How animals feel pain

On Saturday, I wrote this bit about whether animals feel pain, and I said then I’d follow up that day or the next. I didn’t! I’ve been doped up on painkillers and my brain is all soft around the edges. I finally decided to give up on them this morning when I woke up, had breakfast, and then fell asleep for a couple of hours. Enough already. Now I have to recover from some potent drugs as well as my back pain.

Anyway, where were we? Oh, right, we had taken down William Lane Craig’s argument that humans (and maybe some other primates) are the only creatures on the planet that actually feel pain, that other animals are mere meat robots who act out a superficial script that looks like they are in pain, but really, they have no consciousness to experience the pain.

I don’t think he is making this argument to warrant or excuse animal torture, but rather he’s trying to justify human exceptionalism. See, humans have this special god-granted ability to perceive suffering and pain, which is why we have souls and animals don’t, and why we have to worry about that Final Judgment, since we can sense and appreciate the harm we do to others. At least, that’s my charitable assessment.

Curiously, in order to make this argument, Craig feels a need for some scientific backing, some recognizable neuroanatomical feature that shows humans are special. I don’t get it. He already believes in something invisible and intangible, the soul, so why not just say humans posess an invisible magical flimflam that the scientists can’t see or experiment on, neener neener, therefore humans are unique in having a conscience or ghost or pneuma that gives them the abilty to really truly deeply feel pain and suffering?

Often the physical substrate for feeling pain is determined in a backwards sort of way: we find some feature of the human brain that is only found in us, or is more pronounced in us, and we decide that, aha, that must be where this higher ability resides. Some of the common culprits are our enlarged pre-frontal cortex (PFC) or more narrowly, the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). The ACC was a favorite of Francis Crick, for instance, who thought that not only was it the seat of awareness, but also of free will (I think free will is a non-existent phenomenon that makes no sense, but I’ll defer on discussing that to another time).

I don’t think the hypothesis is far out of line — there is evidence that lesions in this area do cause sensations of dissociation, and it is entangled in a lot of higher brain functions. But on the other hand, other animals have these structures, so how do you use this phenomenon to make humans exceptional? You can’t.

This leads me to an article in a journal called Philosophical Psychology, Against Neo-Cartesianism: Neurofunctional Resilience and Animal Pain by Halper et al.. Mixing philosophy with psychology and throwing in a lot of ethology and neuroscience sounds like a potent way to address the issue, don’t you think? Especially with a feisty abstract like this one:

ABSTRACT: Several influential philosophers and scientists have advanced a framework, often called Neo-Cartesianism (NC), according to which animal suffering is merely apparent. Drawing upon contemporary neuroscience and philosophy of mind, NeoCartesians challenge the mainstream position we shall call Evolutionary Continuity (EC), the view that humans are on a non-hierarchical continuum with other species and are thus not likely to be unique in consciously experiencing negative pain affect. We argue that some Neo-Cartesians have misconstrued the underlying science or tendentiously appropriated controversial views in the philosophy of mind. We discuss recent evidence that undermines the simple neuroanatomical structure-function correlation thesis that undergirds many Neo-Cartesian arguments, has an important bearing on the recent controversy over pain in fish, and puts the underlying epistemology framing the debate between NC and EC in a new light that strengthens the EC position.

In one corner, the Neo-Cartesians like William Lane Craig (there are also secular philosophers who like this idea).

In the other corner, the Evolutionary Continuity camp, which I would happily attach myself to, which argues for “a non-hierarchical continuum with other species and are thus not likely to be unique”. Yay Team EC!

The paper quickly dispatches part of the argument. All mammals have a prefrontal cortex, although the human PFC is relatively larger. So now you’re going to have to argue, if you think the PFC is the seat of awareness, that a quantitative difference leads to a qualitative change, and you’re also going to have the problem of a continuum of PFC sizes. Where do you draw the line?

Well, maybe it’s the anterior cingulate cortex, rather than the whole PFC, that matters. They have a case study that refutes that. Patient R is a man whose brain was devastated by herpes simplex encephalitis, yet survived with normal intelligence and anterograde amnesia (loss of the ability to form new memories). Most importantly to this point, he has retained full self-awareness.

Patient R, aka Roger (Philippi et al. 2012), provides us with a novel angle for assessing certain versions of the NC hypothesis. Roger has extensive damage to his PFC as well as his ACC and insula, bilaterally. He has been probed for self-awareness (SA) in numerous ways, some standard, some novel with positive results for all probes. The authors of the 2012 study concluded that SA is likely a function of the interaction of multiple brain regions, with some redundancy, rather than dependent upon one particular region.8 Roger’s case, like others described in the literature (Damasio et al. 2013), seems to demonstrate fairly conclusively that the PFC, the ACC, and the insula are not needed for SA, including SA of a fairly sophisticated sort, a sort we need not presume animals to have to make our case here.

Patient R also has a normal physical and emotional response to pain — if anything, he now reacts more strongly.

So now if you want to argue for a discrete localization of self-awareness in the brain, you’re either going to have to pick a different brain region or claim that Patient R is a p-zombie. Or, perhaps, that the brain has a lot more flexibility than was thought. I like this last idea, but then, that makes the pursuit of a feature unique to humans futile.

