It’s Official: Fish Feel Pain

The verdict is in. But will our oceanic friends ever get the same legal protections as land animals?

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Whether or not fish feel pain has been debated for years. But the balance of evidence says yes. Now the question is, what do we do about it? (redbrickstock.com / Alamy)
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When Culum Brown was a young boy, he and his grandmother frequented a park near her home in Melbourne, Australia. He was fascinated by the park’s large ornamental pond wriggling with goldfish, mosquitofish, and loaches. Brown would walk the perimeter of the pond, peering into the translucent shallows to gaze at the fish. One day, he and his grandmother arrived at the park and discovered that the pond had been drained—something the parks department apparently did every few years. Heaps of fish flapped upon the exposed bed, suffocating in the sun.

Brown raced from one trash can to another, searching through them and collecting whatever discarded containers he could find—mostly plastic soda bottles. He filled the bottles at drinking fountains and corralled several fish into each one. He pushed other stranded fish toward regions of the pond where some water remained. “I was frantic, running around like a lunatic, trying to save these animals,” recalls Brown, who is now a marine biologist at Macquarie University in Sydney. Ultimately, he managed to rescue hundreds of fish, about 60 of which he adopted. Some of them lived in his home aquariums for more than 10 years.

As a child, I too kept fish. My very first pets were two goldfish, bright as newly minted pennies, in an unornamented glass bowl the size of a cantaloupe. They died within a few weeks. I later upgraded to a 40-liter tank lined with rainbow gravel and a few plastic plants. Inside I kept various small fish: neon tetras with bands of fluorescent blue and red, guppies with bold billowing tails like solar flares, and glass catfish so diaphanous they seemed nothing more than silver-crowned spinal columns darting through the water. Most of these fish lived much longer than the goldfish, but some of them had a habit of leaping in ecstatic arcs straight through the gaps in the tank’s cover and onto the living room floor. My family and I would find them flopping behind the TV, cocooned in dust and lint.

Should we care how fish feel? In his 1789 treatise An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, English philosopher Jeremy Bentham—who developed the theory of utilitarianism (essentially, the greatest good for the greatest number of individuals)—articulated an idea that has been central to debates about animal welfare ever since. When considering our ethical obligations to other animals, Bentham wrote, the most important question is not, “Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?” Conventional wisdom has long held that fish cannot—that they do not feel pain. An exchange in a 1977 issue of Field & Stream exemplifies the typical argument. In response to a 13-year-old girl’s letter about whether fish suffer when caught, the writer and fisherman Ed Zern first accuses her of having a parent or teacher write the letter because it is so well composed. He then explains that “fish don’t feel pain the way you do when you skin your knee or stub your toe or have a toothache, because their nervous systems are much simpler. I’m not really sure they feel anypain, as we feel pain, but probably they feel a kind of ‘fish pain.’” Ultimately, whatever primitive suffering they endure is irrelevant, he continues, because it’s all part of the great food chain and, besides, “if something or somebody ever stops us from fishing, we’ll suffer terribly.”

Such logic is still prevalent today. In 2014, BBC Newsnight invited Penn State University biologist Victoria Braithwaite to discuss fish pain and welfare with Bertie Armstrong, head of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation. Armstrong dismissed the notion that fish deserve welfare laws as “cranky” and insisted that “the balance of scientific evidence is that fish do not feel pain as we do.”

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Despite the evidence that fish can suffer, animal welfare legislations and other legal protections often exclude them. (wonderlandstock / Alamy)

That’s not quite true, Braithwaite says. It is impossible to definitively know whether another creature’s subjective experience is like our own. But that is beside the point. We do not know whether cats, dogs, lab animals, chickens, and cattle feel pain the way we do, yet we still afford them increasingly humane treatment and legal protections because they have demonstrated an ability to suffer. In the past 15 years, Braithwaite and other fish biologists around the world have produced substantial evidence that, just like mammals and birds, fish also experience conscious pain. “More and more people are willing to accept the facts,” Braithwaite says. “Fish do feel pain. It’s likely different from what humans feel, but it is still a kind of pain.”

At the anatomical level, fish have neurons known as nociceptors, which detect potential harm, such as high temperatures, intense pressure, and caustic chemicals. Fish produce the same opioids—the body’s innate painkillers—that mammals do. And their brain activity during injury is analogous to that in terrestrial vertebrates: sticking a pin into goldfish or rainbow trout, just behind their gills, stimulates nociceptors and a cascade of electrical activity that surges toward brain regions essential for conscious sensory perceptions (such as the cerebellum, tectum, and telencephalon), not just the hindbrain and brainstem, which are responsible for reflexes and impulses.

Fish also behave in ways that indicate they consciously experience pain. In one study, researchers dropped clusters of brightly colored Lego blocks into tanks containing rainbow trout. Trout typically avoid an unfamiliar object suddenly introduced to their environment in case it’s dangerous. But when scientists gave the rainbow trout a painful injection of acetic acid, they were much less likely to exhibit these defensive behaviors, presumably because they were distracted by their own suffering. In contrast, fish injected with both acid and morphine maintained their usual caution. Like all analgesics, morphine dulls the experience of pain, but does nothing to remove the source of pain itself, suggesting that the fish’s behavior reflected their mental state, not mere physiology. If the fish were reflexively responding to the presence of caustic acid, as opposed to consciously experiencing pain, then the morphine should not have made a difference.

