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Aug 30 2013

Friday Cephalopod: The virtues of a distributed nervous system

octopus-arms

The bulk of an octopus’s nervous system is not in its brain, but its arms. So scientists have studied isolated octopus arms and found that they retain substantial responsiveness to the environment.

It’s depressing. I love eating big molluscs, but I’ve had to cut them out of my diet because there is just too much intelligence there. I’m going to have to cut out pork, too. Chickens are OK? Well, I’m cutting back there, too.

24 comments

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  1. 1
    Sili

    Apropos.

  2. 2
    Pierce R. Butler

    You’re too alive to want to eat (animals with) brainz?

    Mutton!

  3. 3
    slatham

    Cut back on all that meat. I’m not suggesting to cut it all out. Just cut it back. Maybe they’ll have in vitro cephalopod soon (grown without all the neurons).

  4. 4
    kevinalexander

    If it’s better to have lived and lost than never to have lived at all then consider that a farmed animal would never have been born if it wasn’t going to be eaten. Even supposedly free animals in the wild still end up eaten and not humanely killed but ripped apart while still alive.
    Consider also that farmed animals probably have a longer life span than wild ones who mostly get eaten while they are still babies.

  5. 5
    rturpin

    Come on, PZ. Life under the surface is nothing but animals happily chewing on each other. Cephalopods use their beaks to rip apart fish and echinoderms. Alive. Fish eat each other with merry abandon. As do lobsters and crabs. Many species will happily much on their brethren. Literally.

    That reminds me — I’m supposed to pick up trout for dinner.

  6. 6
    John Horstman

    @4:

    If it’s better to have lived and lost than never to have lived at all…

    The phrase is “loved and lost”, probably because “lived and lost” simply isn’t true. Existence is not better than non-existence under any and all conditions – that’s why some people kill themselves. The assertion (and internalized belief in many cases) that existence is categorically better than non-existence functions to help keep oppressed people toiling away in otherwise-intolerable servitude. A lot like most religion.

  7. 7
    AlexanderZ

    Make sure to eat lots of cows, though. I’ve been attacked by them multiple times and wish only to see them eat like the bovine scum that they are.

  8. 8
    Holms

    If your metric of which meats are fair game is their intellect, then yes chickens are a very safe bet, along with fish and probably most shellfish. That said, I’m not disagree with the idea that tactile response is remotely the same as intelligence at all.

  9. 9
    =8)-DX

    @John Horstman

    The assertion [..] that existence is categorically better than non-existence functions to help keep oppressed people toiling away in otherwise-intolerable servitude.

    But, but… how could that be possible! I thought existence was a great-making property!

  10. 10
    scourge99

    I think there is a qualitative difference between organisms that can:
    1) experience pain
    2) experience pain and possess the ability to self-reflect upon that pain

    For example, if i program my computer to say “ow” when i kick it, does that mean i should now consider the ethics of harming my computer?

    I think there is an important difference between organisms which can self reflect and those which cannot. I think our moral considerations are necessarily only concerned with organisms that can self reflect.

    The ability to self reflect probably isn’t easily identifiable. And it probably emerges on a continuum as opposed to some distinct point. So i suppose one could argue that molluscs are self-reflecting to some degree and thus qualify for moral considerations. I just don’t agree with the notion that something “seems really smart” therefore we should consider the morality of harming it.

  11. 11
    A. R

    There is a difference between intelligence and sentience, there is a difference between sentience and sapience, just as there is a difference between sentience having the potential for sapience, and sentience lacking that potential.

  12. 12
    dysomniak "They are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred!"

    How about a human with sever developmental disability? A non-verbal autistic? Are they exempt from moral consideration? How about infants?

  13. 13
    scourge99

    How about a human with sever developmental disability?

    That would depend on the disability. If a human was born without any brain but a brainstem, i think we wouldn’t consider him a person. Same with people that are braindead from some type of accident.

    A non-verbal autistic?

    I don’t see what a lack of language expression has to do with self-reflection. Seems like a non-sequitur.

    Are they exempt from moral
    consideration?

    I’m discussing one requirement for moral consideration. I’m not claiming it is the only requirement.