Further, these cases suggest an alternative to the rigid structure-function correlation thesis. Resilience of function following brain damage suggests the existence of degrees of freedom in the relationships between certain functions and neuroanatomical structures (Rudrauf, 2014). Anatomical regions and networks normally supporting central psychological functions (like the emotional appraisal of pain) may simply be the usual defaults. In patients such as Roger, functional resilience after such extensive and irreversible anatomical damage cannot be explained by structural plasticity, in the sense of anatomical restoration or large-scale “rewiring” (e.g., dendritic sprouting and axon regeneration) to restore structural connectivity. Large-scale functional networks supporting key psychological functions, however, can be maintained or restored even when the integrity of normal anatomical networks is massively and irremediably compromised.

This suggests that a different concept of flexibility is more apt, namely what Rudrauf (2014) has called “neurofunctional resilience”. This concept is based on the phenomenon of preserved function in spite of large-scale architectural changes, is not limited to one specific class of mechanisms or levels of observation, and indicates a relative openness in implementation at various levels of a functional hierarchy. The neurofunctional resilience framework, while in need of elaboration and refinement, makes more sense of lesion cases like Roger’s, observed variation in structure-function relationships in imaging studies, interspecific structure-function variations, the relative unimportance of lesion locales versus lesion size vis-à-vis functional deficits in the developing brain (Pascual, 2017, 5; Battro, 2000), and better fits general theoretical considerations about multiple realizability drawn from computational neuroscience. In realizing that a crude, “phrenological” localizationist structure-function paradigm (even one incorporating plasticity) is unable to account for these observable phenomena, one need not, of course, embrace the old holistic, “equipotentiality” theories of brain function (see Finger, 1994, ch., p. 4). A new, subtler approach is needed.

My first thought would have been that Patient R is an amazing example of neuronal plasticity, but the author is right: this is something more impressive. Big chunks of the brain are just gone; minor self-repair mechanisms, like neurons regrowing around a damaged pathway, are not sufficient. This is as if your car had the electronic engine timing system blown off, so the wires were rerouted to make use of circuits in your car radio instead. Be impressed! Brains seem to have a biological imperative to assemble themselves into some kind of cognitively functional structure, in spite of massive damage.

But never mind human brains — they’re too complicated, and you can’t do experiments on them. What about fish brains? Do they feel pain? And what about cephalopods?

As Godfrey-Smith (2016, 94 f.) notes, flexible behaviors and preference changes related to pain avoidance and analgesia-seeking (observed in both fish and chickens) in entirely evolutionarily novel situations and perhaps certain grooming and protecting behaviors associated with bodily damage are arguably best explained in terms of the presence of consciously experienced negative pain affect. And when one considers the overall behavioral, affective, and cognitive repertoire of, for example, cephalopods, as Godfrey-Smith does at length, the notion that such an animal, whose nervous system is so different from ours, does what it does in the absence of consciousness begins to look implausible and continued commitment to it perversely skeptical.

It seems more reasonable to follow the approach of Segner (2012, p. 78) who, in considering fish pain, looks at seven relevant properties: (1) nociceptors, (2) pain related brain structures homologous or analogous to those found in humans, (3) pathways connecting peripheral nociceptors to higher brain regions, (4) endogenous opioids and opioid receptors in the CNS, (5) analgesic-mediated reduction of response to noxious stimuli, (6) complex forms of learning, including avoidance learning of noxious stimuli, and (7) suspension of normal behavior in response to noxious stimuli. Humans and fish, Segner concludes, unequivocally share all but item (2), which is partially shared: we share subcortical structures with fish but not the neocortical structures. However, given the evidence reviewed in this section, it is clear that the neocortical structures commonly thought to be necessary for pain affect are not required in any case (cf., Merker, 2007; Ginsburg & Jablonka, 2019) Surely the other similarities are sufficient to make reasonable the inference to the presence of consciously felt fish pain (cf., Tye, 2017, 91ff.). For mammals, as we have seen, all of these similarities are in place.

That “phrenological” approach doesn’t work well for fish, and even less well for cephalopods which have virtually no homology with our brains. Those seven criteria are a useful rubric for figuring out if a given brain can be aware or feel pain, and like the authors say fish meet all of the criteria except #2, having homologous pain-related brain structures. But we also just saw that Patient R fails to have homologous pain related structures. It would be strange to then assert that an organism that has the other six features would have failed, in its evolutionary history, to have incorporated them into an integrated pain awareness system.

Segner codifies the basic analogy argument for the presence of negative affect in animals that goes beyond the one we all spontaneously draw from our admittedly fallible raw intuitions. On our view, this basic analogy argument coupled with the considerations about neurofunctional resilience (and evolutionary analogies) we have adduced yield a reasonably high probability for the claim that negative pain affect is present in mammals, avians, fish, and cephalopods. Even if we are mistaken about the latter three, however, these considerations make the claim that it is present in mammals so probable that the more ambitious NC thesis of M. Murray and W.L. Craig is cast into nearly insurmountable doubt.