In another study, rainbow trout that received injections of acetic acid in their lips began to breathe more quickly, rocked back and forth on the bottom of the tank, rubbed their lips against the gravel and the side of the tank, and took more than twice as long to resume feeding as fish injected with benign saline. Fish injected with both acid and morphine also showed some of these unusual behaviors, but to a much lesser extent, whereas fish injected with saline never behaved oddly.

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Testing for pain in fish is challenging, so researchers often look for unusual behavior and physiological responses. In one study, rainbow trout given injections of acetic acid in their lips responded by rubbing their lips on the sides and bottom of their tank and delaying feeding. (arc F. Henning / Alamy)

Several years ago, Lynne Sneddon, a University of Liverpool biologist and one of the world’s foremost experts on fish pain, began conducting a set of particularly intriguing experiments; so far, only some of the results have been published. In one test, she gave zebrafish the choice between two aquariums: one completely barren, the other containing gravel, a plant, and a view of other fish. They consistently preferred to spend time in the livelier, decorated chamber. When some fish were injected with acid, however, and the bleak aquarium was flooded with pain-numbing lidocaine, they switched their preference, abandoning the enriched tank. Sneddon repeated this study with one change: rather than suffusing the boring aquarium with painkiller, she injected it straight into the fish’s bodies, so they could take it with them wherever they swam. The fish remained among the gravel and greenery.

The collective evidence is now robust enough that biologists and veterinarians increasingly accept fish pain as a reality. “It’s changed so much,” Sneddon says, reflecting on her experiences speaking to both scientists and the general public. “Back in 2003, when I gave talks, I would ask, ‘Who believes fish can feel pain?’ Just one or two hands would go up. Now you ask the room and pretty much everyone puts their hands up.” In 2013, the American Veterinary Medical Association published new guidelines for the euthanasia of animals, which included the following statements: “Suggestions that finfish responses to pain merely represent simple reflexes have been refuted. … the preponderance of accumulated evidence supports the position that finfish should be accorded the same considerations as terrestrial vertebrates in regard to relief from pain.”

Yet this scientific consensus has not permeated public perception. Google “do fish feel pain” and you plunge yourself into a morass of conflicting messages. They don’t, says one headline. They do, says another. Other sources claim there’s a convoluted debate raging between scientists. In truth, that level of ambiguity and disagreement no longer exists in the scientific community. In 2016, University of Queensland professor Brian Key published an article titled “Why fish do not feel pain” in Animal Sentience: An Interdisciplinary Journal on Animal Feeling. So far, Key’s article has provoked more than 40 responses from scientists around the world, almost all of whom reject his conclusions.

Key is one of the most vociferous critics of the idea that fish can consciously suffer; the other is James D. Rose, a professor emeritus of zoology at the University of Wyoming and an avid fisherman who has written for the pro-angling publication Angling Matters. The thrust of their argument is that the studies ostensibly demonstrating pain in fish are poorly designed and, more fundamentally, that fish lack brains complex enough to generate a subjective experience of pain. In particular, they stress that fish do not have the kind of large, dense, undulating cerebral cortices that humans, primates, and certain other mammals possess. The cortex, which envelops the rest of the brain like bark, is thought to be crucial for sensory perceptions and consciousness.

Some of the critiques published by Key and Rose are valid, particularly on the subject of methodological flaws. A few studies in the growing literature on fish pain do not properly distinguish between a reflexive response to injury and a probable experience of pain, and some researchers have overstated the significance of these flawed efforts. At this point, however, such studies are in the minority. Many experiments have confirmed the early work of Braithwaite and Sneddon.

Moreover, the notion that fish do not have the cerebral complexity to feel pain is decidedly antiquated. Scientists agree that most, if not all, vertebrates (as well as some invertebrates) are conscious and that a cerebral cortex as swollen as our own is not a prerequisite for a subjective experience of the world. The planet contains a multitude of brains, dense and spongy, globular and elongated, as small as poppy seeds and as large as watermelons; different animal lineages have independently conjured similar mental abilities from very different neural machines. A mind does not have to be human to suffer.

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Fishermen Michael and Patrick Burns

Fishermen Michael and Patrick Burns practice humane fishing techniques on their vessel, Blue North. (Photo by Kevin J. Suver/Blue North)

Despite the evidence of conscious suffering in fish, they are not typically afforded the kind of legal protections given to farm animals, lab animals, and pets in many countries around the world. The United Kingdom has some of the most progressive animal welfare legislation, which typically covers all nonhuman vertebrates. In Canada and Australia, animal welfare laws are more piecemeal, varying from one state or province to another; some protect fish, some don’t. Japan’s relevant legislation largely neglects fish. China has very few substantive animal welfare laws of any kind. And in the United States, the Animal Welfare Act protects most warm-blooded animals used in research and sold as pets, but excludes fish, amphibians, and reptiles. Yet the sheer number of fish killed for food and bred for pet stores dwarfs the corresponding numbers of mammals, birds, and reptiles. Annually, about 70 billion land animals are killed for food around the world. That number includes chickens, other poultry, and all forms of livestock. In contrast, an estimated 10 to 100 billion farmed fish are killed globally every year, and about another one to three trillion fish are caught from the wild. The number of fish killed each year far exceeds the number of people who have ever existed on Earth.

