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.)

Comments

  1. says

    My parents adopted a rescue dog named Jojo. He was a big fluffy golden retriever and the happiest puppy you ever saw. However if he ever heard a news paper he’d immediately hide under the bed. That dog had PTSD from abuse by a previous owner. Yes animals can feel, comprehend, and internalize pain.

  2. says

    There’s a scene somewhere in David Brin’s Uplift series where aliens try to discourage uplifted chimps who have been genetically modified with greater intelligence that they’re still just animals, going through the motions their human masters trained them to do. See also imposter syndrome. We’re even capable of persuading ourselves that we lack some essential component of our intelligence!

  3. kome says

    One peculiar aspect of this is that he’s trying to extrapolate from incredibly rare and unusual cases in humans to the entirety of the non-human animal kingdom. We know a little about the mechanism (or rather, the way in which the mechanism malfunctions) that leads to the phenomenon of blindsight, and yet that is nowhere to be found as a typical feature of any non-human animal visual system. I know creationists in general are pretty willfully ignorant of any and all actual science, knowing just enough of the buzzwords to fool the naively ignorant, but the sheer volume of stupid in Craig’s account here is pretty staggering, even if unsurprising. Further, what would be the purpose (since creationists love teleological explanations so much) of exhibiting all the features of pain but being unable to experience it? What is Craig’s god’s plan for having that be part of non-human animal life?

    There’s also a potentially interesting, if disturbing, link between Craig’s nonsense and right-wingers’ long history of both dehumanizing certain groups of humans (e.g., women, racial minorities, the LGBTQ communities, the poor) and their outright dismissal of the pain and suffering that members of those groups experience.

  4. PaulBC says

    I have a heuristic that applies here. If someone offers a philosophical argument that something your gut says is fine really has a victim you haven’t considered, then give that argument some weight before dismissing it. On the other hand, if someone offers a philosophical argument that something your gut says is terrible is actually just fine because the victim is imaginary, then the goal of the argument is probably desensitization, not ethical analysis.

    Any child can tell you that animals feel pain. They are like us in many ways and make outward signs of distress that would be immediately recognizable in a human being. If you need a complicated reason to believe they don’t actually feel pain, you’re probably looking for a rationalization, e.g. to kill them for meat or exploit them in other ways. Obviously, animals feel pain. The only arguments to the contrary would extend readily to the human beings around us.

  5. Artor says

    And babies supposedly don’t feel pain either, because they conveniently can’t tell you about it. The screaming when they’re slapped or stabbed with needles or circumcised means nothing. /s

  6. maireaine46 says

    Anyone who believes animals do not feel pain is , in my opinion,potentially dangerous. It is too easy a step from that belief and torturing animals to the belief that slaves, enemies in warfare,”lesser” races; anyone they want to kill, do not feel pain either. Narcissistic, psychopathic, at the least delusional.

  7. raven says

    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?

    Yes, animals feel pain.
    Anyone who has ever had a pet dog or cat can tell you that they are self aware conscious beings. This isn’t hard to see.

    In fact, the consensus among neural and behavioral researchers is that at least all the mammals are conscious beings and probably birds as well. Consciousness seems to be an early evolutionary development.

    WL Craig is an idiot!!! He is a liar for jesus and nothing more than that.
    His books are just lies and logical fallacies strung together.

  8. raven says

    It is too easy a step from that belief and torturing animals to the belief that slaves, enemies in warfare,”lesser” races; anyone they want to kill, do not feel pain either. Narcissistic, psychopathic, at the least delusional.

    This is true.
    People who abuse and kill humans frequently have a previous history of abusing and killing animals.
    This isn’t surprising at all.
    Our pets are sort of like humans to us, after all.

    In Springfield Oregon, in 1998, a high school student killed his parents and shot up his school, killing 4 and wounding 25. Before that happened, people in his neighborhood kept finding dead cats that had been killed rather gruesomely. It was never proved the shooter did it, but it never happened again after he was sent to jail.

