SH: My provisional criterion for human “use” of nonhuman animals is based on whether something is necessary for (human) survival and health.

Some (but very far from all or even most) animal research may be necessary (the rest is just for curiosity, careerism, profit, incompetence)

 But (apart from the few remaining subsistence cultures (who have no choice). meat, fish, dairy and eggs are no longer necessary. (Just taste and habit)

Anon: ok, let’s provisionally accept that a lot of animal research may not be necessary, and that we could do without eating living sentient beings and be fine. there are still two questions to answer: 

i) who decides whether an animal study is justified, based on your criterion, and how? especially given that the future applications of basic research are often completely unpredictable. I am definitely in favor of guidelines and regulations for ethical choices in animal research, and I believe that most western countries implement such regulations. can you show how specifically these regulations violate your criterion?

SH: Yes I can: (1) the Precautionary Principle  and (2) the judgment of far, far broader and deeper oversight committees for grant proposals and animal research practices, those with strong (human) representation of nonhuman animal interests rather than just human interests. The current “guidelines and regulations for ethical choices in animal research” definitely do not do abide by (1) and (2). — And, yes, if asked, I (and many far more qualified animal advocates) would certainly be able to show how existing regulations – in practice, rather than just on paper – violate the criterion of necessity for (human) survival and health.

Anon: ii) why is eating diary and eggs unethical. this is not eating living sentient beings. I would accept the idea that some methods of farming cattle and chicken to produce milk and eggs may harm the animals. we need to change these. but if the farming is ethical, what is wrong with using these products? 

I am sure you have been asked these questions many times. but I am still curious to hear your opinion. 

SH: Yes, I — and many other animal advocates — have been asked these questions many times, and the two that you ask are natural and reasonable questions. (Some others are far more tendentious, and obviously motivated by cognitive dissonance and defensiveness rather than sincere humanitarian concerns.)

The simple answer about “benign” milk and eggs is that it does not scale. Everyone imagines buying a (rescue) cow or chicken, and providing a sanctuary in which she can live a happy, fulfilled life until the natural end of her days, while providing a little left-over milk or eggs to feed humans. This theoretical approach does not scale in any realistic way to the true global human demand for and use of milk and eggs, and of the animals from whose body they come. It is a self-deluding fantasy in practice.

I myself am guilty of having hidden behind this fantasy for almost fifty years, ever since I became a vegetarian on my 17th birthday (in 1962). And I am very deeply ashamed for it.

Across the years, when people asked me the question you asked, I used to reply with such a hypocritical sophistry that it makes me cringe every time I recall it: “Yes, animals suffer, in practice,  to provide us with their milk and eggs, but in principle they could provide it without suffering, whereas they could not provide us with their flesh without suffering. So I eat milk and eggs, but not meat and fish.”

I practiced this odious sophistry for decades – along with equally shameful quips, in response, at table, to concerned queries from fellow-diners as to whether it “bothers” me that they are eating meat with me: “No, « vive libertĂ© ». Persuasion does not last: everyone has to decide for themselves.”

Then, 11 years ago, on March 10 2010, at a McGill symposium on Animal Law, when David Wolfson began his talk (on the unspeakable horrors of the dairy and egg industry, and their intimate entanglement with the meat industry) by addressing the vegetarians in the audience who imagine that in not eating meat they are not complicit in the horrors: David stated, simply, in a few words, what I had known or suspected all along, but had failed to face. The scales fell from my wide open eyes in 15 seconds, and I became a vegan and activist for the remainder of my life.

Look at these, if you dare: “Dairy Industry” “Egg Industry

And if you do, don’t imagine that these are exceptions. These are inherent in the industry, every second of every minute of every hour of every day, everywhere,


Appeared with:    Harnad, S. (2007). Spare Me the Complements: An Immoderate Proposal for Eliminating the” We/They” Category Boundary. In Social Brain Matters. Stances on the Neurobiology of Social Cognition. Éditions Rodopi, Amsterdam/New York.

Evan had always been aloof, cerebral. He was forever creating theoretical systems — not practical ones that one could build and use, but completely abstract ones, usually social and ethical ones, that one could only contemplate hypothetically. They were “abstract inventions,” such as a “tit-for-tat society” in which people were forced to behave in accordance with the golden rule because whatever they did to others was literally done back to them in return — not in some remote afterlife, but almost immediately. Or a communicative system that would teach everyone to express their every thought clearly, because no one could do anything for themselves: Every wish — even to go to the toilet — had to be effected through “Chinese whispers,” in which the wisher tells it to someone else, who then goes away and tells it to someone else, and so on, through chains of a minimum length of 6, before the wisher’s wish is implemented — IF it has been expressed clearly enough to survive transmission through this chain.

“Why are you so preoccupied with people in theory, Evan? Real people are all around you and you hardly seem to notice them as you build your utopian castles.”

