On Fish Suffering

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Lay Vegan
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On Fish Suffering

Post by Lay Vegan » Tue Mar 13, 2018 5:59 pm

This topic may have already been discussed on the forum, but I want to hear your thoughts.

Pain-commonly described as an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage

Nociceptive pain (nociception)- Nervous system's response to harmful or noxious stimuli

I recently came across a systematic review by a team of neurobiologists and behavioral ecologists who analyzed several studies claiming that fish feel pain. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/faf.12010/full They concluded that claims for consciousness and pain in fish lack adequate supporting evidence and neurological feasibility. The brain structures known to be essential to conscious awareness are the neocortex and mesocortex, which are found only in mammals.

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/20026491051668
Fish lack C fiber nociceptors which are the most prevalent type in mammals and other animals. In humans, they’re responsible for agonizing pain. Fish do however possess A-delta nociceptors, but these are more “mechanical,” and after injury, trigger escape and avoidance responses.

The current research shows fish are capable, to some extent of nociceptive pain. They have a central nervous system, sensory receptors, change to noxious stimuli etc., but the research doesn’t seem to suggest they experience conscious pain. Fish have shown normal activity/ feeding habits right after surgery and electric shock (see study above).

However, I’m not sure it may be the best decision to rule out sentience or pain in fish. If consciousness and pain are contingent on the possession of a neocortex, then many other non-mammalian animals, like birds and octopuses, would be rendered “not conscious.”

In the same year this study was published, a group of top international neuroscientists and neurophysiologists reassessed the neurological processes for consciousness and concluded that the absence of a neocortex does not impede an organism’s ability to experience consciousness.
http://fcmconference.org/img/CambridgeDeclarationOnConsciousness.pdf


What are your thoughts on fish consciousness and pain?

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Post by PsYcHo » Tue Mar 13, 2018 9:55 pm

Lay Vegan wrote:
Tue Mar 13, 2018 5:59 pm
This topic may have already been discussed on the forum, but I want to hear your thoughts.
I personally hate it when forums suggest reading a discussion had months, or weeks, or years ago instead of discussing it again. If we talked about it before, you weren't here then, so it's nice to discuss it again. We may have evolved our thoughts on the topic, and new insight is always welcome. :D


Lay Vegan wrote:
Tue Mar 13, 2018 5:59 pm
What are your thoughts on fish consciousness and pain?
I used to have several very large aquariums. (100 gallon plus)

Different fish are definitely more intelligent than other. Cichlids, for instance, can be "trained" to act certain way. Tap on top of tank before feeding or cleaning tank, they show a definite response. They also will protect their young. Guppies on the other hand, might react similarly to feeding, but will gladly eat their progeny.

While I can't claim it's moral, I still eat fish. If they have no problem eating their young, I don't either. (I don't eat cichlid though.. :roll: ) I prefer it to taking supplements because they are full of essential vitamins, and the level of sentience they have doesn't really concern me, much as I have no problem consuming honey, or even insects. I do prefer "farmed" fish, mainly for environmental reasons, and also no dolphins are caught in farmed salmon nets.
Alcohol may have been a factor.

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Post by esquizofrenico » Tue Mar 13, 2018 10:05 pm

I think that kind of thinking is too simplistic. Certain types of consciousness may have appeared several times through convergent evolution, so the fact that their brains lack a certain region that is responsible in mammals of consciousness does not rule out that they may have developed other structures that produce some type of conscious experience.

For me it is obvious that corvids are conscious (mainly because they show in experiments to have a primitive "theory of mind", which is a very advanced level of consciousness). So I don't think you can hold the position that only animals with cortex present individual experience. Once you open that door, you need to study what makes certain birds conscious and admit the possibility that other birds have a more primitive form of consciousness.

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Post by Cirion Spellbinder » Tue Mar 13, 2018 10:34 pm

What is consciousness? I know that it is related to sentience, but I don't understand it as exactly.

