@CriticalRationalist (CR) on Twitter took the time to respond to my post here http://www.bretthall.org/humans-and-other-animals.html with his own here https://thecriticalrationalist.weebly.com/philosophy.html CR is a good thinker and writer and his site is certainly worth reading.
Let me quickly state my position for those who tl:dr my own page above. “Suffering” as we understand the term (so as the word applies to us) is categorically a bad thing. My position is that to “suffer” entails being able to create some explanation about why you are in pain. But although all suffering begins with pain and is caused by it, not all pain is suffering. Pain is morally neutral for humans without some accompanying explanation. For more on this, read my post. (An example of “good pain” might be the injection that you know will cure your illness at the doctor. But better: things like the pain of exercise that many of us learn to enjoy or the pain from a fun but scary bumpy ride at a theme park, etc).
Now this is not quite the same as saying “All pain that is not suffering is good”. There could be kinds of pain we as humans do not yet have access to, or understand, that is nonetheless bad. My explanation of the subjective conscious experience of other humans rests on what my own is like. A problem here is that I cannot do the same for other animals. I don’t know what it’s like to be a bat.
I say in my piece at one point “The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein famously remarked that “If a lion could speak we could not understand him”. He did not mean that the lion could not speak English: he meant that the internal workings of the *mind* of the lion may have been so far removed from our own as to have no analogue that could be captured by our own vocabulary.”
I also wrote “I guess animals experience pain but I also concede in saying this that though they experience something (we call pain), it might not be like what we experience as pain - at all. “
I don’t know what that pain might be like. It cannot be suffering of the sort we experience. It also cannot be “pleasurable” either for the same reason. It might be neutral - but because “what it’s like” to be a lion or bat or cow isn’t something we know yet (because we have no explanation of consciousness) I say that causing pain to animals is bad.
But CR says “He (That’s me) argues that meat eaters do not face any ethical dilemmas.”. This is not quite right. They do. If they didn’t, my post would have been far more brief. I don’t think animals eaten for meat should (ideally!) experience any pain because of our farming, etc because we do not know what the quality of that pain is, yet. I don’t know what “fear” feels like to a cow. I guess it must feel like something. I don’t know if it would be “bad” but because I cannot know, for now, I withhold judgement and I argue to not do evil (like cause unnecessary pain of a kind we don’t understand to a creature whose internal subjective state we do not know about.) Now my explanation is that their pain cannot be suffering. And whatever it is, it cannot be bad in the way it is for us. Does it have a moral valence at all? I simply don’t know. But I guess it’s neutral. But that’s all I have. My argument is also that some vegans claim to have a positive explanation that non-human animals actually suffer. I’m arguing they are actually wrong (for the reasons outlined in my post and summarised here and by CR). On the basis that “animals suffer therefore eating meat is wrong” I am saying is false. There might be other reasons not to eat meat from animals - but I’m yet to hear it and I won’t make those arguments for a vegan.
CR writes: “Consider, for instance, why people think animals suffer in the first place: people think animals suffer because the behaviour of animals seems to indicate a subjective experience to us. This should strike a thinking person as odd; most animals did not evolve their facial expression for the purpose of communicating to humans how they feel.” CR also here summarises my position about how not all pain is suffering because some - like the pain of a workout if you’re after massive gains or whatever at the gym - is pleasurable. And yet those people who work out (experience the pleasure of pain) have weird facial expressions too. But it doesn’t signify suffering. So I am not moved here by CRs reply. If the “understanding” that CR writes about because of our co-evolution with animals is to stand, there must be a way to distinguish between “suffering” facial expressions vs “just in pain” facial expressions. Is there? (This reminds me of an old Adam Sandler sketch: “Having sex or working out?” - it was just recordings of people moaning and, of course, you can’t tell what they’re up to. Similarly facial expressions don’t tell us much about how a thing feels inside. Facial expressions probably evolved to scare other animals away. If damage is being caused here’s my facial expression: run away. Whether that signifies suffering or not - well that just returns me full force to the original problem.
