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But can they suffer? - Comments

showmeproof's Avatar Comment 1 by showmeproof

Richard and others, you should watch a lecture given by Susan Greenfield on the nature of consciousness. Much of what you highlighted is addressed and her theory has gained recent support with the fEITER video produced by Brian Pollard of The University of Manchester, UK that shows what happens as a patient is anesthetized.

Wed, 29 Jun 2011 23:49:22 UTC | #844589

SourTomatoSand's Avatar Comment 2 by SourTomatoSand

I don't think there should be any correlation between perception of pain and intelligence level, but from a cognitive psychological point of view, it might be useful to point out that perception of pain is associated with activity in the brainstem, in the pons, midbrain, medulla oblongata and thalamus-- structures common to any animal with a brain.

I would say the reason it would never have developed in plants is that they can't move, and thus can't react to stimulus. So perhaps perception of pain is positively correlated with ability to move, capping out at a certain degree of mobility.

Considering pet animals, including dogs, cats, and rodents, have been observed to develop Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome in response to chronic physical abuse, there is no reason at all to assume they can't feel pain.

Lastly, I must point out that Descartes, whatever his contribution to mathematics, was a philosophical clod; his solipsist Cogito being the stuff of the thoughts of so many self-absorbed teens. There is abundant evidence that he thought animals did not feel pain because he believed it said so in the Bible.

Thu, 30 Jun 2011 00:15:59 UTC | #844595

A v2.0's Avatar Comment 3 by A v2.0

Richard, have you walked in the shoes of a lettuce ?

I hope you don't mind me making assumptions here, but I would guess, from your shrill embittered ranting on this subject, that you have not.

Barely a day goes by without having to listen to some atheist espousing his views on vegetables, you will defend to the death the right of a child to be schooled away from religious indoctrination, yet casually dismiss a whole culture, a whole people, as 'salad'.

When kohlrabi died on the board he died for you too Richard.

I will pray for you.

Thu, 30 Jun 2011 00:31:58 UTC | #844597

helen sotiriadis's Avatar Comment 4 by helen sotiriadis

don't some plants respond to stimuli, such as the venus fly trap? or is that purely mechanical?

anyway, mr. spock used his intellect to conquer and control pain... therefore, the more intelligence one has, the less one needs pain. everything you need to know, you can learn from star trek.

Thu, 30 Jun 2011 00:34:42 UTC | #844599

SourTomatoSand's Avatar Comment 5 by SourTomatoSand

Just one more thing I forgot to mention-- in humans, people with congenital insensitivity to pain have significantly decreased life expectancy and are prone to accidents like biting off parts of their tongues or breaking teeth.

The human intellect may be great, but without pain it can't alert you to, say, appendicitis, or any other disease whose primary symptom is pain. Since the "red flag" alert that you, Richard, mentioned, never evolved (or hasn't survived if it did), I would guess (keep in mind I'm not a biologist) that pain must be conserved in humans since there is no other mechanism available to provide warning.

Thu, 30 Jun 2011 00:45:40 UTC | #844601

Angelos333's Avatar Comment 6 by Angelos333

Since we are descended from common ancestors it seems reasonable that our feelings, senses, thought process were evolved in all the creatures before us so wouldn't they feel in similar methods? Some things more acutely others not as developed?

As for treating animals as moral equivalents, It would be nice but unfortunately I like my steak and as long as the reality is out of sight it is out of mind.

Thu, 30 Jun 2011 00:54:41 UTC | #844602

brightthings's Avatar Comment 7 by brightthings

This is great to see. I hope more and more rational thinkers out there will address these issues honestly in the future instead of denying, ignoring or evading them. Too often notions of animal suffering, especially in relation to the meat industry, get dismissed with tangential arguments and excuses by skeptics bent on defending their lifestyles over all else--science on nonhumans or reasoning on ethics so easily fall by the wayside. Animal issues, perhaps more than anything, show how even the proudest rationalists can be as closed-minded and biased as anyone. No doubt we'll see one of the standard, kneejerk cliches in response this article: Oh, Richard, but you are just humanizing animals!

