Black & White

A couple of minor announcements before we get started:

First, a quick shout-out for the benefit of the SciFi subReddit admins: Yes, I am both who I claim to be and who this circuitos dude claims I am (even though I don’t Twit); and yes, if there’s sufficient interest I’d be happy to do a Q&A.

Second, a random egosurf led me to an announcement that the French translation of “The Island”, which appeared in BiFrost, has apparently made the first cut for the 2012 iteration of the “Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire” (which translates either as “Grand Prize of Imagination” or “Your Big Prick is Imaginary”). There’s a multistage winnowing process — this nomination is more than an eligible but less that a finalist — and “L’Île” falls into the “New Foreign” Category. The official announcement is here but I first encountered the news via the blog of fellow nominist (in a different category) Lionel Davoust, whose logo — as chance would have it — prominently features the creature who I really want to talk about today (and thanks to Richard Morgan for the heads-up on this).

 

Tilikum. Photo by Ian Griffiths.

If you got itchy when I started talking about civil rights for vampires/sociopaths, you’re gonna love this: civil rights for killer whales.

Or perhaps more accurately, civil rights for killer whales. Literally. One of these guys, Tilikum by (Human-ascribed) name, killed one of his jailers in broad daylight and, according to the BBC, has been “linked to two other deaths“.  Regardless, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has launched a lawsuit in the US District Court in San Diego, on behalf of Tilikum and four other SeaWorld orcas, charging that their incarceration violates the 13th Amendment against slavery— and the judge, while skeptical, hasn’t yet thrown out the case. A bemused fourth estate is all over the story for the moment, although it remains to be seen how much traction accrues to any PETA action that doesn’t involve naked women in cages.

Artist: Peter MacDougal. For "Bulk Food".

This issue is especially resonant to a fallen marine mammalogist such as myself. I’ve worked with captive marine mammals on occasion, even done a bit of theoretical work on orcas. Over my short-lived and ill-advised tenure with the North Pacific Universities Marine Mammal Research Consortium I grew familiar with the toxic backstage political environment at the Vancouver Aquarium (which, for all its toxicity, was significantly better than anything I ever heard coming out of Seaworld).  Back in the nineties I presented an intervenor report at the Vancouver Parks Board hearings on ending the Aquarium’s captive whale displays, which nearly got me a job until I remarked in those hearings on the obvious hypocrisy of the Board itself.  (That also resulted in the appearance of the misleading and inflammatory story “Marine Mammal Expert Recommends Euthenasia For Captive Killer Whales” in the Vancouver Sun. Say, if anyone out there happens to encounter Petti Fong standing on a curb by heavy traffic, do me a favor and push her under a bus, okay?)

All these experiences even inspired my coauthorship of a behind-the-scenes story in which we finally crack the orca language and discover that they’re even bigger assholes than we are. One of the few intentionally funny stories I’ve ever written, and lemme tell you it reeks of verisimilitude right down to the names of the characters.

So here we are, with the animal-rights movement putting their money where their rhetoric is and actually trying to get Tilikum et al classified as slaves in a court of law. I’ve gone over the lawsuit itself, and in terms of orca biology and behavior it’s pretty tight. Para 17 goes a bit overboard in describing orca feeding as “social events carried out in the context of an array of traditions and rituals”, which implies some kind of cross-species mind-reading technology that certainly wasn’t in wide use back in my day.  Para 41 commits a small lie of omission when it states “In nature, aggression between members of a pod, or between pods in the same resident clan or community … is virtually unknown”; true, but relations between resident and transient pods are somewhat more antagonistic. Still. The stuff on social bonds, brain structure, habitat requirements — not to mention the generally barbaric treatment of orcas in captivity — is pretty much spot-on.

Significantly, Seaworld doesn’t challenge any of these facts. They’ve stated that charges of abuse are utterly irrelevant as far as they’re concerned.  From what I’ve seen reported, their defense boils down to two basic claims: 1) The whole case is bullshit because the Constitution only applies to people and killer whales aren’t; and 2) if PETA wins this case, it’s open season on everything from zoos to the law-enforcement’s K9 programs. “We’re talking about hell unleashed,” their lawyer is quoted as saying.

I have problems with both those points.

First, the Property-not-people angle. PETA argues that dismissing orcas as property “is the same argument that was used against African-Americans and women before their constitutional rights were protected”. Sealand rebuts that that’s an entirely inappropriate analogy because “both women and African-Americans are people for which the Constitution was written to protect.” This being yet another iteration of the founding fathers know best argument so beloved by the Tea Party: the Constitution is gospel, and cannot be changed.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t the original Consitution define blacks as less than human, too?  As in, one slave equals three-fifths of a “real” man, at least for purposes of political representation? Citing African Americans and women doesn’t exactly bolster Seaworld’s case — although they’ve also made the claim that the whole whales-as-slaves argument “defies common sense”, so they’ve always got the Spluttering Outrage and Handwaving defense to fall back on.

More telling, though, is Argument #2: that if the tewwowists win, “All hell breaks loose.”  Which is another way of saying “It mustn’t be, so it isn’t”.

Don’t even think about the abuse of the organism, they are saying; it pales in the shadow of the carnage and inconvenience that will be brought down upon us if the whalehuggers have their way.  How will the hundreds employed by zoos and marine parks make ends meet? How will the police protect us from evil-doers without furry canine slaves to do their bidding? What about the innocent middle-class family with the pet cockatoo or the beagle in the back yard? Will their doors be the next to get kicked in by PETA’s stormtroopers?  The only argument I haven’t heard yet — and I heard it often enough from the mouths of the Vancouver Aquarium’s PR hacks, so I suppose it’s only a matter of time — is Won’t somebody think of the CHILDREN?

I don’t know why we should have to explain the implications of the law to a lawyer, but: if PETA wins, then captive orcas will be slaves. Legally. And good luck making the case that we shouldn’t free slaves because it would force the manager of Sealand to look for another job.

Of course, whether we even can free the slaves — after decades of atrophy and chronic wasting in captivity — is a whole other issue (one dealt with at greater length in that intervenor report I mentioned earlier). Rehab certainly didn’t end well for Keiko. But that’s a logistic issue, not a logical one. We’re not focusing on the nuts and bolts of extended physiotherapy for a creature the size of a school bus; we’re focusing on whether a creature whose emotional and cognitive circuitry is at least comparable to ours, whether something capable of complex problem-solving, complex community relationships, and complex suffering warrants at least as much respect as some brain-dead hydrocephalic on life support— even if it does have flukes instead of feet. You probably know where I stand on that: just two posts back I threw my lot in with the bonobos over the illusory interests of Terri Schiavo.

I don’t believe that any rights are intrinsic.  There’s no inevitable law of nature that says we have to show any regard for the suffering of any being — human or otherwise — that doesn’t increase our own fitness in some way.  But there’s nothing that prevents such regard either; and if we are going to extend it, we should at least be consistent in the dissemination of our empathy. In that context, Peter Singer was right in Animal Liberation: the question is not so much Can it think? as Can it suffer?

There is no doubt that orcas can suffer. They can suffer far more than those little blobs of cells the right-to-life types get so worked up about, those embryos that don’t even have a neocortex atop their neural tubes. They suffer more than any of a number of vegetative human beings who owe their continued oblivious existence to ventilators and blood scrubbers.  Personally, though, I don’t think that will make a difference; I think the defense, for all the incoherence of its arguments, will ultimately prevail — not because they are right, but because it’s just too damned inconvenient to be wrong. If you think too hard about this sort of thing, you’ll recognize the injustice; recognizing the injustice, you might feel obligated to do something about it.  But that means making changes in the way you live; that means giving up things you’ve grown accustomed to.  It means getting off the couch. Better not to think about it.  Better to just look the other way.

The only alternative is to state flat-out that you really don’t care whether abuse and suffering is rampant in the world. The suffering will continue, but at least nobody can accuse you of hypocrisy.  Which may be, I suppose, why Sealand’s lawyer came right out and said just that: it’s not about the suffering.

Maybe I didn’t give the dude enough credit.

[Late-breaking Postscript: Even as I format this post for upload, the LA Times reports that U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller has thrown out PETA's lawsuit on the grounds that whales are animals, not people.  Pass the remote and the pork rinds.]

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Wednesday February 08 2012at 06:02 pm , filed under legal, scilitics . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

86 Responses to “Black & White”


  1. If you think too hard about this sort of thing, you’ll recognize the injustice; recognizing the injustice, you might feel obligated to do something about it.

    Captive orcas and other mammals kept for amusement are one thing, but do you seriously propose that people should give up animal based foodstuffs because it’s exploitation?

    IMO, wouldn’t mind more expensive meat if it could ensure less suffering for the meat animals concerned and the like, but I believe animal liberationists are single issue fanatics who would stone people for eating bacon if they could..
    Some vegans I know do give off that vibe..

  2. It would’ve been an interesting ride had Miller let it play out a little longer. A generation raised on ‘Free Willy’ might have rallied around the plucky-but- murderous orca.

    I can only wonder how a case like this would’ve played out in Australia. A country without a written constitution and a long tradition of anti-whaling…thought the anti-whaling might just be due to a hatred of the Japanese.

  3. People favor forgetting that we are classified in the animal kingdom just as much as anything else. We’re hardly as civilized either.

    It’s blatantly unfair to compare any species intelligence to our own. All have their respective niches, and they weren’t developed for our cherry-picking bullshit arguments.

    I’ve been reading a great deal on chimps, not only wild, but captive, and those even used in the biomedical industry. The wild chimps have what can be classified as primitive culture, and each regional group has its own quirks. For as much grief as I could get for it, they are a primitive people… and not a whole lot different from where we were once.
    The chimps used in biomedical studies have been documented as having PTSD, and even psychosis.

    I hate thinking about how the whole marine mammals for entertainment got started. I’d like to know who the hell thought a group of whales would be a great idea for a performance act. You’d think people realized that if a whale decided to take its anger out on one of its trainers they’d be shit outta luck to actually do anything.

    All this defiant stupidity always stuns me. I can’t remember where I read it or the words exactly, but I once heard that despite searching for intelligent life all humans really want is a mirror. If we can’t, or won’t recognize the intelligences here on Earth with us, how the hell can we expect to recognize and accept it elsewhere?

    PS: Sorry for the wall of text here. It’s just something that really gets to me. I’m not a huge PETA fan, but they do make good points here and there.

  4. Well, personally, I doubt that cross-species ethics can be consistent or functional, given that our intra-species ethical systems are both inconsistent and, to various degrees, demonstrably dysfunctional.

    But then again, I am essentially a dedicated, specialized bankster life support unit, so “ethical” decision making is far from being my forte.

  5. @ Lynn

    If we can’t, or won’t recognize the intelligences here on Earth with us, how the hell can we expect to recognize and accept it elsewhere?

    Now that is a simple one.

    1) Can it build relatively sophisticated weapons (okay, tools might be enough) ?

    2) Can it mount an independent argument when dealing with us ?

    IF yes to any of above, THEN intelligent :D

    With all the cruft sanded off, our definitions of intelligence appear to be about presence of specific “cultural traits”.

  6. [...] Watts – the brilliant science fiction author and all around awesome human being – posted on his blog about a lawsuit filed by PETA to classify killer whales on display at Seaworld as [...]

  7. consistency is definitely not our virtue. We do recognize animal rights to some degree, and some countries do have animal police etc – so why should cats, dogs and parakeets have rights under the law that are denied to orcas?

    also, I don’t see how anyone can show any ire towards a wild animal that happens to attack or kill a human. If you go swimming with sharks and a shark bites you, do you seriously blame the shark? The fact that they’re in captivity and are supposedly ‘trained’ doesn’t change their innate wild nature. Play with fire – get burned. Play with orcas – get bit. Shrug.

  8. Funny how fellow fallen marine mammalogists end up in science-fiction and fantasy ! :) Congrats on your being longlisted, Peter.

    Apart from that, loved your article. Brilliantly put. I had kind of a lenient view on the capitivity issue but I worked in probably the only zoo which really focussed on raising public awareness, and you could then make a kind of (probably flawed) rationale about capitivity. That was, until they got bought and turned into another SeaWorld. My views on the whole issue have since changed.

    I’m curious, what’s your opinion on the fact that about half of all SW’s killer whales are related to Tiklium? May we have a psychopathic breed here? ;)

  9. Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t the original Consitution define blacks as less than human, too? As in, one slave equals three-fifths of a “real” man, at least for purposes of political representation?

    Not really. The three fifths rule was about calculating political representation – as in number of congressmen – for the states, based on a population count. As such, the problem with the three fifths rule was that that the ratio was too high. In actuality slaves had no political representation at all, but were counted for the purpose of determining how many MHRs the state got in Congress as if they had 3/5 of a vote. As this effectively gave more representation to the people in those states who weren’t slaves than was had by the voters in free states, it in practise meant slaves had less than zero representation, given it meant extra representation for people whose position on the most important issue to slaves was the opposite of the position they themselves would undoubtedly have had (ie the people who wanted to keep them slaves effectively got more than 1 vote in the US Congress, being equal to the extra percentage representated by the number of congressmen they got disproportionate to the number of people who could – even potentially – vote). Counting slaves not at all was the original proposal of the free states; the slave states wanted them counted as equal to freemen. Along with a bunch of other compromises they eventually settled on the three-fifths rule. See the Blumrosens’ Slave Nation: How Slavery United the Colonies and Sparked the American Revolution for the whole sordid story. Amusingly, the three-fifths figure was first suggested by the slavers in relation to a much earlier calculation: determining how much the slave population of a state should count towards assessing how much money that state coughed up to fund the Continental Army.

    And the three fifths rule was about slaves not “black people”. Black people could get their voting rights stripped from them anywhere, even in the free North, as happened even to veterans of the revolutionary war in, for example, Philadelphia..

    *cough* not that that is anything other than tangential to the post. Have you read Mr Hribal on this? He has a book. I don’t know if it’s any good.

  10. consistency is definitely not our virtue. We do recognize animal rights to some degree, and some countries do have animal police etc – so why should cats, dogs and parakeets have rights under the law that are denied to orcas?

    They are cute. They happen to have an ability to evoke favorable response from human observers.

    Pets and other “favored” animals are not that different from “Juke” critters from David Nickle’s Eutopia, if you think about it. Seriously, think about it.

    If you go swimming with sharks and a shark bites you, do you seriously blame the shark? The fact that they’re in captivity and are supposedly ‘trained’ doesn’t change their innate wild nature.

    I doubt many people are “blaming” the orca, and I, for one, seriously doubt it killed the guy.

