Friday, 6 July 2012

Gary Comstock: Feeling Matters


    Abstract: What scientific experiments, if any, are we justified in performing on animals in order to answer philosophical questions such as the distribution of complex feelings across species? Would researchers, for example, be justified in inducing behavioral signs of depression in monkeys if they thought the results could help to resolve the metaphysical question, whether nonhumans have the capacity to feel, for example, the social anxiety that results from thinking that others think you are worthless?  To make progress on this issue, I proceed in three steps. First, I review the case for thinking that cynomulgus monkeys experience social-stress induced depression, a higher order mental state some humans find worse than death. Second, I introduce and rebut three objections to the idea that we can legitimately attribute this feeling to monkeys. Third, I conclude by outlining an invasive experiment that might help to settle the Distribution Question and I ask whether it would be humane to carry it out.

    Call, J. & Tomasello, M., 2008. Does the chimpanzee have a theory of mind? 30 years later. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 12(5), pp.187-192.http://www.eva.mpg.de/psycho/pdf/Publications_2008_PDF/Call_Tomasello_2008.pdf   
    Lerner, Y. et al., 2011. Topographic mapping of a hierarchy of temporal receptive windows using a narrated story. The Journal of neuroscience - the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 31(8), pp.2906-2915. http://neuro.cjb.net/content/31/8/2906.full
    Penn, D.C., Holyoak, K.J. & Povinelli, D.J., 2008. Darwin's Mistake: Explaining the Discontinuity Between Human and Nonhuman Minds. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 31(02), pp.109-130. http://staffwww.dcs.shef.ac.uk/people/A.Sharkey/2008-darwin.pdf
    Shively, C.A. et al., 2005. Social stress-associated depression in adult female cynomolgus monkeys (Macaca fascicularis). Biological Psychology, 69(1), pp.67-84. 
    Stewart, M.E. et al., 2006. Presentation of Depression in Autism and Asperger Syndrome A Review. Autism, 10(1), pp.103'116.  http://aut.sagepub.com/content/10/1/103.abstract 
    Willard, S.L. & Shively, C.A., 2011. Modeling depression in adult female cynomolgus monkeys (Macaca fascicularis). American Journal of Primatology, 73, pp.1-15. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22076882

Comments invited

57 comments:

  1. Un des problèmes avec l'attribution de conscience (feelings) ou de la douleur aux animaux est épistémique : tout ce que nous savons de la douleur est limité par la perspective que nous en avons. J'ai une assez bonne idée de ce que la douleur physique représente chez les êtres humains, mais il est assez difficile de savoir ce que ressentent les autres animaux, surtout lorsqu'on s'éloigne des primates.

    Si la douleur, par exemple, a un rôle adaptatif particulier chez les animaux sociaux (e.g. je ressens davantage de douleur afin d'attirer l'aide de mes congénères) il n'est peut-être pas faux d'affirmer que la douleur a un rôle différent et une phénoménologie différente chez les autres espèces.

    En ce sens, donner des droits aux autres espèces à partir de l'attribution de conscience/douleur me semble assez problématique.

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    1. MA CERTITUDE ET LA SOUFFRANCE D'AUTRUI

      Tu as bien regardé le singe qui a l'air déprimé?Tu as des doutes? C'est pas certain.

      Jusqu'à date les pommes tombent vers le bas plutôt que vers le haut, et les "lois" de la physique tiennent -- mais demain? C'est pas évident.

      Ta souffrance à toi? Malgré ton témoignage verbal (ce qui n'est, après tout, que du témoignage verbal): Pas certain (pour autrui).

      L'existence du monde externe? Pas certain.

      Donc, la souffrance du singe qui a l'air de souffrir: Pas certain.

      Mais si tu souhaites que les autres accordent le bénéfice du doute à toi, quand tu souffres, je te conseille d'accorder ces mêmes bénéfices à autrui.

      Faut distinguer la certitude et la vérité. Il y a plein de vérités dont on ne peut pas être certain. Les vérités certaines sont les exceptions (il n'y a que les vérités formelles, démontrablement nécessaires et le Cogito: je sens ce que je sens maintenant).

      Le reste n'est pas certain.

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    2. Si on s'obstine déjà à chaque commentaire sur la définition de la conscience, sur la validité écologique des expériences dites concernant les bases neuronales de la conscience, sur si la théorie de l'esprit existe chez les primates non humains, etc., je pense encore moins que de partir du conflit cartésien puisse vraiment nous aider à aller de l'avant. Je trouve ça toutefois super intéressant que je puisse demain disparaître, devenir un point noir (et encore, un point noir représenterait quelque chose à être), car tout ce temps, je n'étais qu'un personnage dans le rêve d'une autre "personne" ou "être" dont l'existence aujourd'hui m'est inconnue.

      En même temps, si cela est, pour le moment où ce rêve-là dure, pour aussi longtemps que ce monde farfelu a cours, je suis prêt à m'autoriser de tenter de le comprendre à travers les outils imparfaits de la science : après tout, c'est le propre de l'être humain que de faire sens des situations les plus farfelues, non ?

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    3. Alors selon ton argumentaire nous ne devrions pas accorder de droits aux personnes "légumes" (dsl pas de meilleur mot) puisque nous ne savons pas de quelle façon elles ressentent la douleur et si elles en sont consciente?

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    4. Je suis avec M. Harnad sur celle-ci. Quand on entend un chien se faire battre et pousser des cris déchirants personnellement je n'ai pas de doute qu'il souffre, peut-être pas de la même façon que moi, mais ça me suffit!

