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Animals are no less emotional than we are (nytimes.com)
347 points by mykowebhn 16 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 244 comments



I think it's just human conceit, that which drives us to think we are special, as an individual, as a species, as a planet in the universe, that also makes us not want to see that animals also feel a range of deeper emotions.

You can look at ducks and see a mother making sure all her little children are following her into the lake and are safe. Is it love? Why not? We call love a profound feeling but is it really? Isn't love a function that helps us take care of our young and survive as a species? An alien, who had never encountered our planet before and perhaps thinking they are the intelligent life while the beings on Earth are just 'responding to stimuli' wouldn't see the emotions humans feel. As ducks to humans, humans to these aliens. Ducks and humans alike would appear just to be going through the motions.


Isn't it also "human conceit" to think that other species should always be thought of as having emotions and consciousness? No other animal engages in such.

Perhaps it's the other way around from how you put it. All animals by default share the conceit you describe. It is not unique to humanity, and does not deserve the label of "human". The bear does not lament its catch, the whale does not wonder at the inner life of a fish it accidentally swallows. The uniquely human conceit that we engage in is the one we are both engaging in right now. The exercise of putting oneself in another's shoes.

By the definition of the word, doesn't that make our species special?


>The bear does not lament its catch, the whale does not wonder at the inner life of a fish it accidentally swallows.

Neither do humans, of course. Do you stop and grieve for the chicken you just grilled and ate?

Obviously animals are capable of recognizing that other creatures have emotions, too--any dog or cat owner can tell you that. But clearly, like us, they don't always choose empathy.


I have to see vegan bears and vegan whales, I only know humans who are able to decide not to eat other animals based on their beliefs.


It's not quite what you're looking for, but animals have at least been shown to exhibit preference of what species animals they will eat.

Consider a dog which has been raised around cats, which might hunt a rabbit but not another cat.


>It's not quite what you're looking for, but animals have at least been shown to exhibit preference of what species animals they will eat.

Occam's razor says that most wild animals exhibit preference of what species they'll eat based on taste and availability of food, not because of ethics. I said most because I'm not a wildlife biologist and there always seems to be strange outliers, but I have a hard time believing an omnivore/carnivore, such as a bear, would willingly choose vegetation 100% of the time because of ethics when there's plenty of game of its preference to eat.

>Consider a dog which has been raised around cats, which might hunt a rabbit but not another cat.

Most domesticated dogs that were raised alongside cats won't eat them because they've learned that they're not allowed to. The ones that do attack children and other pets are frequently euthanized.


Dogs raised alongside cats never even try to eat them to begin with. You don't need to teach them it's not allowed. There must be another explanation.


>Dogs raised alongside cats never even try to eat them to begin with. You don't need to teach them it's not allowed.

That's an absurd statement. While tempers of dogs vary from one to the next just like humans, I vehemently disagree to the extent that I'm hesitant to believe you've ever raised a puppy, or even have been exposed to many dogs for that matter. Plenty of pet dogs behave more like their wolf ancestors than others.


I've raised dozens of dogs, and like humans, some need some coaching about good behavior and some get along just fine without ever needing discipline.

That's a separate issue from the one I raised, namely that animals display species-oriented preference in their dietary range, and that for some animals this preference can be emotionally/socially based.


>animals display species-oriented preference in their dietary range, and that for some animals this preference can be emotionally/socially based.

If there is any species-oriented preferences outside of taste and availability, it's purely out of a symbiotic relationship that they benefit from. Wolves aren't going to stop hunting deer unless the deer somehow provide additional sources of food that the wolves realize only exists because of the deer's help.


I've read about wolves that they eat only the meat they are taught to eat (and different pack of wolves in different places hunt different animals.) So a wolf may literally starve to death while sitting near a corpse of some animal if it doesn't know it can eat it. May happen to pups if their pack dies or to wolves who were brought up in captivity.

The source is in Russian from a zoologist who studied wolves: https://sovet.blocknote.info/articles/443/serdtse-volka-semy...

Some behaviors are instinctive, some are taught, some are the result of emotional conditioning (hence people taming and domesticating animals).


>Some behaviors are instinctive, some are taught, some are the result of emotional conditioning (hence people taming and domesticating animals).

You agree with me.


Cannibal cults disintegrate whatever wishy-washy point you were trying to make here.

In many cases, I have observed that an emotional connection with another animal is enough to prevent hunting of either just the animal itself or in some cases the entire species. In a more extreme example I've known chickens to run amok and play with dogs like they were one of their own.

And not just dogs. I have trained cats to become friendly to individual rats (I think instinct is too strong), and I have seen some species express either preference or disdain for other species. My personal analysis is that this has more to do with social and emotional conditioning, a true recognition of another animal as "friendly" despite not offering a symbiotic relationship, rather than directly as a result of behavioral conditioning with positive/negative stimulus.

I think a better indicator of the difference between us and pets is that we keep pets, and further, that we sometimes keep pets purely for emotional benefits. Incidences of non-humans keeping other animals as pets is extremely rare and seemingly limited to primates. [0] I think that says a lot about our psychology. But it's a little pointless to debate about whether other mammals experience meaningful emotions. They do. Meaningful emotions are actionable. That's why our emotions seem meaningful.

[0] https://bioone.org/journals/Neotropical-Primates/volume-13/i...


> If there is any species-oriented preferences outside of taste and availability, it's purely out of a symbiotic relationship that they benefit from.

Isn’t that how humans operate as well? People keep pets that they get satisfaction from but we don’t eat our pets.

Then you have the debate of whether true altruism exists or whether people do even our most selfless acts because of the endorphin rush we get from helping others.


Erst kommt das fressen dann kommt die Moral


Hypocrisyis when your lifestyle is a full blown war on whole ecosystems and kills a dozen animals per year and you pretend to deeply care- for one animal, chosen by traits that could best be described as missguided antromorphism.

Your pet would eat you, if you had a stroke in your flat- lying helpless on the floor. All the nice moments, are just a function of the surpulus, that is provided by humanity via ecocide.


My daughter killed a small rabbit when she was 4 year old. I was not there but the story is that mom tried to take it away from her and she got overly violent trying to snatch it back out of mom's hands. Clearly she did not have the bunny's welfare in mind in this moment or she would have been more gentle. I don't see a difference between her actions/motivations and that of an overly rambunctious puppy. In general, my daughter is a very kind, compassionate, caring person.


It's absurd you think puppies raised with cats would try to eat them without human intervention. That's far from the norm.


Clearly you have not lived in a city with a large stray population. Even deer eat birds and squirrels. Hunger is hunger. Avoidance is totally learned.


I would eat any living organism except for another human and close pets whom mean a whole lot to me emotionally and whom carry transitional memories that my brain wishes to keep.

Not eating another human has nothing to do with the fact that we share a species and everything to do with the conscious psychological decision to have respect for the life of all highly cognitive beings which can live complex lives, and not arrogantly place my own need for survival higher than theirs...

But nuances aside, fundamentally I don't differ from the deer, birds, or squirrels in that I'm wired to do almost anything necessary to satisfy my hunger impulse. So I'm not sure how what you're saying makes any difference.


They distinguish among ages of things they eat within the same species too.


Well, among omnivore animals it is certainly true that some individual animals would fit the literal definition of vegan. You probably wouldn't ever know about it unless it lived in a zoo, however.


When an adult chimp kills another adult chimp and doesn’t eat them, is that not because of beliefs? There are many animals that don’t eat everything that comes their way, and it is clearly a conscious decision.


I guess it depends on the chimp's religious beliefs. These unstaged chimps from BBC PlanetEarth clearly has no compunction about eating a rival gang's carcass: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=al-f_WWoHI4 .


They'll gang up and murder or perhaps execute members of their own group.


They'll even kill the children of low ranking females just to emphasize the dominance hierarchy. Mother nature is a bitch.


You can see vegan bears in most big zoos. Panda bears. I'm not aware of any vegan whale but would ressemble manatees probably.


I think you missed the point, this is more vegans by choice or conscience, as Bruce the shark would say "Fish are friends.".


When that belief is one of another being in the pack, or a friend, animals do make that kind of decision.


Do you stop and grieve for the chicken you just grilled and ate?

I did cry the first time I butchered a chicken.


It's sad. But it's real. Its not hidden behind concrete walls.

You're doing that. Not paying 18 people away to do it for you.

And the chicken probably had a better life.


First time you butchered it or first time you killed it?


I've put a road kill deer in my trunk, brought it home, strung it up under my deck and butchered it by myself in the night. I will tell you that was far more emotional for me than any shot I've ever taken with a rifle or shotgun.

The butchering can certainly be more emotional that the killing... it might 10 seconds to grab an axe and swing and then at least 30 minutes to cut the skin and pull it off of the body, to cut the body cavity open and to slice out the internal organs. It feels different than say preforming an autopsy in biology lab... you might have this moment as I have where you realize that the story you tell yourself, that you're a killer with a higher purpose, is just that -- a story. It doesn't make the animal you murdered feel any better about the fate it met at your hand. I would guess it is a significantly different feeling in cultures where a large portion of the population kill what they eat. Even here where I live, in rural Pennsylvania, people will often look at you like you're a sociopath if you tell them you killed and skinned and ate any animal other than a deer, and yet, the first day of hunting season there were often many empty chairs in school because dad wanted to take his kid out to celebrate a time honored tradition. Those kids don't often cry when they kill their deer, they often feel an overwhelming sense of pride. And then they pay a processor $50 so that they don't have to do the hard dirty work themselves.


Yes but did you cry the first time to ate one?


I'll admit I did not, because I was probably six months old.


And had you not been in a position to have life explained to you, as your species did not have those kinds of descriptive ability, would you ha e ever felt the shame? The bear does not lament, as he was never told to.


Yes actually I do when it’s an animal I hunted myself, butchered and later prepared. I think you touch on the problem though, since grocery store meat does not elicit such response from me and everyone else.


That may be true in your case, but it certainly isn't necessary nor universal.

We're certainly capable of it. It remains unclear whether other animals are capable.


