Can Humanists and Atheists Break Free From Human Supremacism?
Sentientism, humanism and atheism (generally speaking) share a naturalistic worldview that uses evidence and reason to ground our beliefs and credences. But can humanism and atheism break free from human supremacism?
Ethical & epistemological journeys developing in parallel
Meeting an activist community
Reading Peter Singer's "The Life You Can Save" and #effectivealtruism
Sam Harris' "Waking Up"
Identity & Derek Parfit
Physicist Carlo Rovelli's "The Order of Time" & intepretations of quantum physics
"I have 4 extremely diverse points of view pointing to this very strange thing about notions of identity… the Buddha takes things one step further… this is one of the reasons you're upset"
"Being troubled by open metaphysical questions is not because you don't have an answer… it's because you expect the answer"
A local #yoga group
"I stopped being bothered by these big existential questions"
Exploring from the outside & the inside (e.g. via meditation)
Cravings & suffering
Philosophy of mind: functionalism, materialism, #illusionism , #panpsychism
#dualism & non-dualism
Are fictional characters "real"?
Time as an abstraction of a gradient of #entropy
The movie "Tenet"
Consciousness as a statistical macro-phenomena?
#bayesian epistemology vs. Deutschian / Popper #CriticalRationality: putting reasons & explanation at the foundational level
St. Petersburg Paradox
53:00 Who & What Matters?
Inconsistency arguments re: moral exclusion
"Consistency seems like a good thing to aim for"
"Clearly animals count"
Kinship & transcendence "they are literally related"
"I use sentience… a fuzzy line"
Artificial or alien sentience
Blamelessness if we're making good faith efforts to attribute sentience
Risks of ethical flattening if consciousness is all-pervasive "everything matters so nothing does"
Buddhism's "ultimate reality & relative reality"
Pain vs. suffering & human capacity to mitigate suffering even when experiencing pain
01:03:03 A Better Future?
Criticisms of #effectivealtruism
Welfarism vs. abolitionism… end goals and tactics
#Greenwashing & #Humanewashing
Jeff Sebo and the psychological intuition re: rights
Ex-vegans: “something leads them to eat some animal products and then their moral opinions change… that seems suspicious”
Not just ending animal exploitation but preventing it re-emerging
The wild animal suffering imperative
Welfarism is “unnecessary… and risky”
Logic of the larder, the myth of death without suffering, the intrinsic wrongness of killing?
“I believe in person-affecting views but I don’t believe in persons”
Individuals as “macro-phenomena”
Is existence better than non-existence?
“In the EA animal advocacy community it seems like people have said yes to welfarist approaches and no to abolitionist approaches (as tactics) – my conjecture is that… it should be ‘unknown’ to abolitionist approaches rather than ‘no’”
The limitations of welfarist tactics: high income countries focus (now changing); cultivated-meat optimism (also changing); over-scepticism about individual change advocacy (esp. elimination / veganism)
Reducetarianism: “More people will respond to the ‘reduce’ but they’ll do it by less – whereas fewer people will respond to the ‘eliminate’ but they’ll do it by more”
Outdated unfortunate caricatures of abolitionists
Risk of excuses & dead ends: reduction, “humane” animal farming…
“At some point all the pieces need to come together”
#transfarmation “one of my favourite ideas… often farmers are trapped in this industry” “There’s a win-win situation for everyone involved”
Economically self-sustaining interventions
Institutional land-holdings re: agriculture
Measuring human welfare via QUALYs and DALYs “well-intentioned but empirically and philosophically terrible”
Objective list theory
Biases re: loss and getting used to good or bad changes e.g. returning to hedonic set-points
A better approach: “I could ask you”
Happier Lives Institute “how bad is death and who is it bad for?”
Could helping people cope with suffering be an excuse for not fixing the problems (e.g. poverty, health) causing their suffering?