The paper goes on to discuss in detail the specific question of whether fish feel pain (short answer: yes), cetaceans, the issue of blindsight, and much more briefly, consciousness, which would require a stack of books to consider. I’ll stop here, though, disappointed that nowhere does the paper discuss spider pain, or any invertebrates other than cephalopods. Invertebrates are so alien and distantly removed from us that it is nearly impossible to discern a pain affect in them, but they also meet 6 of the 7 Segner criteria. The pain pathways in vertebrate and invertebrate systems also show homology at the molecular level, and it’s possible to see similarites across many phyla.

Maybe that’s for a different day. I’ve been having a fun time lately diving into an area I’ve neglected for a while, developmental neuroscience, and maybe I’ll be motivated to tell you all why you should be kind to bugs, because they have feelings, too, and maybe even experience suffering.

100 years ago today

A violent mob of white people descended on a community of black people in Tulsa, Oklahoma with the conscious intent of destroying them. The Tulsa police organized and aided them. The Tulsa Race Massacre had begun.

Fearing that the lynching of Dick Rowland was imminent, a small, armed contingent of Black men, some of whom had served in World War I, came to the courthouse around 9:00 p.m. to offer the authorities their assistance. They left upon being promised that no harm would come to Rowland, but their brief presence further enraged the growing white mob. By 9:30 there were almost two thousand angry whites milling around outside the courthouse, many with guns, and the county sheriff was preparing his deputies to make a stand should the building be attacked. When a second, larger group of Black men arrived in hopes of helping to protect Rowland, they were again told that their services were not needed. This time, however, a white bystander, perhaps angered by the sight of Black men carrying weapons, attempted to take the gun of a Black veteran who was walking away with the rest of the group. As the men struggled, one of their guns went off. In the chaos of the moment, armed whites began shooting indiscriminately at the retreating Black men, some of whom shot back. In that first quick interchange of gunfire, twenty people were killed or wounded. The Black men hastily left the scene, but they were followed by armed whites, who engaged them in further gunfire on Fourth Street and then on Cincinnati Avenue, resulting in additional casualties. That initial pursuit ended when what was left of the group of Black men made it across the tracks of the Saint Louis–San Francisco Railway (popularly known as the Frisco Railroad), the demarcation line between white Tulsa and Black Tulsa.

Believing that the armed Blacks had instigated the firefight, Tulsa authorities joined forces with the enraged white civilians who had been at the courthouse, and together they set out to put down the “negro uprising”. Tulsa police haphazardly appointed between 250 and 500 white men (and even white youth) as “special deputies”, granting them the authority to arrest as well as shoot and kill Black people whom they viewed as in rebellion against white Tulsans. According to one eyewitness and participant in the massacre, the deputized whites were specifically told to “get a gun and get a nigger”. When a group of Black men gathered north of the Frisco tracks, forming a defensive wall to prevent the swelling white mob from crossing en masse into Black Tulsa, they were violently confronted around midnight by the Tulsa police, the local unit of the Oklahoma National Guard, and the hastily assembled contingent of armed “deputies”. Whites who had already made it into the Black community were now shooting randomly through windows and setting homes and businesses on fire. In at least a few cases, Blacks were deliberately murdered, including an elderly couple who were gunned down inside their home. The most destructive and perhaps deadliest race massacre in American history had begun, and it would continue unabated for approximately twelve hours. By noon on June 1, by one contemporaneous estimate, as many as three hundred people had been killed, and Greenwood’s business district, as well as more than one thousand Black residences, lay in ashes.

The vast majority of contemporaneous press coverage, official reports, and subsequent histories refer to the events of May 31 and June 1, 1921, as the “Tulsa Race Riot”. To be sure, since the middle of the nineteenth century, “race riot” has been the generic term used to describe outbreaks of violence between different racial or ethnic groups. In the past five years, however, there has been a growing consensus within the news media and the general public around “race massacre” as the more appropriate descriptor, which is part of a larger effort to tell the story of what occurred from the vantage point of the Black victims and survivors. The Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission (2015–present), headed by Oklahoma state senator Kevin Matthews, is to be applauded for its leadership in initiating the conversation about how the events can be most accurately framed. I believe the shift in terminology from “race riot” to “race massacre” is a necessary and timely corrective.

First and foremost, the word “massacre” better captures what actually occurred. Had the Black community been able to keep the white invaders from entering the Greenwood District, or had the violence subsided that same night, the term “riot” might be more apt. The following morning, however, white civilians and authorities banded together to launch a systematic assault on Black people and property, and that coordinated incursion places the subsequent events squarely in the realm of a massacre.

According to testimony from both Black and white eyewitnesses, by daybreak on June 1, several thousand armed whites had amassed in various locations along the southern border of the Greenwood District. At approximately 5:00 a.m., a whistle or siren was sounded as a signal for the invasion to begin. As the white mob stormed into Greenwood, a machine gun that had been set up atop a grain elevator sprayed bullets into Black homes, businesses, and churches along Greenwood Avenue. Airplanes flew overhead, from which whites reportedly fired pistols and shotguns (and even dropped rudimentary explosives) down at Blacks fleeing the violence.