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    5. Oui, mais on n'est pas certain non plus que le singe souffre, tout comme si je souffre, comment peux-tu être certaine que je souffre, si tout ce monde n'est qu'une représentation théâtrale et imaginée de ton esprit fertile ? J'accepte de dire que tu souffres, que je souffre, que le singe souffre, pour que je puisse recevoir les services que tu reçois et que le singe reçoit si jamais il s'en fallait à moi d'être en train de souffrir.

      Mais dans la recherche de la vérité, est-ce que tout ça est vrai ? Question intéressante mais contre-productive.

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    6. Je comprends bien ton point de vue mais je pense aussi qu' enlever les droits des autres espèces sur une supposition conscience/douleur, quelle qu'elle soit, est aussi problématique.

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    7. Dans le bénéfice du doute, je préfère donner les droits aux gens.

      Autrement, en joignant le fait qu'on est incapable de vraiment pouvoir généraliser aux autres espèces (même aux autres humains) au fait qu'on ne peut être sûr que tout ce qui gravite autour de nous représente la vérité, c'est facile de tomber dans ce que certains appelleraient l'extrémisme : tenez, les Noirs, ayant vécu en Afrique encore beaucoup plus longtemps que les Blancs qui ont migré vers d'autres régions, ont été en contact donc encore beaucoup plus longtemps avec des prédateurs et ont donc peut-être développé bio-anthropologiquement une encore plus forte tolérance à la douleur pour encore mieux faire face à leur environnement que les Blancs. Oui ? Et si les chercheurs nazis trouvaient que les juifs sont véritablement des êtres impurs et inférieurs car on ne peut savoir s'ils ressentent véritablement les mêmes choses que les autres êtres humains et, après tout, on ne peut pas vraiment savoir ce qu'ils ressentent et, après tout, quand on aura trouvé LA molécule qui démontrera qu'ils sont inférieurs, ils seront satisfaits ? Et si on ne la trouve pas, de toute façon, tout ça n'est qu'une mascarade, tout ce monde est une mascarade.

      Je serais prudent avec toute cette question du droit, du ressenti, de la légitimité du ressenti, car si aujourd'hui beaucoup d'humains regardent de haut sur les animaux qui ressentiraient avec moins d'acuité la conscience (ou la douleur), car si aujourd'hui beaucoup d'humains méprisent ces robots qui ne seront jamais "capables" d'être des humains dans leur ressenti, on n'est pas non plus si loin de l'humain qui, ne pouvant pas vraiment ressentir ce que ressentent d'autres humains ("the feeling is inside the feeler, isn't it?"), car avec notre tendance inhérente à nous rassembler avec NOS pairs, ça ne sera pas bien long que certains groupes, peuples, couleurs, religions, races, chevelures, seront sans ressenti, seront des unfeelers, des impurs, des païens.

      Attention.

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    8. Deux réactions courtes à vos commentaires :
      1. Je crois que les primates ressentent la douleur (j'en doute pas), seulement que ce qu'ils ressentent est probablement fort différent. Plus nous nous éloignons des primates, plus il est ardu de savoir « ce que ça fait de » ressentir de la douleur pour un organisme.

      2. Je voulais principalement faire ressortir une difficulté épistémique quant à l'argument : l'organisme a du ressenti, ergo il a des droits. Les personnes dans le coma (ceux qui ont vraiment aucun ressenti) ont des droits, ils est donc nécessaire de trouver une autre base pour leur attribuer des droits.

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    9. Parfaitement en accord avec Alexandre.
      Les primates ressentent. Les animaux ressentent. Mais plusieurs études faites sur ses mêmes animaux sont faites pour pouvoir mieux expliquer des problématiques humaines. Un sujet comme la dépression n'est peut-être pas le meilleur pour être étudier chez les singes...

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    10. Nous devons être prudents lorsque nous attribuons une conscience ou un manque de conscience à un organisme, vivant ou non.
      Être trop prudent et attribuer à chacun d'eux des expériences phénoménologiques afin d'éviter la souffrance nous causerait bien des soucis pour tondre notre gazon (décapitation de masse??). En même temps, exercer un doute excessif risque de causer bien de la souffrance qui n'en vaut pas la peine.
      Alors oui Shady, je crois qu'il faut se poser ces questions, c'est essentiel. Elles permettent de cerner la conscience, c'est parce que nous nous posons ce genre de question que nous aurons un jour la réponse. La question "Est-ce que les animaux ont des expériences phénoménologiques?" doit se poser si on veut faire progresser la science rapidement sans causer de souffrance, et si nous voulons être capable de savoir quand nous aurons enfin créé un AI conscient.

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    11. ERIC MILLETTE: You make the argument that if we want others to consider our own suffering, we should consider their suffering. However, I don't think the same argument is valid for other animals' suffering since most of them aren't able to respond to our own suffering.

      STEVAN HARNAD: Eric, the Golden Rule applies to humans, but it is not capitalism: You should treat others decently even if they can't return the favor. Or, if you like, the Golden Rule's reciprocity is here: Treat animals the way you would want to be treated by humans, if you were an animal...

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    12. GARY COMSTOCK: Stevan, help me to interpret your comment. Are you being ironic when you write that we cannot be sure that we are suffering? Or are you suggesting that my own hesitations in ascribing suffering to the monkeys is unwarranted because it is obvious that the monkeys are suffering?

      STEVAN HARNAD: Gary, I am agreeing with you completely: My reply was to a student (Alexandre) who was worried that he can't be sure animals are feeling. I replied that most true things we cannot be sure about, and so what? What we want is truth, not necessarily certainty. And when uncertain, we want to play it safe. Animal suffering is well within that range.

      But as to our *own* feelings: of course those we do have Cartesian certainty about (i.e., that we are feeling them, and what they feel like, while we are feeling them). That, alongside the necessary truths of mathematics (true on pain of contradiction) adds up to the only two kinds of truths we can be certain about -- but not the only truths, nor the only truths to which we are privy.

