Sentience…

MPs have voted to reject the inclusion of animal sentience – the admission that animals feel emotion and pain – into the EU Withdrawal Bill.

Independent News 20th Nov 2017

Animal sentience was incorporated into EU law in 2009 via the Lisbon Treaty, following years of campaigning by animal rights activists.

Ok, I’m not sure where to start with this one…

A mixture of disbelief, disgust, incredulity ….. (the list goes on)

Trying to take the emotion out of this for a moment (only a moment), we now have an elected group of MP’s who are not only, apparently, devoid of any form of a sense of ‘honour’, but who also ignore the growing scientific research that proves the exact opposite of their stated position.

Of course, this kind of thinking lends itself to supporting a continued call for the return of bloodsports, as well as suggesting that ideas in terms of compassion in world farming can become a rather moot point.

So sentience is, at its core, about being aware of the environment and being able react to it.

Hence these examples of animal intelligence are actually examples of being able to respond to the immediate environment.

One of the biggest issues, perhaps, is that we all too often anthropomorphize and assign human feelings to other living things. In one way this allows us to create some kind of understanding.

HOWEVER

Such an approach is also a demonstration of human arrogance. Please don’t get me wrong here, what I am suggesting is that human beings could be in danger of limiting the sensory awareness of other animals because they use themselves as a credible benchmark. In terms of being able to respond to the natural environment, I often think that animals excel and humans come a poor second.

So, for our MP’s to make such a pronouncement is clearly based upon ignorance in terms of both science and the current spirit of the times. Even a cursory glance at the definition of sentience points to some serious flaws in the conclusion of our MP’s.

Sentience is the capacity to feel, perceive, or experience subjectively. Eighteenth-century philosophers used the concept to distinguish the ability to think (reason) from the ability to feel (sentience). In Eastern philosophy, sentience is a metaphysical quality of all things that require respect and care.

 

The whole area of Behavioural Psychology is based on the notion that animals can be ‘conditioned’ according to rewards. Which on one level can be seen as being mechanistic (we are also conditioned in this same way) however the ability to go beyond the simple stimulus-response condition is demonstrated by a number of animals and whilst we can’t prove they are ‘thinking’ in human terms they must be processing.

There is evidence that animals ‘avoid’ painful stimulations. Now whilst their experience may not be ‘pain’ as we know it – it is SOMETHING they avoid.

We need to, perhaps, consider that sentience exists in all forms of life and some are, I would argue,  not as limited as we humans. 

We could question the sentience of those humans who make such pronouncements as those at the top of this article. They are clearly not in touch with the environment outside of the rarified atmosphere of the ‘House’, outside of themselves.

Alan

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