Once in Greenwood, the invading whites, civilians as well as authorities, reportedly shot and killed any Black person who was found to be armed or who did not immediately surrender, including some who were simply attempting to flee from the violence. Faced with this overwhelming show of force, Black Tulsans reluctantly emerged from their homes, surrendered whatever weapons they possessed, and were taken into custody. They were transported to temporary detention centers — at Convention Hall until it was full, and then to McNulty Park and the fairgrounds — where they were held until they were able to get a white person to vouch for them. There is no evidence that any of the whites involved in the mob violence were detained by authorities, let alone arrested.

They made postcards of the event, photographing dead bodies in the street and the smoking wreckage of the community. This event, and the willful blindness of the white people, the textbooks, and the law that followed it, are part of our shameful history. You can’t teach the history of the United States without acknowledging the disgraceful racism that befouls it from the very beginning.

Islamic apologist triumphs by revising history!

You could have guessed that this would be coming. I had a discussion/debate with some Muslim creationists a few months ago; they tried to convince me that somehow the Qu’ran is free of error and that the trivial bit of embryology in their holy book was just fine, that Mohammed got everything right. They did not convince me. As I said repeatedly, the two sentences in the Qu’ran that describe the sequence of events in human development was so shallow and vague to be useless, and that their idea that development begins with bones that are subsequently covered with flesh is incorrect. You know, this bit:

We created man from an essence of clay, then We placed him as a drop of fluid in a safe place. Then We made that drop of fluid into a clinging form, and then We made that form into a lump of flesh, and We made that lump into bones, and We clothed those bones with flesh, and later We made him into other forms. Glory be to God the best of creators.

Do we really need to go around and around on this subject? The Qu’ran is not a biology textbook. It has a few terse and biologically inadequate lines early human embryology, yet some Muslims try to claim the book was presciently aware of the conclusions of modern science. It wasn’t. The author was simply dimly aware of ideas that were common in the 8th century. If you think your faith is dependent on the deep factual nature of those few sentences, your faith is in trouble.

Well looky here, though. One of the guys in that discussion, Nadir Ahmed, came out with a video today that puts words in my mouth and tries to distort my position. It’s titled “PZ Myers set the record straight – NO scientific error in the Quran”.

Somehow, my agreeing that Mohammed was as correct about embryology as Galen is an admission that the Qu’ran is scientifically accurate. And even more, that I was wrong before, and have now wised up enough to agree with Islamic creationist position! Mr Ahmed says:

They now need to revise their position. They need to be honest with people, and they need to say PZ Myer no longer holds this position, that the Qu’ran is in error with science with regards to flesh and bones being created at the same time. But something tells me that those people who spun this information, they’re not going to do that.

That is incorrect. I will still say the the Qu’ran is in error scientifically. I left a comment saying so.

You are incorrect. The Qu’ran is wrong, as was Galen and Aristotle.
The story in the verse is simply warmed over Galen/Aristotle, diluted to the point of meaninglessness.

I still hold the position that Qu’ran is in error, so it’s rather dishonest of you to claim I’ve changed my mind.

If you’d like to quote me as saying “The Qu’ran contains scientific inaccuracies,” feel free to do so. If you want to “quote” me as saying “I no longer believe the Qu’ran is wrong about human development”, well, you’re just a damned liar.

So Ahmed emailed me asking for a clarification.

Hi PZ –
I just read your comment on my video.
I have temporarily removed it till I
can get some clarification from you.

You mentioned you still believe there
is a error in the Quran, but you never
explained what is that error.

Can you please let us know?

My reply:

My views have not changed since I wrote this:
The qu’ran is simply a vague echo of ideas that were common during Mohammed’s lifetime, and they are even fuzzier and less specific than something directly from Aristotle or Galen. The only thing different is that now you’re claiming that the chronology, the sequence of “We made” statements, is not a chronology at all. If anyone has changed their mind, it’s you trying to modify your interpretation of the Qu’ran to fit modern conceptions.

I should have added, though, that if he wants to argue that there is no chronology implied in the verse, that my comment in the previous video that the idea of a progression of changes in human development was one positive interpretation, well then, I was wrong about that. Apparently the Qu’ran argues that embryos were poofed into existence with bones fully clothed in muscle, which is also wrong.

Ahmed wrote back:

Thank you for the clarification. Let’s work together to fix this.

I will concede to your point that we should not modify our interpretations to
fit modern conceptions. Therefore I will not claim this verse predicts modern
scientific fact… and inform others.

I will concede to your point that the verse is to vague and ambiguous to even
make such a claim. That being said, it is also to vague and ambiguous to
claim error with documented scientific fact.

Sounds good to you?

I’d rather not have my name used in Islamic propaganda.

No. I’d rather you simply did not use my name to promote the accuracy of a medieval book. The Qu’ran is lacking in any insight that you might use to justify any divine input into its words.

I gave him the last word.