“We have largely thought of fish as very alien and very simple, so we didn’t really care how we killed them,” Braithwaite says. “If we look at trawl netting, that’s a pretty gruesome way for fish to die: the barometric trauma of getting ripped from the ocean into open air, and then slowly suffocating. Can we do that more humanely? Yes. Should we? Probably, yes. We’re mostly not doing it at the moment because it’s more expensive to kill fish humanely, especially in the wild.”

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In some countries, such as the United Kingdom and Norway, fish farms have largely adopted humane slaughter methods. Instead of suffocating fish in air—the easiest and historically the most common practice—or freezing them to death in ice water, or poisoning them with carbon dioxide, they render fish unconscious with either a quick blow to the head or strong electrical currents, then pierce their brains or bleed them out. In Norway, Hanne Digre and her colleagues at the research organization SINTEF have brought these techniques onto commercial fishing vessels on a trial basis to investigate whether humane slaughter is feasible out at sea.

In a series of experiments, Digre and her colleagues tested different open-sea slaughter methods on a variety of species. They found that cod and haddock stored in dry bins on ships after harvest remained conscious for at least two hours. An electric shock delivered immediately after bringing fish onto a ship could knock them unconscious, but only if the current was strong enough. If the electric shock was too weak, the fish were merely immobilized. Some species, such as saithe, tended to break their spines and bleed internally when shocked; others, such as cod, struggled much less. Some fish regained consciousness about 10 minutes after being stunned, so the researchers recommend cutting their throats within 30 seconds of an electric shock.

In the United States, two brothers are pioneering a new kind of humane fishing. In fall of 2016, Michael and Patrick Burns, both longtime fishermen and cattle ranchers, launched a unique fishing vessel named Blue North. The 58-meter boat, which can carry about 750 tonnes and a crew of 26, specializes in harvesting Pacific cod from the Bering Sea. The crew works within a temperature-controlled room in the middle of the boat, which houses a moon pool—a hole through which they haul up fish one at a time. This sanctuary protects the crew from the elements and gives them much more control over the act of fishing than they would have on an ordinary vessel. Within seconds of bringing a fish to the surface, the crew moves it to a stun table that renders the animal unconscious with about 10 volts of direct current. The fish are then bled.

The Burns brothers were initially inspired by groundbreaking research on humane slaughter facilities for livestock conducted by Colorado State University animal science professor and internationally renowned autism spokesperson Temple Grandin. By considering the perspectives of the animals themselves, Grandin’s innovative designs greatly reduced stress, panic, and injury in cattle being herded toward an abattoir, while simultaneously making the whole process more efficient for ranchers. “One day it occurred to me, why couldn’t we take some of those principles and apply them to the fishing industry? Michael recalls. Inspired by moon pools on Norwegian fishing vessels, and the use of electrical stunning in various forms of animal husbandry, they designed Blue North. Michael thinks his new ship is one of perhaps two vessels in the world to consistently use electrical stunning on wild-caught fish. “We believe that fish are sentient beings, that they do experience panic and stress,” he says. “We have come up with a method to stop that.”

Right now, the Burns brothers export the cod they catch to Japan, China, France, Spain, Denmark, and Norway. The fact that the fish are humanely harvested has not been a big draw for their main buyers, Michael says, but he expects that will change. He and his team have been speaking with various animal welfare organizations to develop new standards and certifications for humanely caught wild fish. “It will become more common,” Michael says. “A lot of people out there are concerned with where their food comes from and how it’s handled.”

Meanwhile, the vast majority of the trillions of fish slaughtered annually are killed in ways that likely cause them immense pain. The truth is that even the adoption of humane slaughter methods in more progressive countries has not been entirely or even primarily motivated by ethics. Rather, such changes are driven by profit. Studies have shown that reducing stress in farmed and caught fish, killing them swiftly and efficiently with minimal struggle, improves the quality of the meat that eventually makes it to market. The flesh of fish killed humanely is often smoother and less blemished. When we treat fish well, we don’t really do it for their sake; we do it for ours.

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“I’ve always had a natural empathy for animals and had no reason to exclude fish,” Brown says. “At that park [in Melbourne], they didn’t have any concern that there were fish in there and they might need some water. There was no attempt to save them or house them whatsoever. I was shocked by that at that age, and I still see that kind of callous disregard for fish in people today in all sorts of contexts. In all the time since we discovered the first evidence for pain in fish, I don’t think public perception has moved an ounce.”

Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time at my local pet stores, watching the fish. They move restlessly, noiselessly—leglessly pacing from one side of their tanks to another. Some hang in the water, heads tilted up, as though caught on an invisible line. A glint of scales draws my attention; an unexpected swatch of color. I try to look one in the eye—a depthless disc of obsidian. Its mouth moves so mechanically, like a sliding door stuck in a loop. I look at these fish, I enjoy looking at them, I do not wish them any harm; yet I almost never wonder what they are thinking or feeling. Fish are our direct evolutionary ancestors. They are the original vertebrates, the scaly, stubby-limbed pioneers who crawled still wet from the sea and colonized the land. So many gulfs separate us now: geographical, anatomical, psychological. We can understand, rationally, the overwhelming evidence for fish sentience. But the facts are not enough. Genuinely pitying a fish seems to require an Olympian feat of empathy.