    Trainer dies from hypothermia.
    Orca tries to play as it would with a trainer, then, failing to get “animate” response (cause he’s no longer animate, duh) starts playing as it would with an inanimate toy.
    Big deal, Sherlock.

    It got isolated for a while, and now returned to “active duty”.

    The problem isn’t that orcas are dangerous (they are far less dangerous to their trainers than their teeth and bulk would suggest), the problem is that they appear to exhibit responses consistent with distress, and if you’re the kind of person who easily goes from “looks like suffering” to “is suffering” that might be a problem, since under that assumption the orcas are being tortured.

    I used to feel that way, but due to spending too much time with “cognitively agnostic” neuroscience guy I am not sure anymore.

  11. “They are cute. They happen to have an ability to evoke favorable response from human observers. ”

    Bingo. It’s the same reason why critters like endangered beetles get less attention than pandas. One’s a big furry teddy bear, the other makes a wet crunchy sound when you step on it.

  12. Whether they’re conscious or not, mistreating orcas is wrong. The very fact that we should have to argue that they’re conscious to stop their mistreatment is __ing twisted.

    No comparisons to people, or minimizations of human rights (artificial, I dont care) are necessary in my mind to give the orcas a place at the table. I’m so tired of the emphasis on how there aren’t enough rights to go around, so we should just give them to straight white male homo sapiens sapiens.

    Ditto on elephants, etc., shudder.

    Although when animal rights in the manner of people suffering while thousands of dollars flow into a nature preserve nearby that they don’t remotely benefit from also bothers me. It’s also a problem from a systems standpoint, aka people poach when they have to EAT (not necessarily the animal in question) and their options are limited.

    As PETA, they are too frequently an embarassment for me to have any hope they would have suceeded.

  13. also yay on the potential award

  14. Question for anyone who proposes

    1. Orcas are people.

    2. People should be vegetarians and not eat animals because of sentient suffering.

    Who do the orcas eat?

  15. Well, if the orcas have rights, and can be slaves, then this one is an psychotic asshole. So, if the lawsuit would’ve gone the PETA way, there logically would follow a multiple murder lawsuit against Tilikum.

    I guess PETA didn’t think this through…

  16. Whether they’re conscious or not, mistreating orcas is wrong. The very fact that we should have to argue that they’re conscious to stop their mistreatment is __ing twisted.

    Why ?

    What, if not consciousness/awareness is special about them or for that matter elephants ? That they are big and kind of friendly ? Perhaps even a little bit… cute ?

    @Bastien

    I always found pandas creepy and repulsive, but then again, I am the person who kinda likes city rats. They’re tenacious and smart. I can respect that.

    I can’t respect the kind of “FEED ME! FEED ME SEYMORE!” fragile dependence of the pandas.

  17. The orca who imitated the noise of boats seemed pretty smart. Not enough to stay away from the props though

  18. I’m more impressed with crows who can remember the faces of humans who offended them and also teach other crows to recognize and act in a hostile manner towards same faces

  19. Worth clarifying vis a vis my previous points: here’s a difference between eating animals and beating them and caging them to make them do tricks.
    A quick chop is far kinder than that, as far as I can tell.

    That said, I’m not really in love with meat eating and am slowly sliding toward a love affair with veganism. Although I admit mainly for sustainability and health reasons. And I’ll eat it when it’s the path of least resistance.

    It’s different for humans to eat meat and an obligate carnivore to eat meat. Humans have *options*. Forcing vegetarianism on an orca would be abuse. Let alone forcing it on anything else.

    Gray areas? We know ‘em we love ‘em!

  20. @01
    My grandfather back in Germany had a crow named Jacop he’d taught to speak (although to be fair he mostly just said his own name). If he liked you he’d land on your shoulder and nibble your ear making purring noises. If he didn’t like you… stay indoors.

  21. @01 – I’m well familiar with the ‘cute’ problem – i.e. that which is not cute gets no attention or protection. Or press. How many people know what an aye-aye or an almiqui looks like? Them not being poster-boys for cuteness (of the panda ilk) or beauty (like tigers, for instance, which while not cute are definitely pretty). Not too many people will cry when they go extinct. We are a shallow species.

    The problem isn’t that orcas are dangerous (they are far less dangerous to their trainers than their teeth and bulk would suggest), the problem is that they appear to exhibit responses consistent with distress, and if you’re the kind of person who easily goes from “looks like suffering” to “is suffering” that might be a problem, since under that assumption the orcas are being tortured.

    hrm. But suffering is so wide-ranging. Surely the conditions of most livestock grown for human consumption more than qualify as suffering, yet somehow most of humanity seems to conveniently not care much. Also, would impaired ability to suffer make it more acceptable to place creatures in poor conditions etc? Would it be ok to cut up a human being with congenital insensitivity to pain? Technically there is no suffering. I’d argue that much lower forms of life can suffer in their own little ways, surely. Somehow we should be able to determine what behavior is acceptable and what isn’t not based on our subjective perception of the victim’s suffering, but on some more consistent principle.

  22. “#2: that if the tewwowists win, “All hell breaks loose.” Which is another way of saying “It mustn’t be, so it isn’t”.”

    This is somewhat analogous to the bible-thumpers arguments against evolution. Since evolution has no morals, and since humans have morals, evolution can’t exist. The alternative would be unthinkable.

  23. Gotta say, full marks to PETA on this one. I feel inspired to give them a donation.

  24. I was recently surprised to discover that botflies are adorably fuzzy cuties

  25. @catsparx

    Eh, personally I’d rethink that. This is kind of a “broken clock is right twice a day” kind of situation. There are animal protection groups out there with much better track records (and far fewer dubious practices) to support if you feel so inclined.

    My 0.02$, for what it’s worth. In the end, do what feels right by you.

  26. From an aesthetics standpoint, I see where you’re coming from, Peter: I don’t like bullies either, and even less institutionalized bullying and abuse of any kind, and you won’t see me argue the political, legislative and judicial systems in ‘merika (among other places) are anything but corrupt, rife with bigotry, selective blindness and double standards, and generally fail to do justice to the ideals that inspired their design.

    Also, you’re entirely right about the second of Seaworld’s core arguments against the PETA case: it does hold water neither legally nor ethically or reasonably.

    But in your rebuttal to Seaworld’s claim that orcas are not legally people, you have your wires sparkingly cross…

    The argument that orcas are not people is a solid, conclusive one, as per the understanding of people in law, pretty much everywhere, anytime on this planet, ever since there has been a tradition of written law.
    If you want the law to treat cetaceans (or any other species/entity) as people (in the legal sense), you must either show that they are literally humans and belong to the species, or at least the homo genus, or introduce a comprehensive argument to extend the definition of people beyond the conspecific.

    Failing that, the obvious fallback strategy would be to argue from the Animal Welfare (sticking to US body of law for now) view, which hinges on the assumed duty of people to treat animals humanely.

    Animal Welfare laws don’t by any stretch of interpretation regard animals as human/people, and instead argue that mistreating animals reflects poorly on one’s humaneness.
    What the law deems a BadThing™ here is the ‘lacking in humanity’ on people’s part, making the whole affair an issue of empathy indeed, but only in the sense that people don’t like self-identifying as cruel or negligent — generally speaking, not just with animals.

    With the psychological well-being factored in US law since 1985, a case could be made that some species are not fit for captivity or to be used as work or exhibition animals, on the grounds of their disposition to suffer more severely, thanks to their specific cognitive/perceptive characteristics.

    PETA didn’t go for the legally and ethically sound reasoning outlined above, instead going for the unsubstantiated and specious argument that orcas can’t be property because people too were treated as property, once.

    “is the same argument that was used against African-Americans and women before their constitutional rights were protected”

    Since weaver above beat me to the 3/5 clarification, and I assume you’re familiar with the reasoning that (eventually) led to outlaw slavery and racial/gender discrimination, I won’t harp any longer about why law is “for, about, and by mankind”.

    I’ll grant you, “Orcas really are black women.” doesn’t sound that crazy, in a country where a putative presidential candidate can get away with “Corporations are people too, my friend”, but do we really want to use a robo-mormon as our standard for reasoning consistency, legal or otherwise ?
    and if the answer is ‘yes’, where can I file a petition for the recognition of personhood on behalf of strawmen and other farm implements everywhere ?

    The skinny is, the suffering of orcas can support a good case against them being mistreated, held and enrolled in circus exhibitions, but as a Shylock plea, it fails both the Turing test and the conspecific prerequisite.

    As a sidenote, I’m personally in favor of extending the legal definition of ‘people’, and to recognize personhood to any sentient/sapient/self-aware intelligence (under which terms Orcas could possibly qualify), I merely question your line of reasoning about this case, and the notion that such profundly axiomatic tenet of law as conspecifics-only could be done away by a mere appeal to empathy with a being that is alien beyond order.

  27. This is us, and you expect we’d care for species that can’t manage to hire a lobbyist ?

  28. @ Val

    Worth clarifying vis a vis my previous points: here’s a difference between eating animals and beating them and caging them to make them do tricks.
    A quick chop is far kinder than that, as far as I can tell.

    The issue of being kinder only makes sense in the context when there is some kind of conscious entity to be kind to, something that suffers, and not just responds to damage.

    We… don’t really know that.

    It is a bit… problematic with humans (who can at least make claims about their mental states or lack thereof).

    Vastly moreso with animals.

    @ Lidija

    hrm. But suffering is so wide-ranging. Surely the conditions of most livestock grown for human consumption more than qualify as suffering

    Only if you assume that livestock are self-aware in the same way as humans are self-aware, that is, have a conscious “I” which can suffer.

    If they are not (good luck figuring out), then you can no more torment them than you could torment a microwave oven. Or a blastula.

    Somehow we should be able to determine what behavior is acceptable and what isn’t not based on our subjective perception of the victim’s suffering, but on some more consistent principle.

    Subjective perception of suffering is, perhaps, the best we’ve got, since we have no aware-o-meters to check whether a given animal is capable of an actual “experience” or not.

    But that’s plenty faulty. Engineering a non-aware machine that would recoil in terror from people who have “hurt” it is a fairly straightforward task, after all.

    @ Bastien

    Did you know that US seriously considered creating a trained corvid army to track down OBL ?

    http://scienceblogs.com/neurophilosophy/2011/05/us_military_spy_crows_binladen.php

  29. Oh, forgot this one (damn tablets!)
    @ Val

    It’s different for humans to eat meat and an obligate carnivore to eat meat. Humans have *options*. Forcing vegetarianism on an orca would be abuse. Let alone forcing it on anything else.

    So, do the animals that die horrible death by bleeding out into the ocean while being impaled on those fancy teeth “suffer” any less because orcas happen to have evolved a necessity to consume meat (preferably of live prey, as I infer from the text of this particular case)?

    Should one, say, manage to get away with murder and cannibalism and whatever if a panel of experts was to testify that said “person” has an innate necessity for hunting human-shaped prey on vast open spaces ?

  30. I’d just like to add that I don’t think that extending the definition of “people”, or a better set of words, “sentient/sapient” would turn the world on its ear. What it would do is allow for one or more species to gain rights of protection from exploitation in entertainment or invasive biomedical studies, abuse, or inadequate captive housing.

    Some wild animals can’t be released for many reasons, due to injury, illness, or lack of skills that must be learned in the wild. We owe it to these animals to at least offer the best we can during their lifespan.

    It’s very difficult not to anthropomorphize, and I try very hard not to. In learning about each species behavior, you come to understand that they have their own unique signs of stress, sickness, and emotional range. No, it’s not human, but that does not mean it should be ignored either.
    I’d rather treat another species with benefit of the doubt, than not care if it suffers at all.

    Personally, I’ve never had an issue with meat eaters or responsible hunters, so please don’t take me for a rabid animal rights activist/ vegetarian.

  31. I’m not convinced that self-awareness is necessary for suffering. Seems to me that if you kick a dog, it suffers. I have no idea – and don’t much care – whether it can be classified as self-aware. That would seem like wasting time discussing semantics instead of comforting a miserable dog. Of course this is my girly non-scientific side speaking. But it makes me, for some reason, think of the Blindsight aliens, who have intelligence without self-awareness. Maybe self-awareness isn’t as big a deal as we tend to think.

    Also if my microwave had any pain receptors, I think I’d start drinking my coffee cold.

    But I seriously wonder whether suffering of the victim is really the best we have to go on in determining what not to do. Two cases come to mind – first, the Armin Meiwes story, (fun fun reading material, if a bit old), where even though the victim was most enthusiastically desiring to have his privates chopped off and served as appetizer before he be butchered and eaten (and thus we may conclude these acts were not perceived by him as suffering), we still seem to not be entirely ok with Armin having him for dinner. (And the following few months of leftovers). At first they were contemplating trying him for mere euthanasia (maximum penalty five years under German law), but then he was sentenced to 8 years or so for manslaughter, and that verdict was overturned for a new trial that sentenced him to life. Harsh much? He did politely ask permission after all, and receive it too. Personally I really believe the man should have walked – not because of some subjective perception of suffering in his vocally willing victim, but because he had explicit written consent. I think that should count.

    The second case that comes to mind is hypothetical. We know that rape is a common female fantasy, but of course actual rape is a horrible, traumatic event. Well let’s imagine for argument’s sake that a particular woman, being attacked and raped by a sick sadist, after the initial trauma and fear finds deep inside her that the whole awful ordeal is actually turning her on. She does not show this to the assailant, she never wanted to get assaulted, she gave no indication of wanting any such horrible thing. Would this somehow make the assailant less guilty of rape? I should think not. Thus the suffering of the victim is not the main guideline. We decide certain behaviors are damaging to others and thus impermissible, and determining exactly how much each individual victim suffers is irrelevant.

    Of course applying this to animals is tricky.

  32. @01

    Falls in line with DARPA making cyborg insects for reconnaissance and espionage purposes.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2085815/Insect-breakthrough-means-cyborg-beetle-spies-step-closer.html
    http://imaginesciencefilms.com/2011/11/7653/

    I love living in the future.

  33. Yes, but everybody agrees that orcas are giant oceanic douches, right?

  34. Lidija’s point about the suffering of a dog reminds me of something I saw, I believe on BoingBoing, about a robotic toy that seemed to be writhing in pain if you damaged it. Should we assume the appearance of suffering = suffering? If we could create a robot object that acted like it was hurt if you took off parts of its body, is it immoral to do so? “But it’s not really hurt!” you might cry, “it’s just a robot!”