There are plenty of indigenous cultures that show respect to their kill. And plenty of modern societies that show respect our say a prayer or give thanks before a meal.

It's possible to show empathy and respect without grief.


But it's also OK to grieve for murdered animals.


You clearly have more time than I do. I think I witness a wild kill on my property nearly daily.


what's missing in this discussion is a mention that humans are well capable of wiping out other species and have done so fully aware. we're also perfectly capable of wiping each other out for no reason other than status.

I keep engaging in morbid thought experiments to figure out how certain people feel when they commit certain acts and whether I would be able to do the same provided the circumstances are hard enough. A few examples:

if I could blink my eye and all the valuables and money of everyone in this room/house etc would suddenly be mine, how much would that be, and would I do it?

if I could blink my eye and everyone in that room/building would vanish from the earth would I do it?

if I could blink my eye and 2/3 of the earths human population would be wiped out by x/y/z would I do it?

if I would be forced to work in a concentration camp being tasked with horrid acts against humans ... maybe with the alternative of being killed myself or having my family etc (spin that further what if I didn't have a family and just my dog that would be sacrificed if I were to refuse) ...

...

the answers always terrify me.


"Neither do humans"

We talk about it all the time. We have industries built around it. We write books about it. Maybe bears could read our books? Whoops! They can't read! Or tie their shoes, or set the dinner table. Maybe we're special after all ...


What about the moose that spent 20 minutes rescuing a chipmunk from drowning in a barrel? Or the dog who held out a stick for another dog to grab onto and escape the rapids?

There are plenty of other examples of this, I’m sure; these two came to mind first because they were caught on video. What drives that behavior if not empathy?


Or the guy killed by his "pet" lion this week [1].

Animals mostly follow their instinct, and it is absurd/dangerous to anthropomorphise their behavior.

[1] https://inews.co.uk/news/world/michal-prasek-czech-man-kille...


Or the girl killed by her “mother” this week [1].

Humans mostly follow their instinct, and it is absurd/dangerous not to zoomorphise their behavior.

[1] https://abcnews.go.com/US/mother-accused-killing-14-year-dau...


And they had to shoot the lions to get to the man. Hmmm. Ok. Man, some people are just so stupid.


> What about the moose that spent 20 minutes rescuing a chipmunk from drowning in a barrel?

Maybe he was just hungry... many big herbivores like cows and deer eat small animals gladly when available.

Maybe the leopard taking care of the gazella's calf after eating their mum is thinking "I'll save this tasty snack for later" and protects it from other predators for selfish reasons.

Our interpretation of what are thinking the animals can be wrong.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJ_3BN0m7S8

I would bet this bear actually would have eaten the crow, had that been its intention.

I'd think the leopard taking care of a calf is more likely to think it looks "cute" for similar biological reasons we do, and take care of it for that reason. I would guess that a leopard in particular, if it wanted to store food, would be inclined to save it for later by just caching it (dead) in a tree.

I also think "instincts" manifest themselves through emotion / emotion is how we experience instinct. We feel fear, love, etc depending on the situation, and then it's these emotions that drive us to act in the manner we do.

Our actions are moderated by language-enhanced reflection, which is were we're really ahead of other animals.


The crow hits the bear in the face clearly just before the bear turns away and focus in the easier meal available. The video fades and do not show what happened later but the crow was far from being safe still.

Other possibility would be that the bear was just annoyed by the crowing sound so maybe it was not totally an altruistic conduct. Not easy to evaluate because we lack the first and last part of the scene. How the crow ended in the pool? Maybe was trow there by the bear. We don't know.

> leopard ... would be inclined to save it for later by just caching it (dead) in a tree.

That would be the best way to attract the maximum of flies and predators. Cats are know to play with their preys when satiated keeping them alive as long as possible. It seems that they have a lot of fun with it.


> Cats are know to play with their preys when satiated keeping them alive as long as possible.

When they do, it doesn't look like what the leopard was doing with the calf. They don't "play" in that sense, they just incapacitate the prey so it can't escape and "play" with it until it's dead. Definitely not what the leopard was doing.


>Our interpretation of what are thinking the animals can be wrong.

Of course it can, but by resorting to this sort of interpretative relativism, you're bringing the debate no further. Of course we can never tell whether animals feel anything such as emotion, but at this level, so you can't of other humans. In other words, the interpretation of emotions as authenthic rich mental states is just as valid for animals as it is for humans.


> A) Of course we can never tell whether animals feel anything such as emotion,

I could think in some exceptions to this rule, but lets ignore the "never" and assume that this is true for now.

> B) but at this level, so you can't of other humans.

False. Even if I can't communicate with a slug, I can communicate fairly well with other humans, feel empathy and understand their feelings.

> C) In other words, the interpretation of emotions as authenthic rich mental states is just as valid for animals as it is for humans.

Causal phallacy. A is true, so B is true [in fact is false], so C is equally valid for A and B.

In fact neither A (of course we can't interpretate emotions of animals), nor B (we can't interpretate emotions in humans) justify C (therefore the interpretation of emotions is valid in both animals and humans).


Come on, you're just hand-waving here as much as the people you're trying to criticize. You don't like the idea that animals have empathy so you invoke delayed gratification as if that were a more common animal trait. Do you really think an animal is going to spend 20 minutes trying to get a tasty snack out of a barrel because it's hungry - and then set it aside for later once it has hold of the snack?

You're right to be cautious about interpreting animal behavior, but you're inadvertently making the same mistake from a different direction.


You are assuming that my goal is to criticize some people. This is wrong. You will not find any name or mention to anybody in my previous post.

You say also that I dislike something so this explains X. As you don't know me, you are not in the position to base your arguments on such claims. Ad-hominem fallacy

Am I "invoking" delayed gratification? where?

> Do you really think an animal is going to spend 20 minutes trying to get a tasty snack out of a barrel because it's hungry - and then set it aside for later once it has hold of the snack?

It depends on the context. If we can see the video we could discusse it properly.

Wild animals stopping what they are doing and running away when they realize there is an human around with a camera? I can see it. Yes. Definitely a very common behaviour.


You obviously dislike the idea in the sense of expending effort to refute it. Surely you can figure out why I would have drawn such an inference from your comments.

Empathy is an emotion experienced by both humans and animals. I don't dispute that. But I don't believe that empathy requires intellectual awareness of the inner life of other creatures, or generalizing that to all animals as we are. Empathy is an emotional reaction, like rage at a perceived slight, and does not require thought.


> But I don't believe that empathy requires ... putting of oneself in another's shoes...

put oneself in another's shoes is basically a definition of empathy...


The whole put oneself in other shoes process is buggy as hell, even for our species. We basically draw a flat copy with mirror neurons and run it on our own hardware. If too much divergence accumulates, the other becomes a idiot or deity depending on outcome.


Empathy often does require conscious thought from me, I'm curious if that makes me a sociopath. I have to intentionally imagine myself in the other person's situation to understand why they might be upset about something. For example when I heard about the student who was recently suspended for creating an N-word pass at school, I felt that those who were offended were just being overly sensitive. I only changed my mind after someone suggested imagining the same thing with a slur against my ethnicity. I just don't seem to empathize with people by default in most situations.


A kid that hurts herself and is crying requires conscious empathy?


The best clinical instrument for 'measuring' sociopathy is the Hare PCL-R, which tries to estimate both a person's tendency to engage in hostile interpersonal behavior and their attachment to social norms - you could think of it as the difference between actively murdering people vs. callously watching them die without helping. One can have a high score on one part of the scale and not on the other. Obviously this is far short of being an exact science.

As for empathy, it might be an inherent quality but I'm inclined to think that it's like most other things, you can cultivate it with practice and it manifests different ways in different people.


> It is an emotional reaction, like rage at a perceived slight, and does not require thought.

Of course, we can't know this.

It seems reasonable to speculate that other animals don't subvocalise in human languages,[1] though that doesn't necessarily mean they aren't capable of thought.[2]

1. It also seems reasonable to me to believe that dogs (some dogs?) might be capable of understanding some human language beyond simple commands. I typically have more luck with my two 2yo Border Collie cross if I explain to them why we're doing a new thing. More research is needed. Please deposit funds in my offshore bank account.

2. We could debate what is meant by thought, I believe that would be a distraction


>No other animal has such a conception.

Tell me your secret to understanding the inner minds of animals.

Seriously, any pet owner will tell you animals seemingly have feelings. They do things that don't make much sense outside of them showing love, hate, annoyance, etc. It's not scientific, but why would humans be so different from animals when we all came down a similar evolutionary line? You don't see great leaps in physical trait happening, usually, it's a gradual process, so I would assume that feelings gradually developed into what humans have now.


Pet owners can also tell you that most of what their pets do makes absolutely no sense

If my cats were human, they would both be in jail

One of my cats is pure breed, has never lived outside of a house, loves eating plastic, olives and chips but shows no care for fresh meat

The other one was a stray cat, she still hides food that she doesn't eat, because that's what she's been doing for the initial part of her life

In a way she adapted to live in a house, but she never learned that she's not been living in the streets for the biggest part of her life

So yes, they have their personalities, very different from each other They get bored, they enjoy snuggles (until they do not and scratch you for no reason), but can they process their feelings beyond reaction?

I'm not really sure they do in a very complex way


I believe this is a classic "finger pointing at the moon" issue where you value words more than the meaning. The question isn't whether or not they feel emotions as we have boxed them up and given names to, but as they are in experience.

Of course animals have no such conception of deeper emotions, at least in the same way that we think about them, but that doesn't mean that animals do (or don't) experience them. It just means our method of boxing up experiences into communicable terms probably doesn't match their own.


> Of course animals have no such conception of deeper emotions, at least in the same way that we think about them

how can you possibly claim that?


Because "deeper emotions" is something defined by us, humans, and is probably completely meaningless without a complete understanding of how we define emotions in the first place.

I'm not saying they don't have these emotions, just that they probably don't have the same concepts surrounding them as we do. I could very well be wrong, but I'd have to find a non-human animal willing to discuss the topic with me.