Also, is there a sufficient environmental case for fish that would hold even if fish aren't conscious / sentient?
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Post by carnap » Wed Mar 14, 2018 12:41 am

Lay Vegan wrote:
Tue Mar 13, 2018 5:59 pm
However, I’m not sure it may be the best decision to rule out sentience or pain in fish. If consciousness and pain are contingent on the possession of a neocortex, then many other non-mammalian animals, like birds and octopuses, would be rendered “not conscious.”

In the same year this study was published, a group of top international neuroscientists and neurophysiologists reassessed the neurological processes for consciousness and concluded that the absence of a neocortex does not impede an organism’s ability to experience consciousness.
http://fcmconference.org/img/CambridgeDeclarationOnConsciousness.pdf
The issue with fish isn't just that they lack a neo-cortex but they also lack any homolog to a neo-cortex as well on the other hand birds have a homolog to the neo-cortex:

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121001151953.htm

and

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/02/180215141719.htm

Also unlike birds, fish behavior doesn't point to consciousness in the same way bird behavior does.

Personally I'm rather skeptical of fish sentience, their brains are too simple and their behavior isn't very dynamic either.

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Post by inator » Wed Mar 14, 2018 7:15 am

Lay Vegan wrote:
Tue Mar 13, 2018 5:59 pm
If consciousness and pain are contingent on the possession of a neocortex, then many other non-mammalian animals, like birds and octopuses, would be rendered “not conscious.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17475053
Consciousness without a cerebral cortex: a challenge for neuroscience and medicine.
They show that different brain structures and systems can handle the same functions; in this case brainstem circuits can generate pain and emotions.
Lay Vegan wrote:
Tue Mar 13, 2018 5:59 pm
The current research shows fish are capable, to some extent of nociceptive pain. They have a central nervous system, sensory receptors, change to noxious stimuli etc., but the research doesn’t seem to suggest they experience conscious pain.
The absence of pain doesn't necessarily suggest a lack of consciousness/sentience. Pain is only one component of suffering. Others may be fear, stress, etc.
Being partially anesthetized or a congenital insensitivity to pain also don't predicate a lack of sentience.
Lay Vegan wrote:
Tue Mar 13, 2018 5:59 pm
What are your thoughts on fish consciousness and pain?
From a scientific point of view, I think the null hypothesis (of non-consciousness) probably hasn't been completely rejected yet. However, I think there should be a difference between how we regard potentially but-not-yet-proven sentient animals scientifically and how we treat them in practice. In the first case the burden of proof lies with anyone trying to disprove the null hypothesis. In the second case the burden of proof should lie with those who risk causing suffering. Even just the possibility of fish sentience poses a high risk of suffering that we would probably do best to avoid until proven otherwise.

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Post by brimstoneSalad » Wed Mar 14, 2018 1:27 pm

As any fish owner knows, they can very clearly learn to recognize things as sources of food that have no resemblance to any natural source they might encounter (basic associative learning), such as a human approaching to feed them. That might not prove sentience, but there are things that do.

Do fish respond to operant conditioning?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FsonPCR6EZg
Apparently so.

As far as we consider interests valuable, there's no reason to discount the demonstrated interests of fish.

[most] Fish are certainly sentient based on their complex learned behavior. I don't usually like to talk about consciousness because it's not always clearly defined, but there are more rigorous definitions available. They're also conscious by the definition of being aware of their surroundings and modeling them in memory.

Here's some exploration into insect consciousness:
http://www.pnas.org/content/113/18/4900.short

If insects can do it, being simpler than fish, it seems silly to doubt fish.

They very likely experience pain differently, but I don't think that's particularly relevant. A human with congenital analgesia isn't necessarily less important.

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Post by carnap » Thu Mar 15, 2018 12:15 pm

brimstoneSalad wrote:
Wed Mar 14, 2018 1:27 pm
As far as we consider interests valuable, there's no reason to discount the demonstrated interests of fish.
And just what does it mean for an animal without consciousness to have "interests"?

brimstoneSalad wrote:
Wed Mar 14, 2018 1:27 pm
Here's some exploration into insect consciousness:
http://www.pnas.org/content/113/18/4900.short

If insects can do it, being simpler than fish, it seems silly to doubt fish.
This article is just a speculative argument about insect consciousness, basically they argue that because some insects have a "unified" model of their body that they may be conscious since having a unified model seems important for consciousness in humans. The argument seems to be rooted in a obvious fallacy. But its just speculative nonetheless.

