Animal Consciousness and Human Compassion
« Stevan Harnad, cognitive scientist, discusses nonhuman consciousness and human ethics
Uncover the neuroscience behind human and nonhuman consciousness. Dr Stevan Harnad, renowned cognitive psychologist shares his research and insights into what it means when we talk about animal ‘sentience’.
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“Sentience” (or “Consciousness”) is a state — a state that it feels like something to be in. It feels like something to be an orangutan (a vertebrate) or an octopus (an invertebrate) but probably not an orchid (a plant) or an opal (a rock). There are three problems associated with sentience: The Easy Problem (of explaining how and why organisms can do what they can do), the Hard Problem (of explaining how and why feeling organisms can feel), and the Other-Minds Problem (of determining which organisms can feel, and what they feel). In an insentient world of rocks or robots, nothing would matter. In a sentient world, only feeling matters. Obligate carnivores like lions must eat the flesh of sentient organisms, otherwise they die. For them, it is a vital necessity, a biological imperative. Humans are facultative omnivores, and can live healthily eating either sentient flesh or insentient plants, or both. Some consider this a human “life-style” choice, just a matter of taste. But for those whose sentient flesh humans choose to eat, it is a matter of life and death.
Bekoff, Marc & Harnad, Stevan (2015) Doing the Right Thing: An Interview With Stevan Harnad. Psychology Today Blog. January 2015.
Harnad, S. (2015). Taste and Torment: Why I Am Not a Carnivore. Québec Humaniste.
Harnad, Stevan (2016) Animal sentience: The other-minds problem Animal Sentience. 2016.001
Harnad, Stevan (2016) My orgasms cannot be traded off against others’ agony. Animal Sentience 2016.097
Harnad, Stevan (2016). CCTV, web-streaming and crowd-sourcing to sensitize public to animal suffering. Animal Justice UK 2 »