In 2012, a group of neuroscientists signed the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness, which asserts that “humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neural substrates.”
video link: here Resources from the 2012 conference: here More about the conference, and declaration: here and here
“Netflix is particularly fond of the trolley experiment, which was featured in the most recent seasons of two of its original shows this past summer. In the penultimate episode of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s third season, the protagonist Kimmy takes a college philosophy class, learns about the trolley problem, and becomes obsessed with utilitarianism. Similarly, in a Season 5 episode of Orange Is the New Black—not so subtly titled “Tied to the Tracks”—a character uses the trolley problem to explain the “classic deontological dilemma” of whether to sacrifice one woman for the greater good” (more here)
Speaker: Susan Savage-Rumbaugh
video link: here
Kanzi the bonobo @ Wikipedia: here
“… There were Tasmanians who were discovered around the 1600s and they had no fire. They had no stone tools. To our knowledge they had no music. So when you compare them to the Bonobo…”
“We found that the most important thing for permitting Bonobos to acquire language is not to teach them. It’s simply to use language around them, because the driving force in language acquisition is to understand what others, that are important to you, are saying to you. Once you have that capacity, the ability to produce language comes rather naturally and rather freely.”
One problem is that the concept of “harm” is complex, context-specific and is difficult to explain clearly to a robot. If a robot doesn’t understand “harm”, how can they avoid causing it? “We realized that we could use different perspectives to create ‘good’ robot behavior, broadly in keeping with Asimov’s laws,” says Christoph Salge, another scientist involved in the study.
“But being human and being a legal person has never been, and is not today, synonymous with a legal person. Humans and legal persons are not synonymous.”
“On the one side, there have been many human beings over the centuries who have been legal things. Slaves were legal things. Women, children, were sometimes legal things.”
“…on the other side are legal persons, but they’ve never only been limited to human beings. There are, for example, there are many legal persons who are not even alive. In the United States, we’re aware of the fact that corporations are legal persons. In pre-independence India, a court held that a Hindu idol was a legal person, that a mosque was a legal person. In 2000, the Indian Supreme Court held that the holy books of the Sikh religion was a legal person, and in 2012, just recently, there was a treaty between the indigenous peoples of New Zealand and the crown, in which it was agreed that a river was a legal person who owned its own riverbed.”
… and here’s the introduction of their explanation of their justification:
Our experiments are not philosophically perfect and without controversy; however, we believe the benefits outweigh the cost due to the inaccessibility of neuroscience in our current age. We have received several messages from adults and parents of children with neurological afflictions thanking us for making neuroscience easier to understand. We are constantly surveying the animal kingdom for easier and less invasive ways of unequivocally demonstrating neural activity. The cockroach leg preparation is the best we have found so far.
Some disagree, and that is important. Our methods raise many ethical questions including
Are animal experiments for educational purposes valid?
What is the proper way to treat fellow creatures of the Earth?
In our classroom demonstrations we do discuss these ethical positions and take them seriously. Here we outline our ethical stance on the use of insects for education.
How many standards of ethical conduct are being appealed to here? What standards, specifically? Do any of the standards that are being appealed to here conflict?
Speaking of persons, a very wonderful one named Hibaq, who is currently in one of my Ethics courses, sent me this via email today; she said it reminded her of one of the topics we recently discussed in class.
On understanding other minds: “… just because you ask someone that you’re with…how they feel doesn’t mean that they can tell you. They may not have words to explain what it is that they’re feeling, and they may not know. It’s actually a pretty recent phenomenon that we feel that we have to talk to someone to understand their emotional distress. Before the early 20th century, physicians often diagnosed emotional distress in their patients just by observation.”
On anthropomorphizing: “…there’s actually an entire industry that is in some ways based on anthropomorphizing well, and that is the psychopharmaceutical industry… One in five Americans is currently taking a psychopharmaceutical drug, from the antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications to the antipsychotics. It turns out that we owe this entire psychopharmaceutical arsenal to other animals. These drugs were tested in non-human animals first, and not just for toxicity but for behavioral effects.”