But the more general issue here is that there is no agreement on consciousness in the scientific community, its a poorly understood topic that really mixes philosophy and science and some of the scientists get the philosophy end really bad. That is, they don't seem to realize they are doing something that hinges on philosophic considerations.

Also if insects are consciousness that pretty much undermines any distinction between eating plants vs animals, you cannot raise crops without killing huge numbers of insects.

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Post by brimstoneSalad » Thu Mar 15, 2018 1:43 pm

carnap wrote:
Thu Mar 15, 2018 12:15 pm
And just what does it mean for an animal without consciousness to have "interests"?
It depends on what you think "consciousness" is.
If you're just asserting that fish don't have it, then I don't know what to tell you.

It's very likely that the presence of interests, which in any meaningful sense operant conditioning proves, suggests the existence of some kind of consciousness.
carnap wrote:
Thu Mar 15, 2018 12:15 pm
But the more general issue here is that there is no agreement on consciousness in the scientific community, its a poorly understood topic that really mixes philosophy and science and some of the scientists get the philosophy end really bad. That is, they don't seem to realize they are doing something that hinges on philosophic considerations.
Which is why I prefer to talk about sentience and interests.
carnap wrote:
Thu Mar 15, 2018 12:15 pm
Also if insects are consciousness that pretty much undermines any distinction between eating plants vs animals, you cannot raise crops without killing huge numbers of insects.
That's just silly. Not only does it take more plants to feed animals, but you're equating insect deaths to mammal and bird deaths and the notion that it's 1:1 or even a thousand to one is absurd; they don't have a thousandth the brain cells even if we assume intelligence is a linear proposition (it's probable that a brain is more than the sum of its parts on some exponential scale).

You might have a very good argument for eating oysters with that one (which I don't oppose & I don't know if there's anybody on the forum who does), but higher animals don't make any sense as an ethical option.

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Post by carnap » Fri Mar 16, 2018 1:09 am

brimstoneSalad wrote:
Thu Mar 15, 2018 1:43 pm
It depends on what you think "consciousness" is.
If you're just asserting that fish don't have it, then I don't know what to tell you.

It's very likely that the presence of interests, which in any meaningful sense operant conditioning proves, suggests the existence of some kind of consciousness.
It depends on a lot of issues which is my point, "interests" is a rather vague term that just begs for equivocation.

Why would operant conditioning prove interests? If that is true than means basic robots would have interests as well and may have consciousness. Computationally all that is required for operant conditioning is that two variables can become associated based on "positive" or "negative" outcomes which can be evaluated in any way. You can easily construct a robot that can learn via operant condition.

brimstoneSalad wrote:
Thu Mar 15, 2018 1:43 pm
Which is why I prefer to talk about sentience and interests.
Sentience is related to consciousness, its no more well understood than consciousness. "Interests" refers to various concepts depending on the context.

brimstoneSalad wrote:
Thu Mar 15, 2018 1:43 pm
That's just silly. Not only does it take more plants to feed animals, but you're equating insect deaths to mammal and bird deaths and the notion that it's 1:1 or even a thousand to one is absurd; they don't have a thousandth the brain cells even if we assume intelligence is a linear proposition (it's probable that a brain is more than the sum of its parts on some exponential scale).
But we aren't talking about intelligence, we are talking about sentience. Also I didn't suggest its 1:1 but there is no obvious way to compare the sentience of one animal to the next. Does higher intelligence mean the animal has greater sentience? Why?

Animals will eat more plants but they don't eat the same plants we do. Most insects are killed when insecticides are applied to crops and some crops use more than others, vegetable and fruit crops make pretty heavy use of insecticides which aren't given to farm animals. Farm animals can also be pastured which would require little to no cultivated crops. So there is no obvious answer here, you'd have to compare various methods of raising animals and define a calculus for comparing the sentience of one animal to another before you could make a meaningful distinction between the raising of crops vs animals.

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