> Because "deeper emotions" is something defined by us, humans, and is probably completely meaningless without a complete understanding of how we define emotions in the first place.

i am sorry, but that doesn’t make any sense. a concept has meaning beyond its human definition. it isn’t like emotions didn’t exist until humans “defined” them.

i am sure there are animals willing to discuss it with you, it’s just that you (us) can’t understand them.

it is very possible that animals feel deeper emotional connections than we do. orcas showcase some very deep emotional states.


I'm not saying that emotions don't exist, just that the meaning is completely separate from the way that we define it.

For example many languages define colors differently (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gMqZR3pqMjg), but this doesn't mean that the different wavelengths don't exist. Cultures categorized them for the purpose of communication and it's only within the context of that categorization that you can understand the meaning.

Earlier I referenced "finger pointing at the moon" and this is exactly it. The word is the finger and the meaning is the moon, and we shouldn't mistake the finger for the moon.

> i am sure there are animals willing to discuss it with you, it’s just that you (us) can’t understand them.

I was half-joking, there are already animals that we can understand and communicate with. It's just a matter of finding them :P

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GorgFtCqPEs

> it is very possible that animals feel deeper emotional connections than we do. orcas showcase some very deep emotional states.

No doubt. Even visiting an animal shelter exposes some of the deep emotional state that dogs and cats can be in, and I'm sure that barely scratches the surface when considering all of the different species and circumstances.


I totally get where you're coming from, but some emotions are available to me and not to animals - for example, the feeling of meeting someone who reminds me of a character I imagined from reading a book. Likewise, my fondness for words may interfere with my ability to experience wholeness and the emotions tied up with that, which might be why religious and mystical people develop devotional/meditative practices centered on silence or solitude.


I took it to mean it seems self evident that other animals don't have a x-thousand year history of oral and written ponderings of the mind.

I don't necessarily hold that belief, who knows what the birds and dolphins are jabbering on about.


I think the simplest test would be to determine if animals had a sound or body language for that emotion.

We can clearly see or hear when most mammals are experiencing fear, joy, sadness, anger, etc.

They might not understand it intellectually, but I think we'd be hard pressed to argue that they don't feel it or understand that their emotion is in response to an event they experienced.


I am not disputing the fact that many animals experience emotions and consciousness just as we do. I was taking issue with the parent comment's framing of our attitudes as "just human conceit". I am saying that conceitedness is the same as the emotional and other mental phenomena that we are discussing - it is shared by all animals.

Occasionally, we can overcome the conceitedness. I think that makes us special.


Ah I misunderstood the point that you were trying to make, but it makes more sense now and is something I can agree with.

Thanks for the clarification.


> The bear does not lament its catch, the whale does not wonder at the inner life of a fish it accidentally swallows. The uniquely human conceit that we engage in is the one we are both engaging in right now. The exercise of putting oneself in another's shoes.

How do you know that certain animals do not do that. It is not like we can read their brains.

Here are a few I know of:

1- Several bird species maintain life-long bonds with their partners.

2- Some bird species have funerals for deceased birds.

3- Several animals (like Dolphins) can recognize themselves in the mirror.

4- My dog recognize when I'm angry.

You see the pattern. Humans are just more capable of sophisticated patterns than animals we compare to.

How about other creatures? I mean, if you want to claim supremacy, what would be your definition of supremacy? Number of humans? Mass?

> "It has been estimated by E. O. Wilson that the total number of individual ants alive in the world at any one time is between one and ten quadrillion (short scale). According to this estimate, the total biomass of all the ants in the world is approximately equal to the total biomass of the entire human race."

Ants beats us on the number scale but we are equal on the biomass front.


Isn't it also "human conceit" to think that other species should always be thought of as having emotions and consciousness? No other animal engages in such.

Obviously animals have simpler lives than we do but they have personalities, maybe equivalent to that of a 2- or 3-year old. One of my dogs is getting old and can't always find a ball that I throw for him. The younger one will sometimes find it and then bring it to him if she sees him looking; she'll drop her own ball, fetch the 'lost' one and drop it for him, then get her own and bring it back to me to me.

I didn't set out to teach that behavior, though the younger dog may well be imitating mine.


> No other animal engages in such.

This unsupported statement has been made about so many things that we later found out many animals DO engage in.


You said, "No other animal engages in such."

Which is the point of the article. You cannot make that claim. You do not know what all the other animals are thinking.

Maybe the elephant is thinking, "You have everything you need. Why do you want to kill me for my tusks?"


How do you know all the inner thinkings and feelings of these other creatures?


Occam's Razor says the reason why your dog looks and acts guilty is that it feels guilty, rather than carrying out some sort of autonomous response that looks exactly like guilt but for whatever reason doesn't cross a certain threshold of self-awareness to deserve to be called Actual Emotion.


A simpler explanation in my opinion is that it's projection. But we each then are basically performing petitio principii.

Occam's Razor is not truth generating, it only says that you shouldn't make things more complex than is necessary, it doesn't say what is necessary; crucially the World, and humans in particular, are not logical or especially confined by necessities.


A simpler explanation in my opinion is that it's projection.

But that assumes facts not in evidence. Here's a fun example. One day I cooked too much food, ate some and set the other aside intending to put it in the refrigerator. Something distracted me while I was eating and I left the house, forgetting all about the leftover food.

I returned a little later and instead of my dog greeting me at the door with his tail wagging I walked in and dog is giving me his sad look. I have no idea why until I go into the kitchen and see the now-empty plate that had the leftover food on it.

Now I doubt this is guilt in the sense of moral remorse, it's likely just my dog worrying about getting caught taking my food. But he was definitely conscious of having taken something that was not given. The difference from his normal behavior when I open the door was an empirical fact, even though I can only draw inferences about what was going on in his head.


> A simpler explanation in my opinion is that it's projection.

For this to be true we would first have to invent philosophy and philosophers, psychology and psychologists.

So, I'm convinced it constitutes a simpler explanation.

Take dogs, for example, we share something like 84% same DNA. Great apes 98.8% or so.

This starts to slide in to this idea I have about how people say "everyone is different". No, no we are not. We are way more alike than the cumulative sum of our differences.

It would be way simpler, in my opinion, to assume other animals, at least some of them anyway, are capable of most of the same emotions we are. Then we can work out to what extent we care.


You interact with them and see how they respond and behave.

They're are genetically very similar to us.


Our species is special because we can communicate our feelings directly through language, and language is also a great tool for applying your own inner feelings. A baby feels hunger and cries. An adult feels hunger too, but also has the capacity to think "I bet he is hungry", "I will be hungry later", "the last time she ate this she was still hugry after", etc.


It is entirely possible that animals have different degrees to what we call emotion/consciousness in a similar manner to what we see in humans. What may make us 'special' is the spectrum to which humans are able to move within the emotion/conscious area.


Yes, all animals share this conceit, and we expect them to. For eg, it's ok if a crab eats insects, but horrible if it eats it's own newborns.


I agree, our major issue is that we can't get over this intuition that we must be special somehow. This quote from Westworld really gets to the heart of it, for me at least:

> There is no threshold at which we become greater than the sum of our parts; no inflection point at which we become fully alive. We can't define consciousness because consciousness does not exist. We humans like to fancy that there's something special about the way we perceive the world, and yet, we live in loops as tight and as closed as the hosts do—rarely questioning our choices—content, for the most part, to be told what to do next.


> There is no threshold at which we become greater than the sum of our parts; no inflection point at which we become fully alive. We can't define consciousness because consciousness does not exist

The idea that consciousness doesn't exist is very interesting, and I'm not poo-pooing it, however the argument that it doesn't exist because you can't identify an inflection point is an example of the grains of sand fallacy.

The Grains of Sand fallacy basically claims you can't say "there's no way adding one piece of sand would render a pile of sand un-liftable." This isn't true as I can lift a bag with one grain of sand and can't lift a bag with a billion grains of sand, therefore there has to be a point where I can lift the bag with N grains of sand, and can't lift the bag with N+1 grains.

I agree it's hard to identify an inflection point; but that doesn't prove that consciousness isn't real. If we define consciousness as something dead people don't have and an alive person has (or at least SOMEONE once has had), then there has to be an inflection point as people die.


Yeah—Ford overstates it for my taste but I think the key realization is that if there's no inflection point at which the magic thing that is "consciousness" arises, our intuitive conception of consciousness-as-such is wrong in a deep way.

What I take out of this is not that consciousness doesn't exist, but that generally when people use the word "consciousness", the thing they think they're referring to doesn't exist in nearly as substantial a way as they think it does.

We talk about ourselves as special and animals as fancy pattern matchers because we can't intuitively accept that consciousness isn't a binary phenomenon. If we accept that it's an emergent phenomenon with no clear boundary, there are only two possible conclusions:

* Panpsychism or dual-aspect monism, where matter is imbued with proto-consciousness; or

* "Illusionism" is maybe the best descriptor? Where consciousness exists but not in the way we think it does.


> we can't get over this intuition that we must be special

It seems possible that a group of people who see animals as subhuman would be able to exploit them more completely and may have an evolutionary advantage.

Similar to how animals who believe they have their own consciousness separate from a global conscious would fight harder for survival, and therefore have a selective advantage.

Doesn't mean either of those things are true, but animals who think that way may breed more.

It's also possible that humans who see other groups of humans as subhuman have done better in war times, and have therefore proliferated.

I wish more people would consider that we might have ingrained beliefs that are both false and adaptive. I think knowledge is power generally, but lies can be power in specific cases.


Whoa there...getting all philosophical on us!

In all seriousness though I think humans have always thought of themselves as a higher form of life because we assume we’re sentient. And only sentient beings can experience physical or emotional pain, right? Even before the idea of sentience, we threw around words like “reasoning”. At some point humans must have rationalized away the notion that animals experience suffering because to this day we still enjoy our hamburgers and continue to leave out pets out in the cold.


For most of human history, eating animals was a large portion of the diet, therefore, people were required to limit their empathy or try to rationalize their way towards eating animals (do or die).

