Friday 6 July 2012


VII. Doing Things Because You Feel Like I(Friday July 6)
Gary Comstock (NCSU) Feeling Matters 
David Rosenthal (CUNY Grad)  Does Consciousness Have any Utility? 
Mark Balaguer (Cal State) A Scientifically Reputable Version of Indeterministic Libertarian Free Will 
Adrian Ward (Harvard) Mind Blanking: When the Stream of Consciousness Runs Dry
Comments invited


  1. Why consciousness in animals has to be a criterion in ethics?

    1. Why does anything matter in ethics? Because feeling matters (and it's the only thing that matters.) And animals feel.

    2. My impression is that without consciousness, we wouldn't be respecting animals. The fact that they feel, i.e., that they suffer, is really the reason for which we have ethical laws towards animals.

      Take a look at environment: if we were to prove that trees feel pain, we probably would also vote laws to protect trees, and we wouldn't be cutting them down everywhere. Ethics is just giving us a reason to respect animals; I don't think we would be ethical in treating animals if it wasn't about consciousness.


      "Why does anything matter in ethics? Because feeling matters (and it's the only thing that matters.) And animals feel."

      "Feelings matter to us because we are able think about them. Yes feelings matter for animal since it drives their behavior but isn't it anthropomorphizing a bit too much the idea of feelings that animals have?"

      "Pauline, what is all this abstract theorizing? It hurts animals if you kick them. So you should not kick them. Is there some sort of theoretical problem with that? (Feelings matter because they matter to feelers: not just to the kickers, but to the kickees.)"

      "I have troubles to put my mind into words. Let me think about a nice way to write it down and I'll come to you later on that."

      "I can try. Sure, I have empathy, which makes some things conscious and worthy of consideration to me (both at the same time). But what if it's flawed, or dead wrong? How do I evaluate the judgment empathy makes?"

      "Louis: Your empathy does not make the sparrow feel; nor does it make the sparrow's feelings worthy of consideration. And the consequences of your empathy being wrong matter far less (in fact, not at all, for a feelingless sparrow-teapot) than the consequences of its being not-wrong (for the feeling sparrow: think of Pascal's Wager).​wiki/Pari_de_Pascal"

      "Actually, this is much more compelling than Pascal's Wager, because the intuitions are much stronger. In fact, I thoroughly enjoy your rejoinder.
      As does Pascal, though, you're presenting us with extreme alternatives. You could accomodate the constraints of these intuitions without giving value in virtue of feeling. For instance, some sort of care ethics focus on the value of the care relationship for the carer. Organisms to which we attribute feeling also seem to be those with which we feel we can have a care relationship. And that might be more in line with the way we actually infer feeling on animals."

      "@ Stevan : as promised, I come back to you on your second comment. After listening Marthe's talk, I think I can easily explain you what I meant. As Marthe pointed out, we are able to infer that animals (especially mammals) do feel their feelings as we do because they share some physical/behavioral similarities with us. But this is mere speculation because experience is subjective and can only be known by the individual who experienced it. But how can you be sure that animals are even conscious? you cannot rely on animal's behavioral similarities with humans because what you interpret as pain or any kind of feeling might be completly the result of unconscious processes exactly as a highly sophisticated robot would be able to behave as a human do."


      Pauline, you are making a mistake. You are imagining that because one cannot know *for sure* that any other entity than oneself feels (the "other-minds" problem) it is therefore rational to conclude that animals do not feel until one has proof to the contrary.

      First, verbal report is not proof to the contrary in humans: it is just further behavioral evidence; same is true of neural correlates. So with neither of those can one be sure either.

      Second, one cannot be sure about many facts that one nevertheless takes to be true: that apples will continue to fall down instead of up; that the "laws" of science are true; that the external world exists.

      All those logical grounds for scepticism are there, in each case, but the rational conclusion, in each case, is not that therefore the fact is not true, but just that it is not certain.

      In the case of animal suffering, there is the added factor of Pascal's Wager -- which is that it you make the mistake of taking the logical grounds for uncertainty as grounds for provisionally assuming falsity, then the consequences (for the animal) are incomparably worse than assuming truth. (It's rather like assuming "guilty until proven innocent" rather than "innocent until proven guilty.")

      Empirical (i.e., "scientific") truth is a matter of probability, not certainty."

