Are Animals Guilty Until Proven Innocent in the Debate on Sentience?

  • Thread starter Dissident Dan
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In summary: I would say that some animals are more aware than others, but I do not believe that all animals are aware. In summary, radgast suggests that there are different levels of consciousness and sentience, and that humans are not the only ones who are aware. He invites discussion of the idea, and invites those who hold the robotic idea to defend it.
  • #1
Dissident Dan
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Guilty until proven innocent

I have realized that whenever I have debated animal sentience, I have taken on the defensive position, trying show that animals are sentient. This exposes a fundamental flaw in the way people think about this issue.

Many people assume that animals are robotic, not sentient, and that people should have to persuade them otherwise, rather than having to prove their idea that animals are not sentient. This is the equivalent of “guilty until proven innocent.” Could you imagine if our legal system, as it pertains to humans, was conducted in that way?

Humans will take it for granted that other humans have sentience, yet take an opinion in opposition to the apparent evidence. Upon observation of animals, I find it blatantly obvious that those who hold the robotic/instinct opinion should be having to defend their belief, because the up-front behavioral, physiological, and evolutionary evidence supports the idea that other animal species have conscious processes as we do.

Therefore, I invite discussion of the idea above and invite holders of the robotic idea to defend it.
 
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  • #2
To me this circles around what the term sentient means. I had always taken sentient to mean a high level of awareness, including self-awareness and a moderately high level of intelligence (at least close to human). That said, most dictionary definitions of sentience are not much different from 'the quality of being sensate'.

Obviously all animals fall into the second category. Perhaps a few are close to the first - definitely some are shown to be self-aware.

As to any type of scientific position concerning a scientific inquiry, 'a preponderance of the evidence' is a more rational approach to take.
 
  • #3
Originally posted by radagast
To me this circles around what the term sentient means. I had always taken sentient to mean a high level of awareness, including self-awareness and a moderately high level of intelligence (at least close to human). That said, most dictionary definitions of sentience are not much different from 'the quality of being sensate'.

from webster.com:
Main Entry: sen·tient
Pronunciation: 'sen(t)-sh(E-)&nt, 'sen-tE-&nt
Function: adjective
Etymology: Latin sentient-, sentiens, present participle of sentire to perceive, feel
Date: 1632
1 : responsive to or conscious of sense impressions
2 : AWARE
3 : finely sensitive in perception or feeling

This basically says what I meant by sentience - consciousness and feeling.
 
  • #4
DD, any time you are arguing AGAINST the opinion of the general scientific community, the burden of proof is on you to prove your idea, not them to disprove it. Your analogy doesn't fit.

That said, I think it is possible that some animals are sentient (note, radgast is also right - its important to pin down the definition).

Many higher level mammals (dolphins, primates, etc.) pass the mirror test for example: They can recognize themselves in a mirror. Using the "self-awarene" definition radgast suggested, those animals qualify as sentient.

In any case, a combative opening post isn't a good way to get people on your side of a debate, DD. Some will argue against you just because they don't like your attitude.
 
  • #5
To me, DD doesn't seem to be arguing that animals are sentient...

The point of the "innocent until proven guilty" policy is that, when there isn't sufficient evidence one way or the other, one should protect the rights of the (alledged) individual, just in case...
 
  • #6
I didn't find his first post combative...

Anyway, I just wanted to say that I really believe there are levels of consciousness/sentience. I believe this to be the case from animal to animal, human to human, and time to time.

That is,

Monkeys may be more sentient than dogs which are more sentient than hamsters.

Socrates may be more sentient than brad pitt may be more sentient thanm George Bush.

I am more sentient when I am reflective than when I am reading, which is more sentient than when I am shelving books in the library.

When u look at all of these types of sentience, I also think it is quite likely that me at my least sentient...say, me just after someone has pushed me off the edge of a building (under such stress your brain tends to turn off and your instincts take over, no?), and then look at a chimp at its most sentient, and you could say that that chimp is heaps more sentient than I am.


Anyway, that's just some food for thought. I guess the relevant point I am making RE the thread, is that I believe it is fundamentally wrong to say 'We are sentient. Animals are not'.

Nature does not draw lines that distinct.
 