Today's environment is an abnormality in history (e.g. individuals wanting to be herbivores) created by the excess of food and technological advances we have. Maybe this is the way to go, maybe it isn't, maybe either options are irrelevant anyway.


That is just not the case. Hunter gatherer societies have rich narrative traditions around every kind of animal imaginable.

You only need desensitization once you are massacring animals on an industrial scale.


What exactly is not the case? Most humans have been dependent on animals for their diet. Even with rich narrative traditions, they would still have to limit their connection to the food, otherwise they would not eat it (similar to some people today). It is abnormal to have easily available food in part due to specialization (butchers, etc) and industrialization.

Are people likely to be desensitized by not being part of the process of getting the animal to the table? Possibly, but that is an ad-don to the points I made.


> Today's environment is an abnormality in history (e.g. individuals wanting to be herbivores) created by the excess of food and technological advances we have.

How this is not true of our artificial cities, dwellings, and infrastructure? And what do you mean by "abnormality"? Do you foresee human manipulation of our environment receding toward some less-manipulated baseline? It seems to me that people claiming voluntary herbivorism is "unnatural" (not your word per se) should take a look at everything else around them and realize that human life today is pervasively and inextricably intertwined with the "unnatural", which doesn't seem to cause people to raise any red flags about it.

I don't think it's an "abnormality" so much as a development, just as human civilizations continue to develop.


It's exactly this care a mother shows for her offspring and how they communicate and teach/learn that made me convert from a strict meat eater to a strict vegetarian.

P.S. I have no judgement or animosity towards those who eat meat. Humans evolved to eat meat and it's a personal choice. But if you choose to, please consider taking an active role in the hunting and harvesting process.


> Ducks and humans alike would appear just to be going through the motions.

The crux of the human condition is that we are aware of our own mortality. That's a profound awareness which breeds all sorts of irrationalities and fears in humans not found in ducks. If those are just the motions, then I suppose we may have gotten the short end of the stick perhaps?


I'd agree that there are some animals that don't seem to be aware of this, but I can't think of any birds or mammals I'd put into that group off the top of my head. What makes you think this is uniquely human?


Well, I don't see any ducks around here postulating what it means to be mortal.

But in all fairness, I think you are most likely referring to the "fight or flight" response mechanism found in living creatures. This is simply an unconscious reaction to stressful stimuli and doesn't signal a higher state of consciousness.


I'm not sure what your basis is for either claim. How would a duck that was aware it could die behave any differently than what we observe? What makes you think that fear is a conscious emotion in humans and an unconscious reaction in animals?

If you were a member of an alien species briefly observing the Earth 50,000 years ago, you'd probably use a similar argument that humans aren't conscious. Sure, they hunt, they play, and they show fear of danger, but that isn't substantially different from other mammals.


as a somewhat related tangent, i tend to say of dogs (at least) that they're "first-order humans", as they seem to have similar emotions that are somehow more straightforward and predictable, much like a toddler. negotiating life with a dog is at one level of complexity, while negotiating life with other humans is exponentially (figuratively rather than mathematically) more complex.

like humans, you can read so much in the micro-movements of a dog's eyes, nose, lips and ears.


Reminds me of this: http://time.com/5412458/are-dogs-smart/ "Your Dog Is Probably Dumber Than You Think." Dogs are about as smart as other mammals like cats or pigs. Most anecdotes of dog intelligence are blown out of proportion by doting dog owners, especially those in this thread. Articles about dogs are millennial bait.


A fun fact related to the subject: experiments have shown that dogs will actively try to make eye contact with humans to get help with a difficult task, while wolves will ignore nearby humans.


dogs are so socially adept. =)

while she has anxiety issues at home (probably abused before), my dog is a social butterfly when we're out. she knows who might give her treats and who might be a threat, approaching the former happily and the latter cautiously. she can get shy/awkward dogs to play with her while keeping aggressive dogs from getting too amped up. i still have a lot to learn from her.


I think it's willful ignorance.

Logic (based in conceit or otherwise) is just one of our tools for conditioning our reality into something that we find palatable. Another is willful ignorance. Ignore a thing and it doesn't exist. Easy.

Willful ignorance is a basic building block of "reality".


Exactly. There's surely a threshold below which emotions can't be paralleled between humans and animals in that way, but it seems mammals are above it.


Is it conceit? Or do we just not speak Duck?

It's really quite hard to prove things like whether a duck is sentient or not, without talking to one.


In your view, what constitutes special? What does a species have to do to be special?


Roadside picnic.


It's strange to me that this is still considered controversial. Even long-duration emotional effects like depression is very obvious in pets after the loss of other/companion pets in a home.


It's considered controversial because we don't understand the nature of consciousness. The fact that your dog behaves similarly to you under similar circumstances tells us literally nothing about what it is actually like to have the dog's experiences. The question isn't whether they have them, it's whether they're as similar to humans as some think, or more that we project our emotions onto them. There is no way of knowing.


It is possible to know.

While we still don’t have the capability to do full brain emulation for hardly any species, we are left with comparison studies.

These comparison studies should be as equally valid between humans as animals. We can only compare behavioral responses.

You can perform similar behavioral studies among people that don’t speak the same language for example. I admit it’s not easy with humans, given how interconnected we are culturally but it’s not impossible.


It's not if you take a simple view of emotion. What's controversial is whether or not they feel complex emotions. Is that really depression or just sadness? Do adult elephants have periods of melancholy that are suddenly brought on by seeing elephant children playing in the watering hole which causes the adult elephants to remember their home town and childhoods and wish they never came to this distant country for better opportunities -- leading to regret, and then anxiety because they realized they did this all for naught are and feel trapped in their current situation? Who knows. I doubt it.


That’s not a complex emotion, it’s a story. The deep related emotions themselves could still be felt.


It's not controversial that many mammals have emotions very very similar to humans (my wife is literally an animal welfare researcher). You're talking about more about how they think than their emotions, whether they are sad because they see their dead child or sad because they regret some complex chain of events it's still the same emotion, the only difference is their ability to understand the chain of events.


It has been speculated that elephants know bones of elephants from other animals and that they kind of "mourn" their dead [1][2] in a way.

Most mammals would react to fresh corpses of members of the same species, most would feel what we would call sadness when loosing a member of tribe, parent etc. But feeling emotions towards bones? That's pretty complex IMO.

I've also read somewhere about instances of elephants "burying" other elephants via covering their bodies with leaves. I'll edit and add a source if I manage to find it.

[1]: http://www.abc.net.au/science/news/stories/s1497634.htm

[2]: https://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/photos/12-facts-ch...


If you've been around elephants much, your scenario is in no way implausible.


It's hard to get a man to understand something if his accustomed lifestyle depends on his not understanding it (to paraphrase Upton Sinclair). It's harder to justify eating meat and supporting factory farming if you believe animals have emotions. I'm not a vegetarian myself but I think that is more uncomfortable for me than for someone who doesn't believe animals have emotions.


If your hypothesis was correct I think we'd expect to see a coldening of e.g. hunter and prey. In reality, I think most hunters tend to disproportionately be animal and nature lovers. And as you go back in time (and in present as well) there are often rituals of respect involved in the slaughter of prey. Such things would be rather pointless if you had completely desensitized yourself to the nature of animals.

But there's some nuance in here. For instance I'd completely agree that factory farming is inhumane, but I think that's in large part because those that operate such institutions have become so far detached from what it is that they do. If your business is butchering chickens, you should be at least occasionally involved in butchering chickens.

There's some irony though. If there was a chicken and rice shop, as you can find all across the developing world, with chickens running about outside - the same ones ending up on your plate, people would be incensed. Similarly imagine somebody in a not entirely rural area was raising their own goats and/or chickens for slaughter. Again, there would be outrage. People inadvertently drive invisible inhumane conditions by expressing outrage at visible humane conditions that they find distasteful.


> I'm not a vegetarian myself but I think that is more uncomfortable for me than for someone who doesn't believe animals have emotions.

If you don't mind me asking, what do you think is making you still eat animals, given that you are aware of their suffering?


There's a reason we call it beef and not cow. There's a reason we generally don't serve food in a form that still looks like the animal (most common exception being fish, which people are less likely to see as an emotional being). Meat is delicious and nutritious, and it's easy to avoid thinking about what goes on in the feedlot or the slaughterhouse, so the cognitive dissonance is easy. This is one reason videos exposing inhumane practices are so powerful, even to people who already knew such conditions exist.

How about animals we eat that are treated well? If a cow lives a happy life, is slaughtered as humanely as possible, and wouldn't have existed if not for our demand for meat, does that make that meat ethical? Maybe even more ethical than not eating it? (Of course this is an incomplete picture if you want to consider externalities such as cow farts contributing to climate change.)


> How about animals we eat that are treated well? If a cow lives a happy life, is slaughtered as humanely as possible, and wouldn't have existed if not for our demand for meat, does that make that meat ethical? Maybe even more ethical than not eating it?

If that's a general argument, then the same thing goes for humans, so it'd therefore be better to have a human child and eat it (if it's slaughtered as humanely as possible), than not having a child, right?

Whenever we argue this way about a non-human animal this way, it's worth considering whether we'd feel the similarly of about a human being with similar mental capacities. Otherwise it might just be our speciesism leading us into motivated reasoning.

Of course, part of the problem with the argument is the false dilemma between killing someone and them never having been alive. Additionally the assumption, that it's harmful for someone non-existent to never be brought into existence, is an odd one. If we accept it, birth control would be highly immoral, and rape could often be justified as being in the interested of a potential unborn child... which is actually what's happening here with farmed cows, because they're being forcefully inseminated non-stop, and you're arguing it's for the benefit of the unborn calf.

If we buy this premise, we'd also have to support a hypothetical cannibalistic farming industry rearing captive human children for food, because otherwise those children wouldn't exist.


> There's a reason we call it beef and not cow.

Yeah, the Norman conquest. Other languages don't have this division.


>How about animals we eat that are treated well? If a cow lives a happy life, is slaughtered as humanely as possible, and wouldn't have existed if not for our demand for meat, does that make that meat ethical? Maybe even more ethical than not eating it?