  9. Kagehi says

    What Raven said.

    But more to the point, dodging out of the way of something, like muscle memory, would “maybe” qualify as “not actually pain, but just a response”, anything more complex than that, such as actively avoiding things, planning ahead, even simplistically, etc., implies a) awareness of having felt “something” that wasn’t pleasant, at best, and b) intent to avoid it, which.. completely erases his “insert some non-ablelist, but appropriate term here” argument.

  10. birgerjohansson says

    Marieaine46 @ 7
    W L Craig is not sentient! He is a “Chinese room” mimicking the outwards sign of intelligence while being an automaton. Therefore you are free to do things to him that might cause pain for an actual, self-aware entity.
    Consider the robots in Spielberg/Kubrick’s film “AI”. Clearly, Craig is due for the scrap cheap.

  11. Snarki, child of Loki says

    Whenever someone tells me that “X doesn’t feel pain the way WE do”, I feel like twisting off their fingers, one by one while replying “you mean like THIS???”.

    But then I’m a bad person, and have little patience for teaching complete morons with less-direct techniques.

  12. kingoftown says

    A lecturer of mine studied pain in invertebrates. The evidence that fish and many invertebrates feel pain is very compelling. They definitely react to stimuli in a way that goes beyond simple reflexes:
    http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-21044077.amp
    The only arguments I’ve heard against them feeling pain (assuming mammals do) are to do with the mechanisms in the brain differing from humans. I don’t see a reason that pain (and consciousness) can’t have evolved more than once.

  13. says

    No, no. They don’t feel pain. They manifest the outward appearance of pain, but inside they’re all Italian football players.

  14. says

    @#1 Re: “Southern masters though that about slaves.”

    Unfortunately, this belief is still in effect today via many avenues but most notably in the medical industry.

  15. says

    We (psychologists) generally try to make a distinction between pain and suffering. Animals, including humans, feel pain. But a certain level of meta-awareness (consciousness? executive functions?) adds a layer that we call suffering. So a trout feels the pain of being hooked, but doesn’t have the added suffering of realizing this means it is probably going to die, or thinking ahead to further pain or loss of function, or fear of what the pain means.
    I have tentatively decided to assume that any animal that passes the mirror test has this awareness–so all the great apes, cephalopods, cetaceans, and elephants probably can suffer on top of feeling pain. But a kitten feels the immediate pain, but probably doesn’t have the added suffering of anticipating what it means or what might happen next.
    I think.
    Cathy F

  16. says

    I can’t say this for everyone. I react to animals in pain the same as I do human-animals in pain. I feel iit.Very strongly.
    “Empathy and aversion: the neural signature of mentalizing in Tourette syndrome”
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27776574/
    “However, patients with TS also experience more personal distress than controls when witnessing other people’s negative emotional experiences (Eddy et al. 2015), so increased reactivity to other people’s emotions in general may be a more parsimonious interpretation of our findings.”

    I think that human-animals have to actively suppress empathy in themselves and others. I think it’s harder to do when you experience the anatomical part of emotion more strongly.

  17. says

    #17: the problem with that definition is that you don’t have any way to measure “realizing this means it is probably going to die”.

  18. Pierce R. Butler says

    Cathy F @ # 17: … a kitten feels the immediate pain, but probably doesn’t have the added suffering of anticipating what it means …

    This reminds me of an experience I had repeatedly with a neighbor’s cat, who would raid the food I set out for some ferals and chase them off. I would stroke and talk nicely with her when I visited the neighbor, so she allowed me to pick her up and carry her a few steps towards her home, but with increasingly frantic squirming to get away: when I’d let her go, we’d each take a breath, and then repeat the process, until she was back where (in my opinion) she belonged.

    Throughout all of this, she kept her claws sheathed, and never scratched me once. From which I conclude that she recognized me as a friend and deliberately suppressed her own self-defense reflexes to avoid causing me pain. It seems a very short step from that to thinking she could apply similar extrapolations to herself.