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    13. Alex,

      I agree that there are epistemic problems in figuring out whether some nonhuman species are conscious or not and, therefore, whether to think individuals of those species have rights. I'll say more about rights below (although it bears pointing out here that if a being has moral rights, it has them not because we give them rights ("assign" them) but because it has certain properties that entail rights that we recognize). Here, just let me say that the epistemic challenge is not steep with other primates. The physiological, anatomical, behavioral, and chemical systems of homo sapiens and the Great Apes are so extensive that no scientist to my knowledge who works closely with those species has any doubts about whether they feel pain. I don't think there are good reasons to have doubts about the sentience of any of the mammals, birds, and some cephalapods (see Gary Varner's book, "In Nature's Interests"). There is, as you probably know, debate about this issue in the fish community (altho the last time I looked at the literature, the experts seemed to be tending toward thinking some fish, at least, may be sentient). There's less evidence for claims about pain in reptiles. And I don't see how we can make sense of the claim that there's pain in microorganisms.

      So, skepticism about the pains of animals is justified -- but only for some species. Nor for those we typically have in mind.

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    14. Stevan,

      As I've just replied to Alex, I don't think we have good reasons to wonder whether monkeys feel pain. You leave room for some doubt about whether they suffer. I agree, because I think suffering involves cognition and self-consciousness whereas pain does not--and I honestly don't know whether monkeys reflect on their pains (revisiting past painful episodes, fearing future trials).

      I also agree that we should be cautious and give the benefit of the doubt when necessary. But let me here articulate an implication of the conclusion of my paper; we don't need to rely on a "benefit of the doubt" principle in order to empathize with depressed monkeys. They're depressed

      Regarding certainty and truth. I agree when you say the truth of mathematical expressions and honest self-reports of personal experience are things we can be certain about. 2 + 3 = 5, yup, and I cannot be wrong when I say, honestly, that I'm sad. But the reasons for our certainty in these two kinds of claims is different.

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    15. Shady and Marjorie--there's an ambiguity here that we might clear up by adopting the pain/suffering distinction I just introduced. Assuming that distinction makes sense to you, would you both be happy to agree that the probabilities are very high that the monkeys feel pain? And that the probabilities are somewhat lower that they suffer?

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    16. Laurie-Ann, if something has moral rights it has them because of other properties, it has, such as free will or rationality or sentience. You mention consciousness and ability to feel pain, and these are also properties that are sometimes regarded as the basis for recognizing an individual's rights. You say something is problematic (about this?), but I can't quite see what you think is problematic.

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    17. Marie-Lou, you're right on the money that depression would be better studied in human models. And we do, of course, study it even as we try to relieve it. But how would we get controls for a scientific study? We shouldn't induce depression in otherwise healthy people. Nor should we enroll already depressed people in trials in which some of them would receive no treatment while others received treatment. That's the argument for using monkeys (I'm not endorsing this argument, as I'm sure you recognize.)

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    18. Vincent, I agree that we have to be careful because it's possible to assign phenomenological experiences to things that actually don't have them. In addition to grass and other plants there are robots. Have you seen the video on Youtube of the robotic head that tells some kids that he has to leave them and he's sad about that? They seem to express genuine sadness themselves about his impending departure, even though they can see that behind the face there's nothing but solder and wires, so to speak. My point is your point, I think; it's not hard to get people to attribute feelings to inanimate objects, so we ought to go somewhat slowly here.

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    19. @ Alexandre

      What convinced me during Dr. Comstock`s talk was that picture of the monkey that slumped its shoulders and visibly looked depressed. If I saw a conspecific of mine with that type of body language I would know immediately that they were feeling down. A tell tale sign of what another person feels inside is their behaviour and what they do with their body. So it is not a far stretch from humans to monkeys, that that monkey is most likely depressed. And they are our close to us evolutionarily as well. And we had to get our body language from somewhere ;)

      Even if we are not sure that monkeys "feel" I am with Dr. Comstock in saying that we should play it safe and assume that they do. If we are wrong, then we haven`t lost much but if we are then we would do a lot more damage then is necessary.

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    20. I agree with Pierre! I am completely convinced that the monkey is depressed, although I am not sure to what extend it feels to feel depressed as a monkey (probably different than humans feel depression), but there is no doubt there is some kind of suffering there. Also, I think someone made a distinction during the discussion about killing one’s self vs. letting one self die. It seems to me just as telling that if a monkey does not feed himself, even if food is available, and ‘lets himself die’, to me this seems almost equivalent to a human suicide and clearly shows the detrimental effects these ‘depressed’ monkeys experience. I was also wondering, do monkeys ever exhibit depression in nature?
      Finally, it seems difficult to weigh the benefits to humans vs. the costs on monkeys (as on Dr. Comstock’s handout). How much benefit is worth how much suffering seems like a very slippery slope to me.

      Izabo Deschênes

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  2. Thank you for this talk! It's a really important subject and we don't talk enough about it. I really think it doesn't make sense that we would deny animal rights when we don't deny rights to humans that don't seem to be self-conscious (as to us animals might seems to lack this self-consciousness). We feel the need to protect them and be assured that they don't get used ( and we would not use them as subject in depression reasearch as are monkeys). Why is it so different for animals: feeling superior as a species?

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    1. Marjorie, one of the reasons people sometimes give for refusing to think animals have rights is that animals are not of our "kind." I think that's a bad argument because it's so ambiguous. It can mean one of two things, and two things only. It could mean that other animals are of a *physical" kind unlike our kind. If that’s what is meant, then the claim is true but morally irrelevant (the fictional Na'vi--the extraterrestrials who live on Pandora in the movie Avatar--are a different species, but surely they would have rights if they existed). On the other hand, the claim could mean that other animals are of a psychological kind different from us. If that’s what is meant, then the claim is false. Animals who lack Theory of Mind are of the *same* psychological kind as humans who lack ToM. And humans who lack ToM (some people with Autistic Spectrum Disorder) have rights. It's a simple claim about justice to recognize the rights of animals.