Thu, 30 Jun 2011 01:09:22 UTC | #844606

All About Meme's Avatar Comment 8 by All About Meme

Perhaps there is more than one variety of "pain". This "catch-all" word pain may eventually need to be scientifically characterized in terms of brain activity, similar to the current data being acquired via fMRI research. Maybe there are many different levels or "neural patterns" of pain, each with different implications for the organism.

Personally, I can distinguish between "primal pain" (a toothache, say) and higher-level kinds of "conscious, intellectual" pain (such as losing a job or a loved one). They indeed both "hurt" but in clearly different ways.

I would assume a human being could/would feel a completely different level of pain (i.e. abject terror) at being strapped down to the deck of a ship in preparation for a live dissection -- than a dog or cat would feel. The anticipation of the soon-to-be-arriving primal pain, for instance, which may be generated by (and feed off of) amplified memories of earlier pain, might actually be "worse" than the raw, primal pain itself (due to a sudden wound, say).

In fact, now that I've gone down this road, I'll surmise that it is the ability to consciously anticipate pain that separates us from our less conscious, less intellectual animal brethren.

Hurry up Doc... just hurry the hell up and remove that bullet before I TOTALLY LOSE IT.

Thu, 30 Jun 2011 01:25:46 UTC | #844608

SourTomatoSand's Avatar Comment 9 by SourTomatoSand

Comment 8 by All About Meme :

Those types of pain have already been scientifically characterized as separate: nociception vs. stress response. BOTH are also present in other animal species-- just watch a lion take down a gazelle and see how the gazelle reacts before the lion gets its teeth into it. Both acute and chronic stress responses are observed in other mammals.

Thu, 30 Jun 2011 01:30:10 UTC | #844610

Steve Hanson's Avatar Comment 10 by Steve Hanson

I don't think there has to be any correlation between intellect and pain perception. I might guess at a negative correlation, simple because less intelligent beings might need a bigger incentive not to do something stupid. That's just speculation, and I see no good reason why any correlation should exist at all.

Thu, 30 Jun 2011 01:48:46 UTC | #844618

Alternative Carpark's Avatar Comment 11 by Alternative Carpark

What about the awareness of destruction of bodily integrity? Given the choice between either a week of pain or the amputation of a little finger under local anaesthetic, I would opt for the former hands down. The knowledge that you are now destined to spend the rest of your life disfigured, or inconvenienced, would seem to be harder to bear than transient pain. My pain threshold is pretty high, when I know that it is only “pain” and that I am going to remain in one piece.

Then there is the fear of future pain, based on memories of past pain. Do earthworms even have memory?

The psychological aspect of pain seems, at least to me, to be more important than the physiological. Perhaps this is why we tend to confer more respect to more sentient creatures when it comes to inflicting pain on them.

That said, I do now feel a twinge of remorse about pulling the legs off daddy longlegs (crane fly, for you Americans) in primary school.

Thu, 30 Jun 2011 01:53:16 UTC | #844619

All About Meme's Avatar Comment 12 by All About Meme

Comment 9 by SourTomatoSand

My anticipation of your remark hurt a lot worse than actually reading it.

Thu, 30 Jun 2011 01:58:18 UTC | #844621

silentbutler's Avatar Comment 13 by silentbutler

Young men (and women) regularly engage in the lunacy of sporting events that place them in a direct confrontation with Newton. The prospect of violent injury and its associated pain is scarcely dissuasive. So in that regard, pain itself, or the evolutionary advantage of pain (as a check) is lost on the young. But then perhaps the crucial deterrent effect of pain at this age in a young adults life is simply over ridden by a more crucial need to display ones fitness at the at the risk of pain. After all, those that can live to tell about it get to swap more genes. Doing away with pain entirely, as in the already mentioned CIPA, is another thing all together. The everyday grind of labour (with all its divisions) will take its toll without the risk of injury. Gravity alone will one day rear its ugly head on the disks between my vertebrae (a trade off for walking upright that one day may not seem like much of a bargain). And for any of you who live in a larger populated centre you may have noticed, as I do, that people don't have a lot of common sense. Pedestrians typically get struck at intersections, motorists regularly drive without regard once again to Newton (but this time only to get to work on time while preening themselves - not to score)...no, I think there's still use yet for pain.