Trauma, stress and growth
Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics “Economies that are required to grow regardless of whether or not they make people thrive… we should be aiming for economies that make people thrive whether or not they grow”
The risks of environmentalism and degrowth movements “I’m comfortable, now everyone else needs to stop growing and find a different way to be happy”
Working with communities
Low-cost group therapy as an intervention can be highly cost effective “That’s a very surprising result… so illuminating… something that only the Effective Altruism movement could have produced”
The wellbeing and economic arguments for helping people suffering from depression “great if you care about the people but also great if you just care about the money”
Population life satisfaction as an indicator of whether a politician will get re-elected
Psychedelics and meditation “the science really needs to catch up” “clinicians will need to be able to take an ontologically neutral point of view” (re: seeing fairies, for examples)
Emergent Phenomenology Research Consortium
“I had no idea if that was working… but it did make me feel better”
“You need a really finely tuned bullshit detector”
Ever since helping launch Australia’s campaign against the live sheep trade to the Middle East in the early 1990s, he has advocated on behalf of animals. For nearly a decade prior to 2012 he practiced veterinary medicine, mostly around London. In 2013 – 2014 he directed the Clinical Skills Laboratory and taught animal ethics, welfare, veterinary practice management and surgical and medical skills at one of the world’s largest veterinary schools in the Caribbean.
Andrew’s books include The Routledge Handbook of Animal Welfare (2023) and The Costs and Benefits of Animal Experiments (2011). He has around 150 academic and 80 popular publications and an extensive series of social media videos on plant-based companion animal diets, climate change and the livestock sector, invasive animal research, educational animal use, humane clinical and surgical skills training, and other animal welfare issues. His papers have been published in leading scientific and medical journals, such as New Scientist, the British Medical Journal USA and PLoS One. He has delivered over 200 presentations at conferences and universities internationally, and has organized or chaired seven conferences and seminars. He regularly works with animal welfare charities to advocate for animals and is often interviewed by the media. Andrew has been honoured with 14 awards and 22 research grants, including the Society for Veterinary Medical Ethics Shomer Award, a University Values Award and the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association Humane Achievement Award. He also received a University Student-Led Teaching Award in 2017.
In Sentientist Conversations we talk about the two most important questions: “what’s real?” & “what matters?”
Following the tradition of "gurus going to mountain tops"… hiking up a mountain & fasting
A beautiful mountain view at dawn… "Please god - if there's anything out there - let me know now!"
"The sun came up… I got my answer clear as day… there was absolutely nothing… I had to go back down the mountain… carry on and do the best I could… without any advice or clues from above… that's been my guiding inspiration since… what are we going to do with this opportunity?…"
"I was very pleased because I could finally eat some food" 🙂
Veterinary education focused on science & evidence.
11:11 What Matters?
"Try to do the most good you can and the least harm that you can."… without letting that turn you into a grim and uninspiring person
Enjoying your life & not burning out (tough for caring professions & activists)
"Don't forget to look after ourselves"
"That's why it's [doing good, avoiding harm] such a good baseline principle… It's a simple clear message… something we can all aspire to"
15:32 Who Matters?
Helping with the @RedCross soup patrol, @AmnestyInternational and banning land-mines
Realising how many more non-human animals were suffering & dying in animal agriculture
"There are millions more animals being impacted & their capacity to suffer is not millions of times less… it is a more important issue"
Continuing to support human causes but prioritising animal causes (e.g. live export)
"Then I've had a 25 year career as a professional animal advocate thereafter"
At 8 yrs old reading a book about baby animals "These animals are wonderful. I'm not going to eat these animals any more… I marched up to my parents and declared I was going vegetarian"
"They smiled & thought to themselves 'no worries this will only last a week' but it didn't last a week - it lasted a lifetime and I became vegan at 23"
"A really important criterion for moral consideration is whether a person or an animal can suffer… and indeed more broadly whether they are #sentient "
Negative & positive experiences of others both matter "If we want to consider ourselves ethical agents"
“It’s a no brainer isn’t it… we should care about creatures if they’re sentient… the criterion that makes the most sense”
Are Sentientism and sentiocentrism discriminating against non-sentient entities? (art, geologic formations, rare things?)
“Living creatures are the rarest phenomena across the known universe” temporarily resisting the 2nd law of thermodynamics
Is most environmentalism really still #anthropocentric in excluding moral consideration for farmed and wild sentient animals?
Moral considerations beyond sentience?
29:46 How Can We Make a Better Future?