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  3. Maybe just a clarification question regarding utilitarianism. Singer is pretty clear on the fact humans have no inherent moral value qua humans. Their moral value (or level of moral consideration) depends on their having the cognitive features that would make, say, maiming or killing them a bigger deal than maiming or killing something that doesn't make life plans, doesn't understand what is happening to them, and so on. Singer is relatively famous for holding that killing a human newborn is worse than killing an adult dog, because the dog actually has enough "awareness" of pain and so on than the newborn human.

    So my question is this: in the characterization Prof. Comstock made of the utilitarian argument (and maybe I misunderstood), there seemed to be a suppressed premise explaining WHY, even if the benefits outweigh the costs we are NOT justified in using humans in depression research, but we can use monkeys if the same cost-benefit criterion is met. Given that Singer would probably not endorse that suppressed premise, precisely because he develops his theory so as to avoid speciesism, I'm a bit confused as to where it comes from. My intuition would be that here remains this sort of specist bias in human beings that trumps theoretical thinking regarding moral consideration.

    This sort of bias might also be what makes a lot of people recoil at the idea that a robot would be conscious (this is the tongue-in-cheek part of my comment, though I believe there is some truth to that).

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    1. I'll sum up what I said, for clarity:

      It seems to me that Prof. Comstock introduces a non-utilitarian premise in his characterization of the utilitarian argument. The reason why human beings tend to minimize the moral significance of other species is not to be found, I think, in utilitarian arguments, but in a psychological inquiry of that tendency.

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  4. THis is related to something Prof. Harnad said on the FB page: "Gary Comstock's message is: Animals feel. And feelings matter".

    Just a though, but it seems to me that this motivates a comment that relates to the way we should get about studying the problem of consciousness, or feeling. If non-human animals feel, and we want to understand feeling, then whatever angle we choose to tackle that problem should not be human-centered. Animals feel, and feelings matter, indeed. Feelings matter for ethical reasons, and they also matter because we want to explain them. So if you want to explain consciousness as feeling, you need to move beyond the (apparently intuitive, for some reason) assumption that you'Re trying to explain a human trait.

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  5. Je comprends sommairement l'utilité des recherches sur les animaux, ce que j'aime moins avec les études sur les singes et la dépression, c'est qu'on se base sur un principe, un singe peut être déprimé, qui n'est pas nécessairement vrai.
    Je ne suis pas une experte en primatologie et je me demandais si habituellement, naturellement, un singe pouvait ressentir ou vivre un état de dépression? Dans le cas où ce ne serait pas le cas, il serait pratiquement tout aussi intéressant d'étudier pourquoi justement le singe n'est pas déprimé.

    Les causes d'une dépression chez l'humain sont aussi rarement dues au fait qu'il est isolé. Bien souvent, une des conséquences de l'isolement est justement un état plus déprimé.

    Je crois qu'il y a aussi une immense différence entre un état induit (le singe n'a pas de contrôle sur l'état dans lequel il est) VS un état "qui provient de soi-même", intrinsèque.

    Je sais aussi que le commentaire a déjà été fait pendant la période de question, mais le suicide peut être "social" oui, mais bien souvent, la personne ne se se suicide pas avec l'idée de honte, d'humiliation. Je ne dis pas que cela n'existe pas, mais la dépression ne peut être expliqué que par cela, ni le suicide.

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    1. Si je vous comprends correctement, tu question si le primate peut vivre dans un état de dépression? Ils montrent les memes symptomes physiologique que les humaines, et un quart des singes meurent dans l'isolement. Beaucoup de gens diraient que, loins que les modèles animaux sont concérnes, ca constitut 'un état de dépression'

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  6. What Dr. Comstock said about the pre-existence of rights regardless of our acceptance was more profound to me than discussions of animals' conscious states.

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  7. Je pense que l'intervention du Dr. Comstock ainsi que le débat qui en découle se concentrent davantage sur les symptômes de la dépression que sur ses causes. Finalement, on n'aurait pas à se poser toutes ces questions éthiques dégoulinantes de pathos à propos de la souffrance animale si on comprenait vraiment quelles sont les causes de cette souffrance (et qu'on supprimait ces causes).
    La dépression est très probablement un trouble lié à nos modes de vie : les relations hiérarchiques sont devenues floues, les liens intergénérationnels sont souvent brisés, les aspirations des individus contredisent les valeurs mises en avant par les gouvernements, le système scolaire brise les ego et formatent la pensée, ... Tous ces facteurs sont autant de barreaux pour nos propres cages.
    Qu'on ne me méprenne pas : je suis persuadé que les animaux souffrent et j'irais jusqu'à dire qu'en douter (théorie de l'esprit ou pas) a quelque chose de pervers. Par contre, je trouve aussi que leur construire une cage qui ressemble à la nôtre pour chercher à rendre la nôtre plus supportable est simplement pathétique et franchement ironique. C'est un peu comme si les macaques en questions se mettaient subitement à construire des cages pour les cafards en se demandant comment les déprimer suffisamment pour se guérir ensuite. Je pense que les macaques sont généralement plus malins que nous : au lieu de jouer avec les cafard, ils essaient d'abord de sortir de leur prison.

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  8. I would like to elaborate a bit more about the comment I made at the end of Gary's talk about the probable intrinsic selfish properties of giving rights to animals. And again I do apologize for rising such a sensible topic but there's a point where our nature cannot be denied and we have to face the evidence that we cannot dissociate our behavior from our biology and from the fact that we are the product of the evolution exactly as all the other species...