Perhaps, though, our typical interactions with fish—the placid pet in a glass puddle, or the garnished filet on a plate—are too circumscribed to reveal a capacity for suffering. I recently learned of a culinary tradition, still practiced today, known as ikizukuri: eating the raw flesh of a living fish. You can find videos online. In one, a chef covers a fish’s face with a cloth and holds it down as he shaves off its scales with something like a crude cheese grater. He begins to slice the fish lengthwise with a large knife, but the creature leaps violently from his grasp and somersaults into a nearby sink. The chef reclaims the fish and continues slicing away both its flanks. Blood as dark as pomegranate juice spills out. He immerses the fish in a bowl of ice water as he prepares the sashimi. The whole fish will be served on a plate with shaved daikon and shiso leaves, rectangular chunks of its flesh piled neatly in its hollowed side, its mouth and gills still flapping, and the occasional shudder rippling across the length of its body.

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Ravens Are Ridiculously Smart, Seem To Be Able To Plan For The Future

 
The new “Planet of the Apes” movie has people imagining what an ape-ruled world with human underlings would really look like, but maybe ravens are the animals we should be keeping an eye on.

The dazzling intelligence of corvids — the family that includes ravens and crows — is well-documented. Studies have suggested that corvids rival chimps in cognitive self-control. Ravens can imagine being spied on, and crows display puzzle-solving skills comparable to those of apes and human children.

Research published Friday in the journal Science adds even more evidence to the pile. Scientists from Sweden’s Lund University found that ravens appear to have the ability to plan for the future.

Cognitive zoologist Mathias Osvath and graduate student Can Kabadayi presented five ravens with a series of puzzles. First, they taught the birds how to get a food treat out of a puzzle box using a specific tool. The ravens also got the opportunity to interact with the puzzle box with no tools, and with objects that would not open it.

They they presented the birds ― with no puzzle box visible ― an array of options, including the functional tool and a bunch of useless “distractor” objects. The puzzle box was installed 15 minutes later. The birds successfully selected the tool and used it to open the box 86 percent of the time, excluding one particularly resourceful female who figured out a way to open the box all by herself, with no tool.

NESTEROVSMITH VIA GETTY IMAGES
Did you think ravens weren’t smart? Nevermore. 

A similar experiment involved teaching the ravens to use a token to “barter” with humans for a food reward. (Basically, the ravens gave the token to a person, and the person gave them a treat in return.) Again, the ravens were largely able to correctly select the token for future use when presented with a range of objects.

The ravens also demonstrated self-control skills: They were willing to forgo a reward in lieu of a better reward they had been trained to know would come 15 minutes later. Researchers presented the birds with a range of objects that included distractor objects, the useful tool or token, and a food treat. The treat was “less valuable” ― it’s not specified what this means, but presumably it was smaller and/or a food that ravens like less ― than the treat that ravens could later obtain by using the tool or token. (In control versions where no tool or token was available, the birds picked the immediate treat 100 percent of the time.)

Kabadayi told NPR that the birds — like humans — were less likely to delay gratification when they knew it would take longer to get a larger reward.

“We basically found that the further ahead in the future a reward for ravens, the less value it gets,” he said.

The researchers note in their paper that the ravens’ performance bore “conspicuous similarities” to the abilities of great apes in similar tasks.

One major reason all of this is so interesting ― besides the sheer awesomeness of how smart ravens are ― is that it suggests these complex cognitive abilities would have to have evolved independently of the abilities of mammals like apes and humans. That’s because apes and ravens have not shared a common ancestor for around 320 million years, according to NPR.

For that reason, the scientists wrote that their research “opens up avenues for investigation into the evolutionary principles of cognition and shows what the brains of some birds are capable of.”

Markus Boeckle, a psychology professor at the University of Cambridge unaffiliated with the study, expressed excitement over the research in an interview with Scientific American, but had some reservations. For instance, he noted that the small sample size of five hand-raised ravens might not be representative of the species as a whole.

For all we know, he told the site, those birds could be “the Albert Einsteins [of] the raven world.”

Are people and apes the only ones that can plan ahead? Quoth the raven ‘nevermore.’

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2017/07/13/are-people-and-apes-the-only-ones-that-can-plan-ahead-quoth-the-raven-nevermore/?utm_term=.9a114ac8681c

 July 13 at 2:00 PM
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Watch ravens show off their reasoning abilities
Swedish scientist Mathias Osvath trained five ravens to use a stone as a tool to open a puzzle-like box to prove they have some of the same reasoning abilities as humans and apes. The raven’s reward: a juicy, meaty dog kibble inside the box. (Mathias Osvath)

For centuries, we told ourselves that we are special — that what separates humans from animals is our ability to reason.

But that belief has been increasingly undermined given evidence showing apes also have the intelligence to use tools, solve complex problems and even plan for the future.

Now the latest indignity: Ravens can do it, too.

On a rural research farm in Sweden, working with birds he raised from hatchlings, cognitive zoologist Mathias Osvath recently taught five ravens how to use a tool to open a puzzle-like box containing a treat. He then put his birds through a battery of tests in which they had to choose the tool, despite the temptation of a more immediate goody with the box nowhere in sight.

