Animal Pain

This is a terrifically interesting and well done video responding to the contention that animals can't feel pain.  I'll make some comments below.

1:08 The video starts in a shaky way, speculating that sea mammals may be aware of the feelings of the humans they interact with. Well, maybe. Fortunately that's just the entry point into the main question: do animals feel pain?  Wish I could refer to the narrator by name--don't know who she is.

2:00 Neo-Cartesian philosophers Michael Murray and Willian Lane Craig argue that animals have (a) reactions to stimuli, and (b) pain experiences, but no (c) higher order awareness of pain experiences.  There's nothing bad about pain, in the absence of (c), so there's nothing bad about animal pain.

Comment: It seems obvious the last person you should ask about the existence of animal pain is someone who has a vested interest in the answer being "No, there isn't any."  Theists like William Lane Craig see their whole world view, their whole mission in life, under threat, if animals feel pain, because animal pain creates a terribly difficult instance of the problem of evil.  We need to rebut the theists' arguments directly, but should also laugh at the notion that they're unbiased authorities on animal pain.

Craig says animals don't have a pre-frontal cortex so can't have (c).  He says it's a tremendous comfort to animal owners to know that animals never suffer.  I'm worried about William Lane Craig's dog!  If he really takes his own verbiage seriously, he could reduce his veterinary bills by letting the poor animal have surgery without anesthesia. Fortunately veterinarians, whether theists or not, aren't about to listen to crap (crummy religious animal psychology).

4:30 Great clip showing the influence of people like Murray and Craig. Fella says only humans have pre-frontal cortex.

5:30 It's great the video challenges the scientific claim that animals lack a pre-frontal (or frontal) cortex, but it also needs to challenge the view of animal pain that says self-awareness is needed for animal pain.

7:30 Bruce Hood clears it up--yes, other animals have a pre-frontal (or frontal) cortex.

9:00 More on how animals do have a pre-frontal cortex. When I teach the topic of animal pain to undergraduates, I use the same type of diagram the video does. I agree completely that Craig's intellectual integrity has to be questioned. 

11:48 Now we get to the good stuff. With Stuart Firestein we get away from the higher order awareness theory of pain.

13:20 Lori Marino talks about animal self-awareness, so now we're again  taking seriously what Craig says about the nature of pain--that it is bound up with self-awareness. Marino grants self-awareness to dogs, but my impression is that that's a minority view.  She cautions against relying too much on the mirror self-recognition test. Well and good, but that leaves us having to be agnostic about whether many animals have self-awareness. If you think self-awareness is a pre-condition of pain, you're going to wind up being agnostic about pain in many species. We need to hear from animal psychologists and philosophers of mind who think pain does not require self-awareness.  I believe that's the majority view.

16:55 Marino says self-awareness can't be localized. So the anatomy of animal brains just doesn't tell us (as Craig thinks it does) whether animals have it or not. Again, I think if you want to counter skepticism about animal pain, it's not your best bet to grant the contention that self-awareness is required for pain. 

19:40 Guy reads Craig to Marino. She laughs, "It's nonsense."  She thinks pain awareness is not located in the pre-frontal cortex. She says pain reception is sub-cortical. All species have brain systems that are involved in detecting pain.  She rejects idea that pain requires meta-cognition. (Yay!!!)  "There is no evidence for that."  She says fish feel pain.

24:00 Animal joy, empathy, etc. She really wants to press the idea that animals have self-awareness. Maybe yes, maybe no. I think it's much more important to establish the existence of animal pain, and to do that it's important to deny the alleged connection between pain and self-awareness.

28:07 Oh no, Craig believes in an immaterial soul!  Narrator rightly points out that raise the question why it matters whether animals have (pre)frontal cortex.  Does Craig have to rule out that animal pain is seated in animal souls? (Ha!)

28:45  The Cambridge Declaration on animal consciousness (July 12, 2012) All mammals and birds, at the very least, have consciousness.

30:00 Jane Goodall autotuned!  Wow!

Final thought. If I were a desperate theist trying to contend with the existence of animal pain, what would I say?  Well, maybe there's a little something to the idea that mild pain makes life more interesting.  A dog wouldn't enjoy his dinner as much, if he weren't first hungry.  That leaves extreme pain as an unsolved problem, as extreme pain doesn't make life more interesting--it just makes life suck.  If you really, really want to pretend it doesn't exist, I find it more attractive to just say God zaps it away miraculously. At least that way we don't do any pretend science. We let the real science of animal pain be as it is, and then allow that it's suspended whenever God's feeling compassionate toward animals.  Arguably the science-respecting theist ought to prefer that approach.

Thanks to Spencer Lo for sending the video link.


Matthew Pianalto said...

The Craig stuff just seems silly: what does "2nd order awareness" mean if the "awareness" involved isn't really "awareness"? (Is this supposed to be a less mysterious way of talking about whether stimulus-awareness is accompanied by qualia? I can actually make better sense of that question!)

Mark Jones said...

If you really, really want to pretend [animal pain] doesn't exist...

Oddly, I don't think Craig is saying that animal pain doesn't exist. He thinks that animals 'experience' second level pain, and it's to be avoided:

Yes, remember that on the view we’re discussing, sentient animals do experience second-level states of pain, which should not be needlessly inflicted. So stunning animals before killing them for food is, indeed, a good idea.

Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/animal-pain-and-the-ethical-treatment-of-animals

So it's not at all clear why he's drawing attention to a 'third level' awareness of pain; even if we grant that awareness makes pain worse, amelioration of a massive problem for theism to a slightly less massive problem doesn't solve the issue.

Jean Kazez said...