    Well, you could say the same about animals. In fact, people have said similar things about animals, they’re not really suffering, it’s just a biological response. Eventually we reach the thorny issue of AI rights in general (and although you can argue about where the point is, if you believe there’s never a point where they are deserving of consideration, then I don’t really have much I can say, you’re self-evidently wrong), which seems to have some parallels to animal rights… except when you’re dealing with ones that are somewhat more primitive. A cute bunny is protected by animal cruelty laws, while a computer is not. Gleefully talk about taking apart a cat, and you’re serial killer material, talk the same about a robot and you’re just a geek.

    I do think we need some standards of behavior… I think causing what we perceive of suffering for no reason is wrong, and I’m tempted to say the same about entertainment, but… isn’t entertainment a need too? Whale performances are at least nominally educational as well, is that a worthy enough goal?

    For full rights, I think we have to adopt a standard of some sort of meaningful communication that is able to establish that the species as a whole is at a certain level of intellectual development (even if the individual members, at a particular stage, may not be, we assume in favor of the whole species). Beyond that, we should try not to be unduly cruel, but using the animal/tool for a particular purpose is okay, as long as we don’t cause the pain required for it.

    By that standard, I’d probably have to side against PETA (although if the animals are being especially mistreated, punish that on its own merits), but I do wish it had gone to a full trial. And ideally I’d want a Seaworld that’s open to the sea where the whales can willingly leave if they so desire. (Val suggested that quickly killing an animal for food is kinder than keeping them imprisoned as a slave, and it may be… the problem is, if you asked a person sentenced to life imprisonment, whether they’d rather have the option of an instant death penalty, some would say yes, others would say no… who are we to decide either way which an animal would rather have?)

    Unfortunately, there are rarely cut and dried categories, everything exists on a continuum, or worse, a variety of continuums. So this whole post is just a long winded way of saying “I DON’T KNOW, IT’S SO COMPLICATED!!!!”

  35. A full cite to an old analog “sci-fi fact” article on law dealing with non-human intelligences isn’t handy right now. It was one of those pieces written by a fan in the legal profession. His point should be well understood: the Law — at least everything deriving from the English Common Law which derives from the Roman legal tradition — deals with the actions of members of the race of Men.

    Even the most intelligent of starfaring alien visitors are considered feris naturae, or wild animals. Legally, if not morally, the judge in the case was right and constrained to dismiss the case as without merit, as the subject was feris-naturae. The issue then becomes a matter of enacting legislation, perhaps even amending constitutions, to admit a legal standing before a court. Even if we cannot admit an animal — starfaring alien or not — to legal standing, we could and possibly should admit (and in some cases require) legal standing of Conservators. See also the history of the SPCA.

    Noting that even Bad Dogs are entitled to a defense given by their owner, the real question here might be “who is it that is entitled to be Conservator for non-humans”. Is it the legal owner? Should the legal owner be given absolute latitude in determining the fate of their chattel? Again, see also the history of the SPCA and Humane Societies… yet although decisions might remove chattel from possession and assign that chattel to new ownership or conservatorship, I can’t recall any cases in which the status of chattel was set aside.

    In any case, as with any process of Law within the human community, what it comes down to is the interplay between arguments and words, in contrast or opposition to the application of raw force. We could argue in terms of raw force with chimps or orca, and without our technology and organizational skills, we humans tend to lose those fights, especially when conducted on the other species’ home terrains/environments. Yet as a group organizing to bring to bear our technological advantages, humans win, hands down. Can we make our non-human-yet-intelligent companions in this world understand that? Perhaps the dogs almost understand this although they cannot articulate it. Many, if not most, submit themselves to the judgements and protection of/by their human Alphas… especially in their dealings with other humans who are outside of their adoptive pack. It is probably excessive anthropomorphising to think that they think of us as their lawyers, though.

    How do you get an orca to think of you as its lawyer? Perhaps more importantly, how can you get one to recognize that it needs to fire its lawyer and get another one? Law prescribes or proscribes specific behavior in specific situations, though generally in general terms; ask any trial attorney about the importance of case law to define the generalities of legislation and to refine precedent. Yet for the orca, for the chimp, even for the dog, there isn’t much legislation, much less precedent in cases.

    This is one case, and the precedent is that the orca hasn’t got legal standing. Next case, please! Another approach might set a different precedent. Regardless of our considerations off ethics and morality, when dealing with the law matters must be resolved within the legal tradition, even when breaking new ground, so to speak. If the legal tradition is “sta re decisis” (let decisions stand) then force a new decision. This is going to take vision, more vision and better lawyers than PETA has, sad to say, in my humble opinion.

  36. Hmmm. On the point of the pain of animals being ‘just a biological response’, again I’m not sold. How is my pain not just a biological response too? I’m guessing the actual mechanics of feeling it are pretty similar between us and the other species. It is true that I might perceive pain differently when someone slaps me and when I bang my knee against a table, because in one case the injury comes partly from the intent. But I do believe that other animals who comprehend social interaction (dogs, for instance) can to some degree perceive this difference as well. It would be hard for anyone to convince me that a dog is not capable of trusting its owner, and where there is trust, trust can be betrayed – if you suddenly strike out at your pet, I believe he’d be feeling more than just the physical aspect of pain. So I guess the question is at what point animals no longer recognize the intent behind the injury. Although whether it’s ok to hurt something just because it’s not evolved enough to understand that you’re hurting it on purpose is again a hard point to argue.

    On the issue of AI for me again it comes down not to reaction, but to what’s underneath it. If you code a machine along the lines of ‘IF – receive kick, THEN – fall down and writhe around for 3 minutes’, no, I don’t think the machine is suffering in any meaningful way – it’s no different than coding it to ‘IF – receive kick, THEN – sing the Macarena’. But if you can somehow give it a sense of discomfort, and program ‘IF – receive kick, THEN – feel bad’ – whether it shows it or not – that, I believe, is suffering.

    I definitely think we’ll have to consider AI rights once AI is sufficiently advanced. Saying ‘we made them so we can take them apart’ will hold as much water as the age old pearl of parenting wisdom, ‘I gave birth to you so I can beat you senseless if I want’.

    Speaking of, I stare at my two month old infant here and wonder to what degree I can claim him to be self-aware. He certainly isn’t exhibiting any signs that I can discern. He doesn’t much seem to recognise me either – most of his stares are directed at the walls at the moment. Yet I’d argue it would not be ok to poke him with a stick just because of this.

  37. Julian Morrison said:

    Question for anyone who proposes

    1. Orcas are people.

    2. People should be vegetarians and not eat animals because of sentient suffering.

    Who do the orcas eat?

    Quoting from “Bulk Food”:

    If only those idiot scientists hadn’t barged in and proved
    everything. Now there’s no choice but to get the orcas to give up
    meat.

    The Residents have the greatest moral potential. At least they
    draw the line at fish. The Transients remain relentlessly bullheaded
    in their mammalvory, but perhaps the Residents can be
    brought to full enlightenment. Back on shore, one of the west
    coast’s best-known Kirlian nutritionists is working tirelessly on
    alternate ways to meet Orcinus‘ dietary requirements. She’s
    already had some spectacular successes with her own cats. Not
    only is a vegan diet vastly more efficient than conventional pet
    foods—the cats eat only a fraction of what they used to—but the
    felines have so much more energy now that they’re always out on
    the prowl. You hardly ever see them at home any more.

    Not everything goes so well, of course. There’ve been setbacks.
    In hindsight, it may have been premature to dump that thousand
    heads of Romaine lettuce onto A4-Pod last summer during their
    spring migration. Not only did the Residents fail to convert to
    Veganism, but apparently they’d actually been considering certain
    exceptions to their eat-no-mammals policy. Fortunately, everyone
    on the boat had made it back okay.

    Seriously, people. That story answers all your questions.

  38. demoscene Val said:

    It’s different for humans to eat meat and an obligate carnivore to eat meat. Humans have *options*. Forcing vegetarianism on an orca would be abuse. Let alone forcing it on anything else.

    Again, dealt with in the vastly underrated “Bulk Food”:

    Dipnet chugs steadily west. Her cargo of ambassadors scans the
    waves for any sign of the natives, their faith too strong to falter
    before anything so inconsequential as zero visibility. Not everyone
    gets to commune with an alien intelligence. A superior
    intelligence, in many ways.

    Not in every way, of course. Many on the Dipnet long for the
    good old days of moral absolutes, the days when Meat Was
    Murder
    only when Humans ate it. Everything was so clear back
    then, to anyone who wasn’t a puppet of the Industrial-Protein
    Complex. There was a ready answer to anything the Ignorantsia
    might ask:

    How come it’s okay for sharks to kill baby seals? Because
    sharks aren’t moral agents. They can’t see the ethical implications
    of their actions.

    How come it’s not okay for people to kill baby seals? Because
    we can.

    Now orcas are moral agents too. They talk. They think. They
    reason. Not that that’s any surprise to Dipnet‘s passengers, of
    course—they knew the truth way back when all those bozo
    scientists were insisting that orcas were basically chimps with fins.
    But sometimes, too much insight can lead to the wrong kind of
    questions, questions that distract one from the truth. Questions
    like:

    How come it’s okay for orcas to kill baby seals, but we can’t?

  39. Lidija said:

    I’m well familiar with the ‘cute’ problem — i.e. that which is not cute gets no attention or protection. Or press. How many people know what an aye-aye or an almiqui looks like? Them not being poster-boys for cuteness (of the panda ilk) or beauty (like tigers, for instance, which while not cute are definitely pretty). Not too many people will cry when they go extinct. We are a shallow species.

    Back in the day I wrote the screenplay for a documentary on the east coast seal/fisheries conflict. The final product was pretty cheesy to behold (although it did have the unique distinction of winning the Environment Canada trophy for “Best Film on the Environment” while at the same time being censored by another branch of the same government for being “antiCanadian propaganda”. Which led to one or two interesting exchanges at tourist kiosks along the Gaspé, I’ve been told). Anyway, I tried to introduce this whole survival-of-the-cuteness thing into that script; had a scene where through the (then-novel) magic of CGI, the harp seal pup in Loretta Switt’s arms morphed into a giant banana slug— the better to raise the question of whether Hollywood celebrities would be quite so enthused about the cause if seals were a bit less cuddlesome. I introduced the familiar phrase “Bambi Syndrome” in that sequence.

    My boss axed the whole scene. He wouldn’t even let me use the phrase. He equated it to “nigger lover”.

    This may have had something to do with the fact that the film was being funded by the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

  40. Lanius said:

    Captive orcas and other mammals kept for amusement are one thing, but do you seriously propose that people should give up animal based foodstuffs because it’s exploitation?

    I believe that anti-abortionists should give up animal foodstuffs, because they’ve set the bar at a bloody zygote — but then again, logical consistency has never been the anti-abortionists’s strong suit. I’m explicitly on record as saying there’s not inevitable law that forces us to be “ethical”, but I reserve the right to ridicule the hypocrits among us.

    01 said:

    Now that is a simple one.

    1) Can it build relatively sophisticated weapons (okay, tools might be enough) ?

    2) Can it mount an independent argument when dealing with us ?

    IF yes to any of above, THEN intelligent :D

    I suspect that’ll make it a lot easier to give the vote to AIs in a couple of decades.

    OTOH, point (2) presupposes the existence of language, and language itself might legitimately be regarded as a workaround for systems too stupid to communicate by more direct means. Echolocating cetaceans, for example, could conceivably parse the emotional state of conspecifics by simply scanning their sinuses and vascular states. Whole swathes of the need for language disappears if you can directly read the emotional states of everyone in your tribe, or acoustically squirt 3D images between individuals; the whole concept of a “verb” becomes redundant if you can broadcast animations of objects in action. I’m not stating that cetacean echolocation is up to that level of information exchange (although I wouldn’t rule it out either); my point is that it’s trivially easy to imagine an intelligent agent that never had the need to develop conventional language and which, therefore, would fail your “argument” criterion even though it might kick our asses in terms of pure intellect.

    Lidija said:

    I don’t see how anyone can show any ire towards a wild animal that happens to attack or kill a human. If you go swimming with sharks and a shark bites you, do you seriously blame the shark.

    Sadly, that’s exactly what we do, more often than not. If someone falls off a cliff, nobody advocates dynamiting said cliff down to sea level so that no one will fall off of it in future; but when some soccer mom loses her sprog to a mountain lion who’s had most of his habitat eradicated by the subdivision she just moved into, you can be damned sure the whole fucking community will saddle up and blow away every big cat within twenty klicks.

    Lionel Davoust said:

    Funny how fellow fallen marine mammalogists end up in science-fiction and fantasy ! :) Congrats on your being longlisted, Peter.

    Dude! Just went back and checked your bio. We should start a club: SF writers with formal training in marine biology. You might point out that it would be a very small club; I would prefer the word “exclusive”.

    I’m curious, what’s your opinion on the fact that about half of all SW’s killer whales are related to Tiklium? May we have a psychopathic breed here? ;)

    Given the conditions under which these guys are kept (relative to the breadth of their natural habitat), I don’t think we need to invoke a gene for psychopathy; at least, I don’t think I have such a gene, but if I ended up forced to live in a space the size of a bathroom for a few decades, while being forced to jump through hoops and eat dead frozen bait for no good reason, I’m pretty sure I’d be itching to wrap my hands around some jailer’s throat…

    weaver said:

    The three fifths rule was about calculating political representation …

    Thanks for that. They never mentioned even half that stuff on The West Wing

    Have you read Mr Hribal on this? He has a book. I don’t know if it’s any good.

    Neither do I. But it’s got 4.5 stars on Amazon.

    Val said:

    I’m so tired of the emphasis on how there aren’t enough rights to go around, so we should just give them to straight white male homo sapiens sapiens.

    (She said other stuff too, but it’s bundled in with the bigger discussion about suffering and so many people weighed in on that I’m going to give it its own comment. So I just hived this little quote off so I could say…)
    Come on, Val. Have you seriously ever heard anyone argue that there “aren’t enough rights to go around”? What does that even mean? And when was the last time you heard anyone suggest that us straight white boys should be the only ones to get rights?

    Straw Man doesn’t come close. Straw Man doused in gasoline, maybe.

    Paladin said:

    Well, if the orcas have rights, and can be slaves, then this one is an psychotic asshole. So, if the lawsuit would’ve gone the PETA way, there logically would follow a multiple murder lawsuit against Tilikum.

    If I kept you locked up in a basement for twenty years while your muscles atrophied and your teeth rotted out, made you jump and caper for the entertainment of my redneck buddies until one day I just said enough and fought back — I don’t think too many juries would convict you…

    demoscene Val said:

    Worth clarifying vis a vis my previous points: here’s a difference between eating animals and beating them and caging them to make them do tricks. A quick chop is far kinder than that, as far as I can tell.