    If we really understand how evolution works, it develops any species-relevant advantageous behavioral strategies in order to maximise any species its survival and reproduction. This is absolutely not obvious, but when you look a bit better, any kind of behavior in any livig species (including humans) might rely on adaptations that is the result of the evolution and that increases fitness and that is before all a completely and entirely selfish strategy. There's no true altruism. Altruism (either towards other humans, animals or even plants) is firstly no more than an egoistic strategy. All the sepcies compete each others to expand and survive better than its competitors whatever the strategies they use to ensure their succes.

    This is exactly the same for the question of animal rights, a mere human species-specific strategy to ensure our own survival not paying attention to the other species. That's what evolution does and what it has always done. When you look a bit better, when did we start to preoccupy wether or not animals had "rights"? This is a mere cultural construct. As long as we started threatening dramatically our environment and the biodiversity needed to ensure our survival, we started adressing rights to other living animals. But it is before all egoistic in the sense that if we want to protect animals (and more generally the environment), it is not because we care about animals well-being but because we thing in terms of our own well-being first. If we threaten the biodiversity, we destroy our primary source of vital resources and thus, we threaten our chances of survival.

    To come back to the idea that we develop strategies to maximize our survival, lions doesn't care about the pain of the antelops they kill. Actually no non-human species care about the suffering of their preys.
    However, despite my shoking-like words, I would like to moderate a bit my comment by saying that what I said cannot be used to justify the exaggeration in our feeding strategies and resources exploitation for instance. On the contratry, since evolution gave us our high cognitive abilities (including a higher form of consciousness), we can use it to moderate our natural ressources exploitation (including animals).

    In conclusion, we cannot deny and dissociate ourselves from our biology. So yes, we are all victims of our biology but our biology also allows us to have higher forms of consciousness and cognitive abilities that can guide us to generate sensible strategies to maintain our survival as a species by exploiting the ressources on the most sensible way possible without falling within an excessive range. Giving rights to animals might be one of these ways.

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    1. You are absolutely right that this assignment of the CONCEPT of human rights is a mere product of our hard adaptively-fought position at the top of the cognitive and biological food chain. That we have been granted such a biologically hard earned 'right' however, even more underscores the fact that we have some form of responsibility, moral or otherwise, to at least question our exploits of other sentient beings for personal benefit.

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    2. Yes our genes are selfish. Yes evolution is sociopathic. Yes theft, bullying, rape, murder and torture are natural. But laws and compassion are natural too, if our cultures were able to implement them and our hearts were able to create and comply with them. Animal exploitation and abuse is hence part and parcel with human exploitation and abuse -- subjectively, objectively, and ethically.

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    3. Here's some ideas, some regarding evolution, some regarding philosophy/ethics, to try and provide a different story.

      First of all, seeing all traits of our behavior as they are manifested in our current social environment as adaptations is problematic. A behavior might be a "spandrel", that is, the emerging result of the integration of otherwise adaptive traits. This result need not be adaptive, in fact it can even be maladaptive in itself so long as the components from which it emerges are sufficiently adaptive as to give an overall fitness advantage. This is not only possible, but probable given the way our brains evolved. On this topic, see "Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind" by Gary Marcus and much of Stephen Jay Gould's work. Also, it's not a controversial vue that our brain has actually evolved not a solid repertoire of traits, but mostly behavioral plasticity. In which case, our minds are, as Dennett puts it, "infected" with ideas that "reproduce" and "evolve" within us to control our behavior. This is why we are ready to die for ideas. If we follow this, it becomes clear that ideas such as rights and moral constraints in general need (should) not be explained solely in terms of a biological history.

      Finally, as an animal rights proponent, I must stress that I and fellow activists don't care about biodiversity in itself or as a means for our survival, we care about the welfare of individual animals. In fact, the history of the rise of animal rights advocacy traces it's roots to long before any environmental concerns were brought up (the Greeks). Our cognitive abilities allow us to reason from a normative point of view, that is, to ask ourselves questions such as "is this wrong, and if so, why?" and, in the proper circumstances, yield only to what we believe to be the better argument. That's what ethics is all about in philosophy. I'm not saying that we are immune to biological or sociological pressures, far from that! But that if we try, we can use our brain to question what *is* and envision what we think *should* be, and take precautions not to fall prone to our many biases.

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    4. When I said that we think first in our well-being is not really that we "think" so. As all mechanisms set by evolution, we are not conscious of the benefits and cost it causes in terms of fitness. My point was more that caring about animal welfare might be an adaption itself that serves, at some point, to increase our own fitness. But I quite agree with you by the way when you say that we have to "take precautions not to fall prone to our many biases". It was actually the conclusion of my post, but I obviously didn't manage to translate it into words very well!

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    5. COMMENTS COPIED AND PASTED FROM THE SAME POST ON FACEBOOK :

      ANDY NDK : "
      Well i agree.. We cannot be separated from our biology and still evolution is working on us. However, we began to establish a certain second sort of evolution based on the cultural and also scientific achievements, like medical treatment. However, you could say this is a benefit as we enhance our own fitness and secure our survival. My worry is actually it will render us rather "unfit" more and more. On top i think in most cases the game between prey and predator usually establishes certain kind of balance. We dont have a real predator, besides ourselves, and we do not live in a real balance with the environment. The reason we dont cease is that we have technology etc to overcome this "problem". Dont get me wrong, but i doubt this world is made to inhabit so many humans and maybe a some point evolution again will solve this issue by vanishing us from this planet. Anyway, i think to take Darwin and "biologize" every aspect of human life is also dangerous. Because then you end up in social darwinism. I hope your optimism that our cognitive abilities will enable us to solve those problems will be confirmed at some point in the future.. :)"

      PAULINE CLAUDE : "
      You've just pointed the greatest topic subjetc of debates in bioanthropology! My answer will simply be : yes "biologizing" every aspect of human life is really dangerous, but only if it used the wrong way.
      Let me finish with an analogy. Discovering the mysteries of nuclear physics has been a great advance for fields such as medicine, but it has also resulted in the creation of devasting bombs! Knowing how things work can always be dangerous, the knowledge has just to be used the right way!"