With suffering and pain out of the way, this would boil down to the question if existing is more comfortable than not existing. The cow needs to exist in order that you can eat it.

Everything in this universe has the laws of nature as a resistance, and molds itself into a form to lessen this pressure (the easiest or viable way). life strives for a more comfortable life, which is also helped by bonding. Aren't emotions always connected to some kind of connection with something, a bond?

The core or main difference between the universe and life itself could be separation vs. union. The universe drifts apart, but life might eventually concentrate in one part of the universe as different species find each other.


I can answer this from my own experience after having been vegan for 5ish years (but I am decidedly not now). There are two things at play: the more "justified" first thing is I'm politically active and still maintain an interest in animal welfare, but I'm focusing the energy I have for activism on systemic changes and participating in/enabling mass action rather than focusing on individual choices, which often act as a release valve for important political discontent without directly confronting the systemic causes. The less noble second thing is that, given the American food supply chain, it's simply still more of a burden and less pleasant to eat vegan as well as easy to not think about when making food choices.


Your explanation very much resembles the one I used to have for not being vegan: in hindsight, it was nothing but a way to avoid the cognitive dissonance between my belief that I was a good person and the knowledge that I simply didn’t care about veganism/vegetarianism. I’m not saying it’s the same here, but your explanation is flawed on arguably every level, I hope you take the time to think about your decision more, but congrats for your 5 years of veganism

1. “I have limited energy for activism, and I distribute it wisely”: statements like these are often untrue and a way to brush away an ethical question while continuing to appear ethical (“I fly on planes, flying on planes is bad for the planet, but X [droughts in Africa] is more critical, so I prefer to think about X than about planes”). One, willpower is probably not finite, as was found in a famous recent study (granted, I conflate willpower and energy here, but they’re quite close). Two, being vegan takes basically the same amount of effort/time/money as eating animal products for someone with no medical condition. Three (more subjective), veganism is a pretty safe bet when it comes to activism, it’s a low effort/high impact part of climate change activism, which is one of the most critical things you can pour your energy into

2. “Enabling mass action is more important than my individual behaviour”: not how the world works. In theory, you could argue for veganism, even become the most respected vegan philosopher, while at the same time eating a different animal at every meal. In practice, if you’re a “do what I say, not what I do” person, the probability that someone becomes vegan after listening to you would be pretty much 0. I also have trouble imagining why anyone would see someone like this as part of the vegan community and a worthy ally when it comes to mass action

3. “Individual action makes people think they’ve done their part and not partake in mass action”: this is untrue on many levels. Individual action is what mass action is made of and the end goal basically. Most people take the strength for political commitment from their individual everyday choices, I would even say that everyday choices are what makes political commitment inevitable. I have never met an activist who is committed only on a theoretical/group level

4. “Being vegan is a chore in America”: being vegan in a rich country is arguably the closest you’ll get to finding it easy

5. “Being vegan is less pleasant than not being vegan”: I can only assume you’re speaking about taste here, which I find weird from a former vegan. The imbalance between personal gustative pleasure and the suffering of species/ecology might be the most frequent discussion about veganism, and the one that demonstrates the most obviously to all involved that eating animal products is unethical (or at least neutral)


Well, for one, I'm not a good person and have no intention of becoming one, so no cognitive dissonance there. I agree with a number of your points, but take issue with a few.

1. Willpower and energy are finite but not fixed. Being vegan is an additional expenditure of energy. Pretending to be vegan (or publicly being vegan enough) probably would be easy to do without spending much energy and also pretty much deals with #2, but that doesn't seem to be what you want.

2. As above, this is only really a reason to pretend to be vegan. But to your point, I don't begrudge any group for being that picky about who they want engaging in action alongside them. I'm not sure that's a winning strategy, but if it gets some people engaged in action, fine, I'll just run with the more "tainted" groups. Personally, I think these sorts of individual scorecard things are good ideas to apply to friends, bad ones to apply to political allies. Obviously you disagree.

3. Yes, people who strike together, engage in demonstrations or other direct action of course have to act as individuals also in order to do that, but you already seem to understand the distinction I'm drawing here based on the way you talk about it. From there, you just have look at the many successful leaders of mass action/positive political change who had checkered lives to put the lie to this blanket dismissal. It's cool that your friends are good people, but if you all still accomplish the same amount of structural change while eating steaks, I'd be equally happy.

4. Yep.

5. It is less pleasant. It is unethical to prefer more pleasant things that come from an odious supply chain when it wouldn't require too much energy to sqitch. We agree, but this is also one of those things where #1 comes into play, as I imagine you aren't writing this from a self-sufficient commune in a hidden stateless island. If you are, awesome, but otherwise, you're implicated in a lot of unethical choices. Maybe some of which where I'm doing the ethical thing. But it really doesn't matter (beyond our ability to sleep at night) if neither of us are mounting real challenges to the structures that make ethical decisions hard and unethical ones easy.


Quick additional note on your last bit for 1- you're really kind of proving my point about individual behavioral/consumer level change acting as a release valve (though you admit it's subjective). There is no way forward on climate that isn't structural and doesn't hold powerful organizations to account. That doesn't happen through the true believers opting out. Or put another way, it is ethical to not eat meat and it relieves guilt, but the political goal should be to make it harder to eat meat and even remove it as an option.


> There is no way forward on climate that isn't structural and doesn't hold powerful organizations to account.

There is a lot of truth in that. As it is now though, some meat eaters will say that businesses need to stop murdering animals, while people controlling and working at those businesses will say that they're only doing it because people buy it. It's an easy and convenient view to hold, because it let's everyone put the blame on someone else, while not having to do anything themselves.


The companies' position would only make sense if they weren't spending so much on advertising, lobbying, and other attempts to reinforce the structures that lead to the levels of meat consumption we have now.

I'm saying it is critical for anyone who cares about this to do something. Organizing to get laws changed, subsidies stripped/rerouted, and other structural changes takes effort from everyone who has a stake in this. We just disagree on what it is that is critical to do.


My justification is that every life form takes something from the outside. Your pet also would eat other pets in a wild life settings. This is how life forms emerged from ~nature.

I think the debate pops up strongly now [0] because 1) our knowledge is near capable of synthesizing nutrients and 2) industrial based lifestyles have removed the ~fair side of survival eating. I don't think any human ever thought twice about eating an animal when his life depends on it.

[0] I've read a bit in a judaism book that the kosher idea comes from the mental struggle to rationalize taking a life to sustain your own. I know nothing about judaism so maybe the book was just fantasy.. but I found it very touching thinking that in previous eras people did think about this. Maybe (most probably even) other cultures expressed that sentiment in various ways (brainstorming but maybe wearing animal skulls or necklace or maybe prayers for the life taken). If people know more about that hit me up


> I think the debate pops up strongly now

The debate's been going on for quite a while now though[0]. But yes, it didn't involve factory farms, antibiotics, dead zones or climate breakdown back then.

> Your pet also would eat other pets in a wild life settings.

To me that sounds a little bit like cherry picking. Do we take cues from pets in general? Couldn't that argument be used as a justification for doing a poop on the street or going around and sniffing other people's bums?

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pythagoreanism#Vegetarianism


At least dogs cover their poop with soil. Plus it's a nice fertilizer for future plant.

I think we're decoupling life too much. I don't think my system was made to be a pure intellectual being. Running for your food is probably the happiest healthiest act one can do.


> I've read a bit in a judaism book that the kosher idea comes from the mental struggle to rationalize taking a life to sustain your own.

This seems very unlikely because the stated reason to spare these animals is that they are unclean and eating them is bad for the eater, not the animal.


Given the rest of the threads, why do you think he shouldn't? Do you think a bear shouldn't eat salmon?


There's generally not a big risk of bears overfishing salmon into near extinction in the massive fishing vessels that they don't possess, nor do they feed antibiotics to the salmon that they don't farm, so that's also not an issue for the bears. When bears go to the super market, they rarely have the choice between buying vegetables or salmon, because humans are generally reluctant to let bears in there, and even if they got in, most of them wouldn't have any cash.

Regardless, there aren't many bears reading HN, so it would be a waste of time trying to discuss these issues with them here anyway.

I think it'll be possible for humans to discuss the ethics of eating salmon without necessarily getting the bears on board with their decision. Most humans tend to generally not involve bears that much in their day-to-day decision making.


We can acknowledge the suffering caused by the bear.

Perhaps the overall utility of having a happy bear in your ecosystem beats not having a bear, or a starving one. Since we can't know for sure, the precautionary principle tells us to just let the bear be a bear. But it still sucks for the salmon, and therefore a human capable of forgoing the salmon clearly should at least consider it.


Because if people were not eating them wolfs would be, or they would not even be born.


God said it was cool.


No. We can have the philosophical and biological discussions without useless moralizing. I have been vegan most of my life but I question whether animals emotions are as similar to ours as many seem to be implying here.


Really? Even if it proven animal have emotions, I still won't have any problem eating meat.


Just curious, do you have emotional reactions to stories about animals killing people?


That depends on the situation, I will surely felt emotional if the people is my family or someone I know.


I was thinking more of stories about hunters getting unexpectedly eaten by lions or the like. No particular point to my inquiry, just trying to understand your other comments better.

I like how quickly this line of thinking leads to panpsychism.

Alright, so your dog has some level of cognition – sensations, emotion, joy, pain. Perhaps less complex than a human, but nevertheless nonzero. Because whatever computations happens in its brain feel like something from the inside.

How about a frog? Less, but still nonzero.

How about a worm? Less, but still nonzero. But hey: we can already model a worm's nervous system [0]. And if consciousness is just what computation feels like from the inside, then torturing the model worm creates real pain (or the worm-equivalent of pain, whatever that emotion is).

Something interesting to think about.

[0] http://openworm.org


We can, without lapsing into full panpsychism, state some ethical paradoxes about the way we can observe animal emotion, versus the way we actually treat animals.

For example, it's widely accepted that pigs are extremely intelligent animals, capable of feeling pain and suffering to a degree more sophisticated even than young children.