#EffectiveAltruism “encourages us to… think strategically about our choices”: Severity/scale, tractability / solvability, neglectedness, our skill-fit
Treating cats & dogs for over a decade
Vegan companion/pet animal food as a cause area
“How do we guard against motivated reasoning? – even if they’re positive motives”
“It used to be the case that… meat-based pet food was mostly created using byproducts… that has actually changed”
“People are increasingly viewing cats & dogs as members of their own families… and wanting better standards of care and diets for them”
“Animals being slaughtered more directly for pet food”
The growth of companion animal ownership globally (particularly in fast-developing countries) – to ~3 billion animals
The environmental / climate opportunities of switching companion animal diets to plant-based
“Surveys of thousands of pet guardians… 35% - 40% of people would be interested in switching”
Top concerns: companion animal health; nutritional soundness; palatability; environmental sustainability (interestingly not price!)
Researching health outcomes & palatability
“It’s a matter of turning on the brain cell and thinking just for a second”
“Cats, dogs and all species have requirements for a certain set of nutrients – not for ingredients”
“Conventional meat-based pet food is supplemented with all sorts of nutrients because the natural nutrients are often destroyed”
“Vegan pet-foods also need to be supplemented… and the same supplements are used”
Avoiding the dietary hazards often associated with meat products
“You would expect health outcomes as good or better – and that’s exactly what the large-scale studies of thousands of animals are showing”
A recent systematic review of vegan pet foods: 1) Animal outcomes (blood tests, vet exams…) – smaller scale 2) Guardian reported (medication frequency, vet visits, vet and guardian assessments of health) – larger scale
9 studies in dogs & 3 in cats just this year
“Certain specific types of health disorders seem to be less common in animals on vegan pet foods – dietary hazards which have been eliminated”
Exciting benefits: Recent study “On average dogs on vegan diets were living 1.5 years longer… on top of that the quality of life seems to be improved as well – less problems with obesity, mobility disorders and itchy skin”
Avoiding animal-sourced allergens & the hazards of over-nutrition
“Biologically there’s no difference between cats, dogs or any other species with respect to their basic needs… nutrients… palatable… digestible… If you formulate a diet that meets these criteria you should expect health outcomes to be at least as good or better”
More cat & dog studies coming with even more exciting results
“The focus needs to be… on getting the information out there… most of the pet owning world is not aware of it”
“Think what a difference it would make to everyone!”
“I used to have pet food companies coming to me… about once every three months… nowadays it’s every two weeks”
UK Pet Food Manufacturing body have just revised their fact sheet
British Veterinary Association will soon update their guidance
“A new disruptive pet food industry is emerging”
The vegan pet food sector is valued at $9 billion globally in 2020 going up to $16 billion in 2028 (7.7% CAGR)
“One of the fastest growing sectors in the food industry”
Concerns about pet health, environment, farmed animals aren’t going away “this isn’t a fad”
Vegans are more likely to choose vegan foods for their companion animals. But are people choosing vegan foods for their companion animals more likely to go vegan?
“If people were to adopt these diets for their dogs & cats… it might open their minds up similarly to consider the benefits of these diets… for themselves as well”
“People need to… not kid themselves that the meat-based pet foods… in any way resembles a natural feeding regime for dogs and cats… they’re being fed body parts from animals they would normally never consume”
“More important than asking the people is asking the animals themselves… we do by detailed study of their behaviour at feeding time…” A survey of thousands of cats & dogs “we found that… there are no significant differences [in palatability]”
The role of the veterinary profession re: animal agriculture. A caring profession enabling an industry that has suffering & death at its core
“The vets that are opposed to the use of vegan pet food usually are vets that simply don’t know about all of the evidence… about positive health outcomes”
“Once you show vets the scientific evidence… most vets do come on board”
Farmed animals: “The paying client… wants processes to occur that are harmful to animals… for reasons of profit maximisation” (confinement, mutilation without anaesthetic…)
JW: “I’d also argue that being killed is a negative thing for your welfare… and that’s central to the industry”
The “massive conflict of interest between the best interests of the paying client and the best interests of the being the professional is supposed to be looking after”
Industry capture “there’s been capture of the veterinary profession by the interests of the industry”
“We have veterinarians engaging in and condoning procedures which are clearly contrary to good animal welfare because of money… It is fundamentally wrong and it fundamentally undermines the ethos of the veterinary profession and… ultimately the trust in the veterinary profession by wider society”
Ventilation shutdown, mass culling re: birdflu…
“When there is big money involved it can be hard to achieve change”
Big Tobacco, Big Oil, Big Animal Agriculture using the same playbook “we managed to push change back by a couple of decades”
“The solution has always been to shed light on the truth and to get the truth out there”
Sentientist Development Goals and a Universal Declaration of Sentient Rights…
Sentientist Politics? Running against Theresa May for election with the Animal Welfare Party “A way to remind politicians and indeed voters that we shouldn’t just be concerned about human wellbeing and human issues… animals are very much part of our society as well”
“These animals exist, their interests exist and actually you can formulate good policies… which often help people as well and there are votes to be won by doing so”
The Dutch Party for the Animals has elected representatives locally and nationally
“We have had some of the major parties seeming to adopt more animal friendly policies” e.g. fox-hunting
Lord Bucket-Head and the Raving Monster Loony Party
“I discovered to my shock… that it was remarkable how little many of them seemed to know”
“I’d encourage any of your listeners who thought politics wasn’t for them to perhaps think again… it’s not that hard and you might even enjoy it”
“Watch this space - the vegan pet food sector is at the start of a very exciting growth curve.”
