What Do Unconscious Processes in Humans Tell Us About Sentience?

Executive Summary

Rethink Priorities has been compiling and analyzing relevant scientific evidence regarding invertebrate consciousness. As explained in a previous post, we selected 53 features potentially indicative of the capacity for valenced experience as criteria for discerning whether invertebrates of 12 biological taxa are conscious or not (see database). However, if a specific feature can effectively operate non-consciously in humans, that function –by itself– may provide no evidence that an individual is conscious. Hence, we investigated which of those 53 features can occur unconsciously in humans. We observe that different noxious stimuli reactions and some simple forms of learning are the most likely to occur unconsciously in humans. These and other findings are presented and discussed in this report.

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Invertebrate Sentience: Summary of findings, Part 2

Executive Summary

Invertebrate welfare has been gaining recent traction in the scientific literature and among the effective altruism community. However, whether invertebrates have the capacity to experience pain and pleasure in a morally significant way is still very uncertain. Given this current epistemic state, Rethink Priorities has been compiling and analyzing relevant scientific evidence regarding invertebrate consciousness and exploring criteria that evaluate whether individuals of a given invertebrate species or taxon have valenced experience. These data have been gathered and displayed in this database. In a prior post, we summarized our main findings by feature. Here, we present our results by taxa.

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Invertebrate Sentience: Summary of findings, Part 1

Executive Summary

Invertebrate welfare has been gaining recent traction in the scientific literature and among the effective altruism community. However, whether invertebrates have the capacity to experience pain and pleasure in a morally significant way is still very uncertain. Given this current epistemic state, Rethink Priorities has been compiling and analyzing relevant scientific evidence regarding invertebrate consciousness and exploring criteria that evaluate whether individuals of a given invertebrate species or taxon have valenced experience. These data have been gathered and displayed in this database. In this post, the first one of two pieces on our main findings, we present our results by feature.

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Invertebrate Sentience Table

Table Introduction

While invertebrates make up the majority of animal species, our knowledge about their capacity for valenced experience is overlooked compared to existing evidence about vertebrates. In particular, whether invertebrates have the capacity to have valenced experience is uncertain, and hence, it remains unclear whether these organisms have a welfare of their own we should care about.

Rethink Priorities has been systematically exploring this issue during the past months. First, we examined the philosophical difficulties inherent in the detection of instances of morally significant pain and pleasure in nonhumans. Second, given the current epistemic state about invertebrate consciousness, we have been compiling and analyzing relevant scientific evidence regarding this issue. In particular, we investigated the degree to which different features potentially indicative of phenomenal consciousness are found throughout different taxa. In a second post, we described our approach, the rationale of this project, and its limitations. The features we believe to be most relevant for assessing invertebrate sentience are explained in detail in a thirdfourth, and fifth post.

In this sixth post, we present our summary of findings, both in narrative form and as a database.

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