And it is true, that although he was not unattractive, either physically or mentally — people liked to listen to his thought experiments, and he was not at all overbearing about them: they had to be elicited from him, and the telling was invariably impassioned but brief — he tended to keep his own counsel. He had the morphology of a red-haired person — but without the red hair or white skin or freckles, only the poor eye-sight. Yet when he removed his thick lenses, his ash-gray eyes, which always appeared shrunken behind the lenses, magnified and took on the dreamy and distant look that was so characteristic of his abstractions. So people — older women especially — wished, sometimes silently, often aloud, that he were not so aloof and cerebral, that he would forget a little about his “systems” and look at them, look into their eyes, feel something. They all felt that they could teach him how to feel, if only…

If only what? What element was missing, actually? Did they think Evan was deliberately holding himself back from something? That he was arrogant or snobbish or disdainful? Not at all. It was obvious that he was far too lost in his abstractions to feel such earthly pettiness. Was he afraid then, embarrassed, shy? Some felt that was closer to the truth (it was easy to make him turn red and lose his train of thought: sometimes it would be something someone else said, sometimes it would be something that he himself had said or thought). In those moments of confusion he would appear lost, not sure whether to continue with what he had been saying, or to apologize, or to give up. Certain kinds of mild, external criticism had the same effect on him, but because most of his interlocutors were sympathetic, they quickly learned not to say things to hurt his feelings in that way.

So his aloofness was not lack of feelings, and it was not pride. Was it just obsession then? Was “aloofness” the right word to describe it at all? We don’t (to pick an overdramatic example) say that a schizophrenic is “aloof” or “cerebral” when he is listening to his inner voices. Then why should Evan be so described when he is building or describing his inner systems?

Yet it remained a fact that very few felt they could get close to him. His mother, Freda, was very much like him, though less single-mindedly so. She had managed to raise three children, after all. The two older sisters were not at all aloof, on the contrary. And Freda’s devotion to Evan’s father, Theodor — often bed-ridden and on a dialysis machine since almost the day they had met as newly graduated law clerks, both clerking for the American Civil Liberties Union in Brooklyn — could hardly be described by anyone as aloof. But she too had her moments of abstraction and revery. Perhaps the ACLU was an outgrowth of one of them; and linking her fate with a brilliant but much older man — suffering from a still  older-man’s kidney ailment — was another. Theodor had been very uncommunicative about his family and his past, but inspired on any other topic. Rumor had it that he had lived abroad and had done something either heroic or disreputable.

So Evan was close to his mother. And to his father too, although the increasing uremia across the years, as the kidneys failed and transplants did not succeed in reversing the process, made Theodor’s side of the intense bedside conversations he had been having with his son ever since Evan had been old enough to speak, or rather listen, more and more incoherent. Theodor was repeating himself more and more, and making less and less sense. Evan still sat by his bedside (he still lived at home), listening more than speaking, just as he always had; but often the silence would be two-sided now, with Evan lost in a system he was contemplating, and Theodor lost wherever high BNU levels transport you.

The girls were long married, having hastened out of what they found to be the less and less hospitable — because more and more hospital-like — atmosphere of the household, as the dialyses increased from monthly, to weekly, to daily, and the abstractions of their mother and brother grew ever more remote, even as those of their father grew less and less rational.

Some thought it was this medical/mentational atmosphere that kept Evan distant. Freida (not his mother, but a fellow-student, a few years ahead of him, whom Evan had met during his law school studies) thought it was something else. She thought that Evan’s abstractions were not all destined to remain mere distractions. Evan could no more practise law than his father had been able to do so. Theodor, home-bound, had earned money for as long as he could as a free-lance accountant, and Evan now worked for one of his father’s former clients as a full-time chartered accountant. The only one of them who had ever practised law was Freda, and that was only until she had her first daughter; then she typed theses from home until word-processors put her out of business.

Freida, soon seconded by Freda, became increasingly convinced that some of Evan’s ideas were implementable. One in particular, that Evan had told her about early in their relationship (Evan and Freida had become lovers) was something he called “aggregates-in-flux.” It was to be a new way of rearing children, inspired partly by the Kibbutz experiments in Israel, partly by Evan’s ruminations when he had studied divorce and child custody law, and partly by some things he had read about newborn ducklings and Temple rhesus monkeys. His idea was that human selfishness and favoritism — and ultimately racism and xenophobia — all originated from early imprinting: We become attached to our family members, and then we want to favor them, invariably at the expense of others, who are not family members. We versus they.

Now the Kibbutz had tried to enlarge this “we”, but that was all: A bigger we against they. What was needed was a child-rearing system that would never allow the boundary to be formed separating the “we” from the “they.” Children — all children, so there would be no stigma or sense of loss — would be reared in different families, on a monthly, weekly, or even a daily cycle, if necessary. This way, the only thing they could “imprint” on was what was invariant in all that flux, namely, that these were all human beings.

When Evan told this system to outsiders, they were shocked. “It would be like putting everyone in foster care! And we all know how damaging that is to the foster children.” “It would be fascistic to take children away from their parents and force them to be reared by constantly changing strangers.” Evan had always dropped the topic when people said such things, not because he didn’t believe in the idea or could not think of a reply to the objections, but because he always found these expressions of disapproval distressing.

But Freida did not disapprove; and after a while, neither did Freda. So this particular system was nurtured more than the others. They worked out more of its ramifications: How could such a system be implemented? And what would be its long-term effects on society? They concluded that it could only be done in a closed system: In other words, an entire society, out of touch with any other society, must do it, so there would be no contrast cases that could give birth to a we/they boundary, or any sense of stigma, deprivation or abnormality. And their prediction was that these children would grow up into an altruistic society, where everything would be shared and no one preferred, rather the way the socialists had hoped a mere change in political system could bring about. No, human nature had to be modified, not genetically, by rearranging our selfish genes, not through behavioral engineering, by rescheduling our rewards and punishments, but by reshaping our brains through universal early experience.