    I think you may be romanticizing the life of your average factory-farm animal a bit. Veal and future-KFC-chicken-nuggets, meet Val. Val, Veal and future-KFC-chicken-nuggets.

    AcD said:

    But in your rebuttal to Seaworld’s claim that orcas are not legally people, you have your wires sparkingly cross…

    The argument that orcas are not people is a solid, conclusive one, as per the understanding of people in law, pretty much everywhere, anytime on this planet, ever since there has been a tradition of written law. If you want the law to treat cetaceans (or any other species/entity) as people (in the legal sense), you must either show that they are literally humans and belong to the species, or at least the homo genus, or introduce a comprehensive argument to extend the definition of people beyond the conspecific.

    I’m obviously no legal expert (although I picked up a few interesting pointers a couple of years back…), but surely the legal concept of personhood predates the awareness of genes as a delineator of species? Which means that the traditional view of a “person” has to rely on something other than Linnean taxonomy. Physical appearance is a generally reliable cue for identifying “people” but didn’t “personhood” originally boil down to possession of, for want of a better word, soul?

    In which case — given the lack of any empirical evidence for a “divine spark” even amongst us humans — surely we’re talking about some sort of cognitive suite: the ability to think, reason, communicate, empathize, what have you.

    Perhaps I am completely wrong on this — at the very least I’m being simplistic, in that “personhood” has traditionally been extended even to human bodies incapable of what we’d call self-awareness — but I’d argue that’s a result of confusing conventional correlates of “personhood” with the thing itself. Surely the original definition of “person” couldn’t have had species at its core, since the very concept didn’t exist back then? In which case, I’d think orcas might qualify.

    But as I say, I’m not an expert. I defer to those who are. Thomas’s reference to feris naturae gives me serious paws, for example.

    As a sidenote, I’m personally in favor of extending the legal definition of ‘people’, and to recognize personhood to any sentient/sapient/self-aware intelligence (under which terms Orcas could possibly qualify), I merely question your line of reasoning about this case, and the notion that such profundly axiomatic tenet of law as conspecifics-only could be done away by a mere appeal to empathy with a being that is alien beyond order.

    Fair enough. A growing number of biologists (Dawkins perhaps most famously among them) do advocate for reclassifying chimps and gorillas, at the very least, under the genus Homo with an eye to conferring human rights upon them. I like that.

    AcD said:

    This is us, and you expect we’d care for species that can’t manage to hire a lobbyist ?

    I expect the exact opposite. I even closed out the post saying as much.

    Brilliant “ad”, btw.

  41. Ha! I completely forgot that you were the one who wrote that orca story. It’s hilarious.

    I want to underline your comments about the orca not necessarily being innately psychopathic. It could have been driven insane. Maybe it had some reason to hate the people it targeted.

    (btw, psychotic isn’t psychopathic. I’ve been psychotic, I did not go on a mad killing spree. I was delusional and thought everyone was out to help me. Big difference.)

  42. A Whole Lotta Stuff on Suffering and Anthropomorphism Here:

    01 said:

    …the problem is that they appear to exhibit responses consistent with distress, and if you’re the kind of person who easily goes from “looks like suffering” to “is suffering” that might be a problem, since under that assumption the orcas are being tortured. I used to feel that way, but due to spending too much time with “cognitively agnostic” neuroscience guy I am not sure anymore.

    Val said:

    Whether they’re conscious or not, mistreating orcas is wrong. The very fact that we should have to argue that they’re conscious to stop their mistreatment is __ing twisted.

    to which 01 replied

    Why ? What, if not consciousness/awareness is special about them or for that matter elephants ? That they are big and kind of friendly ? Perhaps even a little bit… cute ?

    and also:

    The issue of being kinder only makes sense in the context when there is some kind of conscious entity to be kind to, something that suffers, and not just responds to damage. We… don’t really know that.

    and

    Only if you assume that livestock are self-aware in the same way as humans are self-aware, that is, have a conscious “I” which can suffer. If they are not (good luck figuring out), then you can no more torment them than you could torment a microwave oven. Or a blastula.

    Subjective perception of suffering is, perhaps, the best we’ve got, since we have no aware-o-meters to check whether a given animal is capable of an actual “experience” or not.

    But that’s plenty faulty. Engineering a non-aware machine that would recoil in terror from people who have “hurt” it is a fairly straightforward task, after all.

    and

    So, do the animals that die horrible death by bleeding out into the ocean while being impaled on those fancy teeth “suffer” any less because orcas happen to have evolved a necessity to consume meat (preferably of live prey, as I infer from the text of this particular case)?

    And Lynn added,

    It’s very difficult not to anthropomorphize, and I try very hard not to. In learning about each species behavior, you come to understand that they have their own unique signs of stress, sickness, and emotional range. No, it’s not human, but that does not mean it should be ignored either.

    And to all of this: well.

    The whole idea of whether a nonhuman animal can “suffer” is, IMO, not quite so angels-on-a-pin’s-head as some would have it. I’ve looked into this issue a fair bit during the course of my marine-mammal work, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the aquarium industry — with a lot of help from biologists, sadly — have pulled a fast one on us by tarring “anthropomorphism” as unscientific. Sometimes it is; but other times (such as when dealing with fellow mammals), I think it’s extremely unscientific to not anthropomorphize. Biologists generalize all the time: study a couple of cat species and write a paper that extends their findings to the whole Felid family, for example, or put radio tags on a handful or harbor and harp seals and call the study “Feeding patterns of Northern Phocids”. This is justifiable in many cases; the whole reason we group the phocid seals together is that they share a great number of traits, and its not unreasonable to infer that the behavior of closely related species will be similar.

    Why, then — when confronted with different species whose emotional circuitry is pretty much identical and whose cognitive circuitry is at least comparable — do we suddenly dismiss the perfectly reasonable claim that comparable wetware should produce comparable subjective states as somehow “unscientific”? Granted, we’ll never know for certain what a whale might be feeling; but then again, I’ll never know for certain what any of you are feeling either. That hardly justifies dismissing the strong likelihood that you’re feeling it, even if you were deaf and mute and couldn’t communicate your feelings directly. In cases like this, our own subjective experience is data, just as much as numbers on the thermoregulation of harp seals can be reasonably applied to hooded seals as well.

    Pretty much everything with a nervous system can feel pain; the circuitry required to feel anxiety (i.e., stressing out even in the absence of a directly perceived threat— basically the difference between responding to the sight of a charging grizzly bear and simply being afraid that an unseen grizzly bear is lurking somewhere nearby) actually exists all the way down to the boney fishes (sharks and rays, not so much).

    One can also draw reasonable inferences from behavioral constraint. If a creature is prevented from doing something that it is wired to do in the course of its normal existence — if a bird is prevented from grooming, for example, or a killer whale who’s used to circumnavigating Vancouver Island in a weekend finds herself unable to swim more than three times her body length without having to pull a hairpin turn — it’s not just reasonable to assume that thwarting those behaviors leads to suffering. It’s unreasonable, and in my opinion unscientific, to assume that it doesn’t. (Of course, once again this presupposes neural circuitry capable of generating subjective experience; I agree with those who say that if you can’t subjectively feel anything, you can’t suffer regardless of the injuries you may sustain.)

    Finally, Lidija said:

    But I seriously wonder whether suffering of the victim is really the best we have to go on in determining what not to do. Two cases come to mind — first, the Armin Meiwes story,… Personally I really believe the man should have walked — not because of some subjective perception of suffering in his vocally willing victim, but because he had explicit written consent.

    Me too.

    The second case that comes to mind is hypothetical. We know that rape is a common female fantasy…

    I actually did not know that. I’ve known a fair number of women who do fantasize about being the victims of sexual violence, but I always assumed it was a different-strokes kinda thing. Didn’t know it applied to the female population in general. Are there any hard numbers on this?

  43. @Peter it would be surprising if rape were not a common female fantasy given it is a hugely (and horribly) common female experience. Sexuality is often catharsis.

  44. “The final product was pretty cheesy to behold (although it did have the unique distinction of winning the Environment Canada trophy for “Best Film on the Environment” while at the same time being censored by another branch of the same government for being “antiCanadian propaganda”. ”

    Now I really want to see this.

  45. This may not be exhaustive, but I’m exhausted. And I haven’t eaten lunch and work is busy.

    @Peter
    “there’s not inevitable law that forces us to be ‘ethical’”
    I’m on board with this, bear that in mind in my response to all the zillion comments. egad.

    @Lidija
    “But I seriously wonder whether suffering of the victim is really the best we have to go on in determining what not to do.”
    Yes. I don’t think it is.
    Re-fictional discussions of artificial but sentient life forms experiencing pain, see Saturn’s Children. Not sure what Peter thinks about the ethics of nuking smart gels in comparison.

    I think “cuteness” shouldn’t matter. Neither should sentience. We need some presumably semi-objective guideline. But nobody seems to have come up with one yet. I should read up on Buddhism, maybe Buddhists have.

    Also, you said something about you caring about something making you girly. This drives me nuts. I do it myself, but when women care about something we shouldn’t have to apologize, and neither should men. I refer everyone to “Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity”, by Julia Serano. It’s uneven but very good and insightful. While we’re at it, vis a vis the ethics of consent, I was rather impressed by a number of the essays in “Yes Means Yes!: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape”, ed. Friedman and Valenti.

    @Peter
    “Have you seriously ever heard anyone argue that there ‘aren’t enough rights to go around’?”
    The scarcity subtext seems to underlie a lot of the arguments I’ve seen
    against gay marriage, vegetarianism, etc.
    In other words, the concept that if one expands a given set of rights to one
    community, then it’s a slippery slope and nobody will be able to do anything,
    and even moreso, by giving out rights you’re taking them away from people who
    presently have them. E.g. conservative Christians who say that supporting
    gay rights infringes their right to be bigoted against gay people.

    re 01,
    “The issue of being kinder only makes sense in the context when there is some kind of conscious entity to be kind to, something that suffers, and not just responds to damage. We… don’t really know that. It is a bit… problematic with humans (who can at least make claims about their mental states or lack thereof). Vastly moreso with animals”
    –&Lidija
    “Surely the conditions of most livestock grown for human consumption more than qualify as suffering . . . . Somehow we should be able to determine what behavior is acceptable and what isn’t not based on our subjective perception of the victim’s suffering, but on some more consistent principle.”
    –&Peter:
    “I think you may be romanticizing the life of your average factory-farm animal a bit. Veal and future-KFC-chicken-nuggets, meet Val. Val, Veal and future-KFC-chicken-nuggets.”

    Honestly, you’re all right about humans eating meat being wrong.

    I habitually frame my semi-vegetarianism as about sustainability because of internalized misogyny. I need to get over it. I don’t want to be thought a fuzzy headed woman who doesn’t want to eat cute things (and chickens aren’t, they smell and they’re gross and I hate them, especially roosters), or a neurotic American who is a picky eater (when I travel). I don’t want to be difficult at family dinners (as neither my parents nor my in-laws are vegetarians, veganism is outright weird to them, and I’ve gotten semi-jokingly berated for depriving my poor husband because if I cook, which is most of the time, we don’t eat meat . . . sigh . . . trying to get him to do something other than pasta or “fancy dinner”, aka fish, but he has a thesis to finish).

    But I need to get off my ass and become a vegan already (the slope is so slippery I can’t seem to justify otherwise). There are temptations all around, and it will be hard, but that’s no justification. If it was, I’d have committed a lot of murders by now. *wry* But how do I justify not proselytizing? I don’t want to is not a valid answer. After all, I have no trouble being a vocal “humorless feminist”.

    Anyway, in my mind, the question of orcas’ sentience shouldn’t determine whether they are treated humanely, the problem is what constitutes humanely and how do we tell . . . and even the word humanely is problematic.

    Animal testing makes me utterly confused as to how to respond, because I don’t feel like dying of the Spanish Flu Redux and cancer cures are important, although I’m also not sure I’m happy with current procedures for animal testing, given that IRBs (institutional review boards) have been known to pass projects that result in mistreatment of *gasp* humans (see Medical Apartheid, by Harriet A. Washington, and while you’re at it but not directly related, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot).

    @ACD
    “I’m personally in favor of extending the legal definition of ‘people’, and to recognize personhood to any sentient/sapient/self-aware intelligence”

    Yes. And all the stuff about legal precedent too. Law isn’t the law itself only, it’s the law and legal precedent, as far as I can tell. If one has any exposure to responsas and other commentaries which provide the precedents which govern kashrut, for example, American law seems to work in a very similar way — law is not just the word of the law, but the successfully argued/accepted interpretations of it. As far as I can tell from a smattering of exposure to both worlds. Probably the same with any similarly complex set of rules.

    @Peter:
    How come it’s okay for orcas to kill baby seals, but we can’t?

    I read Bulk Feed years ago.
    Because they’ll starve to death if they don’t, I thought. The whole obligate carnivores thing. Do you feel like instituting an orca feeding program to wean them off meat, with the necessary supplements so they don’t experience massive deficiency syndromes? Can they even DIGEST vegetables? The ethics of the situation pale for me next to the practicalities.
    You’re the marine biologist though . . . I am probably missing something.

    I admit I’m worried more about humans starving. Which is an indication that the scarcity arguments used by conservatives that I cite above (and which I’m not sure are really valid, especially vis a vis the coexistence of massive food waste and massive malnutrition and starvation on this planet) have gotten to me. When I have to choose between animals and humans, I choose humans. This is not necessarily a valid response, but social justice issues are my hot button thing.
    It still irks me that there was an ASPCA before people made dedicated provision for abused human children.

    And now we get into a discussion of utilitarianism and why it is invalid.

    And I wish I remembered more of my college philosophy classes.

    I really wish I knew what my father the (retired) philosophy professor would say
    to all this, but he’d likely just ask a question. : D
    (He’s a fan of Socrates)

    He spent years teaching freshmen, and I figure that’s about the
    level we’re at. Me included, given my porous memory.

    Overall, I find this Wikipedia article rather relevant . . .
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pain_%28philosophy%29

    re01
    “Should one, say, manage to get away with murder and cannibalism and whatever if a panel of experts was to testify that said “person” has an
    innate necessity for hunting human-shaped prey on vast open spaces?”

    I call straw man. I highly doubt the person will die of malnutrition from not eating human flesh, and there are more flexible options for meeting their needs than there are for wild populations of orcas . . . A pill is a lot easier to give than trying to seed vast tracts of ocean with powdered supplements, if that would even WORK.

    @Lionel

    Hi! Hope to run into you again. It was a pleasure to do so back in 2009, and thanks again for that copy of Galaxies. I’ll be at World Fantasy in Toronto . . .