  • #7
When I say sentience, I do not mean the definition of how "aware" you are, because that really just means how much you know about what's going on around you, and therefore, humans have become more aware due to the evolution of society, in a timeframe too short for meaningful biological evolution.

What I am talking about is the capacity to feel, to emote, to experience in a subjective manner.
 
  • #8
Hmmm... this sort of becomes difficult now, because I think we are both starting to talk about something which we really know nothing about (I don't think abyone really does). I mean, we are getting mostly confused over 'what we mean when we say...aware/conscious/etc', and the problem there is that even if we get the 'what we mean...' part straight, we still haven't exactly explained what that means.

Indeed as you pointed out, Socratic Method does apply here, because Socrates spent much of his time asking what 'virtue' or whatever means, only to be told 'well, when I say virtue I mean...bravery and justice and wealth etc etc.' when socrates didn't want to be given examples of it, he wanted to know what it was.

Unfortunately, I don't think anyone here is about to figure out what awareness or consciousness are, so we are stuck with the dodgy 'what I mean is...' definition.

So you are talking about the capacity to feel, emote and experience in a subjective manner? Well, what I said previously I still beleive. I believe that our awareness (in your definition just stated) still is a matter of degrees depening on what, who and when.
 
  • #9
I should give an example.

I am a 5 year old up a tree playing with friends, and as a joke my friend pushes me. I fall. In the first few moments of this falling, I manage to catch the next branch on the way down and save myself. (from my experience...) I don't think there was any real subjective experience of that event because the brain is too busy reacting as quick as it can to fix the stressful situation to bother creating subjective experiences.
 
  • #10
I am reminded of a Simpson's episode where they kill a bunch of robots in an amusment park. One of the robots says:

"Why?!? Why was I programmed to feel pain??"

Does it? What is the difference between a programmed response and real feelings? Is that even answerable? Beyond that, even when feeling pain, can an animal take the next step to understand it? Emotion isn't just the sensation, its the mental response to the sensation.

Tactile feeling / stimulus-response isn't real emotions and I don't consider a dog trained to respond to a dinner bell to really be "aware."
 
  • #11
Originally posted by Another God
I should give an example.

I am a 5 year old up a tree playing with friends, and as a joke my friend pushes me. I fall. In the first few moments of this falling, I manage to catch the next branch on the way down and save myself. (from my experience...) I don't think there was any real subjective experience of that event because the brain is too busy reacting as quick as it can to fix the stressful situation to bother creating subjective experiences.

There was subjective experience. You were worried. You had desire. You felt the branch.
 
  • #12
Originally posted by russ_watters
I am reminded of a Simpson's episode where they kill a bunch of robots in an amusment park. One of the robots says:

"Why?!? Why was I programmed to feel pain??"

Does it? What is the difference between a programmed response and real feelings? Is that even answerable? Beyond that, even when feeling pain, can an animal take the next step to understand it? Emotion isn't just the sensation, its the mental response to the sensation.

Tactile feeling / stimulus-response isn't real emotions and I don't consider a dog trained to respond to a dinner bell to really be "aware."

So, is that a defense of the animal-robot idea? Or are you just saying what comes to mind when you think of the topic of animal consciousness?
 
  • #13
Originally posted by Dissident Dan
So, is that a defense of the animal-robot idea? Or are you just saying what comes to mind when you think of the topic of animal consciousness?
Maybe its best to describe intelligence and awareness as a spectrum. Some are more sentient than others. Few people would suggest a bacteria does anything other than robot-like programmed stimulus-response. And I think few would question the sentience of an ape or a dolphin. Since it is difficult to get into their heads, its tough to know where other animals stand. We can test them, but we can't really know what (if anything) they are really THINKING.

To be concise, are all animals or other organisms essentially robots? No. Are some? Yes. Where is the line drawn? Dunno.
 
  • #14
Originally posted by russ_watters
To be concise, are all animals or other organisms essentially robots?
Do you realize that this is a long standing philosophical question about everything other than self? "The problem of other minds" Do you have a mind? On what basis am I to assume you do?
 
  • #15
I personally agree with DD and his original post. I think it is because of the arrogance and ignorance of Man that make him special and unigue, above the 'lower' life forms.
I have been around animals all of my life. I have seen dogs and cats be embarassed, happy, sad, shamed, and the whole gambit of emotions. They learn, teach, remember, love and morn as do horses and apes. This to me is sentience.