Then an unusual series of things happened. It cannot be said that Freida had the genius to implement this system. It was chance that had thrown her together with a population of disaffected ACLU lawyers and clerks. She singled out a subset of them who were childless, unmarried, and not in especially committed relationships. That was not difficult, because it was the time when “free love” was one of the slogans of the day. But these were not disaffected, drugged free-lovers. These were social activists, and they had like-minded friends, who had like-minded friends. Freida conducted seminars and expounded Evan’s scheme to this growing circle, some of them coming from quite prosperous families. Before long, they felt they had reached critical mass, and were ready to establish a colony that would implement the “aggregates-in-flux.”

Funds were pooled and negotiations were conducted with a slightly dotty English Lord who owned an offshore island near Scotland that had legal independent-nation status. The Lord had not had much of an agenda for his little country. He had populated it with his own household servants and hangers-on, but he owned many other properties and was prepared to decamp in favour of this Utopian experiment that went far beyond his expectations for his country (and far beyond his capacity to understand abstractions). So he gave them, for free, a lease-hold for 100 years for the Republic of Huma, as they decided to call it. 

The population of Huma, mostly American, but with recruits from many other countries too, mostly intellectuals, but with a reasonable blend of subsistence skills from the Greens among them, was “seeded” with approximately 10,000 individuals, childless and of breeding age, around 50% male and 50% female, with all agreeing that, just as their progeny would be raised in constant flux, their matings and pairings would be in constant flux too. Among them were Freida and Evan. Like all the others, they had bidden their families farewell, explaining that their experiment depended critically on making sure that Huma was a closed system, with no outside influences.

But that was just the beginning of the unusual series of events. Against all odds, the implementation proved successful. The 10,000 members of the founder population had been well chosen. By temperament and ideology, and even by their previous practises, they were very well attuned to this new system. They were comfortable with constantly changing partners, they were ready to give up their own biological offspring, and even any knowledge or trace of the connection (10,000 was large enough so a newborn baby, already passed to someone other than the birth-mother for nursing at birth, would be assimilated into its Human peer cohort with no way to link it to its birth mother). And, in those pre-Digital days, no one tried to trace the connection, because no one minded, neither the parents, nor the children, as they were raised in their aggregates-in-flux and growing into exactly the kind of humane humanists that Evan had predicted they would become.

But what became of Evan and Freida? Soon after they arrived, like everyone else, they were to split up and form other bonds, and they did. Or rather they tried. And Freida succeeded. It was not forbidden to contact prior partners, the way it was forbidden to pursue links with biological offspring, but it was discouraged. The assumption was that 10,000 was a large enough founding population to minimize lifetime recouplings if the average coupling duration was of the order of a few months, weeks, or even days. So Evan and Freida ran across one another now and again, but when Evan proposed their third recoupling, Freida said she didn’t think it would be a good idea.

Evan did not protest; he complied with the dictates of the Human system, but for some reason he was not as successful as everyone else. He found that when he chose, or was chosen by, or assigned to, new partners, he kept thinking of Freida. He lost sexual interest in new partners very fast, sometimes before there had been any sexual contact at all. And he lost interest in other things as well. He assumed that among the growing ranks of Human youngsters were some children of his own, too. He obsessively scrutinized children he encountered to see whether he could detect any family resemblance — and he sometimes thought he could — but those children would just look at him with the same bland, friendly look as all the other children, so he gave up.

Against accepted practice, he kept recontacting Freida. He surprised her by asking her whether she was having any of these feelings he was having (thinking of her, thinking of his parents, wondering about his children). She was surprised, because he had never seemed interested in such matters before, even in the pre-Human days. But she replied, honestly, no, she was not having problems of that kind. She was thinking more about how, now that the experiment had proved so successful, they could spread it to the rest of the world. She suggested that Evan, as the originator of the theory, might now turn his abstract capacities to that task; maybe it would get his mind off these other discomforts he seemed to be feeling.

But Evan was pained by her distance, and by the fact that she did not feel what he felt, but was instead preoccupied with enlarging an experiment that he felt had failed, at least for him. Although it was also contrary to the culture of the Human system, where inhabitants tended to detach themselves from their accomplishments in the same way they detached themselves from their partners and their progeny, Freida proposed informing some, or even all, of the Humans that Evan was the one who had created their system. Perhaps that would raise Evan’s spirits and get him recommitted to his brainchild. Evan acquiesced, but only to please Freida. His own hopes were fixed more on Freida’s feelings for him than on any social acclaim for his contribution.

When the Aggregate-Counsel was convened, to which Evan was to be presented as the Founder, Evan found himself feeling worse and worse. He felt he did not understand these Humans. They seemed so distant from him and from one another, so aloof, so cerebral. 

He contemplated leaving Huma, but all he really wanted was Freida, and he knew that if nothing could bring her closer, his leaving could certainly only drive her further. He tried to think of an abstract solution, but abstraction failed him, and he found he could not even recall what had been system-building’s obsessive appeal for all those years. Everything he called to mind seemed meaningless, empty, hopeless.

Huma had some medical facilities. After his breakdown following the Counsel, Freida arranged for him to be checked in for some psychiatric help. They did a routine blood test and found he had very elevated levels of BNU. The x-rays showed that one kidney had already failed and the other was enlarged and near collapse. There was no dialysis unit on Huma, so he was shipped to mainland UK and hospitalized in the Chalybeate hospital. When his two sisters flew to see him, they found that his conversation had already become incoherent.