  46. the thing about freshmen, by the way, I don’t mean to insult, hence why I applied it to myself. I haven;t read what peter said just above yet becuse he posted it while I was working on my last reply. arugh.

  47. also, as I eat a sandwich leftover from a meeting at my office, I wonder what the ethics of eating meat that someone else got rid of are, if it was just going to go to waste anyway . . .

    my standards sort of waver when free food that will otherwise be discarded is involved.

  48. (Warning: a bit long and dry.)

    Feris Naturae isn’t something that pops up easily on google, even in the context of Law. Yet google-books pops up something interesting and perhaps relevant to this debate. From “Letters addressed to Caleb Strong, esq., late governor of Massachusetts &c by one Samuel Whelpley:

    Cicero, than whom no writer speaks of it with more eloquence and force, says, [Orat. por. Mil. p. 316.] “Hoc et ratio doctis, et necessitas barbaris, et mos gentibus, t feris naturae ipsae praescripsit, ut omnem semper vim, quacunque ope possent, a corpore, a capite, [a] vita sua propulsarent.” “Reason has taught this to the learned, necessity to the barbarian, custom to all nations, and nature itself to the wild beasts, that they should always repel all violence, by all means in their power, from their body, their head, and their life.”

    Mr Whelpley goes on at some length discoursing on the nature of vengeance and how it cannot be thought to be of equal atrocity with the original offense. He also, unfortunately to the present readership, cites divine and scriptural authority to rationalize that vengeance ought not to be sought, mostly because divine providence, or even intervention, will set straight all affairs of men. One reasonably presumes, however, that our vengeful Orca is less the Christian and reasons more along the lines of Cicero. Yet despite the known intelligence of Orcae, can we really attribute Tilikum’s body-count to vengeance? If, as per Mr Whelpley, we declare that however violent the retaliation, it is morally an infraction inferior to the moral weight of the provocation, one has to wonder what that provocation could be, assuming that the logical systems of Tilikum make a one-for-one correspondence between the perpetrator of the injury and the victim of the consequences. Honestly, we can’t legally or reasonably assume that didn’t just think “damned hairless apes, oh look, here’s one! <chomp>”.

    Tilikum legally is sitting amid an immense body of case law and precedent, potentially well-defended by either the doctrine of “he’s not a bad dog, he bit the man because I told him to” or “you can’t expect to poke a dog with a stick and have it not bite you”. Additionally there’s the little matter of waivers to the effect of “you do of course realize that you’ll be working at close quarters with an extremely large animal with lots of sharp teeth”. Yet there isn’t much precedent that specifically protects him outside of such things as the Endangered Species Act or comparable statute. And none of those protections treat him (or any nonhuman) as anything other than an animal, however intelligent.

    At best (in an “ideal world”), legally Tilikum — or other orca, or dolphins or higher primates — could be in the position of a human being deemed incompetent for trial. In such cases, absent extremely clear and utterly compelling cause, the death penalty is off of the table and even exile is out of the question; imprisonment might be imposed but it would be in the context of a medical or compassionate custody rather than any sort of punitive incarceration. While I do not know of any cases or enacted legislation which does now assign such custodial status to non-humans, there is an extremely large body of case law and precedent (variable between jurisdictions) in matters of custody of human legal-incompetents. The tricky bit, as PETA has found, is to get a non-human considered to be — in terms of legal standing — human enough to be considered custodial charges rather than chattel.

    There is an additional possibility, at least in the States. SCOTUS (“Supreme Court of the United States”) has affirmed that corporate entities are considered as Legal Persons at least for purposes of the Amendment Fourteen Section 1, “equal protection of the laws”. It has even been summarized as “if it can hire an attorney, legally it’s a person”. Yet how can we reasonably suggest that an animal, of its own will and with competent understanding, has retained counsel? Comparably, how can we make a reasonable suggestion that a blind and retarded deaf-mute human child has done the same? Yet nobody in their right mind would consider teaching such a child to swim, throwing him in a pool, calling him “Bob”, and charging admission. Aside from the moral outrage, many organizations exist for the sole purpose of acting as legal representative for those who can never represent their own interests. Many — if not most — of these, come before the courts in a role which is not adversarial, but advisory. Rather than speaking as expert witnesses brought in by the adversarial parties, they speak as friends of the court, “amicus curae”.

    Legislation which confers human status on non-humans is probably not going to get very far if only because non-humans are in fact not human. Yet it would probably be fairly simple and straightforward to press for legislation which recognizes that some non-humans both need and deserve friend-of-the-court representation. It will be difficult at best to find some extant organization which doesn’t have a dog in that fight, so to speak; PETA or SPCA or Humane can all be considered prejudiced, as could be their opponents. Courts based on Common Law can probably appoint, if empowered and required, “special masters” to deal with such cases. The real heavy lifting here (again, so to speak) will be getting a legislative mandate creating a list of non-human species which must in all cases be considered by a court before decisions can be made and imposed which affect life or limb.

  49. When certain religious traditions say something like the Wolf is my brother are they just being poetic or do they actually represent a definition of People not related to modern notions of conspecificity?

  50. I wonder what the ethics of eating meat that someone else got rid of are, if it was just going to go to waste anyway . . .

    I think some Buddhist traditions of eating allow for eating meat if it wasn’t killed specifically for you.

  51. although it did have the unique distinction of winning the Environment Canada trophy for “Best Film on the Environment” while at the same time being censored by another branch of the same government for being “antiCanadian propaganda”.

    must – see – film!! is it accessible by any earthly means? Also bambi syndrome is a great term for the phenomenon. I really think there should be more Discovery shows about banana slugs. They’re all about bloody crocodiles.

    I actually did not know that. I’ve known a fair number of women who do fantasize about being the victims of sexual violence, but I always assumed it was a different-strokes kinda thing. Didn’t know it applied to the female population in general. Are there any hard numbers on this?

    I’m not aware of any research, but it has always been my understanding, from my own experience and that of friends (of both genders). A quick search, though, throws up this:

    “From 1973 through 2008, nine surveys of women’s rape fantasies have been published. They show that about four in 10 women admit having them (31 to 57 percent) with a median frequency of about once a month. Actual prevalence of rape fantasies is probably higher because women may not feel comfortable admitting them.”

    From personal experience though, at the risk of sharing too much information, first time I encountered such thoughts was at about five years of age – far before I had any idea of what sex is, how it works, or that it even exists. At the time it was merely the notion of an unknown dark faceless man leaning over me, that caused strange excitement. Took a lot of years to link it back to what it actually was – but it brings me to doubt what Julian said – it would be surprising if rape were not a common female fantasy given it is a hugely (and horribly) common female experience. Sexuality is often catharsis. It seems to have been almost a biological thing – nature rather than nurture. Of course I cannot vouch for other women’s experiences in this sense.

  52. @ Peter

    Of course, once again this presupposes neural circuitry capable of generating subjective experience; I agree with those who say that if you can’t subjectively feel anything, you can’t suffer regardless of the injuries you may sustain

    Thing is, Peter, as you most certainly know :) “subjective experience generation” functionality isn’t totally guaranteed even with humans (and its sudden failure does not completely incapacitate a human)

    Thus, given that “generation of a subjective experience” is perhaps the most poorly understood function of the human brain, and not even an inalienable or, strictly speaking, vital one, drawing stable moral analogies between humans and other mammals becomes way harder.

    The key factor in suffering, capacity for subjective experience, can very well be missing (worse yet, it might be missing only some of the time, in very same specimen, after all, stuff like that was documented in humans!).

    Not that I mind people trying to avoid “hurting” animals “just in case” – as long as there’s no skin of my nose, and no money out of my pocket (and I certainly have no investment in weird marine theme park things). It’s just that statement “animals are suffering now appears to me as based on pretty brave assumptions.

    @ Lidija

    Basically, my argument revolves around the claim that presence of subjective experience is what makes “damage response” into “suffering”, and it is enormously hard to establish presence of such in animals…
    …especially given that we know that humans who temporarily lost their capacity for subjective experience retained some of their cognitive functions and complex motor abilities (was discussed on this very blog some time ago)

  53. @Lidija:

    while the topic is drifting… you wrote, in-part and partially quoting Julian:

    At the time it was merely the notion of an unknown dark faceless man leaning over me, that caused strange excitement. Took a lot of years to link it back to what it actually was – but it brings me to doubt what Julian said – it would be surprising if rape were not a common female fantasy given it is a hugely (and horribly) common female experience. Sexuality is often catharsis. It seems to have been almost a biological thing – nature rather than nurture. Of course I cannot vouch for other women’s experiences in this sense.

    The “biological thing” might be related to “rape paralysis”, also known as “tonic immobility” in a more general context. Google for “rape paralysis” and quite a lot of results come up. Perhaps most interesting is a power-point slide show from one Andrew Moskovitz, Psychotic Symptoms in Rape Survivors: Signs of Trauma, Not Psychosis.

    A disturbingly high percentage of survivors of sexual violence report the phenomenon, and I suspect a comparably disturbing number of men have never heard of such a thing. Note the use of the word “disturbing” and any way one might consider it, the more one ponders the phenomenon the more one ought to be disturbed by it, I’d say. Which additionally leads to ruminations about whether, in the same way that nightmares of the type sometimes called “night hag” can be linked to sleep-apnea, one might wonder if tonic immobility might be the source of legends of home-invading vampires paralyzing their victims with a menacing stare.

  54. Woah Thomas. Fascinating stuff – I’d never heard of it. And yes the topic is drifting – my apologies for that. But just a quick note.

    - The PPT is pretty interesting. So it’s something like playing possum, effectively – some biological response that shuts down the body in the hope the predator will lose interest? Simultaneously providing protection to the victim by ‘removing’ her from the raw impact of the traumatic event. It kinda makes sense in a very basic way.

    Not sure how that would directly relate to the early childhood experience I mentioned. Also not entirely sure why you term it so disturbing. Certainly the spillout of the trauma of rape is a cripplingly damaging thing, but this biological response seems designed if anything to somewhat protect the victim. The disturbing aspect could be if the assailant took lack of resistance to mean consent – but I doubt that glassy eyed rigor is often interpreted as a ‘come hither’ signal. The other disturbing aspect is that the victim afterwards blames herself for not putting up more of a fight. But I fully understand freezing in a fight-or-flight situation, even outside of this context.

    Unrelatedly and on the mentioned subject of vegetarianism in the context of animal rights… (in an attempt to repair the discussion derailment) – I’m always amused by the multiple reasons vegetarians offer, usually along the lines of ‘well poor animals don’t deserve to be eaten, and also it’s healthier and helps me lose weight’. I’m always tempted to ask which of those takes primacy – i.e. if it were exceptionally healthy and good for us to consume nothing but meat, would the moral imperative trump the health benefits?

  55. Wow…I’ve showed up in the middle of quite a wander (which I’m not going to touch with a 10-foot pole). But thanks to the link, I’ve read “Bulk Food”, and ’twas quite good (in a ‘frack, gotta think about this’ way), Peter. Freaky…but hey, you *are* Peter Watts, after all!

  56. @Thomas Hardman

    A disturbingly high percentage of survivors of sexual violence report the phenomenon, and I suspect a comparably disturbing number of men have never heard of such a thing. Note the use of the word “disturbing” and any way one might consider it, the more one ponders the phenomenon the more one ought to be disturbed by it, I’d say. Which additionally leads to ruminations about whether, in the same way that nightmares of the type sometimes called “night hag” can be linked to sleep-apnea, one might wonder if tonic immobility might be the source of legends of home-invading vampires paralyzing their victims with a menacing stare.

    [evopsych-just-so-story mode = 1]

    Or perhaps it is the other way around, and it is an adaptation evolved due to selective pressures arising from attacks by some kind of not-always-sexual predatory beings.
    From strictly evolutionary standpoint, being raped > being killed

    [evopsych-just-so-story mode = 0]

    That was disturbingly easy :-/

    Now, with obvious vampire procreation tangent out of the way, I have to inquire whether rape paralysis was ever observed in cases when victim was male, cases where perpetrator was female being of special interest.

  57. At the risk of posting too frequently… and on horrid matters drifted far from topic…

    @01: Not exactly what you are asking for (sorry, no female perps here) there’s some interesting and footnoted stuff here about T.E. Lawrence, a.k.a. “Lawrence of Arabia”, who was ritually raped at the instigation of the Governor of the Ottoman Turks after his capture in Deraa, 1916. Note particularly the remarks about the psychological consequences; elsewhere one might find suggestions that tonic immobility in PTSD-activating situations might be a fairly common result. Clearly that (or comparable disability) was an intention of the perps in Lawrence’s case.

    Right bastards, those Ottoman Turks, and unfortunately far from alone in that icky segment of history.

    As for the conjecture on evolutionary origins, hey, it works for the northamerican opossum… and lots of mammals as well. Act dead enough and most predators don’t have their kill reflexes sufficiently triggered.

  58. Thomas Hardman, thanks very much for the “a bit long and dry” legal summary. A useful way of thinking about chimps and orcas.

    Given our (human) tendency to emotional responses rather than rational, I’d really like to see the reaction of conservatives to a cetecean that’s been taught to whistle hymns.

  59. Wall of text warning: you’ve been warned.

    tl;dr

    Human exceptionalism is a postmodern conceit: humans perceive, define, and understand the world relative to themselves, from the inside out before they can see themselves from the outside in. Law and culture follow the same pattern, and we define personhood based on our ability to relate: that which we do not recognize as human is not, that which is not human is of lesser importance than we because the word revolves around us.

    Soul, divine sparkle, transcendental consciousness are just coping mechanisms for existential angst and uncertainty, convenient slap-on magic thinking for stuff we can’t readily explain, a la ‘thunder is the roar of gods’. We just reuse those available constructs to build more complex fictions around stuff we already ‘know’: “The other (which I already decided is ‘other’) is not like me because… it has no soul, bingo !”

    RE: “Orcas are people too.” Seriously, it’s been fun, but it’s not doing a favor to anyone.
    Better seek out to rework the law to account for a wider diversity of intelligences/sapiences/self-awarenesses and then create new special statuses for each, than try and lump wildly different kinds of cognition into the human box of people. It may be go against the grain of our universalist culture, but equity != equality.

    Long version:

    Peter Watts said:

    “I’m obviously no legal expert (although I picked up a few interesting pointers a couple of years back…), but surely the legal concept of personhood predates the awareness of genes as a delineator of species? Which means that the traditional view of a “person” has to rely on something other than Linnean taxonomy. Physical appearance is a generally reliable cue for identifying “people” but didn’t “personhood” originally boil down to possession of, for want of a better word, soul?”

