Gavin, if you have the time, I’d love to see references for those abilities. We’ve got another round of invertebrate posts coming out in mid-to-late July, and most if not all of your examples can be used to bolster the case that arthropods in general and insects in particular deserve a close look from the effective animal advocacy movement. Thanks for your contributions!
Thanks for the examples; keep them coming! Whether or not they possess the capacity for valenced experience, eusocial insects truly are remarkable creatures. Do you have an easy reference for the cuckoo bumblebee behavior? I’ve got a running list of amazing things different invertebrates do, and I’d love to add it to the list.
(On the subject of videos, check out the video I’ve linked in footnote 53. It always brings a smile to my face.)
Thanks for the compliment and especially for the thoughtful reply. I’ll take your comments in turn.
In the third part of the mini-series on features potentially relevant to invertebrate sentience, we discuss a number of learning indicators, including both classical and operant conditioning. That post is going up June 12. I would be interested to hear your take on the relevant sections.
There is certainly not going to be a perfect correlation between lifespan and potential for learning. (Indeed, there might not be any correlation at all.) The claim that we’re defending is that, in general, longer-lived organisms would benefit more from learning abilities than shorter-live organisms. We expect there to be exceptions both ways (i.e., relatively short-lived organisms that would benefit from learning abilities and relatively long-lived organisms that wouldn’t). Much depends on context of various kinds. Your point about the learning abilities of monarchs vs. bees is well-taken. In future work (to be published mid-July), we take an especially close look at eusocial insects, which are pretty amazing.
Your question about warning pheromones is a great example of a difficulty that has hounded us for the length of the project. Classifying and assessing complex behaviors is context-sensitive. I think you’re right that warning pheromones could fall into at least three categories. (Or maybe different pheromones fall into different categories?) Assessing the evidential force of these features is often even more context-sensitive. A behavior that looks like good evidence for sentience in one context doesn’t always look like good evidence for sentience in a different context. (e.g., a human reporting “I am in pain” is normally great evidence of painful experience. A very simple robot programmed to utter the same sounds is not great evidence of painful experience.)
Unfortunately, I don’t have any hard data to back up that claim, just extensive anecdotal evidence from roughly seven years interacting with professional philosophers and philosophy graduate students. And my anecdotal evidence skews heavily toward the US, so I’m not in a position to even hazard a guess about the prevalence of philosophy PhDs with STEM backgrounds in continental Europe. Sorry!
For the project, we’ve investigated plants, protists, and prokaryotes, all of which are capable of more interesting “behavior” than I would have anticipated. We began a preliminary investigation into a host of non-organic entities, but we discovered that an investigation of that sort is a bit more complicated than we expected. For many of the features we examined, it’s a lot more difficult to ascertain whether a non-organic entity exhibits the feature. Also, many theory-neutral arguments for consciousness in various animal species rely on the species in question having an evolutionary background. It’s of course totally possible that a non-organic entity is conscious, but the way you would argue that such an entity is conscious is often different in subtle but important ways from the way you would argue an organic entity is conscious. In future work we hope to examine this issue more thoroughly.
Ah, I see the worry more clearly now. I agree that, as best we can, we ought to examine not only the strict implicatures of what people write but also the background assumptions that motivate their reasoning. And I agree that at this stage of research, people’s reasoning is going to be motivated less by hard evidence and more by pre-theoretic beliefs, although I don’t really see a way to avoid this stage and jump straight into a more mature field.
For what it’s worth, I personally think there’s a significant chance that wild nature is overall positive and that invertebrates have negligible moral standing. But I also think there are plausible arguments on the other side, and if those plausible arguments turn out to be sound arguments, then the issue of invertebrate suffering (or wild animal suffering more generally) could be huge. The only way to get a better handle on the issue is to do more careful research.
It’s true that it doesn’t follow from the individuals of some class having moral weight that the overall weight of the class of individuals is going to be any particular size. The examples in the reflective equilibrium section should be read as illustrative, not as exemplifying any particular position. (I see, though, how those examples could be misinterpreted.) The basic idea is: IF your view leads you to believe that, say, plant-suffering is super important, you might want to compare your final theoretical judgments with the intuitions that got the project started. One way to avoid the result that plant suffering is super important is to adjust your moral weighting judgments. I intend the piece to be neutral with respect to views on moral weighting.
The word “pain” appears far more than “pleasure” in the piece, but this was a choice of convenience, not theory. (Again, though, I understand how this choice could be reasonably misconceived.) I intend the piece to be neutral with respect to first-order normative theory, including the question of classical vs negative utilitarianism. I don’t intend anything I’ve written to commit me to a value-asymmetry between invertebrate pain and pleasure. Perhaps, though, framing is as important as strict implicature. If that’s the case, I ought to write “pain and pleasure” instead of the shorter “pain.”
As for second-order theories, it seems to me I’m implicitly assuming at least a high credence in moral realism rather than anti-realism. It’s not really clear to me where I’ve assumed otherwise (though of course it’s possible and I welcome examples from the piece). (Also, your comment doesn’t commit you to my piece perpetuating this particular meme; just pieces of this general sort doing so, so maybe your comment was more general than I am taking it.)
Finally, I think it’s true that there are some background assumptions about the relevant importance of wild-animal suffering at work in the piece. In (far) future posts, I hope to examine these assumptions more critically.
It’s difficult to get even rough estimates of the number of individual plants in the world; for the purposes of the reflective equilibrium section, it suffices that there are far more plants than ants. In addition to plants, we are also investigating (in broad strokes) the extent to which prokaryotes do and don’t exhibit the features traditionally taken to be relevant to assessing consciousness. Finally, as your diction suggests you already know, the phenomenon of sea squirts “eating their own brain” has sometimes been exaggerated in the literature. (In fact, adult sea squirts have perfectly good brains.)