Monday, January 15, 2018

The Swiss Consider the Lobster. It Feels Pain, They Decide (New York Times)

I don't think that it is anthropomorphizing to attribute to non-human animals the conscious apperceptive awareness of pain, especially when those same non-human animals clearly show preference in not feeling pain, at all. To blame a difference of perception on dissimilar "hardware" is lazy reasoning.

Clearly these animals do not want to experience the sort of pain that comes with being electrocuted (as studies have shown) or boiled alive when humans wish to consume them. It is ethical prudence to err on the side of caution and thus on the side of the animal than on the side of the hungry, insensitive human who would like to cannibalize the flesh of a fellow sentient creature.

All the more reason to believe that pain is the sovereign, common denominator. Excerpts from the article below.

(As an aside, the article also reinforces my thought that the Swiss are light-years ahead of the U.S. in all sorts of moral reasoning, especially given how the Swiss have handled the drug epidemic in their own country versus how the United States has handled it. In one country - their's - drug abuse rates and correspondingly addiction/crime/etc. etc. have all significantly dropped; in another country - mine - despite crack-downs the situation is only getting worse. Go figure.)

The Swiss Consider the Lobster. It Feels Pain, They Decide. - The New York Times
// The Swiss Consider the Lobster. It Feels Pain, They Decide. - The New York Times

The Swiss Consider the Lobster. It Feels Pain, They Decide.

The Swiss government has ordered that lobsters no longer be dropped alive into boiling water. But scientists say they're unsure whether lobsters feel pain.CreditRobert F. Bukaty/Associated Press
The government of Switzerland kicked off a debate this week when it ordered that lobsters and other crustaceans no longer be dropped alive into boiling water. Boiling them causes pain, the government said, and should be replaced by a more rapid method of death — such as stunning.

Still, even the scientist who conducted the foundational research for the government's decision said he's not 100 percent sure that lobsters can feel pain. But he's concerned enough that he's only cooked a live lobster once and doesn't plan to do it again.

"There's no absolute proof, but you keep running experiments and almost everything I looked at came out consistent with the idea of pain in these animals," said Robert Elwood, professor emeritus of animal behavior at Queen's University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. "There should be a more humane approach with lobsters."

Dr. Elwood's position — and the Swiss government's — is outside the scientific mainstream, said Joseph Ayers, a professor of marine and environmental sciences at Northeastern University in Boston.

"I think the idea of producing such a law is just a bunch of people anthropomorphizing lobsters," Dr. Ayers said, adding that there were other possible explanations for Dr. Elwood's findings. "I find it really quite remarkable that people attribute to these animals humanlike responses when they simply don't have the hardware for it."

Lobsters lack the brain anatomy needed to feel pain, said Dr. Ayers, who builds robots modeled on lobster and sea lamprey neurobiology. Lobsters and other crustaceans are often swallowed whole by predators, he added, so they never needed to evolve the ability to detect pain from say, warming water or an electric shock.

Michael Tlusty, a lobster biologist at the University of Massachusetts Boston, takes a middle ground. He agrees that lobsters lack the brain anatomy that we associate with pain sensation. But crustacean brains are so different from ours, he said, that no one can really say for certain what they are feeling.
For instance, when a lobster's claw is being attacked, it will jettison its own arm to escape. "When a human does that, we make a movie about it," Dr. Tlusty said, referring to the 2010 survival drama "127 Hours."

Lobsters continue to twitch after they've had their limbs ripped off, he noted, but it's unclear whether that's in response to unpleasant sensations or a programmed reflex — like your leg kicking when a doctor taps your knee in a particular place.

Dr. Elwood got the idea for researching lobster pain about a dozen years ago at his local pub. Celebrity chef Rick Stein, known for his seafood dishes, was having a pint, and Dr. Elwood introduced himself. The chef stumped him by asking if lobsters felt pain when cooked.
In several studies since, Dr. Elwood has shown that crustaceans guard wounded limbs and avoid areas where they've been shocked — even leaving their shells behind if necessary. When he traveled to Singapore, he said he watched as street sellers kept grabbing live crabs as they scuttled off a barbecue grill, keen to get away.

He's now convinced that those responses are the crustacean equivalent of pain. As David Foster Wallace observed in his famous article "Consider the Lobster," lobsters remain the only animals we still kill in our own kitchens. We have to face the ethics of that decision, he noted, while we more easily ignore such feelings about other animals in our diet.

Boiling might take as long as a minute to kill a lobster, long enough for it to suffer, Dr. Elwood said. A skilled chef who slices right into a lobster's head should be able to kill the animal faster, he said. "That should be a reasonable way of doing it."