In Switzerland, it is now illegal to boil a lobster alive. Are the Swiss right? Is it cruel? The question bears on the concept of a self:
Part of the conundrum here is that we don’t know whether a crustacean like a crab, shrimp, or lobster has a sense of “self” — a minimal self, if you like.
A dog, for example, has a well-developed minimal self. He knows whose dog he is and where he stands with his house mates. He learns and he experiences pain and pleasure, just as humans do, though he does not reflect on his experiences or make moral choices. We assume that, if he suffers, he suffers pretty much as we would, without any of the consolations of abstract thinking. That fact probably makes his misery worse.
But now, let’s say if a crab learns something. Is its learning an attribute of a “crab self”? Or is it merely the learning of a natural automaton? Is there a lobster “self” to whom boiling alive is happening?
Perhaps it is ethically prudent to assume, along with the Swiss, that there may be a lobster self and take no chances. But we can’t really know at present.
We are left with a conundrum: How does a unified self that feels pain come to exist? And how do we distinguish between the use of information from the environment and self-awareness?
– Denyse O’Leary, “Can crabs think? Can lobsters feel? What we know now” at Mind Matters News
Takehome: How does a self that feels pain come to exist? And how do we distinguish information use — computer style — from self-awareness?
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