Testimonial Category: Suspected Sentientist

Mikko Järvenpää

Mikko is a tech start-up founder and CEO (now​). He founded & is now board chair of Sentient Media – an organisation dedicated to making the world a better place […]

Luke Roelofs

"I think a secular morality has to come from the systematisation of empathy, and empathy is a mode of understanding sentient beings." Luke is a philosopher of mind at the […]


James Timothy "Tim" Holland Jr., better known by his stage name Sole, is an underground hip hop artist from Portland, Maine. He is one of eight co-founders of the record […]

Ezra Klein

Ezra is a American journalist, political analyst, New York Times columnist, and the host of The Ezra Klein Show podcast. He is a co-founder of Vox and formerly served as […]


Marcus Jamal Hopson, known professionally as Hopsin, is a rapper, singer, songwriter, record producer, music video director and actor from Los Angeles, California. He follows a straight edge lifestyle which often […]

Khnum Muata Ibomu, better known by his stage name, is a rapper, activist and author known for his work as one half of the political hip-hop duo Dead Prez […]

John Oberg

John is a professional animal advocate, public speaker and social media consultant. He is vegan and has a naturalistic worldview. Watch John's guest appearance on #SentientistConversations Listen to John's guest […]

Billie Eilish

Billie is a singer-songwriter. Her accolades include five Grammy Awards, two American Music Awards, two Guinness World Records, three MTV Video Music Awards, and one Brit Award. She is the […]

Zoe Weil

Zoe is the co-founder and president of the Institute for Humane Education (IHE). She is considered a pioneer in the comprehensive humane education movement. She has authored seven books both […]

Rebecca Buxton

Rebecca is a philosophy researcher at the University of Oxford, specialising in political philosophy and migration. Her current research focuses on the political rights of refugees in various settings and […]

Ziya Tong

Ziya is a television presenter, producer, author and board member. She was the co-host of Discovery Channel's long-running primetime science magazine, Daily Planet. In 2019 she wrote the book "The […]

Aysha Akhtar

Aysha Akhtar, M.D., M.P.H., is the President and CEO of the Center for Contemporary Sciences, which is pioneering the transition to replace the use of animals in experimentation with superior […]

Genetically Modified Skeptic

Drew is an atheist, activist, science advocate and YouTuber at Genetically Modified Skeptic.  He says: "Skepticism and compassion can co-exist." In this January 2021 video, "Why I am no longer […]


"I'm a Sentientist because it's the most compelling description of my sense of ethics." Dan is the host of Truth Wanted, a call-in talk show that's part of the Atheist […]

Jeff Sebo

Jeff is Clinical Assoc. Prof. of Environmental Studies, Affiliated Professor of Bioethics, Medical Ethics, & Philosophy, & Director of the Animal Studies M.A. Program at New York University. He is on […]

James Rachels

James was a philosopher who specialized in ethics and animal rights. His best-known work is The Elements of Moral Philosophy. James wrote a number of papers defending moral veg*anism. His […]

Myq Kaplan

Myq is a stand-up comedian. He has performed on the Tonight Show, Conan, the Late Show with David Letterman, Late Night with Seth Meyers, the Late Late Show with James […]

Sir George Greenwood

George was a lawyer, politician, cricketer, and an advocate of the Shakespeare authorship question. He chaired the first meeting of the Secular Education League, wrote a book on rationalism called "The […]

Christine Korsgaard

Christine is a philosopher and Arthur Kingsley Porter Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University. Her main scholarly interests are in moral philosophy and its history; the relation of issues in […]

Michael Nugent

Michael is a writer and activist. He has written, co-written or contributed to seven books and the comedy musical play I, Keano. He has campaigned on many political issues, often […]

Kim Stallwood

I am an animal rights author, independent scholar, consultant, and speaker. I have 45 years of personal commitment as a vegan and professional experience in leadership positions with some of […]

Paul Shapiro

Paul is the author of Clean Meat: How Growing Meat Without Animals Will Revolutionize Dinner and the World. He is the CEO and co-founder of The Better Meat Co. and […]

Vicky Bond

Vicky is Managing Director of The Humane League UK. After working as a veterinary surgeon in the animal agriculture industry she left to focus her career on campaigning for non-human […]

Peter Egan

Peter is an actor known primarily for his roles in television shows such as Big Breadwinner Hog, Prince Regent, Ever Decreasing Circles and Downton Abbey. Peter is a longtime animal […]

Henry Sidgwick

Henry was an English utilitarian philosopher and economist. He was the Knightbridge Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Cambridge from 1883 until his death, and is best known […]

Jim Mason

"Drop the mysticism and the phony irrelevant stories and recognize reality. Biology. We are animals who evolved from other animals who evolved into our animal cousins. Science. Biology. Reality please."

