Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Gary Comstock - Feeling Matters (on Consciousness in Nonhumans)

This is Gary Comstock's talk at the Evolution and Function of Consciousness Summer School ("Turing Consciousness 2012") held at the University of Montreal as part of Alan Turing Year. In this talk, he raises some difficult questions about intelligence and consciousness in animals - and with those questions comes ethical issues about how we use these conscious beings in research.

Gary Comstock: Feeling Matters

What scientific experiments, if any, are we justified in performing on animals in order to answer philosophical questions such as the distribution of complex feelings across species? Would researchers, for example, be justified in inducing behavioral signs of depression in monkeys if they thought the results could help to resolve the metaphysical question, whether nonhumans have the capacity to feel, for example, the social anxiety that results from thinking that others think you are worthless? To make progress on this issue, I proceed in three steps. First, I review the case for thinking that cynomulgus monkeys experience social-stress induced depression, a higher order mental state some humans find worse than death. Second, I introduce and rebut three objections to the idea that we can legitimately attribute this feeling to monkeys. Third, I conclude by outlining an invasive experiment that might help to settle the Distribution Question and I ask whether it would be humane to carry it out.

Relevant Papers:

Call, J. & Tomasello, M., 2008. Does the chimpanzee have a theory of mind? 30 years later. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 12(5), pp.187-192.

Lerner, Y. et al., 2011. Topographic mapping of a hierarchy of temporal receptive windows using a narrated story. The Journal of neuroscience - the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 31(8), pp.2906-2915.

Penn, D.C., Holyoak, K.J. & Povinelli, D.J., 2008. Darwin's Mistake: Explaining the Discontinuity Between Human and Nonhuman Minds. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 31(02), pp.109-130.

Shively, C.A. et al., 2005. Social stress-associated depression in adult female cynomolgus monkeys (Macaca fascicularis). Biological Psychology, 69(1), pp.67-84.

Stewart, M.E. et al., 2006. Presentation of Depression in Autism and Asperger Syndrome A Review. Autism, 10(1), pp.103'116.
Willard, S.L. & Shively, C.A., 2011. Modeling depression in adult female cynomolgus monkeys (Macaca fascicularis). American Journal of Primatology, 73, pp.1-15.
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