Is it enough to be aware and respond to the envirnment? Then bacteria are sentient as well as all plant life. Or must awareness be selfawareness to qualify for sentience? If so how can we tell if an animal or plant is selfaware or simply reacting to stimuli?

When does reacting to stimuli become thinking and sentience?
Trying to be completely objective about it, how can we know or where do we draw the line? Is not all life conscious at some level? Is that not one of the main characteristic of life that differentiate it from non-life? Is consciousness sentience? Where and when does it become sentience?
 
  • #16
Originally posted by Royce
Is it enough to be aware and respond to the envirnment? Then bacteria are sentient as well as all plant life. Or must awareness be selfawareness to qualify for sentience? If so how can we tell if an animal or plant is selfaware or simply reacting to stimuli?

When does reacting to stimuli become thinking and sentience?
Trying to be completely objective about it, how can we know or where do we draw the line? Is not all life conscious at some level? Is that not one of the main characteristic of life that differentiate it from non-life? Is consciousness sentience? Where and when does it become sentience?
I think most people agree on the criteria: Sentience is self-awareness. And there are a few scientific tests that can be done on it - the mirror test for example. But beyond that where the line is drawn is the toughest issue. It gets very subjective and based on opinions that are not necessarily scientific.
 
  • #17
Russ, I agree with everything you said; but, as consciousness and sentience is totally subjective how can material science make any judgement at all? Science cannot even decide what consciousness is much less where to draw the line. Is the mirror test valid or are we just assuming that it is recognition of self which then proves self awareness? All I have is questions with no handy answers. Believe me I am not practicing the socratic method.
Since it is subjective wouldn't it be more philosophic than scientific? How do we measure that which we can not even define?
To put it to the extreme how can we tell that a tree isn't sitting there philosophizing about whether man is sentient? We do not know how to communicate with plants yet we know that they respond to music or at least the vibrations that music is and respond differently to different types of music. Does music appreciation qualify as a sign of sentience? They, plants, don't like hard rock and prefer classical music so that make them more sentient than a lot of young people in my mind.:wink:
 
  • #18
Originally posted by Royce
Russ, I agree with everything you said; but, as consciousness and sentience is totally subjective how can material science make any judgement at all?
I didn't say "totally" subjective, I said "very" subjective. :wink:
Is the mirror test valid or are we just assuming that it is recognition of self which then proves self awareness?
The mirror test is a pretty good one - a positive result does prove that an animal can tell the difference between itself and another animal. A negative result can be tougher since you can't always be sure if an animal is paying attention to the test.
 
  • #19
I stand corrected. The point is still valid, however, science can and has very little to say about it. I agree that the mirror test is pretty good but still leaves some room for doubt. I think that there are levels of senience just as there are levels of consciousness but I have no idea what a valid test or criteria would be.
I always thought sentience referred to human like or level of intelligence until I read the above definitions. Homo sapiens are sentient. Neanderthals weren't as are none of the "lower" animals.
That was my working definition but if we start concidering self awareness and consciousness the picture it becomes very fuzzy.
 
  • #20
All I can add to this discussion which has already covered the bases are these quotes:

"Think of this: for each grain of sand on every beach on our planet, there are a million stars in the cosmos. Most of these stars have planets. For humanity to believe that our Earth is the only place life can be found is human arrogance at its worst."
-W. Sumner Davis

"What most people need to learn in life, is how to love people and use things instead of using people and love things."
-W. Sumner Davis

"You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you're finished, you'll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird... So let's look at the bird and see what it's doing -- that's what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something."
-Richard Feynman
 
  • #21
Except for the thing about neanderthals, Royce, we're in complete agreement now. I just wouldn't like to speculate on the full mental capacity of an animal we've never been able to see in action.
 
  • #22
Originally posted by russ_watters
Except for the thing about neanderthals, Royce, we're in complete agreement now. I just wouldn't like to speculate on the full mental capacity of an animal we've never been able to see in action.