John Adenitire

John is a Strategic Lecturer in the School of Law and a Fellow of the Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences at Queen Mary University of London. Prior to joining […]

Kerry McCarthy

Kerry is a British Labour Party politician who has been the Member of Parliament (MP) for Bristol East since 2005. On World Vegan Day in November 2011, McCarthy became the […]

Alex Hershaft

Alex is an American animal rights activist, Holocaust survivor, and co-founder and president of the Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM), the nation's oldest (1976) organization devoted exclusively to promoting the […]

Matt Haig

Matt is a novelist and journalist. He has written both fiction and non-fiction for children and adults, often in the speculative fiction genre. He is vegan and describes himself as […]

Marc Bekoff

Marc is a biologist, ethologist, behavioural ecologist and writer. He is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He is the co-founder, with Jane […]

Zion Lights

Zion is an author and activist known for her environmental work and science communication. She is UK director of Environmental Progress. She has been a spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion (XR) UK […]

Michael Dorn

Michael is an actor and voice actor. He is best known for his role as Worf in the Star Trek franchise. He is vegan and seems to have a non-religious worldview. Michael […]

David Olivier

David is a philosopher and antispeciesist activist. He is founder of the French journal Cahiers antispécistes ("Antispeciesist Notebooks"), the annual event Veggie Pride and of the annual meeting Les Estivales de […]

Yves Bonnardel

Yves is a philosopher, essayist and editor. He is a libertarian, an egalitarian and an antispeciesist activist. He is one of the founding members of the French-language journal Cahiers antispécistes […]

Henry Stephens Salt

Henry was a writer and campaigner for social reform in the fields of prisons, schools, economic institutions, and the treatment of non-human animals. He was a noted ethical vegetarian/vegan, anti-vivisectionist, socialist, […]

Strato of Lampsacus

Strato (~335 – ~269 BCE) was a Peripatetic philosopher, and the third director of the Lyceum after the death of Theophrastus. He devoted himself especially to the study of natural […]


Theophrastus (~371 – ~287 BCE) , a Greek native of Eresos in Lesbos, was the successor to Aristotle in the Peripatetic school. He was vegetarian or vegan, on the grounds […]

Architects (band)

Architects are a British metalcore band from Brighton, East Sussex, formed in 2004 by twin brothers Dan and Tom Searle. The band now consists of Dan Searle on drums, Alex […]

Gary Holt

Gary is a musician from the San Francisco Bay Area. He is a guitarist, the bandleader, and the main songwriter for thrash metal band Exodus and was a member of […]

Latest work

Headshot of Elan Abrell wearing a blue shirt

"With great power comes great responsibility" - Elan Abrell - Anthropologist & Author - Sentientism Episode 154

Elan Abrell is a cultural anthropologist and author of "Saving Animals: Multispecies Ecologies of Rescue and Care". A conversation about Sentientism's "evidence, reason and compassion for all sentient beings".
Ziya Tong

Bursting "The Reality Bubble" - Ziya Tong - Science Broadcaster & Author - Sentientism Episode 146

Find our Sentientist Conversation here on the Sentientism YouTube and here on the Sentientism Podcast.

Ziya is a television presenter, producer, author and board member. She was the co-host of Discovery Channel’s long-running primetime science magazine, Daily Planet. In 2019 she wrote the book “The Reality Bubble“. Ziya serves on the boards of a range of NGOs and charities, including PEN Canada, We Animals Media and WWF International.

In Sentientist Conversations we talk about the two most important questions: “what’s real?” & “what matters?”

Sentientism is “evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” The audio is on our Podcast here on Apple & here on all the other platforms.

We discuss:

00:00 Welcome
01:46 Ziya's Intro
- Science broadcasting @discoverycanada
- Author of "The Reality Bubble" exposing human blind-spots
- NGO board roles including @WeAnimalsMedia (animal photojournalism led by Jo-Anne McArthur)
- Tweeting about earthlings