Of course, your name can only be used to discredit the medieval book, as it has all over the internet.
This will conflict with your polemical aspirations. The problem here is that you wear 2 hats –
one as a scientist and one as a Atheist polemicist.

I have conceded a lot to you, more so than my Muslim apologist job allows me to.
My concessions will allow devout believers to start to envisioning a human origin of the Quran.

Now, I need to push back a little. The video posted does not promote Islamic apologetics –
I conceded your borrowing views to be very possible, and I did not defend the miracle claim.

I will repost the video, and I will delete your comment because I do not want to trigger a back and forth debate with you
on this contradiction – a verse deemed to be too vague and ambiguous to describe modern scientific fact,
is now being used to absolutely contradict modern science. Please also keep in mind, for any scientific error claim, we are demanding
peer reviewed scientific literature to back up the scientific claim, failure to do so, will be viewed as pseudoscience.

This will catch the eyes of others – keep in mind, if you walk in a mosque and ask why the Quran
contradicts science, the Imam will snugly reply those people try to find vague and ambiguous verses
and try to create a controversy. Now those Imams have firm confirmation.

I can’t quite imagine myself walking into a mosque to demand scientific answers — as I’ve said a few times now, they won’t be able to provide them. I’ll also point out that my original commentary on Islamic embryology was not in a mosque, but outside a hotel in Dublin (where they did have Guinness on tap, which I suppose does make it a kind of holy place), and that the only people trying to create controversy were the iERA evangelists who were confronting me. I was just answering their questions.

I am now wondering how many of the “quotes” from Dr Keith L. Moore that professed a respect for the science in the Qu’ran were made up or distorted by the apologists, since they’ll even tell me to my face that I made concessions to the Qu’ran that I simply did not and do not do. I now have firm confirmation that Islamic creationists will freely lie, after all.

Leni & L.Ron?

What a weird story, yet somehow unsurprising. L. Ron Hubbard and Leni Riefenstahl worked together on a movie script. It never got made, but just imagine Battlefield Earth shot by a master cinematographer — somehow, I think it would make the story even worse.

They weren’t working on a cheesy skiffy, though: the story was one that Riefenstahl had previously made a movie of in the 1930s, The Blue Light (you can watch the whole thing), and it reads as though most, if not all, of it was from Riefenstahl. She might have been good with a camera, but she seems to have been suckered into one cult, Naziism, and hopped over to another, scientology. Although her dalliance with a notorious scientologist didn’t last long.

Do animals feel pain?

I’ve been thinking about pain, a litte bit, lately. It’s an interesting question, whether humans are unique in their perception of pain compared to other animals, and I used to have to deal with it fairly frequently because, for a few years, I specifically studied sensory pathways in fish. Even larval fish are surrounded with a tight mesh of sensory processes, with a substantial spinal pathway that shuttles information up the fish’s brain, and so when some local fisherman asks if fish feel pain when they’re hooked, I’d answer “You betcha. Lots of sensory fibers in the face and jaws of fish.”

But then someone would come along and tell me no, they don’t. Pain needs a consciousness to be felt, so while we may rip and tear neurons that mediate the peripheral sensation of pain, they aren’t aware of a feeling of pain. They’re just meat robots.

I’d usually give up at this point, because my next argument would be, “But then, humans are just meat robots. Do you deny that humans feel true pain?” And then we’re off into philosophy and I’d rather talk about neurons.

Recently I learned that one (actually, several luminaries) have been arguing that other animals don’t feel pain. It’s a rather bizarre argument, made to justify inflicting pain on animals rather than a sincere attempt to argue from the evidence, and it’s from…William Lane Craig! People take him seriously? I guess so.

Anyway, Craig is troubled by a theological problem. Do animals feel pain? But why? Were they subject to problems cause by The Fall? But the bunnies and the fishies didn’t nibble on the apple, so why would a just god make them suffer for Eve’s mistake?

Craig proposes a few explanations. The first I’ll mention and dismiss because it is stupid.

…we must consider this question: “What is the supposed connection between Adam’s Fall and animal pain?” A number of answers have been proposed. But they all boil down to roughly one of two explanations: either (1) by sinning Adam and his ancestors surrendered their role as stewards of the animals and thereby surrendered them to the wiles of nature, or (2) the very act of Adam’s sin sent shock waves through creation that transformed animals, which formerly could not feel pain, into pain wracked predators and prey. In either case, however, it is hard to see why God would have made the integrity and well-being of nature, and of the innocent creatures in it, susceptible to the faithful obedience of humans (an obedience God knew they would not sustain). Why was nature made so very fragile in this way? Is not that fragility itself a defect (or evil) in creation?

Just so you know, Craig is an old earth creationist, although to be honest, I don’t think he thinks about the chronology very deeply. So according his reasoning here, until humans defied god and ate some fruit, an event that happened sometime in the last hundred thousand years, all animals lived in peaceful coexistence, and there was no pain in the world until that relatively recent sin turned them into “pain wracked predators and prey”. That implies that there were no predators and prey for the first four billion years plus of the Earth, and that everything was just snuggle-bunnies during the Cretaceous, but I’ll just punt on this argument because, like I said, Craig doesn’t think very deeply about his explanations, doesn’t understand biology or ecology (were there no food webs in the Garden of Eden?), and would probably happily ditch this entire line of argumentation as it got him deeper and deeper into trouble.