  19. pacal says

    Can Mr. Craig do nothing but repeat old arguments and conclusions? What he seems to b e saying is little more than what French Philosopher Rene Descartes said more than 3 centuries ago. And during Descartes time people were saying that his argument that animals don’t “really” feel pain but it only looks like they do is impossible to “really” test in other words it is non-falsifiable. Frankly the easy to observe fact that from all indications animals appear to feel pain is good enough for me.

  20. raven says

    #17: the problem with that definition is that you don’t have any way to measure “realizing this means it is probably going to die”.

    That was my reaction too.

    I occasionally deal with theists like WLC who tell me what the gods really think or want.
    What that really means is, “We are pretending to read the minds of fictional beings from the Big Book of Mythology known as the bible. We have no way to prove our claims whatsoever.” At that point, I completely lose interest. Because I don’t believe them.

    Cathy F. is pretending to read the minds of nonhuman animals. That is a claim I’m not going to believe because there is zero data or evidence for it.

    Animals might not be able to reason that they are going to die, be put in a box, and buried 6 feet deep. But they have an idea that bad things can happen and avoid them as much as they can.

    A few weeks ago, I accidentally stepped on my cat’s foot because she likes to crowd around while I open a can of food. Wasn’t wearing shoes so didn’t really hurt her.
    She yowled and hissed at me.
    Meaning, “Get off my foot and I’m being attacked and I will defend myself.”
    I apologized and she immediately calmed down and got back to the important question of what is for dinner. She can access situations and seems to know the difference between an accident and deliberate intent to do harm.

    I could go on for pages about these observations.
    And lose most of the audience because all cat stories are boring except mine.
    I do remember what my old cat was like when her kitten, who was 19, was dying. She knew.

  21. says

    Difference with respect to ability to understand with introspection (or similar, there is going to be more than one thing in here) does not mean total absence of similar ability. That being said our lineage of primates has a thing for abstraction that bears keeping in mind. That does not neglect our fellow animals.

  22. says

    Pain is a major training stimulus for all young animals, including humans. It’s how we learn to avoid fire, (fingering) electrical outlets, falling, and (for some) behavior that incites a spanking.
    Some studies train laboratory animals with pain stimulus like electrical current; electric dog fences do the same.
    If emotional pain were included, animals get trained to avoid the emotional pain exerted from the displeasure of an authority figure… any non-physical punishment. This ranges fro scolding to emotional abuse.
    …So absolutely yes, all animals feel pain.
    Next: do plants feel pain?

  23. stroppy says

    It’s possible that people read too much into the mirror test. Maybe it’s a test of vanity. My cat certainly liked to admire himself in the mirror, and if he caught a glimpse of me sneaking up behind him in it, he’d whip around without any doubt about where I was relative to his position. True, he seemed indifferent to a mark put on him, not sure what that says though.

    In any case, elephants seem to have a sense of mortality. As for cats, who knows, they can certainly anticipate discomfort, fight for their lives, experience prolonged misery, fear, get depressed, give up, kill, see companions die, interact socially (i.e., have some sense of being apart from others), sleep. Do they have some theological speculations about death? Probably not, they don’t think in words. Then again, I don’t always think in words either. They may have some intuitions though.

  24. says

    Pain needs a consciousness to be felt

    What if that’s just a convenient way that we can continue to eat plants alive and not feel bad about it? If we define pain as reacting to destruction or damage to part of a creature’s body, then plants might also experience pain. I reject your consciousness-biassed definition – if nerves are signalling “pain” and there is no consciousness – so what, it’s a signal that the organism is suffering.

  25. jrvannorman says

    One of the models for depression was to shock dogs in a horrifying situation they couldn’t escape. They not only experienced pain from the electric shocks from which they couldn’t escape, but despair at the recognition there was no escape. They just laid down and suffered.
    I’m glad to have the model to explain to the people I serve about how inescapable, unremitting stress can induce depression. Also glad I wasn’t the heartless bastard who did the expirements.