Brief to: Canada House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food (AGRI)

AGAINST:          proposed modifications to Bill C-205

FOR:                  CCTV, web-streaming free of trespass or biohazard

I.     Install CCTV to monitor, inform, and sensitize citizens to conditions in food-animal breeding, rearing, transport and slaughter sites without trespass or biohazard

Mandate 24/7 CCTV surveillance and recording in all venues where animals are bred, raised, housed, transported, used in any way, or killed.

Publicly web-stream the CCTV output and recruit the public to monitor the animal husbandry conditions online by reporting any violations of existing regulations (crowd-sourcing). 

This will at the same time make the public aware of what is permissible in animal husbandry under current law.

Live-streaming and permanently archiving all the CCTV data on the web, openly accessible to all, and coded for time and location, make it possible for all citizens to witness, monitor and report any observed abuses within the existing welfare rules as well as to recommend what rules need to be strengthened.


(Note: the following legislation for levying a graduated tax on animal products (II) is not possible without first implementing  the measures for informing and sensitizing the public (I). Only public demand and support can lead to the adoption of II.)

II.   Legislate Progressive Tax to Incentivize Transition to Non-Animal Alternatives. 

Implement, facilitate and accelerate a transition to non-animal alternatives.

Levy a progressive tax, increasing with time, on all consumer purchases of meat, fish, dairy or eggs in supermarkets or restaurants, or any other animal products (such as fur, leather, wool, down). All tax revenue can be used as a rebate on the purchase of non-animal alternatives.

The progressive tax should be levied on all production and vending of meat, fish, dairy or eggs, or any other animal products (such as fur, leather, wool, down). All tax revenue can be claimed by producers and vendors as rebate for the production and sale of non-animal alternatives.

All unclaimed surplus from the tax revenue should be used to provide sanctuaries for animals that survive from the food and fur industries.

Harnad, S:        

To Close Slaughterhouses We Must Open People’s HeartsHuffPost Impact Canada (2015)

Animal sentience: The other-minds problem.  Animal Sentience. 2016 1(1)  

CCTV, web-streaming and crowd-sourcing to sensitize public to animal sufferingAnimal Justice UK, 2, Winter Issue 

MĂ©moire au :  ComitĂ© permanent de l’agriculture et de l’agroalimentaire (AGRI)

CONTRE:               Modifications Ă  la proposition de loi C-205

POUR:                  CamĂ©ras de surveillance et diffusion directe (web-streaming) sans intrusion ou biorisque

I. Installer les camĂ©ras de vidĂ©osurveillance pour informer et sensibiliser les citoyens concernant les conditions aux sites d’Ă©levage, de transport et d’abattage d’animaux destinĂ©s Ă  l’alimentation sans intrusion ni risque biologique

Surveillance CCTV 24/7 obligatoire et enregistrement dans tous les lieux oĂą les animaux sont    engendrĂ©s, Ă©levĂ©s,hĂ©bergĂ©s, transportĂ©s, utilisĂ©s de quelque manière que ce soit, ou tuĂ©s.

Recruter le public pour surveiller et appliquer les réglementations existantes en matière d’élevage par le biais du web-streaming et croud-sourcing, ainsi que pour sensibiliser le public à la réalité de ce qui est actuellement permis en élevage.

Surveillance CCTV 24/7 obligatoire et enregistrement dans tous les lieux où les animaux sont engendrés, élevés, hébergés, transportés, utilisés de quelque manière que ce soit, ou tués.

Toutes les données de vidéosurveillance sont diffusées en direct et archivées en permanence en accès ouvert sur le Web, codées selon le temps et l’emplacement, afin que le public puisse témoigner, surveiller et signaler tout abus observé contre les règles de bien-être existantes ainsi que pour pouvoir recommander que les règles soient renforcées.

(Noter que II (lĂ©gislation) n’est pas possible sans I (sensibilisation) d’abord. Seuls la demande et le soutien du public peuvent conduire Ă  l’adoption de II.)

II. LĂ©gifĂ©rer une taxe graduĂ©e pour inciter Ă  la transition vers des solutions alternatives non-animales. 

Mettre en œuvre, faciliter et accélérer la transition vers des alternatives non-animales.

La taxe graduée, augmentée avec le temps, sur tous les achats de viande, de poisson, de produits laitiers ou d’oeufs dans les supermarchés ou les restaurants, ou tout autre produit animal (comme la fourrure, le cuir, la laine, le bas). Tous les revenus fiscaux sont utilisés comme rabais sur l’achat d’alternatives non-animales.

Taux de taxe sur toute production et vente de viande, poisson, produits laitiers ou oeufs, ou tout autre produit animal (comme la fourrure, le cuir, la laine, le bas). Tous les revenus fiscaux peuvent être réclamés par les producteurs et les vendeurs comme remise pour la production et la vente d’alternatives non-animales.

Tous les excédents non réclamés provenant des recettes fiscales sont utilisés pour fournir des sanctuaires aux animaux qui survivent de l’industrie alimentaire et de la fourrure.

Harnad, S :

Luxe, nĂ©cessitĂ©, souffrance: Pourquoi je ne suis pas carnivore. QuĂ©bec humaniste 8(1): 10-13 

 Pour fermer les abattoirs, il faut les ouvrirLe Huffington Post QuĂ©bec 25/6/2015

 Plaidoyer pour les animauxCJN 2644 2017


Wiebers, David and Feigin, Valery (2020) What the COVID-19 crisis is telling humanityAnimal Sentience 30(1)

ABSTRACT: The planet is in a global health emergency exacting enormous medical and economic tolls. It is imperative for us as a society and species to focus and reflect deeply upon what this and other related human health crises are telling us about our role in these increasingly frequent events and about what we can do to prevent them in the future.

