“What is it like to be another animal?” Lori Marino – Sentientism Episode 137

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

Lori is Executive Director of The Kimmela Center and Founder & President of The Whale Sanctuary Project. She is a neuroscientist and expert in animal behavior and intelligence, formerly on the faculty of Emory University where she was also a faculty member at the Emory Center for Ethics. She is internationally known for her work on the evolution of the brain and intelligence in dolphins and whales and marine mammal welfare in captivity, as well as cognition in farmed animals through The Someone Project. In 2001 Lori co-authored a ground-breaking study with Diana Reiss offering the first conclusive evidence for mirror self-recognition in bottlenose dolphins, after which she decided against conducting further research with animals held captive in zoos and aquariums.

Lori has published over 130 peer-reviewed scientific papers, book chapters, and magazine articles on marine mammal biology and cognition, comparative brain anatomy, self-awareness in nonhuman animals, human-nonhuman animal relationships, and the evolution of intelligence. Lori has appeared in several films and television programs, including the 2013 documentary Blackfish about killer whale captivity; Unlocking the Cage, the 2016 documentary on the Nonhuman Rights Project; Long Gone Wild, the 2019 documentary; and in the upcoming documentary about Corky, the orca held captive by SeaWorld since 1969.

Lori is an atheist & has a naturalistic worldview, saying “I don’t see any reason to propose that there’s anything supernatural out there”. She is vegan & has a sentiocentric moral scope.

We discuss:
00:00 Welcome

01:52 Lori’s Intro

  • A central question: “What is it like to be another animal?”
  • “I ran into ethical issues that shaped how I conducted my career”
  • Science then science-based advocacy “it’s all based on facts”

04:12 What’s Real?

  • Raised Roman #Catholic as an Italian American in Brooklyn NY “Church on Sunday”
  • “I started to question the whole proposition… that there’s some sort of a god”
  • Heaven, hell, sin “It’s not light hearted… it’s dark”
  • Becoming a recovering Catholic
  • “If there is a god, it’s on vacation” & the #problemofevil
  • Becoming #atheist “that’s what I am today… I don’t see any reason to propose that there’s anything supernatural out there”
  • #agnostic “what does that even mean?… I’m atheist in the same way that I don’t think that there are purple dinosaurs walking around in my room & talking to me… I’m not agnostic about that.”
  • “I didn’t ever draw my ethics from religion”
  • Catholic “#ethics but from a very weird point of view”
  • The psychological needs motivating religious belief
  • Teenage dabbling in #pseudoscience
  • “#Faith is something that I’m not too fond of… believing in something for which there is no evidence… an irrational notion”
  • Are there “harmless” unfounded beliefs? “It’s never harmless to believe something for which there’s no evidence”
  • “What’s real is what’s actually real” 🙂
  • Humility: “We don’t know what we don’t know”
  • “Totally open-minded but rigorous & critical in ones thinking”
  • Respecting people with supernatural beliefs but rejecting harm they might want to cause as a result

20:45 What and Who Matters?

  • The #goldenrule “Not just for other human beings but for other beings”
  • “I put myself into the perspective of that spider… would I want to be squashed? If I’m a pig, would I want to be confined?”
  • Intellect, emotion, taste, social norms: “They know what happens to animals… but you put a steak in front of them & that all goes out the window”
  • #relativism #nihilism #egoism
  • Descriptive & normative ethics “You have to do work!”
  • #racism & outgroup fear
  • “I think we kinda do” know what it’s like to be a pig
  • #factoryfarming #animaltesting #aquarium #zoo

31:22 Who Matters?