03:32: What's Real?
- "Being a bi-racial person gives you a sort of split view... Chinese... Eastern European"
- Communism & capitalism, eastern & western
- "I never really... took one true dogmatic reality"
- "I consistently shed layers of what I previously thought of as reality"
- Yoda: "You must unlearn what you have learned"
- A science journalist career "naturalistic in one sense"
- "With science you can reveal a lot... the whole book [The Reality Bubble] is about that... but it always puts a lens between you and the subject"
- Black holes & mites on our eyelashes
- "The humanities are much more subjective"
- Polymaths spanning humanities & the sciences "that blend is what's interesting to me"
- "Indigenous perspectives... have so much to share with us about how we perceive reality"
- Swimming sea wolves in British Columbia "new to science - but indigenous peoples had known about these wolves for their entire histories"
- The Consilience Model: Science and indigenous perspectives "Two eyed seeing"
- Plant medicines like #ayahuasca "which open up an entirely new door to reality"
- "I don't believe reality stands on firm ground... I'm happy to run around the ice flow as it shifts... reality should never be solid"
- Science & indigenous perspectives "are both based on observation"
- "To a neutrino this mug wouldn't be here at all"
- "We have to question our every-day common sense notions of reality"
- Humilty & error-correction
- Risks of dogma within science "we looked at animals as if they were machines"
- Brought up Roman #catholic , dabbled with #buddhism / #sufiism
- Rumi: "There's a hundred ways to kiss the ground"
- #Vipassna #meditation - a 10 day silent retreat "you are really guided by yourself"
- Feeding ants & saving an ant "I promised not to kill anything" as part of the 10 Buddhist precepts
- "Since that day I can't... kill things" even mosquitoes
- "Small creatures have as much right to live as big creatures"
- "I love facts & I love peer-reviewed science... a wonderful way of accruing evidence... reality testers"
- The subjective, immersive reality accessed through plant-based medicines is "just as real"
- "My supernatural worldview has blown open in a really wonderful & enriching way"
- "I'll subscribe to science for what I need... but there are other ways & other views"
- "We're a very young species... and we have tremendous hubris"
- "Humility for me is understanding that there are other ways of knowing"
- "Understanding the nature of reality and the connectedness of all beings"
- "I'd been thinking of other species & creatures as part of my world-family for a long period of time - but for some people that's really new."
- @JannArdenOfficial 's podcast. Visualising The Tree of Life

22:50 What Matters?
- Working in neuroscience with two of the world's foremost forensic psychologists
- Understanding #psychopathy #evil #empathy #compassion
- "One of the marks of a serial killer is animal cruelty" #DontFuckWithCats movie
- "What happens when you're a truly transactional being?" #capitalism
- "The earth's engineers... are bacteria"
- "If the food chain is gone - we are toast"
- #egoism #nihilism #relativism
- "You can have a nihlist who loves dogs"
- "The brain & the heart"
- #Carnism & #speciesism "Somehow we've managed to... lavish all this empathy & love & connection with a few small species of animals whereas everything else can get murdered..."
- "We are the biggest killers on earth... we are operating in a highly psychopathic manner... despite all these things we tell ourselves about our morality"

31:28 Who Matters?
- "I was a David Attenborough nerd" #janegoodall
- Working on #DailyPlanet for a decade
- Swimming with 50,000 beluga whales in the Arctic
- Posting as Earthling on Twitter “species that many people have never seen before… it brings people so much joy”
- “We are all earthlings”
- “If I ever post about the plight of animals… there’s this automatic cringe effect… people absolutely turn away… #disgustology”
- Stopping eating meat the first time after reading sister’s book report. The second time – learning about live animal export
- “Then I went right down deep… I watched a lot of horror”
- Everyone loves cats and dogs on the internet “but the minute you try to show people what’s really happening to animals… one of the greatest sadnesses of my life”
- From “Isn’t it pretty!” to “what must it be like to be them?”
- Environmentalists who ignore animal agriculture “a serious logical inconsistency”
- “Some people cling to what they need to cling to… defend their rights to pick-up trucks… it’s our culture!”
- “I like to present activism as a gift rather than as something that’s being taken away”
- LA blackouts. People called the police to report seeing the Milky Way for the first time. “What would it mean if we could just turn off the lights at night… a 12 hour rather than a 24 hour society”
- Cellular / cultivated agriculture “the ability to grow meat from cells without harming”
- Scientists, sceptics, humanists, atheists for whom non-human animal agriculture ethics are like kryptonite (e.g. Neil DeGrasse Tyson) “These people are potential role models for the world… but they only go to humans!”
- The Octopus Teacher, the Elephant Whisperer, Lions… “that person will act as the compassionate portal to that species”
- David Attenborough took a long time to get on to the climate issue
- “You would think that biologists would be with it, but… I’m going to examine you as a specimen… all those things separate you from your ‘object’ of study… that object ceases to be a being”
- Rights of nature when we don’t grant rights to non-human animals
- George Monbiot “started with an environmental drive… now starting to see animals as individuals in their own right… breaking the taboo [re: animal agriculture]”
- Sentience & consciousness “but not necessarily mirror-test awareness…” Bees play, insects dream… “all the ways that animals kick our asses”
- Lori Marino
- Sentience as the most basic, morally salient part of consciousness “I would frame it in terms of value”
- Dr Tim Cockerill
- “We actually would lose our minds if we found a fly on Mars… it would have incredible value… although we have billions upon billions of species here on Earth that we simply do not pay attention to”
- “We need to value one life… once it becomes millions or trillions… once it becomes a statistic… no one cares”
- Previous guest Mark Solms’ “Hidden Spring”
- “The plants know what’s going on too” Christmas trees “there’s a dead thing… or a dying thing!”
- The @Cryptonaturalist (on Twitter)
- Hierarchy, theocentrism and anthropocentrism vs. spiritual / naturalistic worldviews
- The Old Testament “man dominating nature” vs. Jainism, ahimsa…
- “Where are you going to get your protein?... people have been doing it for thousands of years!”
- Huston Smith’s “The World Religions”
- The risks of dogma
- “Jamie you’ve got to go and do ayahuasca and we’ll have a chat 😊… it would be highly inadvisable to do it as a test”
- Could artificial intelligences be sentient?
- Can rocks be conscious? Re: Japanese Buddhism. Rupert Spira “the experience of existing… a unified common existence”
- Philosophy of mind: functionalism, physicalism, panpsychism
- ChatGPT. Pattern recognising, compliation, but no creativity?
- “Ultimately… DNA is code… we could just be code… but I think there is so much more”
- Anthropology and the symbolism of the snake “ayahuasca… everybody sees snakes”… links to the double helix of DNA
- “Plant medicine I think is opening up the door to sentience… that is the mysticism behind it… the beingness that exists on earth”
- Can naturalism and mysticism be different paths to a similar place?
- A man who spent a year with a single square foot of a forest
- “You can reach awe and wonder and connection and union in many different ways”
- The risks of flattening “everything matters so nothing does”
- “We’ve been tamed by the plants” to help them replicate