Cause: It is human behavior that is responsible for the vast majority of zoonotic diseases that jump the species barrier from animals to humans: (1) hunting, capture, and sale of wild animals for human consumption, particularly in live-animal markets; (2) massive overcrowding of animals for human consumption in stressful and unhygienic industrial “factory farm” environments; (3) large-scale close confinement of animals for human consumption, a major direct cause of mounting antibiotic resistance; (4) vast numbers of wildlife species threatened with extinction from habitat incursion and destruction.

Action: Intensive confinement of animals in factory farm operations should be discontinued worldwide for the sake of animals, humans, and the environment, and we should rapidly evolve to eating other forms of protein that are safer for humans, including plant-based meat alternatives and meat produced by culturing animal cells. Additional investment in plant-based agriculture to grow crops to feed humans rather than livestock for human consumption will feed more people while utilizing far less land and water, allowing for the preservation of vital ecosystems for innumerable species.

Rather than simply attempting to react to crises like COVID-19 after death and destruction are already upon us, we need to address the fundamental underlying causes and act now to prevent the numerous disasters that are literally waiting to happen.


Cao, Deborah (2020) Global risks of intensive animal farming and the wildlife tradeAnimal Sentience 30(2)

Eshel, Gidon (2020) Pandemic leadership failures and public healthAnimal Sentience 30(3)

Greger, Michael (2020) Whenever possible, treat the cause: Shut down the flu factoriesAnimal Sentience 30(4)

Anomaly, Jonathan (2020) Cultured meat would prevent the next Covid crisisAnimal Sentience 30(5)

Fox, Michael W. (2020) One planet, one healthAnimal Sentience 30(6)

Broom, Donald M (2020) The necessity of human attitude change and methods of avoiding pandemicsAnimal Sentience 30(7)

Schuck-Paim, Cynthia (2020) Intensive animal farming conditions are a major threat to global healthAnimal Sentience 30(8)

Fawcett, Anne (2020) One Welfare, the role of health professionals, and climate changeAnimal Sentience 30(9)

Lovell, Jarret S. (2020) Plant-based diets and COVID-19: Those who harvest crops are at high riskAnimal Sentience 30(10)

Whitfort, Amanda (2020) China’s lack of animal welfare legislation increases the risk of further pandemicsAnimal Sentience 30(11)

Bryant, Christopher J. (2020) Innovation in meat production: a problem and an opportunityAnimal Sentience 30(12)

Feigin, Svetlana (2020) It does not cost the earth to be kindAnimal Sentience30(13)

Morand, Serge (2020) New approach to health and the environment to avoid future pandemicsAnimal Sentience 30(14)

Wyatt, Tanya (2020) Harm, Earth Jurisprudence and human/nonhuman relationshipsAnimal Sentience 30(15)

Robbins, Jesse (2020) Be wary of simple solutions to complex problemsAnimal Sentience 30(16)

Marcum, James A (2020) Can we handle the truth of what COVID-19 is telling us?Animal Sentience 30(17)

Skerratt, Lee (2020) Wildlife health systemsAnimal Sentience 30(18)

Lee, Kelley (2020) Rethinking global governance to address zoonotic disease risks: Connecting the dotsAnimal Sentience 30(19)

Kona-Boun, Jean-Jacques (2020) Anthropogenic suffering of farmed animals: the other side of zoonosesAnimal Sentience 30(20)

Toates, Frederick (2020) Covid-19, evolution, brains and psychologyAnimal Sentience 30(21)

Bergstrom, Bradley J. (2020) Re-engage with the world for global health and animal welfareAnimal Sentience 30(22)

Davis, Tyler; Ireland, Molly E; Van Allen, Jason; and Worthy, Darrell A (2020) Zoonotic realism, computational cognitive science and pandemic preventionAnimal Sentience 30(23)

Gerlai, Robert (2020) Tribal brains in the global village: Deeper roots of the pandemicAnimal Sentience 30(24)

Wehbe, Yzar S. and Shackelford, Todd K. (2020) Appealing to human intuitions to reduce animal abuseAnimal Sentience 30(25)

Hawkins, Ronnie Z. (2020) Thinking longer, looking deeperAnimal Sentience 30(26)

Urbanik, Julie (2020) Reinforcing boundaries does not contribute to changeAnimal Sentience 30(27)

Marazziti, Donatella (2020) Reflections on psychological and psychiatric consequences of COVID-19 pandemicAnimal Sentience 30(28)

Figueroa, Daniela and Duprat, Ximena (2020) Remedying anthropogenic zoonosesAnimal Sentience 30(29)


Wiebers, David and Feigin, Valery (2021) Heeding the call of COVID-19Animal Sentience 30(30)

Abstract:  Our commentators have provided a wide range of valuable perspectives and insights from many fields, revealing a broad interest in the subject matter. 

Nearly all the commentaries have helped to affirm, refine, expand, amplify, deepen, interpret, elaborate, or apply the messages in the target article. Some have offered critiques and suggestions that help us address certain issues in greater detail, including several points concerning industrialized farming and the wildlife trade. 

Overall, there is great awareness and strong consensus among commentators that any solution for preventing future pandemics and other related health crises must take into account not only what is best for humans but also what is best for nonhumans and the environment, given the profound interconnectedness of all life.

Research on animals

Q: As I go deeper into veganism I consistently struggle with animal experimentation. We’re not yet at the point where we can progress human medical science without animal models, and yet so much of animal research feels completely unnecessary. Any thoughts on how to approach veganism vs scientific research as it relates to animals?