  26. says

    Anyone who’s had a pet should know differently. If they can experience joy they can suffer as well. And possible “death rituals” like covering the dead has been observed among some corvidae.

  27. says

    Yeah I am rockin’ on that consciousness tripe, too.
    I have seen animals unconscious vs conscious, as well as groggy, there are observable differences.
    Even from the imposed faux hierarchical top of the pyramid position that we have all been brain washed with.

  28. says

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I was taught that pain is an evolved survival mechanism, that it’s a natural reaction of an animal to protect itself by avoiding the thing that causes pain. And even when it comes to emotional pain, many animals show sadness at the deaths or suffering of others, whether their young or part of their pack.

    Over the past year, I’ve have watched many Ocean Conservation Namibia videos like this one of a seal with a hook stuck in its tongue. In many of the videos, seals large and small change their responses to the humans touching them when something happens (e.g. ropes and netting removed from their necks). The idea that an animal can’t tell when it’s suffering or when that suffering ends could only come from someone who never witnessed or is indifferent to it.

    Whether animals feel gratitude or just safety around people, that’s another matter.

  29. PaulBC says

    stroppy@28

    It’s possible that people read too much into the mirror test.

    Years back when I lived in a small apartment by myself, I didn’t have a modem and had to walk to campus to get online. I had a radio I left tuned to NPR and a TV without cable that I tried to avoid watching. Oh, and it was in a city and not very safe to go out strolling late at night. There was an old mirror that had been left there by the landlord or a previous occupant. I don’t think it was mounted, just leaning on the wall.

    Anyway, I couldn’t read all the time and I eventually realized it served the same purpose as the mirror in a bird cage. If I paced around the apartment, I would catch myself walking out of the corner of my eye. I could make faces into it and sometimes did. I don’t think it was vanity, just boredom. Who knows what an outside observer would conclude about me and what I thought about this mirror?

  30. says

    CathyF@17

    So a trout feels the pain of being hooked, but doesn’t have the added suffering of realizing this means it is probably going to die, or thinking ahead to further pain or loss of function, or fear of what the pain means.

    First: how would we know this?

    Second, if what you say is true then why would prey try to escape a predator? Look at nature documentaries and it seems pretty obvious that the prey knows (at some level) that sticking around won’t end well.

    Some might say that this is “just instinct” and not proof of “awareness of suffering”. But again, how would we know the difference?

  31. says

    @6: these are also the same people who want to ban all abortion because “tHe uNbOrN bAbBy cAN fEeL pAiN!!!”
    -_-

    Of course animals can feel pain. My cat has squeaked a couple of times when my husband accidentally stepped on her paw. She got smothered with kisses afterwards. (Yes, my husband felt bad about it.)

  32. joeatbm says

    I reckon Betteridge’s law of headlines ( “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.”) applies to books too: Are we smart enough to know how smart animals are? by Frans de Waal (Granta Books, 2016).

  33. robro says

    “…were there no food webs in the Garden of Eden?” Apparently there was some notion of food associate with the GoE because Eve, and then Adam, ate of the forbidden fruit. I wonder if the fruit felt pain when they bit into it? And now, it’s dinner time.

  34. John Morales says

    My dogs have been bored, happy, expectant, patient, anxious, frightened, relieved, worried, resigned. Joyful.
    They dream — paws move, vocalisations occur as they dream run, dream explorations, dream play.

    Of course they have an inner life.

  35. says

    May I suggest a simple experiment? WLC’s argument is that animals don’t feel pain because the don’t have a high level of consciousness. If that is the case they shouldn’t be aware of the source of the pain. Your evil cat is the prefect test subject. Next time you accidentally step on his tail if he turns and savages your offending leg he knows the source of the pain therefore he obviously felt it. Just don’t tell Mary. If she warns the cat beforehand it might decide to stage a pre-emptive strike although that would be even stronger proof that WLC is wrong.