01:10:55 How Can We Make a Better Future?
- How can we shift humankind’s role re: sentientkind? “There’s no one solution”
- Using AI to understand animal language (e.g. whales) “Imagine what will happen… when we live in the Dr Doolittle world of being able to understand what animals say… that we’ve been so deaf to for all this time. We’ll certainly have a lot to answer for when we start listening…”
- “Our family dog Bowie… she understands us”
- “They have been dealing with us and listening to us for such a long time… yet we know nothing”
- “The minute we give them the microphone… they have rich languages… what a tremendous opening to the world…”
- “Twitter is being dismantled by Elon Musk…” but still there and on Mastodon and Post News
- Working on a new documentary film on microplastics.

… & much more!

Sentientism is “Evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” More at

Join our “I’m a Sentientist” wall using this simple form.

Everyone, Sentientist or not, is welcome in our groups. The biggest so far is here on Facebook.

Thanks to Graham for the post-production and to Tarabella and Denise for helping to fund this episode via our Sentientism Patreon.

Michael Dorf headshot

A US Constitution For All Sentient Beings - Maybe Sooner Than We Think? - Professor Michael Dorf - Sentientism Episode 145

Find our Sentientist Conversation here on the Sentientism YouTube channel and here on the Sentientism podcast.

Michael is a law professor and scholar of U.S. constitutional law. He is the Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law at Cornell Law School. In addition to constitutional law, Michael has taught courses in civil procedure and federal courts. He has written/co-written/edited six books, including Beating Hearts: Abortion and Animal Rights (co-written with his wife, Sherry Colb), as well as scores of law review articles about American constitutional law. He is also a columnist for Verdict. Michael is a former law clerk to Justice Anthony Kennedy of the U.S. Supreme Court and Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Michael has appeared in American news media as a legal expert and has been interviewed by and/or quoted in, for example, The New York Times, CNN, National Public Radio and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (another suspected sentientist).

In Sentientist Conversations we talk about the two most important questions: “what’s real?” & “what matters?”

Sentientism is “evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” The audio is on our Podcast here on Apple & here on all the other platforms.

We discuss:
00:00 Welcome
02:02 Michael's Intro

  • Studying physics, then the law
  • Clerking then legal scholarship
  • Blogging at Dorf On Law
  • #vegan since 2006
  • Animal work in partnership with Mike's wife, Sherry Kolb "we agreed on nearly everything, but not quite everything"

04:44 What's Real?