Neither would I. I just used it as a working definition. That is where I drew the line for my own purposes and understanding. At the time Neanderthals were not human and concidered lower in the evolutionary scale. There is now quite a controvery asbout their status and capabilities. My main thought is that while they made and used stone tools there has been no evidence found that shows they advanced or adobted their tools to any great degree like early Home sapiens. So that is where I drew the line with my understanding of sentience. Now I have no line or clear idea of what sentience is just as I have no idea of what consciousness is.
Just one more example of the more we learn, the less we know.

theEVIL1, I agree completely with your quotes and assuming that they reflect your thoughts, with you. I am not familar with Davis but Feynman is rapidly becoming one of my favorite people.

edit:
Just an after thought about Neanderthals, they may have just been the ultimate pragmatists and adhered to both the kiss principle and the "If it works don't fix it (or f**k with it)." principle.
KISS - Keep It Simple, Stupid.
 
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  • #23
Does anybody disagree with the statement that presuming other species to be robotic until proven otherwise is like "guilty until proven innocent"?
 
  • #24
Originally posted by Dissident Dan
Does anybody disagree with the statement that presuming other species to be robotic until proven otherwise is like "guilty until proven innocent"?
Yes.
 
  • #25
Originally posted by Dissident Dan
Does anybody disagree with the statement that presuming other species to be robotic until proven otherwise is like "guilty until proven innocent"?
Yes
 
  • #26
A false verdict guilty verdict subjects a person to undeserved suffering.
A false judgment that other animals are robotic subjects them to underserved suffering.

A false innocent verdict is an instance of giving someone the benefit of the doubt.
A false sentient/conscious verdict is an instance of giving an animal the benefit of the doubt.
 
  • #27
Originally posted by Dissident Dan
A false sentient/conscious verdict is an instance of giving an animal the benefit of the doubt.
So should we sign them up for kindergarten next fall?

In science, the default position is not to theorize until some information is known. So there is no "guilty until proven innocent" or "innocent until proven guilty." You gather some data, then interpret it and construct a theory around it.

I think your position is just as presumptive as you seem to think the opposite position is.

And sorry, but whether a cow is sentient or not, I'm having a cheesburger for lunch tomorrow.
 
  • #28
Originally posted by russ_watters
So should we sign them up for kindergarten next fall?

I did not say anything of the sort. Criteria for that would include be the amount of intelligence you have and the ability to have information communicated to you from the teacher.

In science, the default position is not to theorize until some information is known. So there is no "guilty until proven innocent" or "innocent until proven guilty." You gather some data, then interpret it and construct a theory around it.

I'm not talking about scientific consensus; I'm talking about an idea that is shared by many people. People just assume that animals are robotic because it makes life simpler for them.

I think your position is just as presumptive as you seem to think the opposite position is.

Which position? My position that the animal-robot idea is "guilty until proven innocent" or my position that animals are conscious and sentient? How is it so presumptive?
 
  • #29
Originally posted by Dissident Dan

1.feel

... responsive to or conscious of sense impressions
2.AWARE

1 Important. 2. Important as philosophic argument.

I doesn't make any sense saying animals don't have these senses. And I don't see how the majority of science would think otherwise(considering major scientific studies assumpting that they do, as DD mentioned), and at least there gotto be few serious philosophers who think they don't have. The question of awareness and feelings are of a much more philosophic matter, it hasn't been proven scientific, maybe never will.

It's about time we move from a silly discussion that animals are robotic or not. If we need to proove ourself better than the animals, let's proove it by, at the least, try to eat the least advanced and loving lifeform.
 
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  • #30
Originally posted by Dissident Dan
Which position? My position that the animal-robot idea is "guilty until proven innocent" or my position that animals are conscious and sentient? How is it so presumptive?
Assuming that animals are conscious and sentient without evidence one way or another is presumptive - that's pretty much the definition of the word. The "guilty until proven innocent" is just not giving people enough credit for having thought through their opinions.

[later] heh - looking "presumptive" up in the dictionary, it does not follow from "presume." Strange. Anyway, what I was going for was "to asume to be true without evidence."

In a court of law, a person is assumed innocent until proven guilty partially for the purpose of strength of proof but also partially to set a default position until the evidence can be heard. You and I have evidence on which to base our opinions, so I don't see any need to assume it, we just have to choose our standard of proof.
 
  • #31
Originally posted by russ_watters
Assuming that animals are conscious and sentient without evidence one way or another is presumptive - that's pretty much the definition of the word.