Matthew, It sounds like Craig is embracing a higher-order-thought view of conscious pain. That's a view that's out there--it's been advanced by people like Peter Carruthers. The idea is that there has to be a certain sort of "metacognitive" processing for there to be conscious suffering. So I think you can state theory without the "second order awareness" talk.

Mark-Well, the higher-order story about animal pain says there's something in them you can call "pain" but there's none of the intrinsically bad hurting that we are familiar with. At most animal pain is instrumentally bad--it's bad in the way dehydration in a tree is bad. An animal who has pain during slaughter winds up with meat that's not as tasty. That's bad for meat-eaters, but not for the animal.

Presumably the pain of animals trapped in a forest fire would not be bad at all, according to Craig, except for the fact that people ignorantly worry about them. So the problem is not in God's design, but in our misunderstanding. This is of course hogwash, but I think that's the way the reasoning is supposed to go.

Wayne said...

I wish we could show some how that animals suffer... It would really be a quantum leap forward philosophically. We always assume it, but no real evidence of it, and I'm not sure we'll ever get the evidence of it.

But unnecessary pain being inflicted on animals seem to be bad enough, for moral disapproval.

Matthew Pianalto said...

Jean: I know. (Though I need to look at that stuff more closely.) So I guess the idea then would be that (2nd order) pain isn't so worrisome, but suffering is. But it still seems silly (at the slippery commonsense level) to end up saying things like, "They're in pain but don't know that they are." (Pace the ways we could start to try to make sense of this by talking about blindsight, Dennett's (1983, I think) surprising cases, etc.)

Jean Kazez said...

Matthew, I figured you knew, esp. because you're teaching the cool course on animal minds next semester. I also need to revisit all this stuff. I read a lot on animal pain before publishing my animal ethics book, but memory ... does ... fade.

I think the trick is to retain the talk of "animal pain" (to avoid sounding loony!), but continually downplay what you mean by that. There's animal pain, but nothing that it's like for a dog to be in pain. So we don't need to blame God for allowing it.

Yes, blindsight is a good warm-up exercise here--helps convert people to the idea that there are important classes of unconscious mental states. They're just adding another--pain.

Have you read Peter Harrison's article on animal pain (in the old Singer/Regan animal rights anthology)? He's another theist animal-pain-denier, but denies it for reasons having to do with memory. I think his article is actually quite interesting, even if ultimately unbelievable.

Matthew Pianalto said...

I don't know the Harrison. I'll have to check it out (I like to keep a few things on hand that will drive the animal lovers crazy--although this is tricky because they will often take the line that there's no need to argue for something obvious or against something "obviously" wrong, stupid, etc.)

(Don't assume I know too much--I'm pulling myself up by my bootstraps, constantly!)

Charles Sullivan said...

I doubt that human infants have the kind of 'metacognitive' awareness of pain that Craig requires.

It's obvious what conclusion follows from that.

Spencer said...

Peter Harrison's paper on animal pain and theodicy: http://epublications.bond.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1072&context=hss_pubs

Spencer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Spencer said...

So to be clear: when WLC denies higher-order awareness of pain to nonhumans, is he saying (or committed to saying) that torturing a dog wouldn't be intrinsically bad for the dog?

Jean Kazez said...

Yes, I think that's what he's saying. Torture would not be intrinsically bad for the dog. It's hurting that makes pain bad, and people like Craig think pain in animals doesn't hurt. He has to be saying pain isn't intrinsically bad in animals. Otherwise he doesn't get a solution to the problem of evil.

Now, you can waffle a bit. You can we you ought to give dogs anesthesia during surgery. After all, mere "second order pain" can cause the operation to go less well. The dog might have a heart attack, bleed more, whatever. You may not be able to control the dog's thrashing with paralytics, etc. You can also say we should give them anesthesia to make humans feel better about the operation ... stuff like that. So there may be indirect reasons to control animal pain. But someone like Craig has to say there's no hurting going in in an unanaesthetized dog having an operation, wild as that may seem.

Spencer said...

That makes sense, that Craig *has* to be saying that, but I doubt he really believes it (or would say it outright)! In a Reasonable Faith Q & A, he wrote: "These neurological insights, documented by Murray, greatly reduce the force of the problem of evil posed by animal suffering." His statement seems to imply that Level 2 pain awareness still poses some problem, but not as much as nontheists think.


Jean Kazez said...

I haven't followed that link, but you might say this account of animal pain merely "reduces the force" of the problem of evil not because level 2 pain is also a moral problem, but because there's some uncertainty about the absence of feeling (level 3) in animals. For example (as I recall) Peter Harrison says the denial of there being any conscious animal pain is only possibly correct, so just gives us a possible escape from the problem of evil. That's supposed to relieve anxiety for theists, but not give them a solid and certain solution to the problem about animal pain.

I should follow the link ....!

David Duffy said...

I thought hypnotic anesthesia might be a window into a "higher order" pain. Quoting Castiglioni et al

"Pain is still present, but patients are no longer disturbed or distressed by it. Hypnosis does not attenuate nociceptive reflexes such as changes in heart rate and blood pressure. These changes are further independent of the suggestibility level of the subjects. Such hypnotized patients show a similar reaction to pain, as do prefrontally lobotomized patients who are aware of pain but indifferent to it."

Further, brain imaging studies of hypnotized individuals show activation in the pre-frontal cortex (and other regions).

However, the Castiglioni et al paper attempts to show that the rabbit "hypnosis" (tonic immobility state) has many of the same characteristics as human hypnosis in terms of pain reduction.

I'm sure I've read that those types of states in animals have been seen as a response to imminent pain, and have been used as arguments for the humaneness of some slaughtering techniques.