  • Growing up in New York, raised #jewish "but mostly culturally"
  • "My father never went to synagogue unless it was somebody's wedding… he was not at all religious but he was the most ethical person I knew"
  • "Religion is not necessary and certainly… not sufficient to make someone an ethical person"
  • "That personal aspect… overshadowed anything I was being taught"
  • Dad's library: "the answers that the religious folks were giving to deep philosophical questions… barely scratched the surface… whereas if I went into my dad's study… Bertrand Russell's "History of Western Philosophy"… Lao Tse…"
  • Teaching: "what I really value is engagement with hard questions"
  • "The sorts of answers that religion gives stop asking the questions just when they become interesting… god made the world… god thus commanded it… it leaves lots of further questions unasked"
  • Choosing to believe? Faith? "I don't even understand the disposition… I've never been able to choose to believe things"
  • "Nearly all of the spiritual or supernatural beliefs I've encountered, whether religious or otherwise, strike me as ridiculous"
  • Taking an Indian philosophy class with Robert Nozick (based on advice from Amartya Sen)
  • "If that happens [god appearing] then I'll adjust my views… but that will be in response to evidence… that itself would be a kind of naturalism."
  • #ontology , #epistemology , #fideism
  • "The core evidence for me against the existence of a benevolent deity is the existence of evil in the world"
  • "Sherry's parents were holocaust survivors and all of her other relatives… were wiped out by the Nazis"
  • "I actually find myself offended… after winning a football game you see an athlete thanking god… it strikes me as arrogant to think that the creator of the universe thought to intervene… to ensure that the ball bounced this way and that but not to prevent the suffering & death of millions of humans & billions of non-human animals"
  • "I might be amenable to the belief that the world was created by a malevolent being… but that's not really on offer."
  • #Freewill #theodicy "it's flawed even on its own terms"
  • Transitioning away from religion
  • "There really are two distinct Jewish communities": liberal or #orthodox
  • Even in #ultraorthodox communities "practice is more important than faith"
  • Possibly true story: group of very religous Jewish men in Auschwitz "put god on trial… and essentially convict god… then they pray"

26:40 What Matters?

  • "I am deeply pragmatic" John Dewey, William James #pragmatism
  • "My moral intuitions come before any attempt at synthesising or deriving them…"
  • Family participating in a longitudinal research study "there's a chapter on my father and me" in the book "Mothers, Fathers & Children"
  • Father on philosophy of parenting: "I'm anti-philosophical"
  • "Part of pragmatism is that you do it almost unthinkingly… there are some things I'm very deliberate about… when I became vegan that meant making choices…"
  • #Coherentism & Rawls' "reflective equilibrium… closer to #deontology than #utilitarianism … but it's not important to me to work out exactly where it fits…"
  • Michael Huemer’s Intuitionism
  • “The problem of bad coherence… a worldview that coheres but causes external harm”
  • Oliver Wendell Holmes “the bad man theory of the law… look at the law from the perspective of the bad man… law is a means of social control to rein him in.”
  • “I don’t think it’s intuitions all the way down… I am willing to let go of those of my intuitions that I think are not justified… but you need to start some place”
  • “It’s easier to define bad than good… Bad is acting in ways that harm others… and oneself…
  • “First do no harm… secondarily… try to do some good”
  • Sam Bankman-Fried’s “earn to give” and Effective Altruism “It doesn’t at all undercut the case for the broad concept that one ought to try to do as much good as one can”
  • Peter Singer’s “The Most Good You Can Do” “I don’t think I’m capable of that”… “The most good I can do consistent with a life I find fulfilling”
  • “Should implies can”
  • The risks of maximisation and ends/means problems

46:06 Who Matters?

  • Sentientism as pluralistic re: deontology / virtue / care / utilitarian ethics & re: degree of demandingness beyond “not needlessly harming & killing sentient beings”
  • Coming to veganism late in life
  • Adopting two dogs, meeting farmed goats “we came to see their similarity to dogs… we gave up eating mammals… that I think opened us up to persuasion”
  • Sherry’s colleague Gary Francione “a bit of a mentor”
  • “We became vegan… then we discovered this whole community… that was crucial… there’s a very strong social component to my veganism… that social component includes non-human animals…”
  • “The bigger challenge is having it taken seriously as a moral commitment”
  • Facing interrogations re: veganism “difficult conversations”
  • Sherry’s book “Mind if I Order the Cheeseburger?”
  • “They [non-vegans] think you’re judging them… and of course you are”
  • “It’s much more common now that if I go out to lunch with a non-vegan they’ll order vegan… that won’t happen if it’s a group of 12, but…”
  • Sentience as a moral qualifier
  • Biocentrism, ecocentrism, anthropocentrism
  • “It’s not important to me to push back strongly against views that nature itself and inanimate objects like rivers & planets have moral interests except…” if rocks and cabbages are seen as having the same rights as pigs or hens
  • The risk of quietism “everything matters so nothing does”
  • “Sentience is a baseline for moral consideration”
  • Caring about ecosystems “for the benefit of the animals who live in those ecosystems… positive externalities”
  • Other values: “when the Taliban destroyed the Bamiyan buddhas it was a great harm” e.g. aesthetics as a derivative value
  • Plant sentience “does the tree have its own interests? I can understand the argument… it doesn’t move me very much”
  • “Hard questions at the boundary”
  • “That is the one issue on which Sherry and I actively disagreed” (egalitarianism between sentients vs. potential grading of sentience & moral consideration weights)
  • Watching out for anthropocentrism traps
  • Panpsychism, micro and macro-consciousnesses
  • Physicalism and sentience as patterns of information processing
  • The philosophy of personal identity. The Ship of Theseus “almost a semantic question”. Daniel Dennett, John Perry, Derek Parfit
  • Nozick’s idea of “the closest continuer”
  • “…We have a strong internal subjective sense of our own continuity over time… but we don’t understand its boundaries… and I think sentience probably works the same way.”
  • Ginsberg and Jablonka’s Unlimited Associated Learning
  • Walter Veit’s pathological complexity
  • Evolution and developmental processes re: degrees of sentience “a kind of isomorphism between the two”