Well, I do have evidence. The evidence is really overwhelming for anyone who cares to analyze it objectively.

The "guilty until proven innocent" is just not giving people enough credit for having thought through their opinions.

I'm not sure of what, exactly, who mean here or how it relates to the discussion.

In a court of law, a person is assumed innocent until proven guilty partially for the purpose of strength of proof but also partially to set a default position until the evidence can be heard. You and I have evidence on which to base our opinions, so I don't see any need to assume it, we just have to choose our standard of proof.

Do you think that anyone has had strong enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that other species are not capable of consciousness and feeling?
 
  • #32
Do you think that anyone has had strong enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that other species are not capable of consciousness and feeling?

Feeling yes, consciousness, not obviously so. Animals can feel and remember and have aims, but that doesn't add up to consciousness.

I think yoiu have to have at least the capability for language to be conscious. You may not have language itself (Helen Keller before Miss Sullivan broke through to her) but the capability is linked to things going on in your head that are a necessary part of consciousness (evidence, introspection. Look for yourself).
 
  • #33
Originally posted by selfAdjoint
Feeling yes, consciousness, not obviously so. Animals can feel and remember and have aims, but that doesn't add up to consciousness.

I think yoiu have to have at least the capability for language to be conscious. You may not have language itself (Helen Keller before Miss Sullivan broke through to her) but the capability is linked to things going on in your head that are a necessary part of consciousness (evidence, introspection. Look for yourself).

Oops. You accidentally misread my question.

The question is: "Do you think that anyone has had strong enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that other species are not capable of consciousness and feeling?"

The question is the opposite of what you thought I was asking.
--------------
You and I have very different definitions of consciousness. Yours just seems to be "having a certain level of intelligence". I define consciousness as the ability to have subjective experiences and be cognizant of things. Linguistic abilities is not a precondition for this.

My definition seems to be more in line with the webster.com definition:
Main Entry: con·scious·ness
Pronunciation: -n&s
Function: noun
Date: 1632
1 a : the quality or state of being aware especially of something within oneself b : the state or fact of being conscious of an external object, state, or fact c : AWARENESS; especially : concern for some social or political cause
2 : the state of being characterized by sensation, emotion, volition, and thought : MIND
3 : the totality of conscious states of an individual
4 : the normal state of conscious life <regained consciousness>
5 : the upper level of mental life of which the person is aware as contrasted with unconscious processes
 
  • #34
What, in detail, do you mean by "subjective experiences". That is really the nub. An animal has inner experiences, but are they subjective? That suggests to me a clear sense of self, which I more or less identify with (human) consciousness.
 
  • #35
Actually, "Subjective experiences" is really redundant, because all experiences are subjective. A computer does not have experiences, but a person does. You have sensory perception. You feel happy or sad, excited or drowsy, etc.
 

What is the debate on sentience in relation to animals?

The debate on sentience in relation to animals is centered around the question of whether or not animals are capable of feeling emotions, having conscious awareness, and experiencing pain and suffering. This debate often leads to discussions about the moral and ethical treatment of animals.

What is the concept of "guilty until proven innocent" in this debate?

The concept of "guilty until proven innocent" in this debate refers to the idea that animals are assumed to not have the same level of sentience as humans until it is proven otherwise. This means that animals are often not given the same rights and considerations as humans, and it is up to scientists and researchers to provide evidence of their sentience.

What evidence supports the idea that animals are sentient beings?

There is a growing body of evidence that supports the idea that animals are sentient beings. Studies have shown that animals have complex social behaviors, display emotions, and have the ability to learn and problem solve. Additionally, brain scans have revealed similarities between human and animal brains, suggesting that they may experience similar thoughts and feelings.

Why is the debate on sentience important?

The debate on sentience is important because it has implications for how we treat and interact with animals. If animals are indeed sentient beings, then they deserve to be treated with respect and compassion, and their well-being should be considered in our actions and decisions. This debate also has implications for ethical issues such as animal testing and the use of animals for food.

What is the role of scientists in this debate?

Scientists play a crucial role in the debate on sentience. It is their responsibility to conduct research and gather evidence to better understand the cognitive abilities and emotions of animals. This evidence can then be used to inform ethical and moral discussions and potentially lead to changes in how animals are treated and perceived in society.

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