A: There is an inescapable and undeniable tragedy in Darwinian reality: Life feeds upon itself: Life is a conflict of life-or-death necessities.

Opportunists, cynics and the naïve have long taken this for granted, as a “law of nature,” and hence a carte blanche for doing whatever they will. Psychopaths are not even troubled by questions of right and wrong.

There would be no tragedy if life were just insentient matter; but it’s a fact that many living kinds do feel, and suffer.

In your question you’ve already identified the moral dividing line: necessity. Not convenience or expediency: life-or-death necessity.

An obligate carnivore like a lion or a killer whale has no choice but to hunt and kill. And their prey have no choice but self-defence, including violent, lethal self-defence.

This applies to our own species too, both as predator and as prey. There are still today some subsistence cultures that can only survive by hunting or fishing. There were phases in our evolutionary past when this was true for most of our species.  

But it’s no longer true for most of our species, especially in the prosperous nations. Consuming sentient animals is no longer a vital necessity for most of us. 

So being vegan is right because hurting or killing sentient beings without vital (life-or-death) necessity is wrong. No decent human being can deny this. 

But the criterion is vital necessity, for life or health. (We can still kill in self-defence, and exterminate bed-bugs.) Is biomedical research on sentient animals a life-or-death necessity for humans?

I think you have also identified the answer: “much of animal research feels completely unnecessary.”

Much research – like much of what humans do – is not done because it is vitally necessary for our survival or health. A lot of research – in all fields, not just animal research — is driven by curiosity, careerism, fads & bandwagons, funding, profit, habit, and, frankly, also ignorance and  incompetence. These human foibles are perhaps tolerable or at least understandable where they don’t involve living beings. But where they entail hurting or killing sentient animals, the question must be asked: Is it vitally necessary? Does it save (human) life and health?

It is undeniable, today, that some biomedical research does save lives and health. Covid research is already an example.

So the first part of the answer about biomedical research on animals is that much of it is unnecessary, hence unjustified, but not all of it.

And it has to be added that a call for the immediate abolition of all animal research – just like a call for the immediate abolition of all human consumption of animals – is both unrealistic and unjust. It is not kindness to call for sacrificing sick humans any more then it is kindness to call for the starvation of subsistence cultures (or of obligate nonhuman carnivores). 

But it would be sophistical to cite these prominent exceptional cases as justifications for continuing to allow and support massacring animals for food regardless of whether it is vitally necessary. Or for continuing to allow and support biomedical research without far, far more conscientiously limiting it to what is likely to save lives. (Sophists and corporate interests and their lawyers will of course always try to play on the slippery slope of “likelihood,” but, again, many if not most cases are transparent enough so decent people will see that likelihood is not seriously at issue.)

It might even work against the urgent needs of the tragic number of animal beings who are suffering and dying every minute, everywhere, at human hands, needlessly, to insist that veganism means renouncing the life-saving benefits of medicine too.  To wrap together a call to stop causing needless animal suffering with a call to give up potential medical help can only add to the resistance to renouncing either of them. 

So my approach would be to stress the need to abolish that vast proportion of  biomedical research on animals that is unnecessary or incompetent while focussing on ending the monstrous amount of suffering that humans inflict  on animals gratuitously for food, fashion, finance or fun, without the slightest connection to health or survival needs.

Haggling about the price

Anonymous: Trying again with Weinberg and “Third Thoughts”. Into chapter on so-called Symmetry, and on Higgs. For the life of me I can’t believe they are on about anything real — anything that has thingness, rather than just counters in a language with arcane rules and words whose meanings are dependent only on the rules of their use and relationships with each other. Yet I accept that through some long chain of reasoning within that language, at some point there are “observations” which, by a long chain of derivations and dependencies are of something presumably real. And I accept that these people are way smarter than I and are not trying to fool people. This does little to shove a stable reality under their ideas, but just leaves me indifferent to particle physics. Did people feel like that about Newton  or Galileo?

Individuals (my apple, “Charlie”) are categories that are grounded directly in my sensorimotor experience (though it requires an act of inductive faith, bolstered by the biologically inbuilt feeling I have that “Charlie” is the same “thing” across time – which is already an abstraction). 

There’s your thinginess; as concrete as things ever get.

“Charlie” is red, which, too, is still a direct sensorimotor category, but already more of an abstraction from my direct experience, more of a leap of faith. “Colored” and “color” (and other “universals”) still moreso. 

The moon and all of its properties too.

“True” and “truth” are likewise way out there, no longer directly sensorimotor, but a verbal combination of properties (likewise named categories) ultimately grounded in sensorimotor ones.

Begins to feel like the kind of faith we feel for the theorems we prove in maths and algebra, far from the axioms we began with, but based on a faith (though not much immediate memory) in the rules of derivation that we learned, that make sense locally but become a blur when they become a long chain we hardly remember.

So aren’t electrons, or quarks, or superstrings, or chirality or superposition just still more of the usual leaps of faith that all categorization and abstraction entail? Far from the inbuilt sense of “things” that Darwin helpfully underwrites in our perception – but no different from most of the other things we feel we know and understand across time.

