and he said the pigs seem to understand fear of death but not death itself.
Each year I get closer and closer to the idea that humans are shockingly not that different from other animals, but this set my idea back a bit. Of course, elephants are a counter-example to this behavior with their apparent mourning of the dead, so that has to be considered too.
Possibly the pigs are just traumatized. Read Frankl's "Search for Meaning" to get a perspective on how even educated and highly civilized human beings can become insensitive towards death and dead bodies.
Said guy had a wild hog family persistently ruining his crops, until he decided to camp and shoot them. When the family finally arrived, he aimed and shot the first in the head. The other hogs became curious, but continued eating while their relative lay bleeding right there. He shot another with the same effect, but missed a third shot, which hit a metal container and scared the bejesus of the remaining hogs, which fled. He was curious about why they were more scared from a loud noise that their brothers' heads mysteriously exploding.
If you think about it, everything that lives (cognitive or not) also dies. Mostly this happens of natural causes and a lot of that involves being eaten by something else or if you lucky enough to avoid that by dying some long and painful death because of some disease, parasites, or accident. Natural death is mostly not very pleasant and typically really nasty even.
So considering that, I feel quite OK about eating animals. The alternative of not eating them means that they would not have lived at all or that they would have died a nasty "natural" death. So, I'm not saving them from some terrible fate by not eating them.
Arguably, it's the opposite (or it can be). If we stop eating meat, there are entire species of farm animals that will likely go extinct because they only exist because we breed them. So, we stop the cruelty of killing them that hurts our feelings but we instead wipe out their existence. Not that I'm advertising animal cruelty but I'd say modern responsible farming produces good quality lives for the animals and good quality meat when we end them in a way that is comparatively quick and painless to what nature has to offer. I enjoy eating meat but am aware that eating a bit less is probably good for me.
Some extra decompositions:
> So considering that, I feel quite OK about eating animals. The alternative of not eating them means that they would not have lived at all or that they would have died a nasty "natural" death. So, I'm not saving them from some terrible fate by not eating them.
That works out for small-scale farming, but most of our meat is factory-farmed. While the death itself may be quick, their lives are living hell. Nature doesn't get that cruel, on that scale. So we need to separate out death from life and suffering here.
> If we stop eating meat, there are entire species of farm animals that will likely go extinct because they only exist because we breed them.
The question is, why do we care about that? Evolutionary speaking, individuals rarely care about species; it's hard enough to get humans to recognize the concept of their species, and I sincerely doubt a cow or a pig is aware or interested in the fate of their own kind in general. Survival of animal species is something we value, for reasons ranging from emotional (nature is prettier with more stuff in it) to practical (genetic diversity). But I can't imagine a chicken being grateful for living in a cage on farm, because it lets chickens exist at all.
Not judging any positions here; I just wish this topic was debated in a more structured way, with all the important aspects stated in isolation, and then related to each other.
I don't have a strong opinion on whether it is good or bad for farm animal species to exist at all but I do find the contradiction interesting.
Whatever problems of Julian Jaynes' theory, we know that there are schizophrenics who often hear voices and be commanded by voices. Are they "not self-conscious" by the various other measures involved - ie, the mirror test and such.
A lot of this article revolves around how much self-awareness is required by moral impulses to keep someone from eating an animal. The thing is, if basic self-awareness exists in nearly all creatures, then it means predators have eating these animals anyway and human evolved omnivore, I don't see the problem hear. Tell me this one is so special I shouldn't eat it and I might agree, tell all animals and I'll say you're calling for humans to outside the order that all other animals are in.
If you are looking for an expansion of "The Subject" of ethics, if you will, then that's something you have to do for yourself. To consider non-human animals for consumption regardless of the ecological externalities is an ethical choice, not an ethical demand. I have expanded my personal considerations ethically to include other life on this planet, as their success is required for my continued survival.
I wasn't looking but thanks. I mean, I'd say global warming can only be overcome by society-wide political action, not by individual choices. Collective action forcing different consumption patterns are the only way sorts of problems like this have ever been solved in the past.
Society-wide political action is definitely what is needed, and being generally supportive of vegetarianism/veganism, and pressuring politicians to do the same, is an important part of that process.
I applaud your friends for their endeavor, but the fact that some in the livestock industry behave ethically doesn't change a whit the parts that don't.
That nature, in its perpetual state of "kill or starve", behaves so callously is utterly irrelevant to how we can and should behave given our demonstrated capabilities and generally self-congratulatory "My gosh, aren't we the best thing that's ever happened?!" attitude.
Watch the film Earthlings if you're interested in knowing the truth.
It's more the article is exploring a bunch of different concepts with all of them labeled "consciousness". I mean, would a "philosophical zombie" pass the mirror test? Does that even matter?
Since a philosophical zombie's behavior is, by definition, indistinguishable from that of a conscious person's, yes, such a thing would pass the mirror test. As well as any other test of consciousness based on observable behavior that we could devise. IMO that's a reductio ad absurdum of the concept of a philosophical zombie.
I agree that a lot of different concepts can get lumped under the label "consciousness", and that there is a wide spectrum of capabilities involved, not just a binary thing that's either there or not there. If the question is whether or not an animal is suffering, I'm going to go with observable behavior over theoretical concepts.
So the ethics has been there forever, but what is newer (I do not say new, because people did experiment before. They are just really well formed experiments now), is a constructed model based on better than belief: its based on experiment.
The other side of the coin, is that some purely observational behaviour in higher primates now has to got back into the ethical pot: If we know chimps can do higher abstract reasoning, and we also observe chimps kill and eat the young from 'other' tribes, what do we now think about that killing and eating?
When I want to teach a dog something, I treat him like a problem-solving agent. I pose the task as a solveable problem to him, like "touch stick to get food", and he will "compute" the necessary actions to touch the stick.
Also they always said dogs/animals don't do impulse control, while dogs clearly display a range of that trait.
Are people confused about this statement? See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jainism and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swastika -
"The swastika is a geometrical figure and an ancient religious icon in the cultures of Eurasia, used as a symbol of divinity and spirituality in Indian religions. In the Western world, it was a symbol of auspiciousness and good luck until the 1930s, when it became a feature of Nazi symbolism as an emblem of Aryan race identity and, as a result, was stigmatized by association with ideas of racism and antisemitism."