And yet treating young children with the same level of disregard-for-suffering that we routinely, banally treat pigs with is considered a capital crime.

At a certain point, we'll have to resolve this societal cognitive dissonance. I strongly suspect it will end up being resolved with animals being granted a far greater degree of legal protection from pain and suffering than they have now.


Another way for resolving the dissonance, is to assume that torturing young children is worse than torturing pigs because young children can become more sophisticated than pigs.

But i agree with you that eventually we'll stop treating animals the way we treat them now, because growing meat in a lab will be cheaper, making majority of the people indifferent, and allowing the minority of the people who care to pass stricter laws (though i am not sure if that would work for fish, and for abolishing all the hunting).


I don't really think that it just comes down to can-become-more-sophisticated. Assume we had children that never grow up, and we can tell which ones. Assume even that they just mysteriously from the forest, so they don't have parents/owners. I really can't see the legal system changing to permit us to treat them in the same manner we treat pigs.


I can't see the legal system changing either, but thousands of years ago after a hungry winter i can't believe people feeding the non-growing children, or letting the real children to die because they don't want to kill and eat the 'broken' children from the forest.

Many hunter gatherer societies were ok with killing ill or unwanted children, because those who didn't do that didn't survive.


I don't think anyone was making an argument based on human behaviours thousands of years ago, or how an argument based on primitive cultures is relevant. Unless your point is that if these hypothetical forest-children existed, modern society would be okay with farming them en-mass in cages for their meat?

I don't know any vegans or vegetarians who refuse to acknowledge the reality of eating for survival - the issue is based on choice, and if you have the luxury of choice why would you decide to eat another sentient being.


My argument is that eating them would become an accepted thing, and then at some point society would be having debates about replacing their meat with some other kind of food, very similar to what our society does about animals now. And my guess is that in that situation again the course of action would be mostly determined by economics of farming.

> and if you have the luxury of choice why would you decide to eat another sentient being

It's not a completely equivalent choice, but also a little bit of inconvenience in the form of not eating the favorite types of foods or often having to take supplements (e.g. B12), and most people seem to have a healthy dose of selfishness. I personally am not convinced that farm animals are intelligent enough to justify the urgent action, instead of waiting until artificially grown meat becomes cheaper and resolves the issue in a natural way.


>At a certain point, we'll have to resolve this societal cognitive dissonance. //

It appears that the majority of the World, setting aside the question of the the truth of the notion for now, believes that this is entirely solved as the child has a soul and the pig does not?

So, for most there is no dissonance?


Most of the world probably does believe this, which is something I find profoundly disturbing. We have a long way to go as a species in developing a sane ethics system.

However, considering the progress we've already made, I have hope that we can make more.


Perhaps ethics is not something absolute, and is a game thorethic optimal strategy that changes as the rules of the game change.

If hunting is the only thing you can do sane ethics system would allow killing the whale no matter how intelligent creature it is. And letting members of another tribe die instead of trying to share and risking members of your own tribe to die is a sane thing too.

But things change if you a member of a civilization that can produce as much food as it wants without killing anyone.


My understanding is that most (many?) vegans even today accept killing when it's necessary for survival. That necessity is just extremely rare for modern humans (or it should be, in a fairer world).

That said, I find the idea of game-theory as a "universal basis" of ethics intriguing.


For more than a few people, someone with darker skin is no better than a pig. If we can't get past treating animals we know to be human as if they are no more than useful pets, there isn't much hope at all for the non-humans.


You're just going down the road which leads to the failures of moral absolutism. The conclusion is not that pain can't exist in a machine, or that it is wrong to torture a simulated being. The conclusion is that torture is not wrong simply because it causes pain, but because the pain it causes leads to otherwise undesirable consequences.

Eventually you're going to have to decide what is intrinsically undesirable, which means understanding what your goals are before you ascribe moral value to some process. You can't say pain is good or bad without first understanding how it gets in the way of your goals.


You can get that down to single cells, actually.

Transcription factors (genes whose product activate or inhibit other genes) form regulation network that are equivalent in function to neural nets. There's also evidence of memory in single cell organisms.


Absolutely, and why stop there? Neural nets just add up numbers – other physical systems do that, too.


Indeed!


I don’t think it necessitates pansychism. You can still think of consciousness as a by product of a specific configuration, or just sufficient quantity of neurons or whatever.

However it emerges remains a mystery, but it’s possible that some configuration of them does not produce the consciousness affect.

For example, a million neurons is not enough to turn the lights on, but X amount is.


Self-aware consciousness is a pretty high bar, but how about the ability to experience suffering? The ability to experience reward? That question very quickly turns into "what is experience", or rather, "what isn't experience".

I don't find any of this intuitive, nor do I have answers to the ethical questions that follow (besides not eating animals, which I already don't). But I find it revealing how most people will fight tooth and nail to maintain that there is some magical threshold separating dead matter from precious, conscious life, without having given the topic much thought at all.


The really nasty question is, do animals have a(n intuitive or other) concept of the future, and/or of causality? Do they feel dread? And when they experience suffering, can they know what does that mean to them?

Elephants might ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elephant_cognition#Death_ritua... ).

Of course, life in the wild is not pretty. Not many of the wild animals are apex predators in their respective territory, and thus their deaths are usually not peaceful, and being hunted, having close calls with death almost daily is a very integral part of their life, so they probably have an evolved way to deal with the psychological burden of this.

And that's probably what domestication changed.


> so they probably have an evolved way to deal with the psychological burden of this.

I like that idea, but I don't understand how natural selection would favour animals that are less stressed about predators. Are you implying that the gazelle actually enjoys the thrill as it is running away from the lion?


No, I most certainly not implying it enjoys it, but if something is not useful for survival and procreation, then that gets pruned out eventually. If there's enough selection pressure.

If dread, stress, trauma, shock, etc. leads to worse survival outcomes than a more calm basic set-point, then that's likely to emerge.

For example animals that form herds stick to the herd even if their family member is isolated from it by predators. Because they gain nothing by trying to somehow save the isolated member. (Because that would probably lead to more of them getting mauled to death.)

Sure, these animals are pretty defensive, but after a point they let it go. Do they suffer from it? Yeah, sure, they have very similar stress response, but they rarely (to my knowledge) are traumatized by these encounters. (Because they probably don't ponder, they don't think about what that encounter meant. It meant nothing for them, it's just life in the wild.)

For example Sapolsky spent years observing baboons and took a lot of blood samples, and measured cortisol levels. And those animals lead a very stressful life. ( https://news.stanford.edu/news/2007/march7/sapolskysr-030707... ) But humans and primates are the exception probably. And probably the more cognition one can do the more things one can worry about.


Orangutans are capable of planning their routes in advance. [1] I guess that does indicate some concept of future, albeit not a far one?

[1] https://www.popsci.com/science/article/2013-09/orangutans-pl...


Yeah, it is pretty remarkable. I consider it non controversial at this point that many of humans favorite meals are certainly capable of a lot of suffering.


I think that was never a real question. Lobsters might or might not feel pain, okay, but bovines and other mammals certainly do. And birds are (can be) pretty intelligent (eg parrots).

So that's why they are supposed to be kept, raised and slaughtered in relatively humane conditions. (Eg. free range, and painless death.)


That is one of the most interesting things to me about this. Consciousness seems to arise from the communication and computation in and between sensory inputs, so do computers feel anything?

I can understand the logic of input 1 causes output 2 and output 5 to do something, providing the objective indicators of consciousness, but the internal experience puzzles me. Why do we feel? Why do our pain or pleasure receptors result in agonizing pain or pleasurous feeling instead of just throwing messages saying “you are experiencing 57% pleasure” or “pain at 25%”? Why do we see what is going through our visual system? Why are we conscious at all? Why aren’t we just autonomous? Systems of inanimate material seem to have this bizarre innate property where they create subjective ephemeral forces from objective inanimate atoms.

Which raises the question: do computers feel?


This is indeed very interesting line of thinking, and if one agrees that there is no soul, and there is no quantum process essential to life that can not be modeled on a classical computer, then this is the only remaining way of thinking.

But this is different from dictionary definition of panpsychism, because this doesn't need to assign consciousness to simpler computations (rocks, buildings, simple cells).

And this indeed opens really interesting questions. For instance if you have a simulation of many people, is it ok to continue the simulation when they are killing each other? Is it ok to ever stop the simulation? Is it ok to create a model of a person you do not like and torture him? What if your brain is augmented with a powerful computer, and torturing happens literally in your imagination?


> this doesn't need to assign consciousness to simpler computations (rocks, buildings, simple cells).

That necessarily follows, I think. The quantum processes in a rock are also a form of computation and, therefore, inhabited by some rudimentary form of experience we might call, dunno, "rockness". I don't see an easy way around it. Perhaps at absolute zero all experience stops?

I have no answers, but your questions are precisely why I find this fascinating to think about!


I would expect there to be very marked jump between the rockness and the computations with the simplest consciousness, that will allow to assign them to different classes instead of having a continuous spectrum going to zero with temperature.

Kind of similar to the way how behavior of cellular automata changes between the predictable patterns and chaotic ones. (But i wouldn't bet all my money on it, only the half:)


> Kind of similar to the way how behavior of cellular automata changes between the predictable patterns and chaotic ones.

Hm, reminds me of Permutation City. That's an interesting parallel I hadn't considered at all.


> But hey: we can already model a worm's nervous system.

It surely is interesting to think about, at least as long as this Chinese Room way of thinking isn't used to dismiss or justify pain or suffering inflicted on other living beings.


There is one important difference between other living beings and the model, in the case of other living beings you do not own the computer, you are not the one who started the computation, and you do not have a power to undo your actions.

But in case of the model nothing would exist if you didn't build the computer, and you can take snapshots to restore any state you want.

It seems like people in some way always understood this difference, because they were ok with god sending arbitrary tortures to them, and then granting them eternal life undoing the effect of the torture.