So in the end it boils down not to the reality of things but, as usual, the “hard problem” of why anything feels like anything at all…

(Or just the usual (Shavian?) quip, about having established our profession, just haggling about the price…)

Understanding Understanding

Horgan’s essay in Scientific American is a singularly superficial (and glib) misconstrual of every one of the points he discusses: the (1) Turing Test, (2) computation, (3) Searle’s Chinese Room Argument, (4) the other-minds problem, (5) zombies, (6) understanding QM, (7) understanding and (8) consciousnes.

(1) TheTuring Test is not about question-asking/answering but about lifelong verbal capacity and performance indistinguishable from that of any normal human being.

(2) Computation (and mathematics) is just symbol-manipulation, algorithms, syntax, without meaning or understanding. (Mathematicians understand, but computation is just formal syntax. A proof or a procedure is not based on what a mathematician understands (or thinks he understands); it is based on what his algorithm can do, formally, syntactically, not on its interpretation by us – although we are not interested in uninterpretable algorithms.) But language, though it includes formal mathematics, is not just interpretable syntax. Neither is thought (cognition); nor understanding.

(3) Searle’s Chinese Room Argument simply shows that neither seeing nor executing the syntax will generate understanding. Searle would no more understand Chinese from just the algorithm for manipulating Chinese symbols than he would understand he was playing Chess from executing the algorithm for chess, coded in binary. Words have referents in the world: they don’t just have links to other words and algorithms for manipulating them. But Searle only refutes the verbal version of TT, not the robotic version, which is not purely symbolic.

Harnad, S. (2001) What’s Wrong and Right About Searle’s Chinese Room Argument?
In: M. Bishop & J. Preston (eds.) Essays on Searle’s Chinese Room Argument. Oxford University Press

(4) The other-minds problem is not “solipsism.” (Both Horgan and Turing himself are wrong on this.) Solipsism is skepticism about the “outside world” (all of it).

(5) A “Zombie” would be a TT-passer that was insentient (unconscious, nobody home) – if that were possible.

(6) Quantum Mechanics is not “understood” by Physicists; they know how to execute the algorithm and predict the experimental outcomes, but their interpretations are far-fetched sci-fi conjectures. (Horgan is right about this.)

(7) To understand is to have a (correct) causal explanation, grounded in real-world observations and measurement PLUS what it feels like to understand something. (But that feeling, as Russell (?) has pointed out, can also be mistaken).

(8) Consciousness (sentience) is a state that it feels like something to be in.

Computation itself is hardware-independent (though it has to be executed by some hardware or other, whether Samsung or Searlel).

What is executed is the algorithm, which is rules for manipulating symbols on the basis of their shapes.

That’s what Searle does. The execution of the algorithm on the input data (Chinese messages) may include saving some data and updating some rules.

Searle should not have described the Chinese room as static symbols on a wall, but as an algorithm, to be applied to Chinese input symbols. He memorizes the initial algorithm and does the data storage and algorithm updates in his head, as needed, and dictated by the (current) algorithm. (It is irrelevant [for this thought experiment] whether he has enough time or brain capacity to actually do all that. Do it on hexadecimal tic-tac-toe, the punchline is the same: he would be executing code without a clue as to what it meant.)

But the deepest shortcoming of computationalism – the theory that cognition is just computation (aka “Strong AI) – is that in cognition, symbols have referents – physical things in the world to which they refer. Computation alone is just the manipulation of symbols based on their (arbitrary) shapes (0/1). There is nothing in the domain of arbitrary symbols that can connect with real-world referents: there are just symbols that can be interpreted (by the user) as referring to real-world objects. And that’s despite the distributional patterns and shadows cast by huge bodies of interpretable symbols (e.g., GPT-3 – or any form of unsupervised or supervised learning, shallow or deep, small or big, as long as it’s all within the circle of symbols. Sensorimotor function, in contrast, is not symbolic, nor computationally simulated sensorimotor function take its place (although the Strong Church/Turing Thesis remains true, that computation can simulate (i.e. model) just about anything, from atoms to galaxies, and that includes modeling rockets, robots, rabbits and rhinencephalons, if you come up with the right algorithms…

(That’s why my own conclusion is that computation alone cannot pass the (verbal) Turing Test; only a robot, with sensorimotor grounding in the world of referents of its symbols, could pass the TT.)

Searle is also wrong that his Argument proves that cognition cannot be computation at all (and hence we should all go off and study the brain): all he has shown is that cognition could not be all computation.

Turing said that the question of whether machines can think is “too meaningless to deserve discussion.” But there is a rational construal we can ascribe to this dismissiveness:

It feels like something to think. We have that feeling. And, of course, we are machines (i.e. causal systems).

So the question is not whether machines can think (of course they can, because we can) but which machines can think — i.e. which ones are capable to being in those states that it feels like something to be in, and how?

And Turing’s methodological proposal amounts to this:

If and when you can build a machine (so you know how it can do what it do) )that can do anything that the (normal) human thinker can do, to the point where you can’t tell them apart at all based solely on what they can do (their lifelong cognitive performance capacities, foremost among them being language) then it is meaningless to try to distinguish them.

The premise, of course (because of the other-minds problem [which is not “solipsism”: even Turing gets that wrong, as I said] which prevents us from being able to observe whether anyone other than me feels) is that the only thing we have to go by is whether the candidate can do what a thinking human can do. That refers largely to the exercise of what we call the “cognitive” capacities (perceiving objects, reasoning, learning, remembering, communicating verbally) that (human) thinkers have.

One could insist on a bit more: the brain correlates of felt states.

On the one hand, what our brain “does” with its physiological and biochemical activity is definitely part of what we can do (in fact the brain is the causal mechanism that is producing it). 