      "Actually, I quite agree with what you said Stevan. I'm just trying to make sense of what has been said on consciousness so far, and the result is quite striking. We cannot use scientific evidence to justify ethical choices. They are only based on what we feel is the best as humans. And actually that's make some sense. Why do we have such complex thought abilities? why feeling you think matters? because it gives subjectivity and subjectivity allows you to go beyond the reality and because it allows you "buildind" your own reality in which your believes have to prime on what the reality actually is. That what ethics is, a belief construct that cannot be disturbed by scientific reasoning because a belief has to be subjective. So ethics has to base it premisses on moral reasons and not on scientific reasons. I'll finish that if I would have made a mistake by using some sort of scientific evidence to discredit consciousness in ethics, I'll say that base arguments on the fact that it is scientifically proven than animals do have feeling cannot be use either. The adaptative function of subjectivity keep is "advantageousibility" only when it stay subjective. So, I'll say : science is dangerous game!"

      "Pauline, one did not need to go to the special case of feeling in animals to see that we "cannot use scientific evidence to justify ethical choices." Laws and ethics are not based on science. It is not "unscientific" or contrary to "scientific" evidence to kill, rape or steal. And yes, animal welfare laws and ethics as well as human welfare laws and ethics are based on feelings."

      "All I'm saying is that feelings and the fact of having consciousness cannot be used as an argument to give animals rights, moral values can because this is how we feel as an individual in our subjective world that matter. After 8 days of seminar on consciousness, people manage to convince me that even plants might have feelings, so how far should we go? Why according more importance to animals feelings than plants? The only feelings that really matter to us in ethics (and when I say "that matters to us" I don't mean that it is necessarily a conscious process) is our subjective feelings we have toward animals. People first want to protect animals because they want to lower the pain they feel when thinking about their pain because they believe they feel pain. If in our subjective world we do believe that animals do have feelings, we have to stay logical with ourselves and protect them for that reason. But believing animals have feelings keeps being a belief. A belief is itself something that we think is true in the lack of any other evidence that prove us the contrary, but we cannot either prove that this belief is true, otherwise it's not a belief anymore. However, I'm quite convinced that believing is quite adaptive, and what might also be adaptive is to keep hard believing until you have enough evidence to stop believing in it. So people are right to keep protecting animals because they have feelings (because it is actually what the evidence we have so far tend to demontrate : that animals might have feelings and that in the lack of any other evidence, we have to keep beleiving in that otherwise having a belief looses all its utility). I cannot make you stop believing that your belief that animals feel isn't true, exactly as you cannot make me stop believing that feelings are not valuable in ethics and exactly as none of us will make stop a christian believing in God because neither you and I will have enough evidence to convince him that God doesn't exist. It's the exact same thing with consciousness. You'll never be able to give me enough evidence that they actually feel despite the fact that I know that feelings are all a matter of subjectivity, exactly as I cannot be able to give you enough evidence that animals do not have feelings for the same reason."

      "Before being approved to work with monkeys, I had to read a text about the ethic of animal use in research and here are the main line of this text.

      Problem, there are people that votes for no control over animal research (absolute mad scientist point of view) and people who votes for no research with animals (absolute Hippie position). Because we live in a society, we need to find a compromise.

      First argument (pro), animal research leads to a great deal of progress, which results in saving human lives, without endangering more humans (human use in research, let's say). - From a strict egoist gene theory interpretation, human are biased toward valuing human life more than animal life.

      Second argument (against), because we are the prodigious boys of mother earth, we need to take care of our siblings, animals and plants. Plus, culturally, we know how much it's sucks to be enslaved, abused, tortured and so on...

      Solution, animals have been classified according to their ability to feel pain Monkey > Mouse > flies, and in order to diminish the total amount of felt pain by the animal kingdom, any scientist is required (morally) to try to use alternative to animal research (computational models, theoretical work, ...) or, if not possible, to use the animals that resides at lowest level of the scale, that can satisfy their research requirements. Moreover, and I know from research with monkeys, you also need to submit your protocol and justify any action or behavior that results in discomfort for the animal (surgeries for instance) and have it approved by the committee for ethical treatment of animal research (or something like that). For instance, in my lab, we cannot use any negative reinforcement, it is forbidden. We need to develop experiments involving only rewarding of the animal.

      I hope it helps!"

  2. 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.

  3. (I post my comment here because Saturday's discussion page has not created yet)

    Emotions have been quite neglected so far in the different talks. However, as Luiz Pessoa showed, it seems to be quite central with the notion of feelings and consciousness. What is it to feel if not telling us that something "feels" good and has to be done again or that something "feels" bad and don't have to be done again. And what about memory? also neglected so far. If no record of the feeling of the outcome is done, how consciousness can even exist?