Thu, 30 Jun 2011 03:03:57 UTC | #844639

skiles1's Avatar Comment 14 by skiles1

I agree with Professor Dawkins 100%: I can't bear to witness nonhuman animals suffer. Whether they feel less or more pain than we do, I'm not sure. If I had to guess, I would say that nonhuman animals feel pain exactly as we do - they suffer no more and no less.

Thu, 30 Jun 2011 04:22:22 UTC | #844655

vbaculum's Avatar Comment 15 by vbaculum

Comment 7 by brightthings :

This is great to see. I hope more and more rational thinkers out there will address these issues honestly in the future instead of denying, ignoring or evading them. Too often notions of animal suffering, especially in relation to the meat industry, get dismissed with tangential arguments and excuses by skeptics bent on defending their lifestyles over all else--science on nonhumans or reasoning on ethics so easily fall by the wayside. Animal issues, perhaps more than anything, show how even the proudest rationalists can be as closed-minded and biased as anyone. No doubt we'll see one of the standard, kneejerk cliches in response this article: Oh, Richard, but you are just humanizing animals!

I would have said this if I were so eloquent.

Thu, 30 Jun 2011 04:29:55 UTC | #844657

glenister_m's Avatar Comment 16 by glenister_m

I used to work with Cymologous monkeys, and I was struck by their pain tolerance or capacity. Don't worry, it wasn't from anything I did to them (except cleaning their teeth - I would make a terrible dental hygienist), but rather what they did to each other.

If one of the monkeys escaped from its cage, it was usually reluctant to being caught by us and put back in its cage, and would scamper around the room and jump on the other cages. When cornered by us, the escapee would often try to hide on top of another monkey's cage to remain out of our reach. However the monkeys in those cages didn't like another monkey sitting on top of their cage, and would bite the fingers and toes of the escapee. The escapee often lost (parts of) fingers and/or toes when this happened, and would also pull the stitches out after the vets repaired the damage.

I can't imagine many non-lethal situations where I would choose to have my fingers or toes bitten off rather than being caught by someone who regularly fed me treats. I don't have that kind of pain tolerance.

Almost as bad as the Rhesus monkeys which would bite each others tongues off in similar situations...

A counter-anecdote to Richard's question, but we'd need more examples from other species to make any definitive conclusions.

On a related note, why is it that the shorter our lifespan, the less value we seem to assign it. In the past (and in some third world countries), when our lifespan was 30-40, we had horrific tortures and punishments for crimes. Now, with a lifespan of 80+, torture is illegal, punishments are less severe, and capital punishment is relatively rare. I realize there have been changes in philosophy/ethics over time, but the relationship still seems to hold even today.

Thu, 30 Jun 2011 05:12:36 UTC | #844662

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 17 by Peter Grant

Why don't we just genetically engineer animals which don't feel pain or fear?

Thu, 30 Jun 2011 06:05:02 UTC | #844671

Raiko's Avatar Comment 18 by Raiko

I really wouldn't see a causation in lifespan/value correlations so easily because there are so many other factors playing a role - plus, the factors influence each other (being more likely to kill things does reduce the overall lifespan), though I see where you're coming from.

To go back to the original topic, I do not wish to say that all religions value life less than non-religious people - that is way beyond me and some forms of buddhism, for example, show extreme concern for all species.

But by believing in some sort of soul, divine purpose for your species, etc... anyone can set up a trap for themselves. Saying x has a soul (and y doesn't) creates an absolute that is less open to re-evaluation than being always concerned and unsure about the classification and ready to re-evaluate. Plus, usually such absolutes are given on behalf of some divine authority, which renders people even less willing to re-evaluate.

It is therefore more than important that all of us who understand or agree that pain and suffering are not exclusively reserved for intelligent species stress this more than we do at the moment. We do not have to be stupid and run to PETA and declare all pet-holders barbaric, but it is an issue that may not be prominent enough in the everyday world/conversation yet.

