News Roundup, Vegetarian Issues

Glenn Reynolds has an article on the Singularity at Popular Mechanics.

Ron Bailey has the “deets” on the recent Manhattan Beach Longevity Summit.

Hank Hyena, a seemingly new-ish writer at h+ magazine, has a cool article on in-vitro meat, titled “Eight Ways In-Vitro Meat will Change Our Lives”. One of them is “exotic cuisine”:

In-Vitro Meat will be fashioned from any creature, not just domestics that were affordable to farm. Yes, ANY ANIMAL, even rare beasts like snow leopard, or Komodo Dragon. We will want to taste them all. Some researchers believe we will also be able to create IVM using the DNA of extinct beasts — obviously, “DinoBurgers” will be served at every six-year-old boy’s birthday party.

Give me that endangered snow leopard burger!

And to transhumanists who still eat meat from highly intelligent animals like pigs, I ask — why do you consume and cage animals who are obviously aware of their pain and suffering and yet still expect superintelligences or superhumans to treat you with respect? The human/not-human simplistic dichotomy of morality is not going to work as a moral structure in the long term. We’re going to need more precise technical definitions of what we value, even if those definitions disagree.

There is a line above which all animals should be profoundly respected, in my opinion, and I’m not sure where that line lies, but it’s probably pretty low. I am a mostly-vegetarian myself (eat fish and dairy occasionally), and to any vegans out there, I would be interested in hearing your opinions on shrimp and oyster. Does anyone know how many neurons are in a shrimp brain?

Comments

  1. mmm snow leopard burger…

    Why stop there, why not try the intercontinental menu of humans?

    Range fed Africa,
    Affluent East coaster

    Eat me! may take on a completely new meaning.

    Seriously though, is eating comatosed animals okay? If it’s a factory food like say soy meats is healthy to eat? I doubt it.

  2. “What is it that should trace the insuperable line? …The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?” — Jeremy Bentham

    Drawing the line needs to be done arbitrary. At least I cannot resolve this “problem” to my satisfaction.

    A though experiment would be to imagine a being so vast and powerful that its theory of mind of other entities would itself be a sentient entity. Just like we do not grant rights to our thoughts or the bacteria that make up a big part of our body such an entity wouldn’t and couldn’t grant existential rights to its thought processes. Even if they are of an extent that when coming across a human being the mere perception would incorporate the torture of a vast amount of human-level simulations.

    “If a group of beings from another planet were to land on Earth — beings who considered themselves as superior to you as you feel yourself to be to other animals — would you concede them the rights over you that you assume over other animals?” — George Bernard Shaw

    Though there is no proof for this, but I suspect that expanding your circle of ethics towards different entities is a superior behavior pattern because it allows you to cooperate and thus become predominant towards hostile beings which follow the principle that might makes right. What other way is there than the principle of the golden rule? Might makes right? Because something is less intelligent or you are more powerful you can torture, kill and eat it?

    As I said, there is no proof for following the golden rule being a superior behavior pattern. There is just no prove right now that following such a train of thought leads to peace, happiness and victory. But I suspect that if we draw the line at homo sapience we may run into a lot of problems sooner or later. We’re already on the brink of it. Surely if you are sure to be at the top of the food chain forever, you don’t have to worry. But what would entities with similar or developing technology decide if they knew you’d always follow this strategy, that might makes right? Wouldn’t they try to destroy you to protect themselves once they can? Could you ever cooparate with other entities if they knew that you’d overthrow them once you get a chance to do so?

    Anyways, I’m mainly vegetarian for emotional reasons although I suspect that following the underlying reasons might be more successful in the long-term. This doesn’t mean that I’d die to protect others. I draw the line at existential necessaries. That’s why I am not against animal experiments. I’d kill to survive.

  3. Oh and talking about fish and shrimps. Many fish are very smart animals. I also suggest you to read this article:
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091117124009.htm

    “Tiny insects could be as intelligent as much bigger animals, despite only having a brain the size of a pinhead, say scientists at Queen Mary, University of London.” — “Research repeatedly shows how insects are capable of some intelligent behaviours scientists previously thought was unique to larger animals. Honeybees, for example, can count, categorise similar objects like dogs or human faces, understand ‘same’ and ‘different’, and differentiate between shapes that are symmetrical and asymmetrical.” — “In bigger brains we often don’t find more complexity, just an endless repetition of the same neural circuits over and over. This might add detail to remembered images or sounds, but not add any degree of complexity. To use a computer analogy, bigger brains might in many cases be bigger hard drives, not necessarily better processors.”

  4. > why do you consume and cage animals who are
    > obviously aware of their pain and suffering and
    > yet still expect superintelligences or
    > superhumans to treat you with respect?

    I don’t know how an arbitrary superintelligence-would treat anyone.

    You yourself often point out that intelligences-in-general cannot be expected to have human values. Among such human values is treating people as they treat others.

    I grant your point for superhumans, though.

    The weakness of this argument does not mean, however, that meat-eating is OK.

  5. Jordan

    In principle, I’m in favor of in-vitro meat. It should be possible to drive the price of meat down significantly, and even possible to make the meat healthier.

    But I’m worried that some things might be overlooked. For instance, grass fed beef has a much higher concentration of omega 3s, vitamin E, and so on, but it’s conceivable (and likely) that there are other as yet unidentified nutrients. How will we know we are actually mimicking the healthiest meat possible? More worrying, though, is that in order to mimic the healthier meats it’s likely that they will artificially add nutrients. For instance, they might inject vitamin E into the final product to rival the content of grass fed beef. But, as of today, some studies have shown negative health effects from supplementing with the wrong form of vitamin E. Why should I trust in-vitro meat producers to do their research and get this right? And even if they *are* ethical and do their research, there’s no guaranteeing that the necessary studies have even been done with respect to other vitamins they may or may not be artificially adding.

