Animal minds Ethics Intelligent Design

Sentience: Is it wrong to boil a lobster alive?

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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?

You may also wish to read:

Octopuses get emotional about pain, research suggests. The smartest of invertebrates, the octopus, once again prompts us to rethink what we believe to be the origin of intelligence. The brainy cephalopods behaved about the same as lab rats under similar conditions, raising both neuroscience and ethical issues.

and

In what ways are spiders intelligent? The ability to perform simple cognitive functions does not appear to depend on the vertebrate brain as such.

12 Replies to “Sentience: Is it wrong to boil a lobster alive?

  1. 1
    AaronS1978 says:

    Even as a child I never liked the idea of boiling a lobster alive or any animal for that matter

    Obviously they feel and experience horrible amount of pain before they die

    And if you’re going to eat them put them out of their misery quickly and then do what you want with them

    But what makes me angrier is that the exact same country that just made this illegal to boil lobsters alive is perfectly fine with aborting babies that have down syndrome that’s perfectly legal

    So Aborting a baby is fine even though we have tons of evidence showing that they definitely do feel pain and even struggle to get away from “the procedure” When it starts to happen

    But it is not OK to put a living lobster into a bowl of boiling water

    There’s no words for how stupid and hypocritical that is

  2. 2
    ET says:

    Yes, do NOT kill animals when they are alive. Do the Swiss eat steaks? Do they wait for the cows to die a natural death?

  3. 3
    Dick says:

    Denyse: “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.”

    I wonder if the same reasoning applies to abortion in Switzerland.

  4. 4
    ronvanwegen says:

    Denyse O’Leary: “We assume that, if he [the dog] suffers, he suffers pretty much as we would, without any of the consolations of abstract thinking. That fact probably makes his misery worse.”

    “We” don’t think that’s true at all. I don’t. Part of our suffering is that we know about and fear death. I don’t believe animals experience that as we do. They fear pain and attempt to avoid it but never experience the existential horror of death that we do.

    AaronS1978: “Even as a child I never liked the idea of boiling a lobster alive or any animal for that matter. Obviously they feel and experience horrible amount of pain before they die.”

    It’s not obvious at all. They might or might not. We don’t know. I think that’s a projection on your part. It’s also possible that boiling water is an easy and pleasant death; maybe even for humans. We don’t know. It might even be one of the fastest ways “to go” short of nuclear annihilation. Science (simplistically) is about data and its organization.

    What data do we have about the “amount” of pain experienced by any creature when it dies? Lobsters might always die slow and painful deaths for all we know and having their temperature suddenly increased might be much less painful than lying silently on the ocean floor and starving to death. We don’t know and shouldn’t simply anthropomorphize.

    We need to eat and hence living things must die. Painlessly, if at all possible, but it’s no sin to kill them.

    A number of times when I experienced sudden and severe pain I remember a terrible wave of sadness that overcame me as I was made aware of enormous realities that are usually hidden from us – or, rather, from which we hide. The pain was one thing – the existential burden was quite another.

  5. 5
    ET says:

    We need to eat. We don’t need to eat other animals.

  6. 6
    BobRyan says:

    ET

    We are omnivores by design, or evolution if you prefer, which means we must eat animals and plants in order to have a proper diet. Taking pills to replace what eating meat would give your body does not do much of anything. The body absorbs very little from pills, no matter how promising the label. You also cannot get all you need from plants. Some may be high in things normally given by meat, but that does not mean the body absorbs it the same as meat.

    To deny meat must be eaten is to deny the very facts of our own biology.

  7. 7
    ET says:

    BobRyan- we are not omnivores by design. We are omnivores by choice. By eating fruits and veggies we don’t need pills.

    I am a 220 pound, healthy, athletic vegetarian since 1979. There are plenty of veggie MMA fighters.

    29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.
    30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

    A kingdom cannot live in harmony while the kings eat their subjects.

  8. 8
    AaronS1978 says:

    “which means we must eat animals“
    Not really even though we did evolve or were designed to be omnivores doesn’t mean we must eat animal, it means we have the option too and are capable of gaining nutrients from it

    Both are feasible but not must

  9. 9
    Sandy says:

    It is illegal to boil a lobster alive but is legal to kill a baby in womb ? Yep, humans are so careful with the most important things.

  10. 10
    davidl1 says:

    I think we should err on the side of caution when it comes to something like lobsters feeling (or not) pain. In experiments they behave in ways that indicate that they feel pain, or at least they try to avoid what we consider to be painful stimuli. It’s probably a more primitive type of pain, but it’s unnecessary suffering anyway. If something behaves as if it experiences pain, it’s probably good to assume it does until it’s proven otherwise.

    I’m not clear on how we know that animals don’t know about death, or that they don’t reflect on their choices, and that they don’t make moral decisions. They aren’t human, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have those attributes on some level. There are reports of elephants grieving dead relatives, and other animals behaving altruistically. It’s not unusual to see studies that find that animals are much more sophisticated than has been assumed.

  11. 11
    ET says:

    OK. Don’t boil the lobsters. Just hack off their edible limbs and steam those. 😎

  12. 12
    OldArmy94 says:

    Fine. However, there are significant health considerations when it comes to the preparation of lobsters, crayfish, crabs and other aquatic creatures. Death by boiling is a way to preserve freshness and prevent the possibility of foodborne illness; I know that fast freezing is certainly an alternative, but I am guessing that introduces a whole other set of considerations.

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