01:13:36 How Can We Make a Better Future?

  • “A story I tell my students on the last day of class… equanimity about good and bad fortune”
  • Unforeseen consequences
  • Working with Barack Obama “I was delighted when Barack Obama was elected as president… his presidency was probably a but-for cause of Donald Trump’s presidency… so was that a good thing or a bad thing – who knows?”
  • A humility about the possibility of doing good… “at the very least act locally… be kind & considerate of the people and non-human animals around me”
  • Activism through writing “maybe that has an effect”
  • Teaching and working as a lawyer. The law as “a limited but sometimes effective tool”
  • Re: protecting non-human animals, the law “plays almost no role… laws riddled with loop holes… minimal enforcement… exclusions”
  • “Law in constitutional democracies… are not going to be more than at most a standard deviation away from public opinion… so one has to work on public opinion”
  • “Law plays a very important role in creating the ecosystem in which activism can occur”… California’s law re: commercial kitchens and live animals
  • Protests against and investigations of slaughterhouses & farms. Challenging ag gag laws. “Removing obstacles to effective advocacy”
  • “Law can move things… but it’s got to have a hand-hold”
  • Same-sex marriage & other issues where the law has led public opinion
  • Sid Tarrow
  • Sceptical support for the Non-Human Rights Project “they lose every case but sometimes you win by losing”
  • Are Sentience-based laws tokenistic dead-ends or stepping stones to something that could be meaningful and enforced?
  • Meliorism “sometimes the adoption of baby-steps cuts off reform… but sometimes it’s a stepping stone” “it’s very hard to know ex-ante”
  • A Universal Declaration of Sentient Rights and Sentientist Development Goals
  • Could there be a future US Constitution that grants rights to all sentient beings?
  • Martha Nussbaum’s capacities approach: “I disagree with her implementation of it… she’s not a vegan… she has a very limited understanding of what animal capacities really are”
  • Will Kymlicka and Sue Donaldson’s “Zoopolis”… “They allow for exploitation in ways that I wouldn’t approve of”. “There’s still something dignified about being a moral actor, not just a moral patient”
  • “I would want this constitution for the sentient beings to at a minimum recognise the rights of non-human animals as moral patients but also to have some recognition for their agency”
  • Alasdair Cochrane’s “Sentientist Politics”
  • Early 2000’s constitutional law conference “how far away do you think same sex marriage is…” none of the answers were even close to how soon it occurred… “so maybe it’s sooner than I think [a sentientist constitution]… the real question is does the planet survive long enough to get us there”
  • Follow:, @dorfonllaw,

… & much more!

Sentientism is “Evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” More at

Join our “I’m a Sentientist” wall using this simple form.

Everyone, Sentientist or not, is welcome in our groups. The biggest so far is here on Facebook.

Thanks to Graham for the post-production and to Tarabella and Denise for helping to fund this episode via our Sentientism Patreon.

Katie Mack headshot - wearing a headset

“How do you find meaning in a universe that’s doomed?” - Astrophysicist Dr. Katie Mack @AstroKatie - Sentientism Episode 144

Find our Sentientist Conversation here on the Sentientism YouTube and here on the Sentientism Podcast.

Katie is a theoretical cosmologist who holds the Hawking Chair in Cosmology and Science Communication at Perimeter Institute. Her academic research investigates dark matter, vacuum decay and the epoch of reionisation. Katie is also a popular science communicator who participates in social media and regularly writes for Scientific American, Slate, Sky & Telescope, Time and Cosmos. She is the author of the book “The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking)

In Sentientist Conversations we talk about the two most important questions: “what’s real?” & “what matters?”

Sentientism is “evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” The audio is on our Podcast here on Apple & here on all the other platforms.

We discuss:

00:00 Welcome

01:58 Katie's Intro

- #cosmology  & #astrophysics

- "The study of the universe from beginning to end from the smallest to the largest scales"

- #darkmatter, the beginning of the universe & the end of the universe

- Research & public engagement

03:33 What's Real?