What about something like an anthill? It changes states, it follows patterns similar to other anthills, and probably wishes to preserve itself in some way. It's probably extremely low, but is it nonzero?


when an error occurs in a machine and the machine tries to recover, maybe that's also a form of pain. A machine is not necessarily less sophisticated than any living creature.


Just one of the many reasons I am vegan.

You can eat a healthy, fulfilling diet that meets all your nutrition requirements without consuming meat or dairy and contributing to animal suffering.

We have the choice to avoid imprisoning, mutilating, and killing animals to survive, by eating a plant-based diet.

I’ve been vegan for many years and have never felt better or happier. You can too.

https://www.vegansociety.com/go-vegan/how-go-vegan

https://rightasrain.uwmedicine.org/body/food/want-go-vegan-h...


>We have the choice [...]

Do you think other species have less of a choice because of their limited emotional response? If so, can you consider the implications? (rather than being the butt of the age old joke)


I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make. I don’t care to argue about whether we should avoid causing emotional and physical suffering to other beings.

Carnivorous animals kill to survive, unlike all of us living in the modern world.

It’s not just the killing, it’s the whole process of enslaving, breeding, raping, mutilating animals just to serve our tastes. If you think I’m being melodramatic don’t take my word for it. You can see the terrible suffering inflicted on animal farms and slaughterhouses only a quick google search away.

It’s not necessary. We aren’t living in the bush having to kill another animal in order to live.


yes, and help you are not sick or infect from animal ills.


Not arguing with the contents of the article, or its applicability, but is there a large mass of people who think that people are more emotional than animals?

Wouldn't the logical straight-forward way of looking at it would be that because humans have higher abstract intelligence/thinking capabilities, they should obviously be less emotional than animals? All animals have is basically emotion (well dolphins and monkeys probably have some simple symbolic language, but nevertheless), while humans have both emotion, and also the logical apparatus, the thoughts, the prefrontal cortex to inhibit (that's its function in a nutshell - selective inhibition) the rest of the (emotional) intelligence, thus making the general operation of an individual less emotion-based, as compared to a generic animal?


The article subhead ("animals are no less emotional than we are") is a bit misleading. (The headline likely wasn't written by the author.) This essay is not so much about whether animals operate on more or less of emotional basis than us; but the degree to which animals have subjective experiences to begin with. I.e., when a cat or monkey or bat feels sad, is there someone in there feeling that sadness?

Because non-human animals exhibit demonstrably less higher intelligence than us, we tend to assume also that their subjective experience is somehow less sharp or detailed or consequential than ours. Consider the way that virtually our entire civilization treats animals as disposable goods. We confine them in horrendous conditions, we slaughter them for food in brutal ways, we force them to do hard labor, and we even hurt and scare them for petty entertainment. Many people seem to assume that because animals don't cry or smile or frown or grimace like we do, they must not be feeling the emotions we associate with those faces.

If we all could believe that non-human animals could experience emotions such as fear, loneliness, loss, terror, shame, embarrassment, and joy just as richly and profoundly as we do -- and the article suggests that they do, indeed -- then what might we have to change about the way we regard and interact with them? I believe this is the question the article wants us to consider.


>because humans have higher abstract intelligence/thinking capabilities, they should obviously be less emotional than animals? //

I'd imagine that the thinking goes that emotion requires self-reflection. Being depressed isn't really a thing if I don't even realise it's me that is depressed because I have no conception of self.

If there is no higher function that can decide to suffer pains then pain is irrelevant, reaction is not emotion.


Lots of animals pass mirror test, so we can safely assume that they are self-aware to some extent.

This method is believed to be highly imperfect though as not all animals rely on visual perception as their main info channel. So some animals that do not pass the test may be self-aware, we just don't know how to research it properly.


Very interesting. I think beind depressed is a higher-order functionality than simply an "emotion", but I get your point.

It would surely seem many of human emotions are based on reflective properties and certain thoughts being at the basis of the subjective reality in which these humans consequently find themselves, in which it "makes sense" for the emotion to occur. We "think" ourselves into emotions about work, about our homes, about society, politics, video games, etc. etc.

I do think that there is a place for emotions though, even aside from those conditions: many times people feel certain emotions, but they don't know themselves that they feel it, or what they feel. This is evident in psychotherapy, a lot of the time the work itself is simply to get the person to understand what they are feeling. This would suggest that feeling of these emotions somehow exist, in some sort of lower level emotional substrate, before the symbolic consciousness has acquired a view of these processes. Such emotions and their substrate likely is present in animals as well.

It is logical to assume, that for any emotion to exist, there has to be some ground "intelligent"(on some level) understanding of a certain reality - if one feels sad, there needs to be something going on in the subjective reality of the subject (like being separated from a loved one), to which this emotion should be reacting, and this event needs to have certain properties and not others, and there needs to be something in the subject that understands this difference. But this understanding does not need to be based in symbolic intelligence, it surely seems like it can be hosted in the aforementioned pre-symbolic substrate, which animals seem to share with us.

A cat obviously feels and "knows" somehow when it is being separated from a loved one, be it another cat or a human. Assuming that the cat does not have much of a symbolic intelligence, the fact that it can still do that, it means that there is a system in the cat which can nevertheless track how close it is to a loved one. So if there this system, that could likely serve a purpose of being this substrate on which the emotions are reacting.

Thus developed symbolic intelligence is not strictly required for emotions to occur, assuming there is another simpler intelligence to track the subjective reality, and it sure seems like many animals do have this.

(Of course the open question is how "much" of these respective types of emotions is present in humans, because it would make a difference for whether we would think humans are more emotional in general than animals or not.)


One of the most interesting explanations of emotions that I've read is that emotions are subconscious predictions produced by the brain (sorry, didn't save the link). For instance, happiness is a subconscious prediction of safety. Depression is a subconscious prediction of death. It's like super-scalar execution -- the event hasn't happened yet (and may never happen), but the brain has already calculated its outcome and signals its estimation through emotions.

A few conclusions:

A) Anything with brains has some kind of emotions. The bigger the brain the more developed emotions are.

B) Emotions in animals has nothing to do with "soul" or anything transcendental. It's just a way the animal brain works. Humans can feel empathy to animal emotions because they are also technically animals.


This is one of those "non-explanations" you often get from modern neuroscience (in this case from the cult of "predictive coding"). There is absolutely no explanatory power here with regard to the nature of emotions. It just assumes its conclusion. The brain should just make its prediction and the behavior should happen in experiential void. Why is there any feeling associated with this prediction? There's no explanation for it that doesn't engage in obvious handwaving. And even if you accept one of the handwavy answers, it still doesn't even remotely approach the questions that people actually care about, like: why would the prediction give this specific quality of feeling, rather than some other?


> emotions are subconscious predictions produced by the brain

Thank you for sharing. Such an interesting thought.


An intriguing idea brought up in the book Flow, is that perhaps animals feel things better than us.

One of the conditions of flow is that the individual focuses on that one thing and doesn't think about anything else.

Humans are constantly juggling several things in their heads at one time. When we brush our teeth, we think about how we're going to be late. When we play with our kids, we're also worrying about that problem at work or the unpaid bills.

But the lion does not need to do this. When the lion is hunting, they focus 100% on it. When it eats, it enjoys its meal, not having to worry about the next kill or food preservation. When it sees a sunrise, it can sit there and enjoy the sunrise, without pondering what it has to do in the next few hours.


But maybe the DO think about the next kill while looking at the sunrise. Who are we to tell?


The weirdest thing about the "do animals have emotions" debate is that we now know that the emotion-handling parts of the brain (the limbic system, particularly the amygdala) are shared by not only by all mammals but also by reptiles and birds. The limbic system is ancient and fairly well-preserved; there's not much special in a human amygdala compared to a mouse one.


When I took classes with Daniel Dennett, he was always amazed at the strength of convictions people had about consciousness even without education in the area.

This is an unpopular opinion, but the human intuition is not a good discriminator of consciousness: "Dennett (who argues that consciousness is unique to humans), claims that intuitive attributions of mental states are “untrustworthy”, and points out that “it is, in fact, ridiculously easy to induce powerful intuitions of not just sentience but full-blown consciousness (ripe with malevolence or curiosity) by exposing people to quite simple robots made to move in familiar mammalian ways at mammalian speeds (1995).”"[1]

Personally, I'll be agnostic until consciousness is much better understood.

[1]https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/consciousness-animal/


I come from the opposite direction: I'm not so sure humans are all that conscious. My personal theory goes something like:

* Consciousness is a side-effect of the brain running "what-if" scenarios that include anticipating it's own actions. Self-awareness. This definition allows for non-human consciousness, but also doesn't take a stance on it, as it also allows for a range of awareness, rather than a binary state. (that said, I'll talk in binary terms for simplicity)

* Consciousness is calorically expensive - the brain shuts it down when it isn't needed, because it stops adding value then in terms of survival.

* Side effect: The primary job of consciousness is to figure out how to turn the unexpected into the routine, which in turn shuts down consciousness.

Result: We spend a lot of time NOT self-aware, then back-fill that we must always be self-aware when we consider that time (because we are self-aware during that consideration). Impossible to self-measure, but my personal guess is that we spend somewhere between a high number of minutes to low number of hours "sentient" each day.

Note: I'm using Self-aware/consciousness rather broadly here. Even if it's illusion, there's a state of having that illusion (or however to phrase that) and a state of not being aware that you aren't even considering...anything. (Dang it is hard to describe that without using language that assumes awareness).


That would explain why spending a few hours meditating can feel like a very long time, being more conscious than usually.

Edit: On the other hand, when meditating deeply, one does not run what-if scenarios. Quite the opposite. Nevertheless, awareness is particularly strong in this state.


I have limited mediation experience, so I don't claim to be definitive at all, but I'd equate the feeling to asking "what if..." and never finishing the question...indeed, getting COMFORTABLE with never finishing the question, but the question is there. Or maybe you're trying to be aware without asking the question, and I'm still terrible at it.

Definitely an aspect I'll consider more of. Thanks for the thought!


I feel like even this narrative only comments on the centralization of processing, rather than the complexity required to be conscious. I wonder how much of the time spent without sentience, as you put it, is more akin to the diffuse processing in octopii arms or the gut-brain relationship.