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    6. I'd like to address a few points from Pauline's original post.

      1) A clarification point about the idea that " This is absolutely not obvious, but when you look a bit better, any kind of behavior in any livig species (including humans) might rely on adaptations that is the result of the evolution and that increases fitness and that is before all a completely and entirely selfish strategy. "

      Yes, any behavior an animal has (including humans) relies on adaptations. But that does not mean that any and all behavior we exhibit is adaptive. Bobbing my head to a piece of catchy music relies on muscular, skeletal and cognitive traits that might be adaptations (or spandrels), but bobbing my head to a catchy song isn't adaptive in itself. Humans routinely and widely exhibit behaviors that have no adaptive value at all. They also behave in strikingly unadaptive ways, from a strict gene-centered view. An obvious example is contraception. Humans are also notoriously bad at calculating probabilities and at deciding for whom to vote (in the latter case they rely on heuristics that'd make many wish for enlightened dictatorship, but that's besides the point).

      I am adding these considerations to the ones Pascal presented in his comment. To pick up on what he said, and sum up my point here: we have ample examples of human behavior that has nothing to do with fitness. Sure, we obviously rely on biological and cognitive traits that were adaptive (presumably) to do those things. This, however, does not warrant the claim that all behavior in humans is adaptive.

      2) Regarding the claim that "This is exactly the same for the question of animal rights, a mere human species-specific strategy to ensure our own survival not paying attention to the other species. That's what evolution does and what it has always done"

      As prof. Harnad mentioned, yes, evolution is a selfish process. But here are plenty of examples of species that co-evolved to develop symbiotic relationships. The survival of a species is often tied to that of other species, but not just in the sense that one species eats the other. There are more complex relationships than that. But that's not the point I wanted to make here.

      The point is this: granting that evolution is a selfish process in the way you describe it (I think you're overstating it, and perhaps giving too much importance to one selective process and downplaying a lot of others), saying that the attributing of rights to animals is an adaptive behavior is a bit far-fetched. And that is because you trace the beginning of the whole "granting rights to animals" thing to the moment humans realized they were destroying their environment. That's relatively recent. Adaptive behaviors emerge from being confronted to the same adaptive problems over and over for generations. That's why humans are terrible at voting, for instance, and that is also why cognitive heuristics can play devastating tricks on us: because they didn't evolve to deal with things like the stock market or hurricane insurance. And to anticipate the objection that what is adaptive is our higher cognitive functions, which enable us to decide we should give rights to animals, that's the same as saying my jumping up and down on one leg is adaptive because my leg is an adaptation.

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    7. Part II (original post was too long...)

      3) Finally, the question of animal rights itself. First, no one cares about biodiversity. At least, no one with vested interests in the tar sands industry, and car manufacturing, and oil industry and so on and so forth. Of course people care about it, but the majority of people living in North America today certainly doesn't. So I find it hard to believe that an idea that is, maybe not marginal, but certainly not mainstream, could be, in any sense, an adaptation.

      Second, of course giving rights to animals is a social construct. Another great one is the notion of rights itself. Rights have no existence outside of society. Now, why do we have rights? I have no idea, but my guess would be that it's useful to codify and institutionalize the disgust we feel towards certain actions that are detrimental to social cohesion. [And before someone accuses me of being a moral skeptic, well, I am, fine, but for the sake of argument I'll allow that there are objective moral facts and that rights are the socially constructed proxy for those]. My point here is that the very notion of rights might very well be another one of those things we CAN come up with thanks to our cognitive abilities, but that aren't, strictly speaking, an adaptation.

      Finally, I'll once again pick up on Pascal's point that animal rights advocacy long predates the realization that we were, to put it lightly, destroying our environment.

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    8. COMMENTS COPIED AND PASTED FROM THE CORRESPONDING POST ON FACEBOOK :

      PAULINE CLAUDE :
      "Okay, let's change a bit my question here. What would be the utility (not to say the adaptive function) of transposing our empathic abilities to animals, plants and even sometimes to objects or ideas?"

      TURING CONSCIOUSNESS :
      "With animals we would be right, with plants we would probably be wrong (but see Mancuso tomorrow!), with inanimate objets we would be wrong, and with ideas I'm not even sure what you mean."

      PAULINE CLAUDE :
      "Ideas is not really the right word, I rather meant things that are only part of our imagination (not part of the real world) such as God, fictional characters and so forth ‎(I mean why do we feel empathic towards these "ideas")"

      FREDERIC-ISMAEL BANVILLE :
      "I'm not sure how we transpose our empathic abilities to animals. Granting animal rights only means that we recognize they should not be harmed or whatever, we're only recognizing they feel pain, not that they can be empathic in the same sense we can be."

      TURING CONSCIOUSNESS :
      "It's their pain, and our empathy..."

      PAULINE CLAUDE :
      "I didn't mean animals are empathic, I meant we feel empathy towards animals. Recognizing other's pain is empathy. When you feel your friend pain because you think he is in pain you show empathy towards him. That the same for animals. When a human sees an animal that seems to be in pain, he feels its pain just the same as he would have done towards another human. My point is just that we do not display empathic behavior only towards our conspecific but also toward non-conspecific entities such as animals, plants, and so forth."

      GUILLAUME LOIGNON :
      "If plants are conscious, you will need to find a synthetic protein alternative, and fast. We need you alive and healthy!"