- Growing up going to church & youth group & #bible study

- United Church of Christ... liberal & open-minded #socialjustice #lgbtq rights

- Useful guidelines for life but "I never really understood how faith works... believing things without evidence"

- Exploring different religious traditions e.g. #judaism "attending church on Sunday mornings and synagogue on Friday nights"

- "I always wanted to believe something... there's a fundamental urge most humans have to connect with the divine... #spirituality of some kind... the problem was I didn't believe in anything"

- Connecting with religious songs, prayer, rituals about forgiveness & bettering yourself...

- Being told "just believe"... "I don't know how to do that!"

- "I believe things if I see evidence for them... if I have some reason"

- A scientifically curious kid

- "The way I relate to the world... is through evidence"

- "I don't fundamentally grasp the concept of choosing your perceptions... choosing your beliefs. I don't think I can do that"

- Ontological & epistemological naturalism

- "I haven't had a spiritual experience... I assume I would write it off as something explainable through psychology and physics... but I can't say for certain"

- Enrolling in a #theology seminary school after graduating in physics: "wanting to understand religion... why people believe in things... I dropped out after 6 months"

- "I've done everything... went to every service... went to seminary... I did all the things and still god has not appeared to me in any way... I was a little bit jealous... that certainty, that feeling of peace... you are loved by the most powerful being in the cosmos... that sounds really cool... sign me up"

- "I could follow all the rules... I couldn't believe"

- "If the idea is that you're only saved by belief & not through actions then there's no hope for me at all"

- No hassle at the seminary "everyone was assumed to be on their own spiritual journey... I just didn't have one"

- Talking to Menonites, Fransiscan brothers, Unitarians... "nobody cared that I didn't believe... I just felt out of place"

- Hearing others say "I find astrophysics so spiritual"... "I really don't!"

- "Most of my colleagues have no idea that I studied religion"

- "I totally miss the community stuff... occasionally I think I should start going back to synagogue... the ritual, the mindset, the scholarliness..."

- "The idea that everybody gets together once a week to think about how to be better people"

- Secular people in religious communities "Practising but not believing... religious but not spiritual... now I guess agnostic... (I don't know)"

- "I was very fortunate to be in religious communities... they were very progressive and focused on #socialjustice"

- Having no issues being #bisexual / #queer in those religious communities "I always understood that I would be accepted"

- Mystical traps in gaps & uncertainty: origins and ends of the universe, life, consciousness, free will. #Godofthegaps

- The weirdness of physics "weirdness is in the eye of the beholder"

- "What we're trying to do in physics is create a mathematical model of the universe that best matches what we observe... a model that is useful... describe & predict"

- "Quantum mechanics seems really weird in a lot of ways but mathematically it's extremely clear and simple... the evolution of these wave functions... it matches perfectly"

- The dissonance between our sub-atomic model & our macro models "we think of it as weird"

- "As long as we have a model you don't even have a gap to put god into"

- Aspects of subatomic theory that we don't yet understand

- Attending seminary lecture trying to connect god to quantum physics "it's god who decides... how the wave function will collapse"… “You can do that but I don’t think it’s useful”

- Determinism & probability

- Quantum mechanics interpretations e.g. Many worlds / wave function collapse

- “Because I think of physics as being about creating models that are useful… there’s nothing useful about saying that a supernatural power is making a decision… you can’t use that”

- “It’s outside of what physics is about… I have no need of that hypothesis”

- “It’s not up to me to tell people how to think about the world but what is up to me is to try to make better models of the workings of the universe through physics and mathematics”

35:50 What Matters?

- Nihilism

- “I don’t think I ever saw it as being a question of what god wants me to do” Rejecting divine command theory

- “Commandments or rules in religion were based on not being bad”

- “The most important commandment is to love god… I don’t know what that means but I can not kill people… not lie… not steal… be an honourable person”

- Honour “as core to how I think about the world”

- “I always felt very keenly the suffering of others and not wanting to be part of that… not wanting to harm animals… or people”

- Hating violence in movies and “I can’t watch nature shows”

- The end of the universe: “There will be a point in the future when nothing that we’ve ever done will have mattered”

- Death and the attractive idea of “carry on”… “but if the universe is going to fully end – at some point that argument no longer applies… there will be a point where it will not have mattered if I kill someone tomorrow or not… it doesn’t matter”

- “Those black holes evaporating at the end of the universe are not going to care if I led a good life… if I hurt people… if there is suffering… it doesn’t matter to physics”

- “How do you find meaning in a universe that’s doomed?”

- No rapture or judgement day

- “As humans living in a temporary world… we have to find structures of meaning that apply in the now… that don’t rely on the future at all... that are not outcome based.”