    I avoid multivitamins and ‘enhanced’ foods like most cereal products because it’s clear we haven’t quite got vitamins all figured out yet. I’ll stick to getting nutrients the old fashioned way, by eating fresh produce and naturally raised animals. Once large scale studies have demonstrated the equivalence of artificial meat (which goes beyond merely proving safety) then I’ll jump on that bandwagon.

    For now, I have too little faith in our food industry to believe that this will be done right in the first few decades.

  6. “And to transhumanists who still eat meat from highly intelligent animals like pigs, I ask — why do you consume and cage animals who are obviously aware of their pain and suffering and yet still expect superintelligences or superhumans to treat you with respect? The human/not-human simplistic dichotomy of morality is not going to work as a moral structure in the long term. We’re going to need more precise technical definitions of what we value, even if those definitions disagree.”

    As someone who could reasonably be described as a transhumanist who eats intelligent meat, my answer is: because it tastes good. Also, who says we expect superintelligences/superhumans to respect us? They can treat us however they please. And if humans could be cooked safely as well, and there were no legal repercussions for doing so, I’d eat them, too.

    The subjective criterion “obviously aware of their pain and suffering” seems a really poor measure on which to base your behaviors. For a multitude of reasons, this argument fails to be rationally applied across the whole spectrum of life, from comatose animals to those that we are not aware are aware.

    A sliding scale of acceptability for consumption is awfully arbitrary and amoral. And as we peer deeper into the animals and plants around us, that’s exactly what’s going to happen. We’ll expand our definitions of awareness and suffering. Were your previous actions not immoral because you were not aware of the fact that you were causing suffering?

    And as we scale upward toward artificial intelligences and software, what can be said about the morality of our behavior? If we train an artificial general intelligence to protect us, but then it does not, and we shut it down, have we killed it? Is that immoral?

    Judging the morality of animal treatment solely on the basis of obvious pain and suffering is far too internally inconsistent to be used as a rationale for what not to eat.

    • Milo

      protoposthuman.blogspot.com/

      You describe yourself as a transhumanist but would eat humans if there were no legal consequences? Sigh. Do you even know what transhumanism is about?

      Please don’t call yourself something you’re clearly not.

      One of the most general aims of transhumanism is a to bring a total end to human suffering. (But that wouldn’t include the pain induced by being butchered and cooked, right?)

      At the very least, however, you are honest enough to say that you eat meat simply because it tastes good. I like the fact that you posses the courage to announce to the world that you are utterly unable to feel empathy for sentient beings. I suspect Auschwitz death camps were run by types like you.

  7. Humans have evolved to eat certain foods, and one of these foods is animal meat, especially meat from large mammals that consume a diet of grasses.

    What humans have not evolved to eat are “neolithic” foods, especially grains, that make up the base of most peoples’ diets. One could argue that the “ideal” human diet is pastured/grass fed animals and eggs, leafy greens, non-starchy root vegetables, occasional non-sugary fruits (berries) and water.

    At the moment, I don’t believe a vegan diet provides the optimum path to health for most humans. Of course I’m concerned with animal welfare and would never wish to see needless cruelty inflicted on food animals, either, so I welcome the concept of in-vitro meat so long as it is safe, healthy and reasonably equivalent to the real thing.

  8. Leafy

    Troy, apparently the most common question New Harvest gets is about in vitro human flesh.

    I think we should not eat any animals or animal products, or use them for clothing or entertainment or any other uses, because we can’t know for sure, and we keep learning that other animals are more intelligent and more sensitive to pain than we realized.

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29915025/

    Chickens are quite smart, too, by the way, and are probably the most abused farm animals. Egg-laying chickens usually have it even worse than those raised for their flesh. But as XiXiDu mentioned, we shouldn’t base our consideration of other animals on intelligence, or cuteness or any other factor other than sentience, their ability to suffer. And we should definitely err on the side of caution.

    I also have a problem with the attitude that we have a right to use other sentient beings for whatever we want, and that the only thing that we should be discussing is how to use them. I think at the very least other animals should have the right to live their own lives in their own way. At best we should care for and protect them, but I hesitate to suggest that most of the time because I’m sure a lot of people would rationalize “caring for them” into “caring for them until we kill and eat them.”

  9. Leafy

    Eric, even the American Dietetic Association, which couldn’t be any more tied to the meat and dairy industries, was forced by the evidence to acknowledge that a sensible vegan diet is healthy at all stages of life, including pregnancy and childhood.

    http://esciencenews.com/articles/2009/07/01/ada.releases.updated.position.paper.vegetarian.diets

    “It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life-cycle including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence and for athletes.”

  10. The fact that pigs are “intelligent” is irrelevant. What is important is consciousness (sentience, negative and positive subjective experiences). I don’t know exactly how many neurons there are in a shrimp but we should not exploit them because of precautionary principle simply because they have nervous system. If you want I could say you that bess has 960 thousands neurons but you should take into account other things as cerbral mass/body mass ratio that is a better index (although is not the best).

  11. Errata:

    Is “bees have” not “bess has”

  12. I just noticed that Eliezer Yudkowsky kind of treated the thought experiment I mentioned here – http://www.acceleratingfuture.com/michael/blog/2009/11/news-roundup-vegetarian-issues/#comment-128670 – in his video Q&A: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lbzV5Oxkx1E

  13. I don’t usually comment but that was great. Really well said. Thank you. See this grass fed beef site. Well you’ve just made my bookmarks list. Thanks for the post.

  14. I’ve read some good stuff here. Certainly worth bookmarking for revisiting. I wonder how much effort you put to make such a magnificent informative site.

  15. I really value your work , Great post.

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