  36. brightmoon says

    I stepped on my cat’s paw and instead of clawing me , she pushed me off but she screamed because it hurt . She knew I didn’t intend to hurt her. Versus how she reacted to a neighbor who used to try to torture her ( he ended up in jail)

  37. pilgham says

    It doesn’t make much sense to me that animals are any different from humans in something as basic as pain. It’s fundamental. One thing I do wonder about is the utility of swearing. We can endure pain longer if we swear. Do animals swear? My cat had a noise she’d make if I accidentally stepped on her, a noise she wouldn’t make at any other time. Also, I understand that people who have brain damage to their language centers will still be able to swear as if it is an entirely separate brain function. It seems likely that if anything, animals suffer more from pain than people because they have fewer ways to cope.

  38. John Morales says

    Yes. Next?

    In the news:
    Dogs given ‘inheritance’ to spend final years in comfort at Tasmanian sanctuary.

    “I tell people I’ll carry the scars of that to my grave,” Mrs Lynd said.

    “Hannah was so traumatised and stressed. Trying to get her away from John was heartbreaking.

    “I sat with her night after night while she howled and howled.”

    The impact was so profound, it drove Mrs Lynd, a retired canine behaviourist, to set up The Hannah Foundation so orphaned dogs from across the country had a place to go.

  39. John Morales says

    There’s this idea that empathy only merits extending to other humans, and (more perniciously) that all humans merit more empathy than any other animal.

    (Me, I don’t agree with that)

  40. says

    @44: You have a remarkable amount of restraint, as I would have ended up in jail. Do. NOT. Hurt. My. Animals! angry glare

    If you’re wondering, my cat is a spoiled, pampered little princess. She runs the house and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  41. wzrd1 says

    So much needlessly complex intellectual gymnastics is being performed.
    Will a test subject, when it observes precursor activity that it associates with painful stimuli exhibit a stress response and possibly avoidance behavior before the stimuli was applied again? That research was conducted before I was born and replicated,
    Even in planaria. Interestingly, even after significant brain regeneration.

    As for the blindpain argument, there is partial validity to the notion. Much of that is ganglia mediated via reflex arcs in larger animals, where C fiber vs A fiber transmission delays would introduce a delay that would b deleterious to survival.
    Aδ fibers transmit and trigger a reflex arc withdraw response. C fibers are slower and transmit to the brain owie, for further processing to hopefully find a way to avoid that experience.

  42. KG says

    Next: do plants feel pain? – Skeptical Partisan@27

    No. They lack the necessary anatomical structures, and since they can’t learn what they should do or not do in order to avoid danger or damage, it would have no survival value for them to do so.

    What if that’s just a convenient way that we can continue to eat plants alive and not feel bad about it? – Marcus Ranum@29

    What if that’s just a way for a carnivore to convince themselves eating plants and eating animals are morally equivalent?

    I reject your consciousness-biassed definition – if nerves are signalling “pain” and there is no consciousness – so what, it’s a signal that the organism is suffering.

    Words have meanings and “suffering” does not mean that impulses are travelling along nerves. Nor, for that matter, does “pain”.

  43. says

    We (psychologists) generally try to make a distinction between pain and suffering. Animals, including humans, feel pain. But a certain level of meta-awareness (consciousness? executive functions?) adds a layer that we call suffering. So a trout feels the pain of being hooked, but doesn’t have the added suffering of realizing this means it is probably going to die, or thinking ahead to further pain or loss of function, or fear of what the pain means.

    But if that’s true, it also means that pain may be worse for animals: they have no concept of treatment or things getting better. Which is why doggies wear the cone of shame after a surgery: because their instinctive behaviour will make things worse.
    When I hurt my back, I didn’t just get a horrible amount of pain from the injury itself, the absolute worst was the treatment. Worse than an infected wisdom tooth, worse than childbirth without pain relief. Realising that “passing out from pain” wasn’t something authors had invented. Yet I could get through it knowing that this also held a future without that particular pain.