  • Relatives who were butchers, a family that ate meat “they weren’t evil people… they were people I loved”
  • Doing invasive lab work with rats at college “it bothered me”
  • Mental gymnastics & justifications
  • Ending vivisection work
  • Discovering #dolphin self-recognition w/ Diana Reiss “a lot of things came to light”
  • Ending captive animal work
  • “I have to give something back to them… scientific advocacy”
  • Sentience research: “To work out whether they can suffer we’re making them suffer” 🙁 “Many of those methods are unethical”
  • Octopus research “Everybody wants to take them apart…”
  • We can do good research without harm
  • Guest Frans de Waal & others who study & care about animals yet still eat them
  • Cutting out animal foods then going #vegan a few years ago
  • “My niece said to me ‘if you love animals so much why are you eating fish’?… That was the last time I ate fish.”
  • “You get to the point where the idea of eating another being is really repulsive”
  • “I’d like no animals to be eaten, period!”
  • “Sentience is a very important concept… you can be harmed”
  • “If you have a central nervous system then you’re sentient – that is what brains do”
  • Evolution of the capability to sense internally/externally & take decisions
  • It doesn’t matter exactly what it’s like to be a bat (Nagel) “it is like something… that alone is enough to shape ethics”
  • “There are no bright lines in nature… that’s not how biological evolution works”
  • Re-writing the UDHR as a Universal Declaration of Sentient Rights
  • Rejecting the “scala natura” hierarchy that puts humans at the top “we don’t want to be an animal… & we don’t want to die”
  • “There may be other animals that experience life with more depth or complexity than we do”
  • Philosophy of mind: eliminativism, illusionism, materialism, panpsychism? “I don’t know what consciousness is… I know it exists”
  • “I’m not a panpsychist – that goes too far”
  • “I don’t know if we’ll ever fully understand it… it’s probably not computational”

55:55 How Can We Make A Better Future?

  • “You have to put it on the ground… you have to make it a reality”
  • “Science and advocacy are very powerful tools together”: hence The Kimmela Center
  • Students being told “you can’t be an animal advocate and a neuroscientist”… “it’s not true”
  • “You don’t want your surgeon breaking down… but they don’t have to be an uncaring being!”
  • “Students are enculturated into this notion that you cannot care about the animals”
  • “Stay in [neuroscience] and say ‘look, I’m not going to do it the way everyone’s been doing it before’”
  • The Whale Sanctuary Project: doing something about the terrible welfare of aquatic animals in marine parks “create a model of something that’s an alternative”
  • Expert witness work in Animal Law. The Non-Human Rights Project
  • The Animal Law & Science project at GWU with Kathy Hessler
  • “Animal Law is exploding!… As a scientist I want to give them what they need to make the world better for other animals”
  • Re-imagining all fields of human endeavour for all sentient beings: politics, economics, rights, law, agriculture…
  • Integrated vs. separate rights for non-humans?
  • “Welfare is a way of maintaining the status quo… we let them have as much welfare as is convenient for us… that’s why I am a rights proponent”
  • The “Five Freedoms” and the warping of terms like “humane” and “welfare”
  • “You’ll never have a world where everyone agrees… that’s why we need top down protections”
  • Theory, policy, law & enforcement
  • “There’s lots of things we don’t get to choose… but if you’re living in society… with other beings… your behaviour has an impact on them”
  • “You don’t get to chose to harm someone else… we will take away that choice”
  • “I think we’re in trouble… the planet’s in trouble… other animals are in trouble… it’s a real tough nut”
  • “It may seem like everyone’s becoming vegan… but writ large things globally are getting worse”
  • “The new generation coming up are very important… open to new ideas”
  • “All we have is our personal dignity… make a personal choice”
  • “We could go extinct… and we could take so many others out with us”
  • “We’re a very smart species and we will find a way to do everything but the right thing”
  • “I’m not sure as a species we’re capable of doing that [changing our psychology]”
  • Could humanity just choose to play a positive role for all sentientkind?
  • “Our brains are shaped by millions of years of evolution and they are limited… I’m not sure we’re the kind of species who are capable of doing anything we set our minds to do… changing your perspective… changing your psychology”
  • “It will be a lot harder for the world to not eat pigs than it will be to go to Mars”
  • “I’d like to see our species survive but I’d even more so like to see other species survive us”

Lori on Wikipedia
Lori on FaceBook
The Kimmela Center
The Whale Sanctuary Project

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

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