… & much more!
Sentientism is “Evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” More at Sentientism.info.
Katherine is chief of Science Advancement and Outreach (SAO) at PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). SAO aims to change the paradigm of biomedical research by promoting the development and implementation of cutting-edge strategies in biomedical research and training and eliminating the use of animals in experimentation. Katherine earned her bachelor’s degrees in biology and psychology from Syracuse University and her Ph.D. in experimental psychology and cognitive science from the University of California–San Diego. After completing a postdoctoral fellowship at Johns Hopkins University, she went on to become a research fellow at the National Institute of Mental Health, where she stayed for eight years. Over the course of her research career, she studied the neural correlates of linguistic, spatial, and memory processes, working with children with early focal brain injury, adults and children with schizophrenia, and individuals with Williams syndrome and related genetic disorders. Katherine has more than 20 years of experience conducting brain and neuroimaging research with humans and is an expert at experimental design and data analysis. She has been published in numerous peer-reviewed journals and has presented her findings at national and international industry conferences.
In Sentientist Conversations we talk about the two most important questions: “what’s real?” & “what matters?”
01:29 Katherine's Intro - from neuroscience and the NIH to PETA
"About half of biomedical research… involves very invasive procedures with animals"
"It became clear to me that that assumption… that the harms we were doing were justifiable… fell apart… the harms were much greater than I realised but also… there's a lot of species differences that make data from these labs difficult to translate into benefits for humans."
"Then the question becomes… well what are we doing?"
"Trying to make sure people realise how sentient these animals really are… they have their own needs & wants & desires"
@dailymail 's awful "X causes cancer… X cures cancer" pattern
24:54 What & Who Matters?
"Increasing your circle of empathy to include everyone and everything…"
"Every animal who feels pain or fear or can suffer matters… every person matters"
"Humans… tend to consider ourselves the superior species… & that everything around us is here for us… instead of being here with us"
"There's always a consequence… every decision you make doesn't just impact you"
Compassion & thoughtfulness
JW Concerns about #teleology "we're all here for a purpose… us humans normally assume that we're the point!"
"Part of an intricate network… interacting with the purposes of those around you."
"Reject this notion that humans are the purpose"
"Our capabilities… may be different - but they're not superior"
Sentience as the justification "most people can understand… elicits an empathy… I’m not sure it guides my own behaviour"
“They don’t want to suffer any more than you do”
Reading the horrific methods sections of papers based on animal research “it can be devastating… putting ourselves in the position of another”
“The best way to go through life is to assume that what would hurt you would hurt somebody else”
Previous conversations with Frans de Waal, Walter Veit, Mark Solms on the nature of sentience
The most fundamental needs are the ones we care about the most and the ones we share most widely “we all want to avoid pain & suffering”
Evolution & natural selection “pain usually – not good”
Panpsychism, illusionism or “shut up and do the science”?
“I do think of it as a survival level drive”
Putting sentiocentrism into practice “A series of lightbulbs… starting out with vegetarianism”
“Just the visual imagery of what was going on in these farms was enough…”
Veganism, but no activism
The San Diego zoo. Thinking “is this OK?” Imagining a human zoo – needs met, but autonomy constrained
Horse-racing and hearing about fallen horses being “put down”
“That just started me thinking about anywhere that animals were being used”
It’s easier to condemn things we’re not complicit in “safe things to reject… and I started with the easiest things”
“Once I had to start about my own behaviours… that was where the challenge came in… animals exploited for science was the last frontier”
46:49 How Can We Make a Better Future?