  44. stroppy says

    “mental gymnastics”

    Fair enough. Touch is a sense, pain is a perception. It’s a little like asking if animals can really see, or hear, or taste.

  45. KG says

    Further to #52, “pain” and “suffering” (even if we add the qualifier “physical” to both) are far from equivalent. Itching, numbness and other physical sensations can cause severe suffering, while pain need not. Quite apart from the fact that many people enjoy certain types and degrees of pain, opiate painkillers given to someone suffering severe pain may have the result that they continue to feel what they recognise as pain, but say they no longer mind it.

  46. says

    Analogous to the argument in the R. Austin Freeman story A Case of Premeditation:

    “As agents for the detection of crime,” replied Thorndyke, “I regard them as useless. You cannot put a bloodhound in the witness-box. You can get no intelligible statement from it. If it possesses any knowledge, it has no means of communicating it. The fact is,” he continued, “that the entire system of using bloodhounds for criminal detection is based on a fallacy. In the American plantations these animals were used with great success for tracking runaway slaves. But the slave was a known individual. All that was required was to ascertain his whereabouts. That is not the problem that is presented in the detection of a crime. The detective is not concerned in establishing the whereabouts of a known individual, but in discovering the identity of an unknown individual. And for this purpose bloodhounds are useless. They may discover such identity, but they cannot communicate their knowledge. If the criminal is unknown, they cannot identify him: if he is known, the police have no need of the bloodhound.

    “To return to our present case,” Thorndyke resumed, after a pause; “we have employed certain agents–the hounds–with whom we are not en rapport, as the spiritualists would say; and we have no ‘medium.’ The hound possesses a special sense–the olfactory–which in man is quite rudimentary. He thinks, so to speak, in terms of smell, and his thoughts are untranslatable to beings in whom the sense of smell is undeveloped. We have presented to the hound a knife, and he discovers in it certain odorous properties; he discovers similar or related odorous properties in a tract of land and a human individual–Ellis. We cannot verify his discoveries or ascertain their nature. What remains? All that we can say is that there appears to exist some odorous relation between the knife and the man Ellis. But until we can ascertain the nature of that relation, we cannot estimate its evidential value or bearing. All the other ‘evidence’ is the product of your imagination and that of the general. There is, at present, no case against Ellis.”

    This is just the faulty philosophical arguments about qualia and p-zombies, only instead of saying “you haven’t proven that this isn’t how things work”, they’ve moved on to “p-zombies are not only possible but they actually exist, all animals are p-zombies”. Fuck that.

  47. says

    Why was nature made so very fragile in this way? Is not that fragility itself a defect (or evil) in creation?
    Or maybe it’s just evolution’s way of helping animals (including us) avoid things that can damage or kill us.

  48. Wharrrrrrgarbl says

    This idea of blindpain seems nonsensical to me. Pain is an emotional experience caused by nociception; ketamine and other dissociative anesthetics work in part by altering your conscious experience of pain rather than affecting nociception at all. That is, we know what happens if you have a brain that is receiving nociceptive input that doesn’t get processed: analgesia or anesthesia. This is where I know just enough to speculate in ways that might be total nonsense, but I suspect that the progressive layering of visual neurons to build patterns into the association cortex makes visual stimulation susceptible to misfiring in ways that nociception isn’t.

  49. publicola says

    Not to derail the thread here, but did anyone notice that Craig mentioned “Adam and his ANCESTORS? Since when did Adam have ancestors, supposedly having been the first man? Perhaps he meant progeny. Also, pain, and the consciousness of it, had to have been an early evolutionary development, since without that consciousness animals would not have the ability to learn to avoid pain, making survival much less likely.

  50. Rob Grigjanis says

    publicola @61: I think Craig sees Adam as something like the Y-chromosomal most recent common ancestor.

Leave a Reply