The birds didn’t bite. Only when the box was brought back did they use the tool they had been saving to secure the better reward — demonstrating self-control, advanced reasoning and planning.

“It’s not just the fact they have these skills independently. But to use them together to make these complex decisions, that’s what makes it so amazing,” said Osvath, in Lund, Sweden.

He compared his subjects’ calculations to the sophisticated decisions that humans make daily.

“Say you’re planning a trip to London, and you know how often it rains there. So you bring an umbrella, even though it’s not raining now where you are. That’s what we are talking about here, planning based on past experience,” Osvath said.

His study — published Thursday in the journal Science — is the latest in a growing body of work from cognitive zoologists that is tearing down assumptions about the limits of animals’ ability to reason.

Some of the more recent work has built on a 2006 study by researchers in Leipzig, Germany, who used puzzle tests such as Osvath’s raven experiment to show that apes could use tools and do planning. But scientists working with birds have long suspected some winged creatures could match the intellect of apes, particularly the wickedly smart ravens, crows and jays — members of the corvid family.

Several studies tried to measure and document those birds’ cognitive skills, mainly by focusing on their obsession with hiding food. Some found that ravens hid their food more quickly if they thought they were being watched. In other tests, scrub jays even moved their hidden food to a second spot once they realized they were being watched, in an apparent effort to ward off potential thieves.

Corvid scientists contended such behavior proved some birds have a cognitive awareness of what others might know or intend, as well as the ability to plan for future consequences. Critics shot down such conclusions, saying the birds’ reaction could be simple, instinctive responses to visual cues.

“It was a big argument, because it was difficult for some to imagine that birds could do these things, too,” said Thomas Bugnyar, a cognitive professor at the University of Vienna who has studied ravens for 20 years but was not involved in Osvath’s research. “People kept looking for holes or possible alternative explanations.”

Stepping squarely into the fray, the Swede set out to design a study to definitively prove the birds’ advanced abilities to reason.

Back in the mid-2000s, he had conducted some of the very studies hailed as proof of planning in apes. One of his most widely publicized (and amusing) reports, in fact, documented how a male chimpanzee at a Swedish zoo would leisurely collect stones and hide them in strategic places during early-morning hours just so that he could later hurl them at gawking visitors.

Osvath now hoped to do the same for ravens.

To conduct his experiment, he raised a group of ravens for five years. He witnessed their intelligence up close — playing games with them, watching as they developed complicated relationships with his graduate students. (One male raven particularly loved pecking his least favorite students on the head.)

Osvath had to modify the tool-based experiments he and others had conducted on apes, given birds’ lack of opposable thumbs. Instead of the sticks or drinking straws used with apes, the ravens got small rocks as tools to open the boxy contraption. For their reward, he provided a juicy, meaty dog kibble that they seemed to love.

In the end, the ravens matched the primates in every respect. On tests in which they had to barter for their reward by trading a specific token, the birds outscored the apes and even outperformed 4-year-old humans.

In an accompanying perspective, two University of Cambridge cognitive scientists called Osvath’s study “compelling evidence.” They wrote, “These results suggest that planning for the future is not uniquely human and evolved independently in distantly related species to address common problems.”

Based on past experiences, Osvath expects some people may be upset by his new study.

“When it comes to what animals can do compared to humans, there are those who cling to cognition as uniquely human,” he said in a phone interview, as his ravens squawked audibly in the background. “I think it has to do with religion, with this argument over whether animals have a soul or free will, and whether we are unique in the world.”

This obsession with human uniqueness, however, misses the entire goal of research into how animals think.

On that central question, he and others working with corvids believe their work poses major new questions given how birds and mammals went their separate ways on the evolutionary road some 300 million years ago. So did corvids and apes arrive at their sophisticated intelligence in totally different ways or based on similar factors and principles?

For evolutionary biologists, that and related questions loom large, with ramifications for everything from how intelligent life formed on Earth to whether extraterrestrial life might look or think like us.

“These are the real questions we should be asking about nature,” Osvath said. “Instead of just focusing on ourselves as humans, we should see ourselves as part of this world. If this study changes even one or two people’s minds about that, I will be happy.”

Read more:

Chimpanzees are animals. But are they ‘persons’?

How do dogs’ genes affect their behavior? Your pet can help scientists find out. 

Another point for elephant intelligence: They know when their bodies are in the way

Signs of Consciousness, Sentience and Intelligence in Nature Demand Our Respect

From: Ecoterra-internalional.org


By
Sofia Adamson (*), Staff Writer WakingTimesMay 10, 2017

Part of our lot as human beings on planet earth is dominion over the plant and animal kingdoms, and as a by-product of our economic and cultural heritage, we have largely become indifferent to the suffering of animals. An indicator of the cruelest aspects of our nature.

This systemic disrespect for nature and her creatures is part of, or symptomatic of, a larger problem with modern society, the institutionalized perception that we are separate and independent of our environment. This dualism is part of the division of consciousness that is often noted in ancient texts as well as contemporary discussions of the characteristics of human consciousness.

Perhaps the most appalling sign of human kind’s dualistic trap is how we treat our friends in the animal kingdom. Yet this destructive idea is a tragic falsehood, as animals and plants alike are conscious, sentient and intelligent. The examples of this are everywhere today, and in this video, we see humpback whales clearly showing their appreciation to the humans who freed them from fishing nets.