He’s also taking as his premise the idea that nature was purposefully created by a benevolent god, and that by golly, god wouldn’t be so mean as to intentionally inflict the ability to suffer on his creation. I don’t see any reason to accept that; why not instead assume a malevolent god who made sure Adam had creature-victims he could torment and make squeal and squirm? A lot of what his god does seems to be all about causing agony, they needed to be able to feel pain for him to have any fun.

The more interesting argument he makes is this one:

A second (though unpopular) response to this problem is to deny that animal pain and suffering is real or morally relevant. Most will react to this response with incredulity: “Isn’t it just obvious that some animals experience pain and suffering?” The answer to that question is yes and no. We do think it an item of common sense that animals experience pain and suffering. But the scientific evidence for this is not as strong as you might think. Of course, scientists all acknowledge that many animals display behaviors that make it look like they are in pain. But that is not good enough. To see why, consider the phenomenon of “blindsight.” Patients with blindsight claim to be blind, and yet are at the same time able to point to objects and, in some cases, catch balls–something they could only do if they could in fact see. So are they blind or not? Well, it depends on what you mean by “sight.” They can see in the sense that they can use visual information to regulate their behavior. But they are not consciously aware of the fact that they can do this.

When it comes to pain, then, the question is: might the behaviors that we associate with animals that look to be in pain constitute something like “blindpain”–showing all the behavioral symptoms of real pain, but without the conscious awareness? Amazingly, given what we know about the functioning of the brain, the answer might be yes. Those parts of the brain most closely associated with consciousness of pain, are also the parts that were the last to arrive among mammals: the pre-frontal cortex.

So animals exhibit the superficial symptoms of pain, but experience none of the deeper, crueler feelings of pain. It’s sensation without awareness. You can go ahead and kick a kitten, and while it might exhibit all the superficial behaviors of pain, like bleeding, or limping, or mewing, or just lying there in a lump of broken bones whimpering, deep down inside the kitty consciousness it’s not feeling a thing. He later argues that they express a simulacrum of pain sensation useful for avoiding danger in their environment, but that’s not the same thing as actually being aware of the phenomenon of pain.

Which had me thinking of Chinese rooms and Turing tests. Could William Lane Craig convince me that he truly feels pain? If he were strapped to a gurney and I was given leave to artfully apply a razor blade to his body, what would he do to prove he was really suffering, deep down? I’m sorry, the screaming sounds like an artifice to me, a ploy to get me to stop slicing, but hey, could he do better than a kitten to persuade me to stop torturing? I don’t think so. If I were a psychopath, I could make Craig’s same argument — the expression of pain is not the same as the perception of pain, allowing me to go on a bloody rampage with all the local pets, and work my way up to torturing human beings because, after all, they’re just meat machines with some reflexes and patterned behaviors they learned from watching horror movies. My victims aren’t really suffering, because they’re not truly aware. Unlike me.

Let me reassure you that I have no interest in torturing anyone or anything, because I reject Craig’s proposal. I think all animals, including us, can experience pain and also degrees of conscious awareness. I couldn’t torture a kitten or WLC without feeling their struggles are an expression of a deeper experience that I would share if I were in their position.

Craig is about to dive into an argument from brain anatomy, which I despise even more than his other arguments. It’s a bogus claim based on an ignorance of neuroanatomy and a failure to understand the flexibility and plasticity of brains — they’re not as dependent on the kind of extreme modularity he wants to propose. It’s a kind of neurological reductionism that I don’t find at all credible.

Unfortunately, I’ll have to explain all that later. My CPU is going all fuzzy because the drugs I’m taking to alleviate peripheral pain are mucking everything up — it took me hours to type out this short post and I think my eyeballs are roaming around looking for an escape route. Later? Tomorrow? Once my brain stops idling? I’ll type up some more. Until then, I’ll leave it to you commenters to take on WLC.

(I should add that I do find his idea of “blindpain” interesting, I just don’t think it can hold up.)

Man, these drugs are a downer

This past week I’ve been afflicted with some serious pain issues — my back is all knotted up, and once I find a comfortable position, I have to stay in it or I’ll get these agonizing spasms. I’ve seen a doctor about it, and am currently taking 600mg of ibuprofen and cyclobenzaprine, a muscle relaxer, and am starting up physical therapy next week. I am getting better, I don’t instantly lock up with stabbing pains when I stand up or sit down, but I’m not exactly enjoying the new side effects.

My brain is currently operating at half speed, and it’s hard to concentrate on reading anything — the letters and words swim around on the page. Also, most distractingly, if I close my eyes, I don’t see darkness, I see an odd rippling moire texture. It’s a bit like a mottled red silk cloth rippling in a breeze, with folds going in and out of focus. Fortunately, it’s not interfering with my sleep, since all I have to do is close my eyes for a few minutes and never mind the groovy optical illusions going on, I’ll pass out wherever I am.

