A new interdisciplinary journal launched earlier this past May, called Animal Sentience, aims to explore “current empirical findings on what, when and how nonhuman animals feel.” Drawing on the research of scholars from biology, philosophy, law, and beyond, the journal focuses on animal minds with an intensity not seen in other journals until now.
In the first issue, the main topic for discussion is fish--do they feel pain? Are they conscious at all? Much of the debate centers on the fact that fish lack neocortex - the thin outer layer of brain matter unique to mammals, which humans have in abundance. Some researchers argue that the neocortex is responsible for consciousness in humans as well as other mammals, and that without it there’s no consciousness to experience the pain. In other words, “No cortex, no cry,” as Dr. Vladimir Dinets puts it. Others disagree with this argument by suggesting that fish, and other non-mammalian species, have merely developed alternative neurological structures to generate consciousness. Dr. Donald Broom points to fish behavior and brain structure as an indication that they do actually feel pain, and by implication other feelings like fear. Dr. Brian Key, who started the debate by arguing that there is no evidence of fish consciousness, disagrees with this approach, as do several other researchers involved in the discussion. As the debate progresses, you can come to your own conclusions about if, or how, fish feel, and in the process learn lots of fascinating things about our underwater friends!
Understanding how to approach animal rights and welfare requires understanding “what it is like,” to use the phrase coined by philosopher Thomas Nagel, to be an animal, and this journal provides an excellent venue for exploring this interesting area of research. Whether you’re trying to defend the welfare of animals, or just love to learn new things about them, this is definitely a publication to keep an eye on. The idea that all the friendly critters we share this planet with feel the very same emotions that we experience is all the more reason to eat less meat!
Written by Taylor Bennett