I think CR’s argument here demonstrates that animals experience pain. But this was never in dispute. I agree with him that “If animals turn out to suffer, i.e. if they have subjective experiences that are morally bad, then the factory farming of today must be evil.”. But I don’t think they do. What someone needs to show myself or someone who holds my position, is how suffering can be divorced from requiring “explanatory knowledge creation” (it requires that you can *understand why* you are in pain) and this seems to require “universal knowledge creation” - universal because there must be the potential to understand the cause of *any* pain). And the only being we know of that is a universal knowledge creator is an human being - a person. I don’t think animals sharing some facial expressions with human beings is at all relevant, let alone decisive in the question about how similar their internal subjective states must be much less their ability to generate explanations about the sources of pain that give rise to those facial expressions.
A person asked @peez (David) about whether if Hitler got into the Star Trek transporter and an identical copy of him was copied, would the copy be “morally responsible”? @peez posted this question to @paulbloomatyale. The discussion was interesting and I think highlights something about how people decide what personhood is all about. You can find the discussion around this Tweet here: https://twitter.com/ToKTeacher/status/919001168629481472
Paul said the copy of Hitler “…didn’t do anything. This person is just a minutes-old baby who looks just like Hitler.” He further said “Sorry to disagree with some of your other respondents -- but you don't punish a guy for having the delusion that he's Hitler”
Now I think this is wrong. I said “If he's a *fungible* copy, he is identical in all respects. Including memories & motivations. He literally is Hitler and thus responsible.”
David said “…If you create an identical copy of me, it is not me. That is what I’m saying.”
Paul said in response to this “Right. True for other things too. If you copy my favorite chair, maybe we can't tell them apart. But it's not my chair.”
I asked “Say the transporter room is sealed/opaque to the world. A perfect copy is created along with the original. When they exit the room…Neither "copy" or original nor any person or *any physical process* can distinguish them. Would you try neither Hitler for war crimes, both?”
Paul said “Neither, since you can't tell which one = original. (Similar to arresting identical twins, knowing one did the crime but not which one)”
Here is where I wanted to pause. Notice that I am trying to maintain the structure of the “thought experiment”. The Star Trek transporter creates absolutely identical in all respects down to the very atoms - copies of people. In other words *fungible* (or absolutely perfect) copies. This matters. I'm using the word in a sense close to that which appears in David Deutsch's book "The Beginning of Infinity" (page 265 in particular).
So perfectly identical (fungible) copies is substantively different to chairs that *look* identical (but whose atoms might be quite different) and it’s especially different to “identical twins” (which are never identical, even in their DNA, it turns out). I wouldn’t punish an innocent identical twin for the crimes of his brother. They really are different people with different histories and - most important - different minds.
But now: a fungible copy of Hitler *is* Hitler. But why is this?
Consider "the original" (not the copy) - it was atoms in his vocal chords that gave the orders. It was the atoms of his hand (and not his copy) that gave all those salutes. It was his body that was there in Berlin and not the body or the atoms in the body of his copy that did all those bad things. And it’s for this reason, I guess, that Paul and others argue that the copy is not culpable.
My position here is: the atoms are not what we’re actually concerned with. The hardware (the body) is irrelevant.
What matters, instead, and crucially, is the mind.
The mind is the software that runs on the hardware of the brain. And that software, if we really did make a perfect copy of Hitler is identical in all respects. The mind - the software - is just a pattern. It’s the arrangement of the atoms in the brain (constituting the the neural connections or what not, it doesn’t matter) - it is something that in principle could be - at some future time (when we’ve Star Trek transporters, say) could be instantiated in a silicon computer. Or written down on paper. It is a code of some sort that we don't yet understand - the software - the mind of Hitler that is responsible for Hitler’s actions and not his body. That mind contains the memories and all the motivations to keep on killing that the original Hitler has because - and this is key - it is the original Hitler. The original Hitler isn’t about which atoms were there at the time of the invasion of Poland. It was about which mind was there. And the mind that was there was Hitler’s mind. And just because there are now two identical, indistinguishable versions in two bodies (one body with a history and one without) does not mean only one is culpable because in both cases each *mind* has the same history.