WATCH: Saving Valentina.6.8.11.h264.mov

We are now also discovering the deeper lives of plants, and in a research study spanning some 30 plus years, biologists have discovered the songs of plants.

LISTEN: Singing Plants at Damanhur | Des plantes qui jouent de la musique

Forest ecologist Dr. Suzanne Simard of the University of British Colombia has uncovered the subterranean network of organisms that allow trees to communicate with one another.

LEARN: Tree’s found to communicate through Fungi [Avatar!]

It appears that animal consciousness is rising at present here on planet earth, in spite of wholesale neglect. Elephants can understand and correctly interpret human gestures, and chimpanzees are developing new behaviors and skills. Here, Kanzi the bonobo chimpanzee starts a campfire to roast marshmallows.

SEE: Bonobo builds a fire and toasts marshmallows

Chimps have now been observed using tools to fish for food, a sign of their continuing cognitive development.

REALIZE: Chimpanzees fishing for algae with tools in Bakoun, Guinea

Their learning process is now being compared to that of human children, and in the following video, an experiment demonstrates the similarities between the two.

COMPARE: Chimpanzee VS Human child learning

Many of the world’s most majestic animals are under direct threat of extinction today, and while most humans fail to appreciate this for what it really means, others continue to learn from animals, admiring their tenacity in the face of overwhelming pressure from humans. In the following case a pack of Andean bears works together to dismantle remote wildlife cameras.

RESPECT: Remote Cameras Reveal: Andean Bears Hate Paparazzi

Animals display a broad range of emotion as well, as is sometimes revealed in front of cameras, for example here, when a leopard exhibits compassion for the child of monkey it has just killed.

UNDERSTAND: Leopard Kills Monkey and Discovers Baby! INCREDIBLE REACTION!

And animals also like to have fun, as is seen in this clip of dolphins getting high off puffer fish and having a good time in the wide open ocean.

ENJOY: Dolphins on Stimulants – Pass the Puffer!

You don’t have to look to hard to find signs of mankind’s disrespect, disregard, and distrust of nature. Raising awareness of our connection and dependence on the natural world in these materialistic times is the only way to counter the devastation. Fukushima, the Deepwater Horizon, mountain-top removal, deforestation, tar sands, fracking, plastic pollution, depleted uranium, animal cruelty, so on and on… there really is no end to our ignorance and disrespect.

Whatever your relationship to the natural world is, and no matter what kind of dystopian illusions you may have for our future, there is no escaping the truth that we are all products of nature, and as such dependent on the natural world for survival and happiness.

(*) Sofia Adamson is a contributing writer for Waking Times with a keen appreciation for matters of science and the spirit.
Read more articles from Sofia Adamson

This article (Signs of Consciousness, Sentience and Intelligence in Nature Demand Our Respect) was originally created and published by Waking Times and is published here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Sofia Adamson and WakingTimes.com. It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution and author bio.

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Duh…Apes might be able to tell what you’re thinking

Updated 11:02 AM ET, Fri October 7, 2016

One of the things that defines humans most is our ability to read others’ minds — that is, to make inferences about what others are thinking. To build or maintain relationships, we offer gifts and services — not arbitrarily, but with the recipient’s desires in mind. When we communicate, we do our best to take into account what our partners already know and to provide information we know will be new and comprehensible. And sometimes we deceive others by making them believe something that is not true, or we help them by correcting such false beliefs.

All these very human behaviors rely on an ability psychologists call theory of mind: We are able to think about others’ thoughts and emotions. We form ideas about what beliefs and feelings are held in the minds of others — and recognize that they can be different from our own. Theory of mind is at the heart of everything social that makes us human. Without it, we’d have a much harder time interpreting — and probably predicting — others’ behavior.
For a long time, many researchers have believed that a major reason human beings alone exhibit unique forms of communication, cooperation and culture is that we’re the only animals to have a complete theory of mind. But is this ability really unique to humans?
In a new study published in Science, my colleagues and I tried to answer this question using a novel approach. Previous work has generally suggested that people think about others’ perspectives in very different ways than other animals do. Our new findings suggest, however, that great apes may actually be a bit more similar to us than we previously thought.

Apes get some parts of what others are thinking

Decades of research with our closest relatives — chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans — have revealed that great apes do possess many aspects of theory of mind. For one, they can identify the goals and intentions behind others’ actions. They’re also able to recognize which features of the environment others can see or know about.
Where apes have consistently failed, though, is on tasks designed to assess their understanding of others’ false beliefs. They don’t seem to know when someone has an idea about the world that conflicts with reality.
Picture me rummaging through the couch because I falsely believe the TV remote is in there. “Duuuude,” my (human) roommate says, noticing my false belief, “the remote is on the table!” He’s able to imagine the way I’m misconstruing reality, and then set me straight with the correct information.
To investigate false belief understanding in great apes, comparative psychologist Fumihiro Kano and I turned to a technique that hadn’t been used before with apes in this context: eye-tracking. Our international team of researchers enrolled over 40 bonobos, chimpanzees and orangutans at Zoo Leipzig in Germany and Kumamoto Sanctuary in Japan in our novel, noninvasive experiment.
Researchers use juice to attract the apes to the spot where they can watch the videos.<img alt=”Researchers use juice to attract the apes to the spot where they can watch the videos.” class=”media__image” src=”http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/161006150420-great-apes-mind-2-large-169.jpg”>