    You’re right that Linnaean taxonomy has only become relevant in modern times, precisely because the question never arose before Natural Philosophy and scientific outlook started to challenge what until then were self-evident truths: you don’t need to coin terms such as human exceptionalism before someone starts calling you a naked ape.
    Some oddball cases can be found in a few holist traditions that don’t seem to subscribe to human exceptionalism, but even those are anthropocentric in their aesthetics and mythologies — it seems to be a byproduct of culturally-encoded ‘wider-ranging’ awareness still growing out of self-awareness, which is consistent with developmental psychology in humans.

    The link between personhood and soul, whenever it arose, has been a post-facto construct to deal with special-case situations, typically to rationalize and justify things such as slavery, mass-murder and other exclusions from otherwise ‘universal’ rights, duties, privileges and entitlements in law, often backed by religious dogma to create special status.

    As far back as Babylonian law, which is roughly patient zero in our legal tradition, and without exception since (up until now), all written legal systems codify that which is within the capacity of humans to abide by and enforce, with the partial exception of religious laws which sometimes leave parts of enforcement to the sky fairies in afterlife.
    Not even in non-written legal systems, such as shamanist traditions, are non-humans expected to follow human rules, nor are they to enjoy the same protections humans do (although they often are granted a ‘soul’) except in some non-conflicting use cases where a non-human entity is deemed to be inhabited by the spirit/soul of a clearly identified human.

    In which case — given the lack of any empirical evidence for a “divine spark” even amongst us humans — surely we’re talking about some sort of cognitive suite: the ability to think, reason, communicate, empathize, what have you.

    It’s a case of ‘and’ not ‘or’: to qualify as human in our legal traditions, one needs to look and act the part ; or more accurately since-unless: since you look the part you’re an human by default, unless you fail to act the part, in which case you could be demoted to sub/non-human — unless it proves inconvenient for other reasons …which is where the philosophicking and religiousery kick in.

    “Are orcas people ?” is about as (un)reasonable a question as “Is a freshly fertilized human egg a person ?”: both fly in the face of (legal) reason (or make sense) from exactly opposite viewpoints. Cognitively speaking, a week old human fetus is about as human as a plate of pasta and thus not even worth considering. By the opposite token, an orca looks human like a CAT mining truck is to a shopping cart, and no lawyer in their right mind will argue before a judge it’s OK to drive one into the grocery aisle of the local supermarket (although they both are designed to haul stuff).

    Surely the original definition of “person” couldn’t have had species at its core, since the very concept didn’t exist back then? In which case, I’d think orcas might qualify.blockquote>

    Asking how there could be a species-centric legal tradition before the notion of species was in play is looking at the question backwards: prior to scientific thinking, there was no need to think of what could be excluded from mankind on account of species.
    The legal tradition was merely inclusive of what the legislator/us/humans could recognize as us, and the rest simply didn’t factor. Exclusion would only kick after that, to weed out the edge cases where there was serious evidence that something seemingly human really wasn’t.

    What constitutes serious evidence, of course, could vary wildly: failing to pass some phenotypical, cultural or behavioral litmus test could be enough to be demoted from human to para/sub-human status, henceforth making one a prime candidate for enslavement, ostracism and non-sinful slaughter.
    To wit, the spectacular number of languages in which the name for ‘our tribe/culture’ and ‘human’ is the same, and that rely on ‘almost human’ name-equivalents to label other human populations.

    Leaving orcas aside for now, the interesting edge cases revolve around legal competence, as pointed by Thomas: the cognitively unfit (of which the most common case is being underage) but otherwise unquestionably human have forced every legal system to make provisions and create special statutes for them, and these (in the realm of legal discussion) are where we come the closest to question what exactly a person is, both in the matter of being judged and/or entitled to rights.

    In fact, special statuses and legal capacity discussions often arise precisely because law is culture and customs encoded in text through the filter of legal tradition and reasoning, and edge cases abound where entities fail some (but not all) tests to qualify as a person while we’d rather (as per culture or custom) have them be human nonetheless.

    Why do our arguably sociopathic kids enjoy some legal protection even before they come of age and can answer for themselves (a fairly recent development, though) ? That’s because it doesn’t take a degree in post-Darwinist biology to know they are the offspring of humans, and more likely than not to turn into full-blown humans eventually: the empirical evidence, folk and legal tradition all agree that’s how people are made, ergo killing or maiming soon-to-be-people is frowned upon, whilst denying their diminished capacity to account for their actions would be unpractical.
    [Interestingly enough, in many legal traditions, killing a child under the age of 7 didn't qualify as murder until as recently as the 19th century, as they were considered property (also partly on account of the Shroedinger's cat nature of the young before this age).]

    You can’t cut some slack to orcas on account of them soon-to-be or once-having-been ‘normal’ human, which is how we go about handling the mentally incompetent: orcas fail the ‘close enough’ test by not being born into the club.

    Thomas said:

    There is an additional possibility, at least in the States. SCOTUS (“Supreme Court of the United States”) has affirmed that corporate entities are considered as Legal Persons at least for purposes of the Amendment Fourteen Section 1, “equal protection of the laws”. It has even been summarized as “if it can hire an attorney, legally it’s a person”.

    The “Corporations are people” fallacy should get its own Godwin amendment…
    Even setting aside how questionable SCOTUS reasoning has been, it’s a misconstruction in this context: the legal argument that sustains corporate personhood status hinges on those being organizations of people (just like unions, charities and cities, for example), and there is a clear distinction between natural persons and legal persons in law, which the criminally corrupt SCOTUS rulings have circumvented, not confronted.
    To wit: even shell corporations are required to have a board or directorate constituted of people, and much like corporations can’t vote or hold public office, they technically require warm bodies of the homo sapiens genus at the helm — granted, this is often followed more in letter than spirit, but then again, corporate personhood is a legal fiction, so there. ;)

    Legislation which confers human status on non-humans is probably not going to get very far if only because non-humans are in fact not human. Yet it would probably be fairly simple and straightforward to press for legislation which recognizes that some non-humans both need and deserve friend-of-the-court representation.

    Now, amicus curae, that’s a nice angle.
    Whether the best course of action is to lobby for the representation of a set list of designed species, or to frame a set of criteria to test any entity qualification to be represented is debatable however.
    I’m personally in favor of going the second way, as it could create interesting precedents and lay the groundwork for more rational thinking in law, if cognitive abilities became the central question in defining personhood and eventually extend the concept of natural personhood beyond mankind, either inclusively, or by the definition of non-human-yet-real-persons statuses.

  60. Damn, a blockquote suffered a typo amputation. :(
    Could our gentle editor be so kind as to add the missing “” in my last post.
    Apologetically yours.

  61. @PW
    Are there any hard numbers on this?
    I see what you did there…(groan)


    From strictly evolutionary standpoint, being raped > being killed

    Possible. Stockholm syndrome is theorized to be an evolutionary response to bridal abductions, that unjustly maligned but very wise practice for avoiding inbreeding that used to be quite prevalent in primitive societies.. vestiges of it are still evident even in say, present-day central European weddings. (one custom is that friends of the groom ‘abduct’ the bride and then go on a drinking spree, and everything they drink before they’re found has to be paid by the groom)

  62. Wow, the thread’s exploded since I last checked in. Just wanted to reply to Lidija, who replied to me, way back when…

    “Hmmm. On the point of the pain of animals being ‘just a biological response’, again I’m not sold. How is my pain not just a biological response too? I’m guessing the actual mechanics of feeling it are pretty similar between us and the other species.”

    I want it to make it clear I’m also not sold on that. I’m just saying that people do make that argument with respect to animals, so when you make it with respect to computers/robots/etc, it needs a little more justification. There may well be a DIFFERENCE between animal pain and human pain, due to the old bugaboo around these parts, the consciousnes, but I’d rather err on the side of compassion and treat them both as bad and something to be avoided if at all possible…

    “On the issue of AI for me again it comes down not to reaction, but to what’s underneath it. If you code a machine along the lines of ‘IF – receive kick, THEN – fall down and writhe around for 3 minutes’, no, I don’t think the machine is suffering in any meaningful way – it’s no different than coding it to ‘IF – receive kick, THEN – sing the Macarena’. But if you can somehow give it a sense of discomfort, and program ‘IF – receive kick, THEN – feel bad’ – whether it shows it or not – that, I believe, is suffering.”

    Ah, but it is rarely that simple. I mean, sure, for a simple toy, then maybe you can say “it’s not really suffering, it’s just programmed.” But you might argue, again, it’s the same for animals. There’s certainly a difference of complexity. I’m not so sure if you, say, cut a few legs off an insect (not that I’d do such a thing, I’d just swat it flat), it’d probably twitch and do the best it can to get away and keep on living its life, and it might look like it’s suffering, but it may well be like that robotic toy.. it’s just living out programmed reactions. Albeit, reactions that were programmed by evolution. And it’s the same for all animals, right up to us, the programming’s just subtle and more complex.

    But computers get subtle and more complex, too. If I look at the computer I’m on now, deep down you’d probably be able to find code for any particular behavior. But the whole of how the computer operates is partially emergent, greater than any individual person could understand at once, at least.

    Now, let’s say my computer got a virus, or I flubbed up some settings. Now it’s normal flow is operating ‘wrong’. Windows that should be open are closing, or going to the wrong place. Things that should be fast, slow to a crawl. Every once in a while, everything goes blue, and the computer falls unconscious and has to wake up again to be normal.. not even normal, but functional. It struggles on as best it can.

    Nobody ever programmed that “if x is done, then do these behaviors.” What about “if x, then feel bad?” How are you even going to program ‘feel bad’, it would have to arise emergently from everything else, wouldn’t it? So is it feeling bad? Is it feeling anything? There are probably error messages flowing through it, just like pain signals are error messages sent to the brain of an animal. If you took out an animal’s brain, but pain signals could still travel from the body to a recording device, is it feeling pain? Or is it just an ‘error signal’? Probably the latter (although, since the cells themselves are alive, you might argue, I guess). If you hooked the animal’s brain to my virus-infested computer such that the error signals were interpretted by the brain in exactly the same way as pain signals, you’d say it was feeling the pain from whatever’s wrong with my computer. So all that’s left is to figure out if there’s a difference between the programmed-by-man-but-with-emergent-properties-that-aren’t-explicitly-layed-out ‘mind’ of the computer and the programmed-by-the-laws-of-physics-and-history-of-evolution-but-with-emergent-properties-that-aren’t-explicitly-laid-out mind of the animal. I think there is, still, at least for some animals, but it’s one of degree, not kind. Computers can feel pain, and potentially already do… I’m not saying it’s feeling bad on the level of a human suffering pain, but it’s possible it’s on the level of some of the simpler animals (probably even below dogs and cats, for all that the cats I live with suck at giving me access to the knowledge of wikipedia)..

  63. Well, not directly related to this post but surely interesting enough about animal behavior:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/03/how-your-cat-is-making-you-crazy/8873/

    This seems science-fiction. A hidden microscopic war to take over other animal’s behavior. Ego snatchers from inner-space!

  64. @Peter D – hahahahah wikipedia-accessing cats! Now there’s something I’d trade half my pain receptors in for :)

    Interesting notions one and all, but is the blue screen o’ death really an emergent behavior? Isn’t it again somewhere in the code, along the lines of ‘if all else fails – show blue screen o’ death’? The computer – to the best extent of my understanding – doesn’t do anything unless something tells it to. In my mind, an error in its functioning is not much different from an error in the functioning of a car that comes from, say, blowing a tyre. So regardless of the complexity of the programming, I see no potential ‘self’ in there yet – not even as much as in the ant, who, pathetically tiny and preprogrammed though he may be, has some sort of notion of ‘wanting’ to go somewhere and do something that comes somewhere from inside itself. It arguably can decide whether to take a step to the right or a step to the left of that dead ladybug, whereas a computer can do no such thing – complex as it is it is still merely an interface for what I want to do. Even the things I don’t control – the virus check in the background, the little paperclip dude that comes knocking on the inside of my screen sometimes – they are all moving because someone, at some point, told them to. Someone being a human person. This is how for me computers differ from the ants, cows, cats and killer whales, who have their own internal ‘reasons’ for going about and doing things, which were not put there by us. Once computers start acting independently to some degree (and I’m sure there are already computers that do this, somewhere in labs in Japan or wherever, even if mine doesn’t), the argument will become more intriguing. Also, if we take it that errors could cause a computer discomfort, which we could equate with pain, the legislation attempting to protect them would be what – to not try and crash them on purpose? Computers will have a unique advantage in that, as opposed to chickens or cows, we actually prefer them intact and fully functional, and struggle to keep them that way. Until they go evil (signified by their lights flipping from blue to red) and try to kill us, at which point the gloves are off.

    The brain switching experiment is an interesting idea as well, but I always get lost in those philosophical brain exchanges. Still offhand I’d say that if there is no brain in there to be doing the feeling – i.e. the interpreting of the pain signal – it probably doesn’t qualify as a pain signal. Meaning that the part where you removed the poor animal’s brain and tied it up to the computer was the part where you were doing the active torturing, and the part where you subsequently try to crash said brain by opening too many tabs in Chrome would be an interesting study to read about.

    On the ‘pain as biological response’ thing, I guess we’re in agreement that it just seems not nice to cause pain that can evidently be felt. I agree that if you go far enough down the line the point becomes moot (as with ants, or sea sponges, or the famous screaming carrots or whatnot), but hey, I used to spend hours as a girl fishing giant ants out of the swimming pool, which for some reason they kept falling into. They used to bite me out of gratitude, it hurt like a bitch.

  65. @Lidija, who wrote in-part: Also, if we take it that errors could cause a computer discomfort, which we could equate with pain, the legislation attempting to protect them would be what – to not try and crash them on purpose?

    I don’t know if you’d call it “pain”, but with *NIXish servers (Linux, various *BSD, to some degree Mac OS X) you can load them up with enough tasks, or improperly set task priorities, to the point where they might not lock up, but they’re certainly so staggered under the load that they “thrash”. I’ve been known to do things that really annoy most modern system administrators, such as setting up a swap partition (think “virtual memory”) much larger than RAM limit. This harks back to the days of 1-/2Kbit core and spinning reels of magnetic tape used both for data and as intermediate non-random-access memory, where it was unavoidable to have far more “virtual memory” than actual core memory. It’s generally quite avoidable now, and frowned upon because RAM in solid state is so very much faster than non-solid-state harddrives. Yet if you are working with very large data arrays, and find it useful to store states (position in process, etc) to assist recovery after crash, or to study emergent results which might not be reproducible, you can go ahead and create vastly oversized swap partitions.