In short, more articles like Richard's need to be written to sensitize people for the fact that cattle, birds and anything you hunt for, raise or keep for food, is worthy of a ground level of consideration.

Thu, 30 Jun 2011 06:38:12 UTC | #844681

Raiko's Avatar Comment 19 by Raiko

Comment 17 by Peter Grant :

Why don't we just genetically engineer animals which don't feel pain or fear?

Yeah, it is just that easy. If just all organs were as easy as the brain....

Thu, 30 Jun 2011 06:39:34 UTC | #844682

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 20 by Peter Grant

Comment 19 by Raiko

Yeah, it is just that easy. If just all organs were as easy as the brain....

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congenital_insensitivity_to_pain

Thu, 30 Jun 2011 06:55:22 UTC | #844687

Quine's Avatar Comment 21 by Quine

Peter:

Why don't we just genetically engineer animals which don't feel pain or fear?

As I recall, Douglas Adams worked that out for the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, where you could meet the meat.

Thu, 30 Jun 2011 06:58:51 UTC | #844688

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 22 by Peter Grant

Comment 21 by Quine

As I recall, Douglas Adams worked that out for the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, where you could meet the meat.

That was the first thing I thought of when reading this :D

It would probably be easier to remove existing brain functions than to add new ones though. Do farm animals really need much more than a brain stem?

Thu, 30 Jun 2011 07:09:49 UTC | #844693

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Comment 23 by Richard Dawkins

Comment 17 by Peter Grant :

Why don't we just genetically engineer animals which don't feel pain or fear?

See Douglas Adams reading his own words here in a guest appearance.

Thu, 30 Jun 2011 07:37:08 UTC | #844702

Stafford Gordon's Avatar Comment 24 by Stafford Gordon

I think the difference between humans and other animals apropos of pain is, that our imaginations come into play when we're hurt; indeed, sometimes we anticipate feeling pain as our nervous system plays catch -up with an incident we know is going to hurt like hell in a second, which in a way increases our suffering, but we can't help it.

Of course, I can only speak for myself, and I'm a bit of wimp.

Thu, 30 Jun 2011 07:46:53 UTC | #844705

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 25 by Peter Grant

Comment 23 by Richard Dawkins

See Douglas Adams reading his own words here in a guest appearance.

Thanks Prof, but youtube is blocked where I work, will watch it this evening. I found the text on another site though:

He sat down. The waiter approached. 'Would you like to see the menu?' he said, 'or would you like meet the Dish of the Day?'

'Huh?' said Ford. 'Huh?' said Arthur. 'Huh?' said Trillian. 'That's cool,' said Zaphod, 'we'll meet the meat.'

-- snip --

A large dairy animal approached Zaphod Beeblebrox's table, a large fat meaty quadruped of the bovine type with large watery eyes, small horns and what might almost have been an ingratiating smile on its lips.

'Good evening', it lowed and sat back heavily on its haunches, 'I am the main Dish of the Day. May I interest you in the parts of my body?'

It harrumphed and gurgled a bit, wriggled its hind quarters in to a more comfortable position and gazed peacefully at them.

Its gaze was met by looks of startled bewilderment from Arthur and Trillian, a resigned shrug from Ford Prefect and naked hunger from Zaphod Beeblebrox.

'Something off the shoulder perhaps?' suggested the animal, 'Braised in a white wine sauce?'

'Er, your shoulder?' said Arthur in a horrified whisper.

'But naturally my shoulder, sir,' mooed the animal contentedly, 'nobody else's is mine to offer.'

Zaphod leapt to his feet and started prodding and feeling the animal's shoulder appreciatively.

'Or the rump is very good,' murmured the animal. 'I've been exercising it and eating plenty of grain, so there's a lot of good meat there.'

It gave a mellow grunt, gurgled again and started to chew the cud. It swallowed the cud again.

'Or a casserole of me perhaps?' it added.

'You mean this animal actually wants us to eat it?' whispered Trillian to Ford.

'Me?' said Ford, with a glazed look in his eyes, 'I don't mean anything.'