If you are interested, "The New Science of Consciousness" [1] is a solid read (it can get a little tedious in parts though) about the "easy" and "hard" problem of consciousness.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/New-Science-Consciousness-Exploring-C...


I'm sympathetic to the idea that we have an illusion of consciousness.


Very interesting thought, thanks for sharing.


> Personally, I'll be agnostic until consciousness is much better understood.

How does this agnosticism work in practice?

Does it mean that you don't worry about potential suffering and pain you might be causing others, or does it mean you try to avoid harming others even if they may not be concious?


It seems to me that if one is going to claim that animals' actions only appear conscious because of humans applying heuristics, and that in reality animals are merely exhibiting complex non-conscious behavior, then there is no reason one should not consider that possibility of other human beings as well, or perhaps even one's self. Taken to its logical conclusion, one could claim that nothing is really conscious and it is all an illusion.

On the other hand, if we recognize that the behaviors we witness in other animals can be explained as complex responses to stimuli, and accept that our own behavior can be similarly explained, but never the less also recognize that our own experience of being is real, that there is something here, then I think we are forced to consider that whatever that quality is it also exists in other beings.

And if that quality exists in other human beings, because they are like us, then how much like us must they be? If mammals display similar behaviors to us then is it not reasonable to infer that they also have this quality? And if even some lizards, say, exhibit a few of these qualities, do they not also potentially posses it? And if we accept that even things very different from us can experience reality in this way, then how unreasonable is it, really, to say that everything does?


There is a larger gulf between the complexity of human behavior and animal behavior than you are acknowledging.


I like Dennet's books (along with popular works by Searle and Hofstader), and I would be very interested to know whether he has a dog. I foresee a future ethics paper (or short story like those in "The Mind's I") called, "Daniel Dennet's Dog" from the perspective of a being whose essential existence is strenuously denied by it's only care giver.


We’re talking about animals that share much of the same hardware as us, not robots. I doubt folks would argue that mammaries work vastly different, or spines work vastly different, but when it comes to the brain for some folks, another species (elephant, whale, dog, etc...) crying works vastly different?


I believe they are more emotional in many ways - more driven and consumed by their emotions. Especially in social animals emotional reactions are inescapable for them. Humans are able to overcome emotion through higher level thinking and effort.

Also depends on one's definition of emotion. Is fear an emotion?


IMO fear is widely viewed as one of the simplest emotions, yes. Or at least, it can be: the word can be used to reference different aspects of fear, one of which is the emotion of it.


Opinion: Your Dog Feels as Guilty as She Looks

Science does not need opinions. The question is worth asking, but this article does not seem to be backed by any kind of research or experiments.


Yea. The entire argument appears to be a single anecdote about some guy's dog acting really upset after biting his hand.

Quoting the article:

> For the longest time, science has depicted animals as stimulus-response machines while declaring their inner lives barren. This has helped us sustain our customary “anthropodenial”: the denial that we are animals. We like to see ourselves as special, but whatever the difference between humans and animals may be, it is unlikely to be found in the emotional domain.

Isn't this just a strawman in service to an applause light?


There are some research and experiments in the article - eg give a dog a lemon is one you could try at home.

The author has loads of science awards, papers etc https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frans_de_Waal#Awards

Even including an Ig Nobel prize for showing chimps can recognise each other from butt pics.


What's the surprise here? If anything I would expect animals to be even more emotional than humans. Emotions are something primal, something that came to be before conciousnes. Animals are emotional and all they ever do is act on their emotions, whether that is: hunger, fear, joy, lust, etc.

The human-specific part of mind is the rational part, planning, reflecting, self-correcting, etc. Animals never come close to humans in this regard.


The purpose of emotions was proven by accident. Emotions exist as a physiological component of the brain to help make complex cognitive decisions on the fly. It is safe to think of this as a short circuit around analysis paralysis, but it also comes at a cost of various cognitive biases.

It should be no surprise that animals have emotions similar to humans since the physiology of many animal brains is not incredibly different from human brains.

The discovery: https://www.smh.com.au/national/feeling-our-way-to-decision-...

It was hard to confirm the discovery because people with no emotion are rare, but some of it was arguably confirmed later through interviews with John Wayne Gacy who demonstrated much of the same behaviors but had learned to compensate and fake it for much of his life.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Wayne_Gacy


This makes me think of Wittgenstein's point that words shape our reality and also limit our perception of reality. "Emotion" is a word that's a human construct.

Going along with this human construct, I wonder what the boundaries are among humans and animals when it comes to "emotions". Are there certain emotions that animals have that we can't tap into and, therefore, never experience?

And to go further, what role do sensory organs have with emotions? Does access to certain sensory organs influence this? For instance, fishes have access to the lateral line system to help them sense pressure gradients and their surroundings. It could be that they have unique emotions.



We are animals.


And tomatoes are fruits.

But there are multiple actual definitions of words and very often "animal"1 = non-human "animal"2


Expression Of The Emotions In Man And Animals by Darwin, Charles

Publication date 1873

https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.43657/page/n3


I have some early memories from when I could barely talk. Back then, the world was composed almost entirely of emotions. They completely dominated the scene. Not only that, but my brain was smaller and less physically developed, so I had reduced capacities as well.

I think animals are exactly the same. Of course, animals' brains never develop past that stage ruled by emotion.

As a result of this, I believe anyone can do a thought experiment to see the world as an animal sees it: just think of very early memories from right when you first learned to talk. That is what being an animal is like.


Don't know about you personally, but normal human babies certainly aren't at all like animals.

The sheer, mind-boggling rational and learning capacity needed to learn highly symbolic and abstract things like language and arithmetic means that babies are 'smarter' than adults.

(If by 'smarter' we mean the capacity for learning, mental models and abstract generalization.)


Well, sure. I don't think anyone who's encountered an angry cat can deny that cats are capable of anger.

Equivalently, you could say our emotions are the subjective experience of our ancient animal instincts.


You can't make global claims about 'animals' based on dogs. Humans created dogs, we extricated them from the harsh reality of evolution in order to serve as workers and companions to us. It's no surprise we bred them to match our emotional viewpoint. The reality of nature is _extremely_ harsh by human standards. It's largely an emotionally cold and deadly place that is entirely removed from most humans day to day lives.


In fact animals don't die in a nice way. They end up either eaten alive or left behind by the herd to die of thirst when they are too old or too sick.


I remember a documentary about octopus reproduction, the mother would spend their final hours heating water around the nest then as a last gesture would go die as far as possible from it, allegedly to avoid attracting predator around "her" corpse. I have no idea if the sacrificial narrative is to be trusted but I was nearly tearing up.


The word 'animals' is far to generic to have any meaning in this context. Obviously social mammals that we share many of our brain structures with experience reality the same way we do. But this is far less obvious in animals like reptiles, fish, and the like.


The author showing monkeys getting emotional about unfairness https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-dMoK48QGL8


Was this up for debate? My understanding was always emotion is just animal survival instinct kicking in. The BIOS. The dumb part of your brain the should fight to override.


The human forebrain may inhibit some emotion. Injury tonthe fore brain- trauma, stroke, dementia plaques- sometimes results in highly emotional people.


Do we need to be reminded that humans are animals?

Humans have large egos, but aside from that we're not particularly special.


New York Times: "Here I go overstating a vapid point again"

The easy part is pretending animals are like us, even if there's no rigorous reason to believe they are. The hard part is trying to figure out why the tiger isn't immoral for killing the gazelle.


You're going against the scientific consensus if you're suggesting animals don't have any emotions. Do you have any reason to believe that they don't?

Whether tigers hunting for survival is immoral seems entirely tangential to whether animals can feel.


> The easy part is pretending animals are like us, even if there's no rigorous reason to believe they are.

You should look into the work of Jaak Panksepp. Watch his TEDTalk [1] for a quick overview but the really mind altering information you will find in his books. I highly recommend "The Archeology of the Mind" to everyone who wants to learn more how the concept of SELF is being created into the brain and the role primary affect plays in complex enough organisms (mammals, some social reptiles/birds).

[1] - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=65e2qScV_K8


I was pretty surprised when I saw this video about a dog watching Lion King movie and getting sad: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SHKC958R8Z8


I don't doubt at all that animals are emotional, but this video really made me wonder about what the dog is comprehending about the scene. Does it perceive that Mufasa is dead? Does the music affect it? Does it see the sadness in the anthropomorphic face of Simba?


Uhh, I'm skeptical. My dogs do exactly that any time they see something on the TV that looks like something they would chase. I suspect that's what is going on here. I doubt the doggy is aware that Mustafa is dead and Simba is now an orphan.


Yeah. They've also got tens of thousands of years worth of selective breeding for cueing off their owners.

There are what I'd call clear examples of animals expressing emotions. I'm not sure this one'd qualify.


Related question: can animals have religious thoughts?


Religion is a philosophy, and philosophies are the models we construct of reality in order to explain and predict. It seems undoubtable that many animals construct models of reality, and indeed we have seen them display behavior consistent with models we would associate with religion. Elephants, for instance, appear to practice some form of reverence for their dead by visiting and touching their bones.


Quite obviously emotions are a continuum that correlates with intelligence.

The most intelligent animals feel/express the most sophisticated emotions.

To think otherwise would be clearly contrary to science (i.e. you believe in souls transcending to the physical world; OR you believe that a deity made an 100% equitative distribution of emotions among his creatures, from the worm to the dolphin).

This point is defended in Hofstadter's works.


So what?

Since when is 'emotion' is some sort of validation of personal worth instead of a condition you need to learn to live with?


Same reason restaurants compete to provide interesting flavors instead of just serving water and nutrient cubes. Emotions are what provide interest in life to most people. My impression is that you have them too but their expression has been a source of stress for you, possibly due to negative reaction from others.


Please someone at YC invented meat-alike alternatives so we don't eat animals for the sake of everything.

Not really an animal lover, just think we don't really need consume animal meat to live longer/happier, there got be some other options.




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