QuestionWhat is the minimal living creature capable of suffering?
      – BorgClown, 2009-10-01 at 07:59:41   (9 comments)

On 2009-10-01 at 08:14:30, BorgClown wrote...
We're creatures made for living between pain and pleasure. Our nervous system has conveniently evolved to be a self-gratifying organ. We have dopamine secretions and the appropriate receptors to get us a high. Feeding, music, sex, power, all pleasant experiences thanks to our own dopamine secretions. Conversely, we have neurotransmitters who specialize in making us feel pain, and they're so effective we actively avoid this suffering sensation. It's evident that mammals experience pleasure and pain, and it looks like insects and even worms can clearly experience pain. I was wondering what is the minimal requirement for a living creature to experience pain, for example, can microbes feel pain or suffering? A nervous system and nociceptors could be the minimal baggage needed to feel pain, but couldn't be there alternate means of suffering?
On 2009-10-01 at 08:15:11, BorgClown wrote...
Can a tree suffer?
On 2009-10-01 at 22:11:02, Lee J Haywood wrote...
My rule has always been to avoid injuring anything with a nervous system, provided I'm aware of its presence. So even a tiny insect would be protected from harm by default. I dislike the arrogance of assuming that we can say definitively where to draw the line - I prefer to allow creatures that are already living to continue living, unharmed, by default. Some research has shown that a grasshopper can navigate towards a sound with just 4 neurons, essentially linking its ears directly to its legs with mechanical filtering of frequencies, etc. On the other hand, a tree has a distributed set of responses to its environment which happen to be very slow - on timescales we cannot perceive. So I distinguish between 'creatures' and 'plants', being quite unsympathetic towards plants but over-cautious with insects, animals, etc. Bacteria are incredibly complex, far beyond what most lay people realise, but their size alone makes them almost impossible to protect and any intelligence is usually in a quorum sensing form.
On 2009-10-01 at 22:15:27, Lee J Haywood wrote...
Perception of pain is another matter. There's unconscious reaction to pain, and there's the prediction, avoidance and fear of pain. It's said that when Regan was shot he felt no pain primarily because he knew that there was nothing he could do about it - the situation is as important as the nature of the pain. Certainly you can show that an insect will respond to damage or stimulation in a way that could be called pain reception, but it's tough to put yourself into the mind of one. Again, it's arrogant to think that you're not acting immorally (say, by some future standard) just because our knowledge hasn't reached a point where we can evaluate the harm done. If a group of insects is invading your home, you have little choice but to deal with them as a group - which usually means extermination. If a single insect is present, it's best to simply evict it - killing it is senseless, I think, given that it may go on to have an unknown impact in the future if released.
On 2009-10-02 at 00:19:00, DigitalBoss wrote...
If it pays no taxes, it has no pain.
On 2009-10-02 at 04:01:02, BorgClown wrote...
If I can pay for the extermination of an invading carpenter ant colony, I'd feel incongruent to protect a single ant. Maybe bigger, rarer insects would get spared even if they are being annoying. I'd try their deaths to be as instantaneous as possible though. Plants, OTOH, seem very defenseless, I can't bring myself to harm one. At least not the pretty ones.
On 2009-10-02 at 09:18:48, Lee J Haywood wrote...
@DigitalBoss: That would apply to a lot of human beings, including all babies. I'm pretty sure babies feel pain - they certainly cry enough.
On 2009-10-02 at 11:44:51, DigitalBoss wrote...
Babies cry because they are future taxpayers.
On 2009-10-03 at 03:47:16, BorgClown wrote...
Not the baby cultists, they are exempt from taxes.