'That's absolutely horrible,' exclaimed Arthur, 'the most revolting thing I've ever heard.'

'What's the problem Earthman?' said Zaphod, now transfering his attention to the animal's enormous rump.

'I just don't want to eat an animal that's standing there inviting me to,' said Arthur, 'It's heartless.'

'Better than eating an animal that doesn't want to be eaten,' said Zaphod.

'That's not the point,' Arthur protested. Then he thought about it for a moment. 'Alright,' he said, 'maybe it is the point. I don't care, I'm not going to think about it now. I'll just ... er ... I think I'll just have a green salad,' he muttered.

May I urge you to consider my liver?' asked the animal, 'it must be very rich and tender by now, I've been force-feeding myself for months.'

'A green salad,' said Arthur emphatically.

'A green salad?' said the animal, rolling his eyes disapprovingly at Arthur.

'Are you going to tell me,' said Arthur, 'that I shouldn't have green salad?'

'Well,' said the animal, 'I know many vegetables that are very clear on that point. Which is why it was eventually decided to cut through the whole tangled problem and breed an animal that actually wanted to be eaten and was capable of saying so clearly and distinctly. And here I am.'

It managed a very slight bow.

'Glass of water please,' said Arthur.

'Look,' said Zap hod, 'we want to eat, we don't want to make a meal of the issues. Four rare stakes please, and hurry. We haven't eaten in five hundred and seventy-six thousand million years.'

The animal staggered to its feet. It gave a mellow gurgle. 'A very wise coice, sir, if I may say so. Very good,' it said, 'I'll just nip off and shoot myself.'

He turned and gave a friendly wink to Arthur. 'Don't worry, sir,' he said, 'I'll be very humane.'

It waddled unhurriedly off to the kitchen.

From the book "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe" by Douglas Adams

I'm a huge Douglas Adams fan and have read all his books and listened to and watched all his other stuff many times. The above, though hilariously funny, still doesn't answer my question: Why don't we breed or genetically engineer animals which don't feel pain?

Thu, 30 Jun 2011 08:32:20 UTC | #844722

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 26 by Cartomancer

If there is any kind of correlation, either way, between intelligence and the ability to feel pain, then why should it only be apparent between species, and not between individuals within them? Surely a good test for this would be to compare the ability to feel pain in humans with their IQ or some other measure of intelligence? That way you can rule out the variables of significant physical differences in the nervous system as a factor.

Would Einstein suffer more than Sarah Palin?

Thu, 30 Jun 2011 08:45:56 UTC | #844724

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 27 by Peter Grant

Comment 26 by Cartomancer

Would Einstein suffer more than Sarah Palin?

Pain is not the only form of suffering. Higher animals experience emotional suffering as well as ordinary pain. Einstein, a rather sensitive fellow, was probably capable of experiencing far greater suffering.

Thu, 30 Jun 2011 08:58:52 UTC | #844729

Jiten's Avatar Comment 28 by Jiten

It is an interesting question, incidentally, why pain has to be so damned painful. Why not equip the brain with the equivalent of a little red flag, painlessly raised to warn, “Don’t do that again”?

Perhaps pain has to be painful so that we will not ignore it. For example, we know that alcohol harms us and we should not over do it but despite knowing this we do overdo it occasionally.

Thu, 30 Jun 2011 10:20:02 UTC | #844747

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Comment 29 by Richard Dawkins

Would Einstein suffer more than Sarah Palin?

I treasure the scene where Crocodile Dundee poses as a kangaroo with a gun and scares the daylights out of a gang of whooping roo-hunting larrikins. In my dreams I see a moose or a bear dealing with Sarah Palin and wiping the smile off her stupid face.

Richard

Thu, 30 Jun 2011 10:32:32 UTC | #844751

andersemil's Avatar Comment 30 by andersemil

Most of us nowadays believe that dogs and other non-human mammals can feel pain

This is perhaps the one thing that I find hardest to understand about some people; I simply cannot comprehend how a person could think that an animal doesn't feel pain! Or that you would have to have some separate, transcending soul in order to "really" feel pain.

Thu, 30 Jun 2011 10:41:27 UTC | #844757