“There was a protective bubble around animals used for science… I was part of that community.”
Most people thought “animals were treated well… minimally harmful… only if necessary… going to benefit humans”
Misinformation even within the scientific community
“Animals suffer incredibly in laboratories – and that’s just baseline… taking an animal out of the wild or buying an animal from a breeder and keeping them in a cage for their entire lives – it’s harmful”
Tumour grafting, cutting into brains, inflicted with diseases, given chemicals, neurological damage, tissue damage,
The use of “cute” animal imagery in the media to depict animal research
Science has demonstrated the psychological (fear, stress etc.) & physical harms
Scientists saying “how interesting!” about animal ethics, morality and emotions… but not caring
Gini the dog makes an appearance 😊
Scientists claim non-human animals are similar to humans re: research validity but ignore their similarity to humans re: sentience, emotion and social bonds
“The other myth I would like to debunk is that any scientific research that uses animals is benefitting to humans – that is flagrantly untrue”
Very high failure rates in drug development (92-95% of drugs declared safe in animals will go on to fail human safety tests. Nearly 100% failure rates for sepsis, HIV, Alzheimer’s, cancer)
Public relations and press re: “promising new result from animal experiments” without mentioning their almost inevitable failure
“Is it OK to hurt a few mice to benefit millions of humans?” – that isn’t the actual question. “The question is – is it OK to kill tens of millions of animals each year forcing them to live a life of misery & suffering… on the off-chance that this might benefit a human 20 years from now?”
Is there a spectrum of animal research from more to less justifiable? “Once you come to adjust your mindset that animals are not here for us… they are sentient… it’s not justifiable at all”
“However, when you’re working to change a system… sometimes you do need to work along a gradient”
Much research is purely curiosity driven & has no possible justification re: helping humans
Risks of motivated reasoning even when our motives are good!
“If you’re using animals in harmful procedures for science you’re going to convince yourself that it’s going to benefit somebody somewhere… the people who can’t do that are the ones who get out…”
“Are there non-animal, non-harmful ways to answer some of the more important questions? – there are.”
Developed because of animal ethics concerns but also purely because of the science “they’re concerned about the quality of the science… we’re so different from non-human animals… the diseases we’re trying to treat are often non-existent in non-human animals”
Imaging tech to see human biology, organs on chips, human organoids “often derived from the patients themselves…” so perfectly individualised
“We are wasting an enormous amount of time and energy and money – and harming… hundreds of millions of animals each year – on a paradigm that isn’t working”
“The ethics of the harm & the lack of benefit make it so important that we change”
Coalitions: patient advocacy groups, animal rights groups, the scientific community “People are starting to find this common ground”
Motivating law makers and policy makers: The FDA Modernisation Act now passed! The FDA can use non-animal methods now
“People need new drugs… faster… cheaper… ineffective animal tests make it costlier”
PETA’s Global “Research Modernisation Deal” evidence-based phase out plan “Our motivation is the animals… but the science supports it 100%”… “ending animal experiments where we know they don’t work…” training so scientists can transition, methods evaluation frameworks…
“It’s a win-win-win”
Can people working to transition animal agriculture and animal research learn from each other?
Transparency… “challenging people’s assumptions… engrained beliefs about these industries”
Using imagery “people don’t like it… but we will show them”
The biggest challenge is not just changing people’s mindset… but that a lot of the ways animals are exploited… have benefitted people monetarily.”
Breeders, animal importers, animal experimentation equipment, scientists… “There’s a lot of people making a lot of money off these industries. It’s important to make sure that the public knows that some of the messaging they gets is from those folks”
“Our motivation is questioned all the time… but we’re not making money off of this… but there are people who are.”
JW “Getting the facts straight and winning the ethical argument just isn’t enough… we need to find ways of presenting really attractive, easy opportunities for everybody involved… in their terms presenting a better way”
Livelihoods, identities and cultures are “generationally engrained” in these harmful industries. Need for a compassionate #JustTransition
“We’re not taking money away from the research community… we’re just moving it slightly… and the research community is very good at following that carrot.”
“Help them want to do it then help them actually do it”
Redirecting subsidies towards transitioning
“Questioning everything… whether it is harmful to anyone”