    How about infants?

    That’s a fundamentally different aspect of the discussion which revolves around the question of potential rather than capability. For example, women’s bodily rights aside, is it ok to kill a zygote or fetus if it otherwise would develop into a person who would (presumably) after they mature, prefer to be alive rather than dead?
    Or, what about someone in a coma?

    Its a tangent that distracts from the point at hand.

  14. 14
    jenndyer

    I love eating big molluscs, but I’ve had to cut them out of my diet because there is just too much intelligence there. I’m going to have to cut out pork, too. Chickens are OK? Well, I’m cutting back there, too.

    Yay! It’s good when people question their cultural assumptions and try to do better because they feel what they’ve always done may not be right.

  15. 15
    Ouabache

    The good news is that turkeys are stupid and ugly so no one should ever feel bad for eating one.

  16. 16
    Inaji

    Ouabache:

    The good news is that turkeys are stupid and ugly so no one should ever feel bad for eating one.

    I get the feeling you’ve never been around wild turkeys.

  17. 17
    Inaji

    I think there is an important difference between organisms which can self reflect and those which cannot. I think our moral considerations are necessarily only concerned with organisms that can self reflect.

    Speak for yourself, dipstick. I’m not seeing much capacity for self reflection in you.

  18. 18
    kittehserf

    Hell, didn’t Jeremy Bentham make all this clear some two centuries ago?

    “What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason or perhaps the faculty of discourse? But a full-grown horse or dog, is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day or a week or even a month, old. But suppose the case were otherwise, what would it avail? The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?

    Being able to reflect on pain as a distinguishing line sounds like it’s saying it’s fine dandy to stick pins in insects or pull off flies’ wings. They can’t reflect on any pain they feel, so it must be okay!

  19. 19
    Holms

    Speak for yourself, dipstick. I’m not seeing much capacity for self reflection in you.

    “I disagree with your point, therefore [insult].”

    …Well reasoned!

  20. 20
    playonwords

    There are losts of choices out there – L’escargot, locusts, mealworms, lobsters, crab, shrimp, langustine, zebra fish …

    … well maybe not zebra fish

  21. 21
    Alyosha

    In all honesty, ethically-obtained human flesh (that is donated for the sole purpose of being consumed) is something I might partake of if only to be able to say once and for all which other meats are close analogues. As for large molluscs, eating them is a mammalian duty performed in solidarity with our cetacean friends.

  22. 22
    anuran

    I used to eat octopus. The more I interacted with them while diving the less I could.

  23. 23
    rnilsson

    So, maybe become an ichtyofage, PZ? (Oh, right. Hmm.)
    Or how about turning into a “vägra-äta-en-gran”?
    That should put a limit on your body bulk! ;-)
    Or, maybe if the food just be boiled first, to de-sensitize it? (It-izing it, as it were.)
    (Sh’t, I’m channeling Silence of the Lambs)

  24. 24
    scourge99

    Hell, didn’t Jeremy Bentham make all this clear some two centuries ago?

    “What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason or perhaps the faculty of discourse? But a full-grown horse or dog, is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day or a week or even a month, old. But suppose the case were otherwise, what would it avail? The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?”

    Does my computer “suffer” when i kick it if i program it to say “ow” in response to certain stimuli?

    I am challenging the notion that suffering can even occur in organisms which lack self awareness. That is, what does it mean to “suffer” if the thing “suffering” has no concept of self?

    Being able to reflect on pain as a distinguishing line sounds like it’s saying it’s fine dandy to stick pins in insects or pull off flies’ wings. They can’t reflect on any pain they feel, so it must be okay!

    Its not about what the thing is. This isn’t as “specie’ism” argument. Its an argument based on cognitive capability. E.G., if a rock suddenly becomes self-aware, i would argue that it would be immoral to harm it. but as far as i know, flies and insects don’t have nearly a complex enough nervous system where we even have to consider the question of their suffering.

    Its very unclear where exactly you draw the line and why you do so. Do you worry about washing your hands with soap for fear of making bacteria and other tiny organisms suffer? You seem overly worried about the “suffering” of flys and insects so why stop there?

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