    If the operating-system (“OS”) has to put some task temporarily on hold while it’s paging through the swap partition to find some data (or a place to write new data), the expected flow isn’t what it might be, and the applications/processes might complain. I don’t know if you’d call it “screaming in pain” when a server fills up the drives with log-files full of error messages, but if you have the OS spending more time writing to the error logs than it spends doing useful work, that is not a happy computer. And as all good server admins know, happy computers last longer and do more.

    @AcD, who wrote in-part: Whether the best course of action is to lobby for the representation of a set list of designed species, or to frame a set of criteria to test any entity qualification to be represented is debatable however.

    At the risk of being silly, I have to mention that human tests designed to qualify non-humans for special consideration or mandatory remand to legal process before being put at risk of life/limb… well, such tests are bound to be anthropocentric. And whom, I ask, will speak for those who cannot, and might in fact within their own cognitive model find that whole business of wiggling lips and tongue while standing erect on dry land to be, well, a bit demeaning at best. ;) For all we know, when it comes to after-hours trespassing, playing catch with the body of the decedent isn’t just the orca notion of justice, but moreso of proper legal process (if the trespasser had tried harder to escape, they might have thought they’d communicated the idea that he really should not have decided to be there). For the orca to quite understand that it was on trial, if this were the case, we might have to hoist them out of the tank in the jaws of a steam-shovel before they quite understand their position. This might even motivate them to actually try to be a bit more communicative as best they might within the human mode.

    But I was in fact just being silly and we’re talking about defending the non-human intelligences from being victims of our legal system, not imposing our legal values through their system of justice. And there, once again, might well be the core of a quick and dirty short story.

  66. On whether robots/insects/anything can really “suffer”, the way we intuitively understand the notion.

    My guess would be human-like suffering starts with psychological distress, which many vertebrates seem able to experience, and which could be roughly summed up as ‘fear’.
    If your experience of suffering for a given physical stimulus can vary based on your psychological disposition, then you suffer the way humans do.

    There is plenty of experimental and empirical evidence to show that the same physical pain can vary from mildly uncomfortable to barely bearable depending on the conditions and on the subject expectations (or lack thereof) about it. We are able to prime ourselves up internally to experience pain more or less intensely, above or below what would make sense in terms of evolutionary advantage.

    “This ankle is twisted, I should give it a rest so it heals”, or “my palm hurts, I should stop gripping that thing right about now” all make sense, whilst feeling agonizing pain on the insertion of a IV needle (properly done) is pure nuttiness, and potentially dangerous.
    So if you can freak out about it, you can suffer, and if you can internalize the experience and make it part of your OS, you’re a good enough human-analog in terms of suffering.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if consciousness was just a byproduct of the accretion of faulty coping mechanisms for pain and suffering by which we rewrite our internal reality simulation.

    What stops contemporary consumer-grade computing from showing emergent behavior is the lack of neuroplasticity-analog. It would take a very lucky (as in statistically flirting with zip) coincidence of bugs and vulnerabilities combining just-so to happen, and would have to be positioned to survive through mass extinction events, such as a major system upgrade or reinstall.

    The closest thing to neuroplastic comes in those disk repair utilities, antispam/antivirus software and on-the-fly compression middlewares, which rely on heuristics and/or weighted procedural algorithms, all of which are ‘messy’ enough to sometimes allow for emergent behaviors (usually not considered a feature, though).

    That’s why most fiction about emergent AIs uses the cloud as setting, both because it’s conveniently fuzzy an environment for the reader, and because that’s where stuff that’s not expected to mix is most likely to.

  67. @AcD who wrote, in-part: That’s why most fiction about emergent AIs uses the cloud as setting, both because it’s conveniently fuzzy an environment for the reader, and because that’s where stuff that’s not expected to mix is most likely to.

    Well, as you mention (here I paraphrase), that very lucky coincidence of bugs and vulnerabilities that could combine to create opportunity for emergent behavior approximating neuroplasticity would also have to be able to survive absolute catastrophes such as major version upgrades, OS re-installation, or even a full restore from backup to a new harddrive. Yet, another feature of (cue music) Teh Cloud is that it is a great place for things to hide, or even just hang out. If you really want to see a sysadmin with that utterly special expression they reserve for people who suggest procedures of magnitude comparable to being put in charge of the global grain harvest, ask one how hard it would be to “power cycle the whole internet”. Depending on how innocent you can seem to be as you ask this, you could get expressions somewhere around “flummoxed”, “perplexed”, or even “flabbergasted”. Once you see the expression, tell them “no, really, I’m quite serious”. ;)

    Theoretically it’s possible, and if anyone remembers the Code Red Worm from the position of a sysadmin or network admin, you both understand what I am saying and are properly due my commiseration and condolences. That wasn’t even actually emergent or adaptive, and it was nonetheless only a bit less hard to do than eradicating every last palmetto-bug from Daytona Beach Florida in the middle of Spring Break. In many cases the network engineer had to go track down the LAN-to-WAN router and physically pull the plug while the sysadmin crew had to run around with a clipboard full of checklists.

    The point is, so long as a single instance of it was out there scanning for known weaknesses to latch onto, the whole internet subset of at-risk machines were sitting-duck vulnerable.

    I also have to mention that coders in general expend an awful lot of energy and talent, ensuring that the sort of “undocumented feature” that could lead to emergent behavior doesn’t exist. After all, in most of the software world, utter repeatability with no deviations, that’s the goal. You get extra points and better reputation, in most cases, if you can get that utter repeatability despite any other extraneous conditions which don’t actually crash the OS.

    Living systems have a mind of their own, or at least they have emergent potentials which might be classified as “willful”, “contrary”, “persnickety”, or even outright “rebellious”. Engineers and coders are generally getting paid to avoid any such behavior in their products. But let’s not forget the virus-and-worm authors, let’s not forget that Teh Cloud is awfully hard to reboot and if you want to introduce “structured pseudo-randomness” all you have to do is look at the non-fractal elements of evolving global weather patterns. Let’s also not forget that we’d probably be a lot more comfortable trying to talk to orca or chimps than we’d be if we had even weakly-superhuman AI trying to talk to us. As if it would likely even bother.

  68. @Thomas:
    Thanks for that, virii and worms are so much the obvious candidates I forgot to mention them, which was daft of me.
    After all, they are the only kind of software whose primary mission is reproduction, endurance, and ideally adaptation, way ahead of conservation of message or data integrity (at least the chaotic-demo class of those follows those rules).
    In that, they look very much like life: pointless, stubbornly resilient for no good reason but because we can. ;)

  69. …so I suppose then, for a virus or worm that would exhibit adaptability, the question would be if this was linked to an autochthonous desire for self-preservation or not? Somehow I keep feeling that in order to be declared capable of ‘feeling’ anything, or worthy of protecting as a ‘living’ entity of some sort as opposed to just a piece of property, the thing has to show some innate wants.

    I hope that once we do build a persnickety AI, it deems us worthy of at least some conversation.

    In that, they look very much like life: pointless, stubbornly resilient for no good reason but because we can.

    Hahahahh I like them already :) Charming definition you give there.

  70. @Lidija

    “…I see no potential ‘self’ in there yet – not even as much as in the ant, who, pathetically tiny and preprogrammed though he may be, has some sort of notion of ‘wanting’ to go somewhere and do something that comes somewhere from inside itself. It arguably can decide whether to take a step to the right or a step to the left of that dead ladybug, whereas a computer can do no such thing…”

    “Wanting” itself is an anthropomorphic attribution–tiny ants can take tiny steps without any requirement of desire. The behaviour is a closed loop, and likely dictated by a simple stimulus-response program. We come back to biological determinism, the issue of neurons A-D firing, neuron E doing the same, and the organism thus twitching in a seemingly purposeful manner. Of course, we can (and often do) say the same for humans, though our cognitive capacity makes it appear far more complex. In the end, there’s nothing to suggest that any behaviour (including response to pain, or the stereotypies of suffering) aren’t just output from a pre-programmed, though adaptable, network. That the programmer in the case of living organisms was blind chance, with a healthy dash of natural selection, rather than People doesn’t make the act of programming innately different.

    Having said that.

    At the risk of yanking the conversation back to an earlier iteration: Peter (Watts. Obviously) commented earlier regarding balancing potential suffering against potential benefits, noting that SeaWorld and its ilk serve a purpose–educational, for one. The joy of gawking at nature’s wonders was why we started collecting animals in display cages after all. You just couldn’t do justice to giraffes with pencil drawings. But we’re not exactly limited to brush-work anymore. The interweb is a nature-gawkers’ wet dream–children of all ages can see images and video of any animal they care to name behaving in the wild. And this tech’s only going to improve. You’ll still be waiting for your jet-pack when I’m bludgeoning zombies to death in immersive VR, and little Timmie’s watching a crocodile twenty-five feet long take down a wildebeest from the bank of the Nile. So is there any point in zoos anymore? Or are they like any other bureaucracy: entities that have been around so long they’ve evolved into beings whose primary purpose is staying alive.

  71. heh, I see all the lines blurring there :D However, even if my reaction to being kicked in the head is merely twitching in a seemingly purposeful manner, I’d still err on the side of caution and at least consider giving ‘rights’, i.e. protection, to anything that exhibits any similar behaviors. Just to be safe.

    I guess that once VR is ‘real’ enough, zoos will naturally disappear as too expensive and unnecessarily hard on the inhabitants. But until that moment, they do enrich people’s lives to a degree I’d consider worth their cost (emotional and otherwise). When I was a kid I was absolutely mad about our zoo, it was my favorite outing. Today it makes me sad, but that’s partly because the conditions are so poor. If we had one like London does, with oodles of space and almost-realistic habitats, I’d feel better about it I guess. Still I know I’ll take my kid there when he’s big enough to tell the difference between me and a zebra, and I know it’ll blow his little mind.

  72. @Lidija:
    I think “somewhere, somewhen, a human programmed it” is kind of an illusionary standard, almost reverse-anthropomorphizing (is that a term?), that because no human was involved with it, it gives it a special, magic property to the products of nature, but fundamentally, they’re the same. If we had lots more knowledge we could perhaps pinpoint the same ‘if X, then Y’ programming in biological entities, for any particular behavior. It’s just vastly more complex and haphazard. I don’t think you need behavior to be specifically UNPROGRAMMED to have emergent aspects (that is, it doesn’t require that there’s some kind of fuzzy-logic that modifies it’s own behavior, without humans involved), although it’s probably a much faster route to get there. It’s sufficient that it’s complex enough.

    No one person programmed modern Windows, or I don’t think it’s possible for any one person to understand it, as a whole. Back in my Comp-Sci days, all the time I programmed things that I didn’t really understand except highly abstracted, or one tiny bit at a time in detail, and all the time I was surprised at some behavior that I didn’t specifically program in (and often had to search like hell to get rid of… to the point of frustratedly changing random +/- signs and seeing if that ‘fixed it’), and those were all relatively simple programs, with limited user interfaces, and me being getting mostly As. Eventually I think you can get to the point where humans are almost an evolutionary vector in programming, the ‘sieve’ of survival of the fittest. Instead of the universe throwing up an environmental challenge, and killing off those who don’t aren’t as well adapted because they have shorter necks, which looks like “giraffes starting to grow longer necks”, we get people who program in “longer necks” to computer code in response to some need, but just as ignorant about the overall effect. And again, that’s leaving aside things like genetic programming (which I suspect would be used more and more often). Just because a human’s involved, it doesn’t mean we understand what we’re doing. Just because we create something, doesn’t mean we understand it. Look at children, for example.

    (Actually, that’s not quite so bad an analogy… sure, a lot of the behaviour of our kids is based on all the genetics and evolution stuff and structure of our brain… but plenty is also put there by the lessons we try deliberaltey to teach them. We, humans, are doing our best to program the system of our children, to do specific results, make us proud, provide grandchildren, get a good job, not swear, etc, etc, but accidental mistakes we don’t even know we’re doing, combined with everything we don’t understand about what everybody ELSE is programming, lead to spectacularly unpredictable results)

    If consciousness or partial consciousness (whatever’s needed to ‘appreciate’ pain) can be thrown up as a random evolutionary sequence of mutations and most-unfit cullings, it can certainly be thrown up as a random consequence to people writing billions of individually-understandable ‘if-then’ loops on a hugely complex system like a computer (not to mention that it’s running on hardware which’ll have its own peculiarities that can’t be predicted… one of the quirks of genetic/evolutionary algorithms is that it can sometimes throw up solutions that are specific to the SYSTEM the evolution program was running on, because the particular, say, heat-conductivity of one element is slightly different, and so the same code doesn’t run the same on another computer). Probably not there YET, but it’s something to consider, especially when failure modes for computers can LOOK like a system in pain.

    @AcD:
    Ah, but do they actually need to survive ‘mass extinction events’?

    Or is that just what’s required for us to NOTICE them, as a class, and for them to continue to evolve? After all, if there’s emergent quality that resembles a ‘self-consciousness’ (even the tiniest level, the one we associate with ‘actually feeling pain’ vs ‘seeming to feel pain in response to biological error signals getting it to react in preprogrammed ways’) , whether it’s through some bug or quirk of programming or hardware peculiarity, it’s there whether it will continue to be there after you reinstall or not. Although I guess you could say the same about an animal… even if animals in general don’t really feel pain, just seem an awful lot like they do, we don’t know that any individual animal isn’t a mutant who actually CAN. What’s the diagnostic test for that? The only difference is the animal might be able to pass that on, while the computer only can if whatever’s causing it is systemic rather than limited to that particular instantiation of software on that particular set of hardware, but they’re still both feeling pain.

    @MEM:
    I think zoos are going the way of the animals they protect. Well, maybe not as quickly, but I do think your point about the internet, access to information, etc, renders a lot of their use unnecessary and, if unnecessary, potentially cruel. At least, for the ‘zoo as tourist trap/educational facility’ model. Of course, zoos as biological refuge is another matter. We’re still rapidly overexpanding our territory and some animals will have no place in the wild, and therefore no place in the world, but for zoos. Unless we’re willing to decide “to hell with animals, we’ll just keep DNA samples and let the actual beasts go extinct” (which might be a viable, although cold, thing to do, and you’d lose all the learned behavior passed on parent to child), there’s going to some kind of need for zoos, although they wouldn’t necessarily need to be the kind we have today, where animals from all over the world are caught in one place, each region could have zoos of the animals that are in its area, with a few picking up the slack for animals for regions that don’t want to deal with zoo business.

    That said, I would still be more interested in seeing an exotic animal close up than I would browsing a website about it, no matter how many cool visuals it has, so maybe I’m full of crap and even touristy zoos will have a long trail to obsolescence until virtual reality becomes ‘perfect’.