Watching what they watched

We showed the apes videos of a human actor engaging in social conflicts with a costumed ape-like character (King Kong). Embedded within these interactions was important information about the human actor’s belief. For example, in one scene the human actor was trying to search for a stone that he saw King Kong hide within one of two boxes. However, while the actor was away, King Kong moved the stone to another location and then removed it completely; when the actor returned, he falsely believed the stone was still in its original location.
The big question was: Where would the apes expect the actor to search? Would they anticipate that the actor would search for the stone in the last place where he saw it, even though the apes themselves knew it was no longer there?
While the apes were watching the videos, a special camera faced them, recording their gaze patterns and mapping them onto the video. This eye-tracker let us see exactly where on the videos the apes were looking as they watched the scenarios play out.

No apologies: Why ARA writers should not fear accusations of “Anthropomorphism!” “Sentimentality!”

An Animal Rights Article from All-Creatures.org

FROM

Heidi Stephenson
June 2016

Man is not the pedestalled individual pictured by his imagination – a being glittering with prerogatives, and towering apart from and above all other beings. He is a pain-shunning, pleasure-seeking, death-dreading organism, differing in particulars, but not in kind, from the pain-shunning, pleasure-seeking, death-dreading organisms below and around him.
– (J. Howard Moore, The Universal Kinship)

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.
– (Mahatma Gandhi)

Animals have no voice in our wilfully deaf and conveniently anthropocentric, speciesist culture. Despite their clearly having consciousness (for those with eyes to see and ears to hear) and high levels of sapiency as well as sentiency, (which any of us who have had any sort of genuine relationship with a non-human being cannot fail to recognize,) their many languages are not understood by the majority of our fellow humans.

The failure is not on the animals’ part; it is on ours. Not even familiar canine, feline and equine languages, or methods of communication, are comprehended by the vast majority, after all these many aeons of loyal, devoted companionship, friendship and service. And this despite the fact that our fellow beings, (and especially those who are in close relationship with us) have more than managed to learn our own languages. They understand and interpret not only our many, different verbal requests, whether in French, Russian, Japanese, Arabic or Spanish, (all too frequently delivered as arrogant, dominionist commands, unfortunately) but also our physical body languages and our energetic, non-verbal (if you like, telepathic) communications. They read our emotions.

But, tragically, our determined, utilitarianist habits of exploitative thinking and living, deny them any right of response or recognition. We have reduced our highly evolved, non-human kin to mere “things,” to “livestock”, to “experimental subjects,” to “specimens,” – to commodities, to so many “its.” Our blatantly self-serving reductionism has deliberately negated their individuality, their conscious existence and experience, their personalities and their souls. We have disingenuously dismissed all their emotional, psychological and spiritual complexities (which we have barely even begun to fathom, having not wanted to look for so long,) to a simplistic, mechanized “instinct.”

Ours is the herd mentality.

How guilty and remorseful we would all feel if they spoke back to us in a language we couldn’t fail to understand, and we were actually forced to listen! (The Bible’s story about Balaam’s ass makes just this point. And the Divine is clearly on the poor ass’s side.)

It is here that the enlightened writer needs to come in. Our moral and our creative duty is to convey their point of view; to translate it for those who seem unable (or unwilling) to comprehend it otherwise.

The writer is by nature and disposition an empath. The writer is sensitive, observant and importantly able to engage with the experience of another. The writer’s heart is mostly wide open. (Very few respond to the writings of a closed heart. Clever, clever, mind-only writings simply don’t touch us. They pass through our own minds as just another load of ego-centric baloney; ‘intelligent’ perhaps, but abstract, cold. The world is not transformed by them in any way at all.) A good writer feels, sees fully, hears everything, actually dares to bear witness to what is, on all levels – and thus, thankfully, has a different, more developed lens of perception to share.

Writers who write about animals, about their fellow beings, care. We care very deeply. Our compassion and understanding, our capacity to connect, are highly developed. That is why we write. Because we cannot just remain silent. Having uncovered, having discovered, having born witness to the living hell that is most animals’ experience at our hands, we have to make use of so often inadequate, man-made words to pierce through the cold walls of human indifference.

We have to touch. We have to bring viscerally to life. We have to use the power of truthfully observed detail, noticing everything (inside and out) feeling everything, to rekindle the embers of better being in us all, to remind us of our tragically long-forgotten inter-species unity, of our sameness, (and not our petty differences). We have to break down centuries of hardened, calloused indifference.

Abstractions and vast statistics simply don’t touch the majority. If they cannot, as readers, imagine themselves inside the experience of the suffering other, if they cannot identify, they will not be motivated to make personal changes, and to fight for change. Reading is a co-creative process – and it requires the writer to have gone there fully first; to powerfully evoke.

Writers who have the conscience, kindness and commitment to actually write about animals, who have the courage to look their suffering directly in the eye (a tough, torturous path, though very necessary) who have the devotion to their animal brothers and sisters to dedicate themselves to ending all the terrible oppression, all the atrocity, abuse and pain – must never be held back by that old, bitter and selfishly motivated accusation of “anthropomorphism!”