And that is why the copy is equally culpable.
Postscript: This is not merely a thought experiment. According to quantum theory, there really do exist “fungible copies” of you because of what we know about how particles (and therefore everything made of matter) behaves. The laws of quantum theory compel us towards a vision of reality bigger than what we are familiar with. This forces upon us the idea that not only are electrons and other sub atomic particles in two places simultaneously (because they occupy different universes) but so does everything including: you. What does it feel like for multitudes of "you" to exist right now. Exactly as you feel right now. And each instant universes "differentiate". For the facts about this read “The Beginning of Infinity” by David Deutsch. - in particular the chapter on "The Multiverse".
This is a blog post. It's clearly not a Tweet*. What's the difference? Is it just because this is on my private blog and a tweet is on the platform we call Twitter? Or, since Twitter began has there arisen a technique - indeed a culture - of how to construct an effective tweet? I think a tweet usually has a style - a style that quickly evolved from the constraint that is 140 characters. Forced into that environment, language took on the form that it did; tweets evolved to be succinct in a way that other mediums did not promote. Here, on my blog, where resources are plentiful and my thoughts can eat up all the characters that are available to them, a certain kind of verbose and descriptive style abounds where metaphor conjures images of ideas as being expressible in certain environments and that this means species of communication can evolve. We should value those species. If someone wants to write long form: get a blog. If you want to sample many ideas quickly: look at twitter. If you want to combine the two: link to your blog from a tweet.
David Deutsch made the point elegantly in a couple of tweets when Twitter decided that it would experiment with 280 character Tweets for some people. David wrote:
Would you redefine
A haiku to have double
The syllable count?
The point here being: any small change (to the number of syllables) makes things worse. And also: there's simply a tradition. And why? Well traditions last because they work. They are ideas that survive. Twitter has survived as long as it has for a reason. Perhaps not as enduring, thus far, as a haiku
In another Tweet:
The contrarian natives of Limerick
Thought the rules of the eponymous verse form arbitrary.
They tried to break loose,
But what is the use
Of free form that just makes the thing humourless?
This makes the point even more powerfully. Here it is obvious (if you are familiar with the form of a Limerick) that something has gone terribly wrong. Why change what already works? Rhyming is what makes a limerick a limerick. If you don't follow the meter - the pattern of rhyming - that a limerick demands - you get something worse. A limerick simply *is* of the form:
There was a young man called @jack
And characters he felt he did lack
So up went the limit
Much better now innit?
More room for everyone's craic.
Anything that deviates from that style isn't a limerick. Anything more than 140 characters isn't a Tweet. It's something else. 140 characters forces upon people a style. Especially for thoughts that cannot normally be easily expressed in 140 characters or less.
Rather randomly choosing some Tweets (from Sam Harris who Tweets far less than he once did) and David Deutsch respectively we get:
We can oppose all extremism and dogmatism, while recognizing that not all extremes and dogmas are the same. The fine print still matters.
Knowledge is created by conjecture and criticism—in Darwin's theory, mutation and natural selection. Lamarckism tries to do without either.
Tweets are very dense. In the first one is 137 characters and the second is 139. Sam has actually used an article ("the") but this is rarer in tweets because those are typically unnecessary. Sam has attempted to explain a complex idea succinctly. He's forced into being clear because he is limited. There are differences between dogmas. The details matter. The second tweet by David is even more dense. It makes a bold claim about two kinds of knowledge and contrasts this with an alternative. An important point lurks here: in both cases the tweet serves as a starting point for engaging with the broader work of both authors. Just pick up their books to find out more.
If people want to tweet longer, there is actually a service called http://www.twitlonger.com or even http://talltweets.com (just google "tweet longer"). My preference is to simply link to my own blog. Or sometimes take a screen shot of a longer bit of text and post it as a picture. But I do this rarely. It's cheating!
*I don't know when to capitalise Tweet. I've mixed things up here with tweet and Tweet. Probably not ideal...
The most valuable thing you can offer to an idea