- “I’m not waiting for some judgement… it’s more about ‘am I harming now’… am I making things better or worse… in the moment.”

- JW: “All value is in every moment of sentient experience”

47:12 Who Matters?

- Going vegetarian at 7 yrs old “started to understand where meat comes from and how that works” & being vegan now

- At a restaurant eating a hot dog and seeing a kids menu with a picture of a pig on it “Oh that’s a pig – that’s a hot dog!”

- “I don’t want to hurt that animal and so I shouldn’t be eating this food… I didn’t want to be part of that any more… because I didn’t want to hurt animals”

- “I’ve always been someone who loved animals and wanted to care for animals”

- “The emotional aspect was very automatic and honestly very inconvenient… experiencing the pain of suffering creatures”

- Being teased by middle-school kids for getting upset about them harming & killing snails

- “It’s not about cognitive ability – it’s about does that animal suffer?... I don’t want to cause suffering… it’s not a complicated philosophical argument”

- “By perceiving that suffering I suffered”

- “My family assumed that it was a phase” & health concerns “they tried to trick me into eating chicken” but later supportive

- Awkwardness with friends “I had to remove myself from certain things” & arguments & teasing “I kind of got used to that”

- “I was never somebody who was very susceptible to peer pressure”

- “A lot of the social awkwardness comes from the fact that people do inherently understand it [veganism] to be a social justice cause”

- “The reason people don’t like vegans… because they do see it as a judgement on their own ethical viewpoints”

- “It doesn’t matter to anybody else what I eat unless they take it as a personal attack”

- “It’s the same reason people will sometimes give me trouble about wearing a mask in a public indoor place… because they feel judged that they’re not doing that… I’m reminding them”

- “When I was a kid… I would tell them sentimental reasons… I really didn’t want to get into that conversation… you could use friends that way”

- What are consciousness and sentience? “There’s a grand tradition of theoretical physicists getting really into consciousness… I don’t want to do that… I’ll leave the definition of consciousness to the neuroscientists”

- “I don’t think that consciousness is some important element of the cosmos… it’s something that happens in the brains of organic creatures”

- Spectrums of consciousness & sentience “when I’m half asleep in the morning I’m less conscious”… sleep and anaesthetic

- “There’s nothing very, very specific about the way the human brain works that’s vastly different from the way other animals’ brains work”

- Adrian Tchaikovsky on Sentientist Conversations, spider & octopus & bird consciousnesses “evidence that jumping spiders can dream”

- Graduated evolution & development of cognition and sentience “maybe a baby experiences the world more like a dog or a mouse”

- “We are fundamentally creatures of matter and circuitry… there’s no special spiritual spark that we have that other animals don’t… it’s very strange to put us in a totally different ethical category”

- “The only thing that really matters is can you feel… can you suffer… and they all do”

- Fish feel pain too

- Quantification gets tricky “Is one human worth ten cows”… trolley problems & difficult judgements

- Ethical challenges of any consumption e.g. exploitative supply chains

- Panpsychism

01:10:55 How Can We Make a Better Future?

- “My expertise is in the total destruction of the future not making it better” 😊

- “As human societies evolve we generally expand our idea of who has moral weight… I hope we continue to do that… people who are unlike us…”

- “Trends towards isolationism and fascism… are moves backward”

- “As the worst impacts of climate change become more and more felt – one way humanity can respond to that is to become more isolationist and more aggressive to those trying to escape”

- “I hope we are able to find a path towards justice, climate justice, social justice, decolonialism, being more open & welcoming & more helpful”

- Climate reparations

- “Congruence of climate, decolonisation and animal welfare… part of the same cause”

- “It’s going to be a difficult century… there are ways to solve those problems in humane and positive ways”

- The role of science & science communication

- “The problem of climate change is not that much a science communication problem as a political problem these days”

- Political affiliations & values driving people’s responses

- “The science information is out there… but when it comes up against people’s identities and their values…”

- Prioritising connecting better with people on a values level

- “Just giving information is just never going to be enough”

- “There are groups… who have a very strong vested interest in maintaining certain status quos… ideas that are contrary to progress… they have a lot of money”

- “Not many people have very strong views about dark matter and the big bang… doesn’t tend to threaten people’s personal identities and livelihoods”

- Explaining the process of science (there isn’t a “Big Green Energy” conspiracy!)

- “We love finding mistakes… we prefer it to be other people’s mistakes 😊 – we love finding new answers”

- “All of science progresses through falsifying”

- Make it clear what scientists are like “we really do just want to find the answer… we’re not just trying to push an agenda… we are human beings… curiosity”

- Address legitimate concerns about how science be used to cause harm

- The Epilogue of “The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking)”

- On Twitter and Mastodon @astrokatie & TikTok and Instagram

... & much more!

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