This is not optimal, but then neither is pain lancing up my spine. I’m going to have to put up with being a white punk on dope…

…sorry. Just went into a fugue state and had to listen to the Tubes for a bit. That’s where my brain is right now, and I haven’t even taken today’s dose yet. I think, though, one good weekend of zombie-like R&R should do it for me, and then just ibuprofen and physical therapy to get over this. I have spiders to chase, you know.

Consider that your extra-sensory perception is not as accurate as you think it is

Just yesterday, I completed my universities training on sexual discrimination and harassment. One of things they did was have little skits illustrating the phenomena we have to watch out for. One of them was about an attractive young woman being followed around in her work by a helpful but over-eager male colleague, who touched her in the small of the back while leading her to a different room. It was so quaint. I agree that he was being overly familiar, but yeesh — there are plenty of stronger examples in real life. Perhaps the next time they could act out these little dramas from the life of University of Michigan computer science professor Walter Lasecki. He’s been investigated by the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE) andthe Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). Here are a few examples of his behavior:

In the final report released by OIE, a copy of which was obtained by The Daily, Jane alleged that Lasecki encouraged her to drink throughout the meal, at one point asking the waiter to make her a “double.” She also alleged that he briefly placed his hand on her thigh.

Later that night, Jane said Lasecki helped her return to her apartment. He then touched her sexually, she wrote in her OIE statement. The OIE report notes that Jane said she “did not give any nonverbal cues to indicate that she was interested nor uninterested in physical contact.”

A second non-University graduate student — who will be referred to as Rachel in this article — attended four conferences that Lasecki also attended between 2017 and 2019. She alleged that he touched her sexually at all four conferences. In her statement to OIE, which was obtained by The Daily, Rachel described the pervasiveness of Lasecki’s alleged harassment.

“When [Respondent] is around me when he is drinking, he is consistently physically affectionate with me,” Rachel wrote. “I can’t count the number of times he’s touched me in intimate and inappropriate ways. I’m anxious at events that he will come up to me and start touching me — it bothers me so much that I’ve started scanning the room at poster sessions, receptions, and parties to watch where he’s at.”

A third non-University graduate student wrote in her statement to OIE, also obtained by The Daily, that she experienced similar harassment at an industry conference in 2016. In this article, she will be referred to as Alex. Alex alleged that Lasecki groped her while she was talking to a group of people.

“His behavior was overly familiar, touching me at first in small ways as we were talking to other people,” Alex wrote. “At some point, he leaned closer to me and essentially reached his hand between my legs. I was uncomfortable the whole time, but I distinctly remember knowing he was faculty and well-regarded, and so thinking I should be flattered. At the point where he groped my crotch, though, I knew that was past a line.”

At least there’s no evidence that he touched their backs! Then he’d be out of work, for sure. He still seems to happily employed by the University of Michigan, though. The ACM found that he had violated its Policy Against Harassment, banned him from ACM events for at least five years (that’s all they could do, since he’s not employed by ACM). Strangely, Michigans Office of Institutional Equity concluded that he had not violated any university policies and let him off scot-free. That’s interesting, because I would think getting students drunk and fondling and groping them would be actionable behavior. But no! No sanctions against the gropey professor!

So how did he get off? It may be a case of the fox guarding the henhouse. Also, a lot of those foxes seemed to have taken residence in the henhous.

In January 2020, Provost Martin Philbert — who previously oversaw OIE — was placed on leave and later resigned after multiple allegations of sexual harassment against him were reported to the University. The allegations were later investigated and corroborated by law firm WilmerHale. Another WilmerHale investigation released earlier this month found hundreds of credible allegations of sexual abuse against former University doctor Robert Anderson over a 37-year period. The Anderson report concluded that the allegations represent a “devastating pattern” of abuse that was known to University officials.

Everyone noticed. A letter was sent to the university president saying they had no confidence in the university administration.

Lisecki is denying everything, although he does use a second excuse.

Lily wrote that Lasecki touched under her shirt later that night and that she repeatedly attempted to stop his advances. Despite these attempts, the harassment continued, she claims. She remembered how Lasecki tried to justify his behavior.

“Oh, sorry, from the way you were angling your body towards me during our meeting before, I figured you wanted me to,” she alleged that he replied.

Watch out, ladies, now “angling your body” at a particular angle is apparently considered consent. I don’t know what angle that is, unfortunately. Maybe women have been begging me for sex and I’ve just been oblivious. Alternatively, maybe Walter Lisecki’s mind-reading abilities don’t work.

What also comes to mind is Geoff Marcy, another academic whose career took a nosedive when he was found to have been inappropriately touching his students. He also had an interesting excuse:

“My engaging and empathic style could surely be misinterpreted, which is my fault for poor communication,” he said. “I would never intentionally hurt anyone nor cause distress.”

His empathy must have been on the fritz when all those women were saying “no” and trying to get away from Dr Handsey. Marcy lost his job and his career, and has now been expelled from the National Academy of Sciences.

Unlike Marcy, though, Lasecki has not been censured in any way, and is scheduled to be teaching undergrads in the fall. Now that is disturbing.