  73. @ AcD

    My guess would be human-like suffering starts with psychological distress, which many vertebrates seem able to experience, and which could be roughly summed up as ‘fear’.

    Excuse me, and don’t take it the wrong way, but how do you define “psychological” and how do you define “distress” ?

    Because under a sufficiently permissive definition, my GPU has a capacity for “psychological distress” arising from excessive temperature…

  74. @MEM, who asked: So is there any point in zoos anymore? Or are they like any other bureaucracy: entities that have been around so long they’ve evolved into beings whose primary purpose is staying alive.

    Well, there’s one thing for which zoos are essential, though hopefully that can change in some ideally-near future. Conservation of endangered species is the most valuable purpose of zoos in the modern day.

    Tigers, cheetahs, other big cats aside from the lions (which breed so well and successfully as to invite comparisons with rats), rhinocerii, &c &c., are highly endangered in the wild. Cheetahs, for example, are doing better in some zoos than they are in their native range. The National Zoo in Washington DC (Smithsonian Institute) has a cheetah breeding program specially designed to deal with the inbreeding problem common to all cheetahs. Within one human generation the captive cheetahs will probably more diverse and possibly numerous than those in the wild.

    Possibly most species of animals which we don’t drive to extinction will wind up living in the same terrains we inhabit, with varying degrees of conflict or mutual tolerance/adaptation. I live in a 60-year-old suburb of Washington DC, with no nearby “major” woodlands, and have fox and opossum in the yard, along with the inevitable squirrel and songbirds. The deer aren’t exactly domesticated but despite their known presence, they’ve adapted quite well to the automobile in recent years. We won’t be needing zoos for these adaptable creatures, but should any puma manage to set up housekeeping in my neighborhood, I will want them relocated as will everyone else hereabouts. For now, there are places where puma can be relocated which will be far enough from human habitation to avoid conflicts, but I fear it won’t be too long before the puma, the bears, and probably all “dangerous” wildlife in most of the States will either be in zoos or be extinct, or be kept to reserves and even that last will probably be done by zoos, or with a lot of cooperation with the zoos.

  75. Well, I don’t really see much problems with zoos as long as animals are reasonably well-off and taken care of.

    It’s just humans ascribing anthropomorphic notions of jail to animals even if animals don’t seem that distressed (if they are distressed, as those orcas in seaworld seem to be, then it’s probably not very nice)

    Also, I hear watching live animals kinda helps kids grow up with better appreciation of nature (I can neither confirm nor deny, due to having only trace amounts of said appreciation)

  76. I loved zoos too. Not sure that if I was growing up today, and zoos happened not to exist, that I’d miss them, though. I think Lidiya and Peter D were bang-on when they hit on the “unnecessarily cruel” bit. The facsimile of close encounters (via video/the net) has improved enough that the live-action zoo experience is hard to justify when measured against their inhabitants’ well-being.

    I certainly agree with the concept of wildlife preserves as a species protection mechanism; less sure about the usefulness of your typical zoo in providing that service. In a WLP various species share the same ecosystem, interact, prey on one another, and more or less get on with the business of being animals. I’m all for protecting species near the brink (or those displaced, generally) but I wonder at what point the choice between death and downsized living-space with three square meals of breaded fish sticks begins to look more or less even.

    Note: I’m not calling for the mass execution of quadrupeds, but am genuinely uncertain whether positioning zoos as a means to saving animals isn’t an example of ‘the road paved to hell.” Whether a little cold-hearted math of the “perhaps we should save 10% in style rather than 25% in squalor” sort isn’t the right call.

    Anybody here got “Live Free or Die” on their license plate?


  77. Anybody here got “Live Free or Die” on their license plate?

    I don’t have that, but I hope to. Assuming that is what is on New Hampshire license plate. There is a athletic, smart, beautiful and nice young woman who lives there and who has asked me to come live with her for a couple of months to see whether we’ll both like it as much as we suspect… :-)

    US isn’t the best of places, but hey, finding a good mate is hard, and they also have lots of guns & wilderness which I both crave and like very much. Another pros is that I’ll finally be within reasonable distance of cons, so I’ll be able to troll certain writers in RL too. (like Dan Simmons, god, for an intellectual, that guy’s as dense as neutronium)


    I’m all for protecting species near the brink (or those displaced, generally) but I wonder at what point the choice between death and downsized living-space with three square meals of breaded fish sticks begins to look more or less even.

    The idea is to protect the genes. Some species have been successfully reintroduced into the wild, after all, and it’ll be much easier after the inevitable die-off of meatbags and the move towards a more graceful and ephemeral existence of souls* as software..

    *I like to think that a soul is the sum of informations and functions that the human brain is capable of. Of course it’s not immortal, but with proper architecture and infrastructure.

  78. @Lanius, who wrote in-part: it’ll be much easier after the inevitable die-off of meatbags

    And here we have an interesting bit which I suppose I must refer to Prof. Watts.

    One thing I seem to have missed in Peter Watts’s writing — perhaps he’s covered it and I missed it, or perhaps he “fluffed it” about as much as Connie Willis fluffed on cellphones in some of her otherwise exceptional SF… what about the Die-Off? Aside from the Singularity, which moves things into an entirely different realm and could either include, avoid, or even side-step the Die-Off, we can all be pretty sure that there will be a fairly massive population reduction in the fairly near future. I am 53 years old, I might live long enough to see it right before I go into the retirement facility. But for me it seems certain that the kids of today will see it before they reach the end of middle-age.

    It seems to me that it’s a seriously interesting question: When the Die-Off happens, will we take most or all of the other “developed” species with us? Will we all or most of us, go the way of the Dodo? If we do, will the dolphins survive that? Or the bears? Or the African Gray Parrots? Can we imagine a world where the zookeepers all die from new illness along with everyone else, and release their animals to the world that will soon have no humans? Will the dogs finally teach the chimps to understand the meaning of pointing? Will any kind of whales sing any of our songs? Will the Next-Gen Roombas wander the ruins with clogged filters and filled bins, dancing a nearly emergent dance so long as the solar-power rechargers last? (Bradbury, Ray. Animation of “There Will Come Soft Rains”

  79. 01 said:

    Excuse me, and don’t take it the wrong way, but how do you define “psychological” and how do you define “distress” ?

    Because under a sufficiently permissive definition, my GPU has a capacity for “psychological distress” arising from excessive temperature…

    Fair point, and I’m not sure I can provide an answer to that I’m entirely happy with…

    If we’re talking overheating of the critical fan-failure type, I suppose it’s straightforward to liken that to fever-induced dizziness and hallucinations, while I was framing “distress” more within the lines of a buffer overflow or divide-by-zero exception/quirk.
    Drawing this line between software glitch and hardware malfunction is somewhat more problematic and arbitrary in brains than in computers, since our moistware is arguably both, whisked together beyond separation (for a large part).

    But to stick with that imperfect analogy, I’d suggest the precondition for human-equivalent “suffering” would be to have enough brainpower to run a reality simulation (as opposed to mere reflex-response to stimuli), and for faults to happen within the realm of that simulation.

    A possible litmus test (totally winging this now), would be to check via MRI or other means for dream-like activity during sleep, which could allow to tell apart brains that run a world simulation from those that make do without.
    [That's assuming dreaming is good for something, and really fulfills an integrative/synthetic/sim-optimizer role, and is not just a cognitively insignificant artifact of neural oscillation.]

    My idea of “suffering” could thus be summed up as a deviation from the mean that exceeds standard parameters beyond our expectations, and thus hinges on the ability to form expectations, which in turn implies (for lack of better wording) an “internalized view” of the world.
    Some values of “Pleasure” or “happiness” would fit under the same description, just on a different vector (better than expected, rather than worse).

    Hope I didn’t take this the wrong way, or made things even murkier: as you can imagine, it’s more a thought experiment based on a bundle of hunches than a fully-formed theory of suffering.

  80. @Peter D

    I think “somewhere, somewhen, a human programmed it” is kind of an illusionary standard, almost reverse-anthropomorphizing (is that a term?), that because no human was involved with it, it gives it a special, magic property to the products of nature, but fundamentally, they’re the same.

    Good point. Fits with what Thomas and AcD said about virii, worms, anti-spam programs and the like. I guess I’d still ask, though (and possibly simply out of lack of fundamental understanding of the issue at hand) how can we link even emergent behavior to the capacity to suffer? Emergent behavior to me sounds like the potential root of independent intelligence, but intelligence doesn’t have to carry emotion. I’m thinking here of Peter W’s smart gels, for instance, which are described as intelligent and capable of learning, but incapable of feeling. Of course they are also fictional, so I’m not sure what that proves.

    I guess it depends on where our focus lies – are we more keen to protect that which has intelligence or that which has capacity to experience pain – or must it have both in order to qualify.

    Just because we create something, doesn’t mean we understand it. Look at children, for example.

    Another excellent point, particularly apt as I am rocking a two month old in his bouncy chair as I type this. At this stage what you point out is particularly apparent – you feed the little critter, talk to him, sing to him, rock him and whatnot, and half the time he’s just staring at you with those beady little alien eyes and you have no idea what thought processes are starting to spark up behind that expressionless little face.

    I intuitively like AcD’s concept of linking the capacity to suffer with the capacity to feel fear, which is linked with the ability to form expectations (and then have them exceeded in a negative direction).

  81. Lidija said:

    “[...] how can we link even emergent behavior to the capacity to suffer? Emergent behavior to me sounds like the potential root of independent intelligence, but intelligence doesn’t have to carry emotion.”

    I reckon those of us who went with that train of thought (in this discussion) weren’t so much arguing independent intelligence is a precondition for emotion, as we’re expressing a hunch that human-like intelligence and emotion share a common ‘origin story’ in neuroplasticity, which translated in computer-speak is emergent behavior and self-rewriting code.

    My take on it this revolves around the definition of criteria to draw the line between hardwired response to saturating stimulation (from a body malfunction, overexposure to sudden heat, yni) and “suffering” the way we experience and understand it, which I argue above could require the ability for individuals to hack their own code and define their own set of standard parameters (that can then be exceeded to produce the experience of distress).

    In a nutshell, I posit suffering is something one has teach oneself, which requires a circuitry complex and plastic enough to process and internalize new data and procedures at the individual level.

    By this token, an ant probably can’t suffer, but maybe the whole anthill can ?
    Mmh… *grind grind*

  82. Just because we create something, doesn’t mean we understand it. Look at children, for example.

    Not to nitpick, but we create children about as much as a Home Bakery Supreme Bread Machine creates bread. There is neither intent nor design or any sort of creative process demand on us to bake a child (rearing them is another issue, obviously).

    But anyone who ever designed something that later went out of hand can attest, Just because we create something, doesn’t mean we understand it., indeed.

    Ask the initiators of ARPANET if they saw chatroulette coming, or the framers of the US constitution if they foresaw legal fictions would one day vie for presidency, using a mormon kleptocrat and a Harvard Law-educated negro as meat puppets… (see what I did here ?)

  83. In a nutshell, I posit suffering is something one has teach oneself, which requires a circuitry complex and plastic enough to process and internalize new data and procedures at the individual level.
    By this token, an ant probably can’t suffer, but maybe the whole anthill can ?
    Mmh… *grind grind*

    Oh dear. Just when it felt like we were starting to simplify :) But yes, I take the point of suffering being ‘learned’ in a way. I suppose if we think of the anthill as the Borg hive mind, it might have such capacity.

    Not to nitpick, but we create children about as much as a Home Bakery Supreme Bread Machine creates bread.

    ahahahahhah! But yeah, I took it that Peter meant the ‘bringing up’ part of ‘making’, rather than the actual rendering process.

  84. @ AcD

    Drawing this line between software glitch and hardware malfunction is somewhat more problematic and arbitrary in brains than in computers, since our moistware is arguably both, whisked together beyond separation (for a large part).

    Actually, the distinction is pretty ephemeral in computers too.

    Software is a combination of certain hardware micro-component states manipulated in a certain manner, the distinction between “software” and “hardware” is actually fairly fuzzy if you go low level enough. There’s no “platonic land of software” to speak of, it’s a sort of abstraction necessary for humans to manipulate programming constructs efficiently (perhaps, it is a quirk specific to human mental framework… who knows? Not like we have inhuman coders to compare ourselves to…)

    But to stick with that imperfect analogy, I’d suggest the precondition for human-equivalent “suffering” would be to have enough brainpower to run a reality simulation (as opposed to mere reflex-response to stimuli), and for faults to happen within the realm of that simulation.

    My idea of “suffering” could thus be summed up as a deviation from the mean that exceeds standard parameters beyond our expectations, and thus hinges on the ability to form expectations, which in turn implies (for lack of better wording) an “internalized view” of the world.
    Some values of “Pleasure” or “happiness” would fit under the same description, just on a different vector (better than expected, rather than worse).

    Well, it appears to me that every system that has ever built any predictive internal model of anything qualifies. Including that black starfish thingie http://www.neatorama.com/2006/12/03/black-starfish-robot-senses-and-compensates-for-damage/

    Human capacity for subjective experience is pretty damn curious due to being both elusive and obnoxiously apparent to a human investigator, isn’t it :) ?

  85. One interesting bit about the issue at hand here, as covered from the least nonsensical areas of the mainstream conversation.

    One bit I liked especially in the debunking of the analogy between the condition of orcas and black slaves is at how much personal risk the “abolitionists” put themselves: while this is no good measure of the philosophical worth one one position vs the other, it’s interesting to note how slavery abolitionisms always elicited enraged (as in foaming at the mouth) reactions from defenders of the status quo, while the general reaction to the Orcas Liberation Front claims have been of like “WTF?” flavor.

    In one case, the defenders went defensive, and in the other they simply don’t get it, which leads me to think slavery proponents already knew there was something wrong with the whole affair the moment they paused to think about it, whilst the cause of the orcas is still a long way away, being merely dismissible as preposterous and not calling for any real or fake outrage by its opponents.

  86. @Peter : Dude, I’m all for founding this club ;) Come on, it wouldn’t be that exclusive. Just… very selective. :) Excellent point about the psychopathic stuff, of course.

    @Val : Great to see you again here! I won’t be able to make it to Toronto, but I hope to come back to a Worldcon as soon as my budget allows.

    As for the matter at hand, New Zealand pushes for recognizing individuality in Cetaceans : http://www.nzherald.co.nz/environment/news/article.cfm?c_id=39&objectid=10787066

    I think, all in all, it will all come back to a matter of ethical choice. We can’t prove we are free beings and not deterministic machines driven by biochemisty; we want to believe we aren’t, but that’s a choice we make, an act of faith. We will have to see if we can one day make the same leap of faith with species different from our own…