      TURING CONSCIOUSNESS :
      "The principle is this: Don't hurt or kill feeling organisms needlessly (e.g., just because you like the taste). One can be a vegan completely healthily and happily. If plants feel, eating them is no longer needless, for the taste, but in order to survive healthily."

      PAULINE CLAUDE :
      "Well, killing an animal for food is not completely needless actually. As humans, we are biologically meat eaters. I think there are two things to separate here. Killing for eating and killing for eating in inapropriate ways. Should we make all carnivory species stop eating animal preys because their preys have feelings? Veganism is, in my point of view not the solution to stop the exaggeratory food industry (and, I totally agree that the way we manage food industry can be done needlessly at some point). Hunters-gatherers kill their preys in sensible ways for instance. Should they stop to do so because their preys have feelings? Let's just think a minute about the consequences if all human individuals had to be vegan. We'ld have to start an exaggerating agriculture industry and yes, we would stop hurting feeling creatures but what about the whole ecosystem that runs the planet? All is a question of eco-equilibrium. Some people argue that it is not a matter of biodiversity but the living world is dynanic and coevolved together, and all the components have to be taken in consideration. I think there are ways to maintain an equilibrium between all the living species without having to change the diet we are "designed" for, mainly other ways than becoming vegan or vegetarian such as stop basing food industry on money and economic benefits and start doing more sensible food provisioning adapted to the diet our body is made for."

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    9. Pauline, you're surely right, that any story about our ethical values will have to explain why these values--traits--evolved. But right now we don't have much more than just-so stories about this matter, and it's a pretty difficult one to design experiments for. That said, it's almost certainly true that not every value we currently hold needs to be adaptive over the long haul, and some that we currently hold may eventually prove to be non-adaptive. Those values may die out in one of two ways. Either those who hold them will prove unfit and fail to reproduce. Or those who hold them will be so wildly successful at reproduction that our species will overpopulate its area and our species will crash.

      But coming up with the right evolutionary account of our values is not the same thing as justifying any particular one of them. As Stevan notes, rape and slavery are "natural" behaviors and adaptive strategies under some conditions. But it does not follow from the fact that the behaviors might be selected for in some environments that they are justified. To justify (as opposed to explain) them, we must provide good reasons that the pain and suffering those acts inflict on others are pains and suffering we must accept. And that's pretty hard to do, to come up with good reasons to justify these violations of people's rights.

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    10. Thanks Gary and everyone for all these comments. I'm surely aware and quite agree with all what has been said so far. I wanted above all people to react to this really sensible topic! I'm also glad of your last sentence because that would have been my conclusion too : we behave guided by our human nature, but being able to judge the consequences of our actions in order to have the possibility to make choices acceptable to us is also part of human nature, and this would have never been possible without consciousness.

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    11. (want to make a comment on this but have not had a chance to thoroughly read all of the above comments so please excuse me if I am repeating)

      Just because something is found in nature, it does not logically follow that it is "right".

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    12. Frédéric, thanks for calling attention to this issue. Those who defend animal *rights* (like Regan) have different views about the issue from those who defend animal *welfare* positions (like Singer). And I have, as you point out, invoked rights in a utilitarian framework. Rights, you suggest rightly, seem incongruous in this context because utilitarians don't believe rights have any metaphysical status. They're 'nonsense on stilts' as Jeremy Bentham had it.

      Ok, but utilitarians recognize the presence and the power of the concept in our everyday discourse and laws, and they have every reason to try to use the concept to improve the world. Some of them (RM Hare, JJC Smart, Singer, Varner) freely help themselves to the idea, using it as short-hand for something like "a rule of thumb that, internalized and institutionalized, will produce the best results overall." Strict act-utilitarians do not allow that individuals have any absolute rights (a rights that cannot be over-ridden by any other considerations). And act-utilitarians hold that we must always act so as to produce the best consequences. So, decisions may and do arise in which (the utilitarian is committed to saying) the best thing to do is to violate someone's (alleged) right so that good may come of it.

      At the level of (what Hare calls) critical thinking in ethics, there are no rights. But rights are part of our cultural discourse, part of our institutions, and powerful tools in, for example, judicial reasoning. They're useful ways, therefore, to get what we want--and what we *should* want. So at the level of (what Hare calls) ordinary thinking, we ought to think and act as if rights have metaphysical status (or what Varner calls "deontological flavor"). The reason is that in everyday life, we are poor calculators. We are biased and not inclined to ask whether we should sacrifice our own desires for others' desires. Sometimes we don't have time to calculate all of hte probabilities. And we're lousy calculators, too, making errors because of our biases. Given all of these difficulties, society has evolved rules of thumb that generally produce the best results. Utilitarians are happy to see these rules codified in law, enforced by authorities, and taught to children (the 10 Commandments) as inviolable. Because doing those things will help counteract our biases and foibles in everyday thinking about ethics.

      From a utilitarian point of view, as long as people's thinking in terms of rights tends to have the effect of making the world a better place overall, we ought to keep encouraging them to think that way even if though we're not going to use the idea of inviolable rights when we think critically.

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  9. Thank you Dr. Comstock for addressing these issues, there needs to be a far greater public discourse on these questions.
    There seems to be an obvious, massive, hole on the part of scientific thinking about depression-related suicide.
    All talk of theory of mind & ethics aside, as I am radically adhered to the animal rights category and find it difficult to discuss how such tests could EVER be justified even given the wildest 'human-positive' cost-benefit analysis outcome, I would be curious to see statistics on how many depression-related suicides were in individuals who had had NO help from currently available treatments. Given the success rate of SSRIs and cognitive behavioural therapies, I imagine it would be quite high.
    The most important read-out when performing this kind of cost-benefit analysis is what benefit the particular studies in question would pose to human welfare. As far as I understand, and from reading the paper in question, there have been no massive advancements in our understanding of female depression, and no discernable effect on suicide rates.
    All the while, on the side of these issues we continue to debate whether the universe is indeed deterministic, a theory whose scientific testability proves questionable... Perhaps an entropic universal Karma really does exist, and surprise is around the corner for us opportunistic humans....