Q was just the beginning, now it’s preparing to metamorphose into its next form!

Here’s something else I don’t understand: QAnon. I watched the HBO documentary, “Q: Into the Storm” which covers the phenomenon from its beginning to just after the election, and it suffered from being too close to the problem. It centered almost entirely on Jim Watkins and his son Ron, who were running the various chan boards that hosted Q, with some time spent on prominent QTubers — the documentarian clearly proposes that Ron Watkins is Q and makes a good case for it. What I mainly learned from the documentary is that all of the people behind Qs raging popularity are huge, obnoxious, pompous assholes. It made it hard to watch, when the primary protagonists are these preening twits who have learned the deep secret behind all religions: be cryptic and vague so your followers can read their own beliefs into your pronouncements, promise secret knowledge (even if you don’t have any) so your followers will pay close attention, and be sure to recruit apostles who will do most of your work for you.

It’s an unpleasant spectacle of singularly unpleasant people doing next to nothing but successfully duping hordes of ordinary people to join the cult. But, as I said, it suffers too much from its tight focus on the Watkins duo, who mainly smirk and act evasive. And then it ends, just as the media, like Facebook and YouTube, were finally shutting off the conduits that allowed them to proselytize easily, and it just sort of end. The documentarian has fingered the guilty party — Ron Watkins is Q! — and then it ends. What next? How are the victims of Q propaganda coping? What’s to prevent this from happening again?

At least CripDyke tells us what’s next: more of the same, only worse. As Q gets blocked and banned everywhere his acolytes turn, GhostEzra rises to add more fire and brimstone to followers of Q.

For in the shadow of the valley of Vice it has been revealed that a messiah has come, a prophet named GhostEzra, who comes to rule the denizens of the QAnon world exactly as we would expect. Vice reports that GhostEzra, who now runs one of the biggest if not the biggest QAnon accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers, began as upbeat, portraying Trump as the victim of election fraud but also portraying the election fraud as inevitably unsuccessful, something that the QAnons were clearly destined to overturn. But before much time passed, GhostEzra went from being relentlessly upbeat to excoriating followers if they, themselves, were not sufficiently upbeat.*1 It’s one thing to tell others, “Have hope!” and it’s another to tell them, “I will beat you until your morale improves.” GhostEzra, apparently, went all in on the latter.

GhostEzra adds even more of that crucial spice, hate, to the recipe. Hey, if a little anti-Semitism was enough to jazz up Q followers, just think what pouring an overwhelming amount of Jew-hatred will do!

Good morning news for the environment!

I have to say I’m happy with this outcome, I think, but I don’t have the foggiest idea what was done or the mechanics of the process. I guess there was some kind of rebellion within ExxonMobil, and the good guys won.

ExxonMobil shareholders voted Wednesday to install at least two new independent directors to the company’s board, a resounding defeat for chief executive Darren Woods and a ratification of shareholders’ unhappiness with the way the company had been addressing climate change and its lagging financial performance.

The votes were part of a day of reckoning for an oil and gas industry already struggling over how to deal with climate change. In Europe, a Dutch court ordered Royal Dutch Shell, considered one of the more forward-thinking companies in the industry, to make deeper-than-planned cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. And in the United States, Chevron lost a shareholder vote directing the company to take into account its customers’ emissions when planning reductions.

The balloting at the storied oil giant ExxonMobil “sends an unmistakable signal that climate action is a financial imperative, and leading investors know it and are demanding change,” said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund. “This is a watershed moment for the oil and gas industry. It’s no longer tenable for companies like ExxonMobil to defy calls to align their businesses with decarbonizing the economy.”

Near as I can tell, the disparate groups who are major shareholders in ExxonMobil had a big vote to decide who was to lead the company. These voters are people outside the company who own many shares of stock, in the form of things like hedge funds and pension funds, and they flexed their muscles and forced ExxonMobil to take a more aggressive position on protecting the environment. They were led by a hedge fund called Engine No. 1, which owned 0.2% of the stock, and I’m already exhausted from trying to figure out how this works, so don’t ask me how such a tiny shareholder could have that much influence. I can cope with the twisty business of molecular genetics, but high finance baffles me.

The court decision is entirely separate for the ExxonMobil internal coup.

Separately, a Dutch court on Wednesday ordered Royal Dutch Shell to cut its carbon emissions by 45 percent by 2030 compared with 2019 levels in a landmark case brought by climate activist groups. Shell said it would appeal. The Hague District Court ruled that the Anglo-Dutch energy company has a duty to care about reducing greenhouse gas emissions and that its current reduction plans were not concrete enough.

I would like to understand how this all happened, but it sounds like growing public awareness of the danger of climate change is percolating upwards and finally having a material effect on these companies that directly control the flow of carbon.

One of the ardent supporters of the Engine No. 1 slate said the hedge fund found eager supporters because of the widening realization that climate change is a financial issue.

“Investors are no longer standing on the sidelines hoping for the best,” said Simpson. “Climate change is a financial risk, and as fiduciaries we need to ensure that boards are not just independent and diverse, but climate-competent.”

Ah, that’s what we need more of.