But the intuitive test perhaps worth reflecting on is this: if one of the people we had known and communicated with for 40 years turned out to have had a synthetic device in his head all along, instead of a biological brain, and hence he lacked the activity correlated with felt states, would we conclude – on the basis of that evidence – that he does not feel after all?

I think Turing would consider that pretty arbitrary too: for what did we actually learn from the lack of the brain correlations? 

(The notion of some sort of transition or singularity along the causal chain from the head of the thinker to the things in the world his thoughts are about is a misplaced hope, I think. Conscious states are just felt states. And both the feeling and what generates the feeling, is skin-and-in…)


Re: Delicious: The Evolution of Flavor and How It Made Us Human (R Dunn & M Sanchez)

My (shamefully late) moral awakening has made me unable to read most of what I used to consider our classical literature. The flagrant and unquestioned abuse of animals is everywhere. 

I feel the same way about the historical and biological past of human (gustatory) taste. In broad strokes, I know the story, but the details are not titillating. 

In fact I think that in a much broader sense I have renounced most “taste” of  all sorts, both gustatory and aesthetic/cultural. It’s so imbued with pleasure at the expense of the suffering of others, human and animal.

Of course there’s no rejecting Darwinian facts – but there’s no pleasure in rehearsing, replicating or revering them.

tasteYes, this does superficially resemble some sort of ascetic, killjoy puritanical cult. But although it would take a while to explain it, I don’t think it’s that at all — and in some fundamental ways the opposite: the enemy is not pleasure itself, but pleasure at the expense of the suffering of others.


Causing less killing and suffering is always preferable to causing more. But Jacob Maxwell (“Boycotting Factory Farming is Not the Only Solution to Animal Suffering”)  has not faced the deeper ethical question underlying it, which is about causing *needless* killing and suffering at all.

An obligate carnivore like a lion needs to kill and eat its prey to feed itself and its young; and its prey needs to fight back or flee to save themselves or their young.

Humans — facultative omnivores — have been both predators and prey throughout their evolutionary history. In the few remaining human subsistence-culture environments of fishing and hunting it is still not a matter of choice. 

But modern agriculture and laboratory science have made it a matter of choice for the more prosperous majority of the human population. We can choose to hurt and kill, needlessly, or not.

Jacob counsels us to cut back on needless hurting and killing, but to “limit guilt.”

Why? He needs to look much, much more deeply at whether this is any different from counselling to cut back on the beating and killing of our slaves.

The needless harming and killing of feeling beings (human or nonhuman) is surely the wrong of wrongs. It’s what all morality is about. Is it right to counsel limiting our feeling that it is wrong, to leave us feeling free to keep doing it — and leave our victims to keep suffering and dying for it?

Cephalopods, Split-Brains and Siamese Twins

Anon: “Godfrey-Smith worries about the feeling of having separate streams of mind, due to trying to imagine what being an octopus is like.”

“Have” is a weasel-word. The only “haver” is the feeler — unless there are multiple co-habiting feelers, in which case the “haver” is the (shared) body, and that geographic “having” is not a mental state, (i.e., not a felt state) but just a geographically proximal (potentially even simultaneous) pair of distinct states, co-colonizing the same somatic substrate.

I think the crucial intuition is that a feeler cannot feel another feeler’s feeling. It can have a similar feeling, in response to the same external input; it can have it simultaneously (or successively); the feeling can feel as if it were another feeler’s feeling. But it is not, and cannot be another”s feeling. 

And that is part of the nature of feeling (hence of having a mind): Feeling is a state (generated by a neural substrate). A state that it feels like something to be in. A felt state is always “dual” in that there is the feeler and the feeling. (This is vaguely and insufficiently analogous to moving: there is the thing that is moving, and there is the moving itself.) There cannot (pace Freud) be an “unfelt feeling” any more than there can be an “unmoved moving.” 

But feeling is not contemplation by a Cartesian ego. That’s a cognitive capacity that some feelers (e.g., humans, verbally, and probably many other vertebrates and perhaps some invertebrates, nonverbally) have; and other feelers (e.g. amphyoxus, or annelids) don’t. But the duality (some prefer to call it, unhelpfully, “relationality”) is inherent in the nature of feeling itself.

“Co-habitation” and geographic overlap are certainly possible, but that has to do with the causal substrate of the feeling(s): the causal mechanism that is generating the feeling(s). If ever there was a category error, it’s that of conflating (1) the neural substrate that is generating the feeling with (2) the feeler of the feeling. The feeler is a part of the feeling generated. And, absent “telepathy,” a feeler cannot literally feel a feeling that is generated by another neural substrate — whether a nearby or even a partly overlapping one: Siamese twins who share part of their brain so that they both feel it when their conjoined arm is touched are not feeling the same feeling, just an otherwise almost identical one — only almost, because the twins are not spatially identical, otherwise we would be deeply into the metaphysics of indiscernibles!

Anon: “He uses trying to imagine split brain people but –for him and for me — that is not entirely satisfactory… he has driven his car safely over a familiar route and really can’t recall any memory of having done so: i mean he knows he did; its not a surprise, but really it was absent his conscious attention.”

We can do things without feeling we are doing it, or without remembering that we felt we were doing it, or even without remembering or otherwise knowing we did it. And I suspect that that can be true of us simultaneously (especially for our vegetative functions, like breathing, which we can do both deliberately and feelingly, and automatically without feeling it). In that sense, we are all octopus-like time-sharing multi-processors, simultaneous and successive (like the split-brain).