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  10. Here is a bunch of questions/comments/thoughts/guessings that popped up in my mind when listening to Gary's talk :

    1)About the social theory of depression. Depression has to be socio-related and has to involve empathic processes. In fact, mental disorder such as depression wouldn't have any utility if it couldn't be perceived by conspecific because the benefits of depression rely only on help given by the others. And as long as it involves empathy, it has to involve consciousness.

    2) Feelings (especially in humans) are entirely socially "built" and "controled". In other words, any feeling is at some point influenced by a social component. The "feeling repertoire" (according a meaning, consciously or not, to a feeling) is continuously enriched during the development as the result of social interactions with conspecifics

    3) are depression and suicide the direct consequence of theory of mind?

    4) Depression can be seen as a disorder with an adaptive function which is to seek help from others. If it's true, then depression should be easily cured with appropriate social interactions. However, although we live in a highly social world, social interactions does not seem to be enough to cure the symptoms of depression. If social interactions should benefit depressed individuals, why in general, affected individuals cannot find benefits from the disorder? The answer might rely on the fact that we evolved in such a different socio-cultural environment and that the sociocultural environment we have today does not allow to fulfil the benefits of depression. Maybe one of the main difference would be the development of a more "depressive" environment in a more individualistic society that, despite its numerous social interactions, would not fit anymore the appropriate social responses needed to make depression adaptive in terms of benefits gained.

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  11. I think it's Allan Watts who wrote that he does not understand why we call ourselves "materialists", since our western culture has so little respect for matter. It seems to me that behind all this discussion of whether feeling matters is the very assumption that feeling is superior to "matter", hence a dualist view. Why not see that the whole universe is integrated, and then one will not ask oneself what is worth your respect, everything simply will be. And I truly believe that rocks deserve as much respect as animals do.

    And what is so wrong about eating a sentient being? One could also see that as the greatest respect one could pay to it. The problem as I see it lies in the fact that, again because of our vitalist tendency, we value being alive more than being dead. But doesn't how we actually live actually matters more than when we actually die?

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    Replies
    1. Ok... in an alternate universe I suppose the greatest form of respect to another being would be to eat them after they've died thereby propagating their matter in some sort of utilitarian way. If you're going to run with this argument though you've got to be OK with eating others of your OWN species as a great form of respect - I don't see humans getting there aaannyyy time soon. I think it's a lot more practical to start talking about what feels, and what it feels like for 'it' when this 'it', whatever species it is, is exploited, tortured, and killed before their natural life-end.

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    2. Juliette, I think you need to ask yourself some more challenging questions: Would *I* like to be eaten? Would I take that as a sign of respect? If your philosophizing does not square with this obvious common sense, then perhaps it needs a little more critical scrutiny.

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  12. Sorry I haven't responded sooner; my university gmail settings apparently disallow us from joining Blogspot while using our university domain. : / It took me this long to figure out the problem, which I trust I've now resolved (by creating a new gmail account.)

    Thanks, btw, for these comments. I intend to respond to all of them, and soon.

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  13. Another way to ask why feelings matters... WHY IS SUGAR SWEET? let's think about that...

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    1. Why is sugar sweet is really the question: why are animals disposed to seek glucose foods when their blood-glucose is low: That's an answerable evolutionary question about food preference; it doesn't give a clue of a clue about why glucose tastes sweet, or tastes like anything at all -- or why anything feels like anything at all. The glucostat (a homeostatic mechanism) is doings, not feelings.

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    2. If glucose didn't taste the way it did, I would not crave many of the things I crave. If there were no expectation of what 'feeling' might be generated by consumption of glucose, why would I seek out glucose? Why would we do anything if we didn't have some form of expectation about feelings that might result from 'doing' a particular thing?

      Doing without feeling? Sure, a robot can. But WHY does a robot do? Let's re-contextualize all the talk we have had about robots. A robot does what it does because WE told it to 'do so'. Could feelings, or expectations about feelings, drive 'adaptive' doing?

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    3. IF ROBOTS GREW ON TREES

      ...what difference would it make?

      The point is that those feelingless causal devices seem to be able to do all the things we do feelingly. What feelings are for remains unexplained.

      (Certainly not explained by saying that if sugar didn't taste sweet you wouldn't eat it. Well, yes, but the question remains why?)

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  14. POSTED ON FB, during the talk.

    ROXANE CAMPEAU
    Would I be right if i'm concluding from Pr. Comstock talk that there is no levels or kinds of conscioussness, but instead, a palette of feelings spread out through species? Then, is there a hierarchy of feelings? Does ToM govern this hierarchy? Is there a ToM felt and a ToM unfelt like Stevan put it on an other post, or feelings surrounded or not by ToM? I'm confused....again!!

    STEVAN HARNAD
    Animals feel. And feelings matter.

    FREDERIC-ISMAEL BANVILLE
    While I'm not too certain of his process for getting to that conclusion (see comments on blog), I think that this core insight is extremely important and should have serious implications for the study of consciousness. Namely: consciousness as feeling is not an exclusively human trait.
    6 juillet, 11:47

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  15. I'm not sure what you mean by a hierarchy of feelings: More pain is worse, and more important, than less pain, but that's not a hierarchy. If Theory of Mind makes a pain last longer, maybe it makes it worse, but, more likely, ToM goes with more episodic memory, and more memory makes pain last longer. (ToM is more relevant to the pain-giver than the pain-getter.)

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    ReplyDelete