To empathise is not to fantasize or to project at all – but rather to recognise fellow suffering when we see, hear, smell, know and touch it. To empathise is to connect to the vivid reality of another. It is to make real, to embody the cosmic Golden Rule to “Do as you would be done by” and the Silver Rule to “Not do as you would not be done by.” It is love in action.

There is nothing sentimental whatsoever about this compulsion at all. It is, in fact, our highest calling. And there should be no apologies for it either.

Where would we be if we had failed to empathize with the many victims of the slave-trade, of vicious, racist and sexist attacks, of war, terrorism and famine? Where would all the children be, all the people with learning difficulties and mental health problems, all the political prisoners who suffered so long at human hands, if we had failed to finally empathize with their plight, to bring it to light so that others could feel it for themselves – and thus demand change?

By contrast, sentimentality is to imagine what is not there. It is to dump idealized longings onto others for our own selfish sakes. It is to bypass reality.

That is not what writers who empathize with their fellow beings do at all. Writers who empathize connect again, (where most have disconnected,) and report back. We do this in order to wake ourselves and others up, to shake us all out of our self-centred reveries, to pour a cold bucket of water over our conveniently slumbering consciences. We cry out with everything we have in us: “Have you seen what’s going on here? Will you please look! How can you bear it? Do something! We each have a moral responsibility! They are just like us – how can you not care?”

Writers who empathize force us all to look at what we each are doing, what we are colluding in, what weare contributing to. We are forced to take responsibility for our negative day-to-day choices that directly correlate, incrementally, to immense, unimaginable, abominable animal suffering. Empathic writing cuts through all those guilt-filled attempts at avoidance and dismissal, the desperate pleas of “don’t tell me, don’t tell me – I don’t want to know!”

I say it again, there must be no apologies. It is our violent culture that is so wrong, not the courageous writers who dare to expose this violence. It is not the writer who should modify his or her approach for fear of upsetting the oppressors, the animal abusers, the exploiters and the colluders, for fear of public ridicule – but rather the oppressors, the animal abusers, the exploiters and the colluders who should hang their heads in shame.

The time will come when we will look back on this longest of struggles, this most devilish of slaveries – the enslavement of our vulnerable, innocent, animal kin, (who should have had our protection,) as we now do on human slavers, on human murderers, on rapists and paedophiles. (Let’s not forget all the ‘licensed’ animal brothels currently open across the world, and the crush video sadists who are making a fortune in this twenty-first century.) It is the unenlightened who need to apologize and repent for their cruel abominations – not the empathic writers who seek to understand and communicate the hidden truth.

I would rather be accused of “anthropomorphism!” and “sentimentality!” any day, than of animal rape or animal murder. I would rather care too deeply (is there such a thing?) than not enough. I would rather be accused of being over-soft, than over-hard. I would rather love, than hate. And I would far rather be defined as a bunny-hugger than a bunny vivisector, a bunny killer, a bunny torturer, an angora wool-puller, a blood-covered, live animal skinner.

Let us never be ashamed. Let us write passionately and movingly on behalf of our suffering, animal kin, in order to shine the most powerful light we possibly can, the Divine light of creativity, on the world’s man-made darkness. Let us break open hearts in the process, so that healing can begin. As Francis of Assisi said, “A single sunbeam is enough to drive away many shadows.”

Let us write without any fear of retribution or of societal reprimand. Let us remember the billions of animal victims instead, and forget our human accusers.

One day they will thank us for it. One day they will try and claim they too were part of the resistance.

http://www.all-creatures.org/articles/ar-no-apologies.html

Maybe It’s Time to Take Animal Feelings Seriously

http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2016/02/

By

Dogs can read human emotions. So, it appears, can horses. Whales have regional accents. Ravens have demonstrated that they might be able to guess at the thoughts of other ravens — something scientists call “theory of mind,” which has long been considered a uniquely human ability. All of these findings have been published within the past several weeks, and taken together they suggest that many of the traits and abilities we believe are “uniquely human” are, in fact, not so unique to us.

That statement probably sounds as if it is veering perilously close to anthropomorphism, and if you know anything about research concerning animal behavior, you likely know this: Anthropomorphism is bad. Animals are animals, and people are people; to assume that an elephant, for example, experiences joy in the same way a human does is laughably unscientific. This has been the prevailing mode of thought in this line of scientific inquiry for most of the last century — to staunchly avoid, and even ridicule, any research project that dared to suggest that animals might be thinking or feeling in the same way that humans do.

But new studies like these, along with a slew of recent books by respected biologists and science writers, are seriously considering the inner lives of animals. Now some prominent scientists are arguing that, though the impulse was well-intentioned, decades of knee-jerk avoidance of all things anthropomorphic may have mostly served to hold this field back. “It ruined the field,” biologist and author Carl Safina told Science of Us. “Not just held it back — it’s ruined the field. It prevented people from even asking those questions for about 40 years.”

The theme of Safina’s book Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel pairs nicely with a forthcoming title from famed primatologist Frans de Waal called Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? Both scientists make the case for something the biologist Gordon Burghardt called “critical anthropomorphism” — using your own human intuition and understanding as a starting point for understanding animal cognition. “Thus, saying that animals ‘plan’ for the future or ‘reconcile’ after fights is more than anthropomorphic language: These terms propose testable ideas,” de Waal writes.

More:   http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2016/02/