Snails used for human consumption: The case of meat and slime 2020-02-06T17:00:29.097Z · score: 69 (27 votes)
Next Steps in Invertebrate Welfare, Part 3: Understanding Attitudes and Possibilities 2019-11-14T22:07:39.129Z · score: 38 (11 votes)
Next Steps in Invertebrate Welfare, Part 2: Possible Interventions 2019-11-14T00:40:17.582Z · score: 43 (16 votes)
Next Steps in Invertebrate Welfare, Part 1: Fundamental Research 2019-11-11T19:01:51.563Z · score: 52 (17 votes)
What Do Unconscious Processes in Humans Tell Us About Sentience? 2019-06-14T23:21:28.438Z · score: 36 (14 votes)
Invertebrate Sentience: Summary of findings, Part 2 2019-06-14T21:19:10.241Z · score: 69 (28 votes)
Invertebrate Sentience: Summary of findings, Part 1 2019-06-14T17:35:19.766Z · score: 40 (14 votes)
Invertebrate Sentience Table 2019-06-14T15:57:37.259Z · score: 85 (28 votes)


Comment by daniela-r-waldhorn on Snails used for human consumption: The case of meat and slime · 2020-02-13T10:16:31.412Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Interesting, thank you!

Comment by daniela-r-waldhorn on Snails used for human consumption: The case of meat and slime · 2020-02-12T12:20:20.548Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for your comment, adamShimi! Do you have a sense of the profile of people that find eating snails disgusting? I wonder if it's a generational issue, for example. In Spain, eating snails now seems to be much more prevalent among older generations than among the youngest population.

Comment by daniela-r-waldhorn on Snails used for human consumption: The case of meat and slime · 2020-02-07T16:04:07.164Z · score: 30 (15 votes) · EA · GW

Hey Julia! I partially address that point in the section that Linch indicated. As you say, whether snails have a capacity for valenced experience is still uncertain. When compared to bivalves, snails have more diverse and specialized sensory organs. As snails are motile and active foragers, they display a wider range of behaviors, and that is reflected in greater neural complexity. For instance, snails show nociceptive responses, like avoidance behavior in response to high temperatures (not surprisingly, several sources that provide instructions for cooking snails mention the attempts of snails to escape boiling water). However, relatively little is known about the anatomical organization and actual functions of most neurons in their ganglionic regions.
I must admit that I haven't investigated any bivalves in detail. Still, for what I know, the case for snail sentience is much better than the evidence for bivalve sentience.

Comment by daniela-r-waldhorn on Opinion: Estimating Invertebrate Sentience · 2020-01-08T20:58:05.518Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW


Although the possession of nociceptors is perhaps some evidence of a capacity to feel pain, it is certainly not by itself "a good indicator" of that capacity. If nociceptors are not connected to centralized information-processing structures, these neurons could trigger reflexive reactions (i.e., similar to spinally mediated responses in mammals), but that would not imply that the nociceptive input is consciously perceived (in humans, see Becker et al., 2012; Dubin & Patapoutian, 2010). If we understand consciousness as suitably integrated information (Oizumi et al., 2014), the projections of nociceptors to integrative information-processing structures is a crucial aspect to examine when judging the probability that a nonhuman individual is conscious.

In the case of C. elegans, unlike other invertebrates, they do not seem to have a specific neural region for the processing of spatial information and organization of movement. In other words, movement and stimuli discrimination do not appear to be integrated in a manner sufficiently similar to the vertebrate midbrain (see Altun & Hall, 2011; Kato et al., 2015).

However, it should be noted that some noxious stimuli reactions have been identified in C. elegans, specifically, physiological responses to nociception and moving away from a noxious stimulus. However, heat-evoked escape responses in these animals, for example, are considered highly stereotypical, and a reflexive reaction (Leung et al., 2016).

Finally, when I used the term "simple" [nociceptive behaviors] here I specifically meant: (i) nociceptive responses can be identified, but they do not necessarily account for noxious stimulus intensity and direction, (ii) absence or insufficient indicators of 'long-term' learning and memory, and (iii) absence or insufficient indicators of motivational tradeoffs. Given our findings (summarized here), C. elegans seem to mostly display simple nociceptive responses.

Comment by daniela-r-waldhorn on We're Rethink Priorities. AMA. · 2019-12-13T16:34:26.575Z · score: 11 (6 votes) · EA · GW

I applied to RP when I decided to make an important change in my career. If RP hadn't hired me, I'd have kept trying it at different EA organizations, maybe as an intern. Yet, I would likely have ended up working in a management position at a local NGO.

Comment by daniela-r-waldhorn on We're Rethink Priorities. AMA. · 2019-12-13T16:06:49.599Z · score: 10 (7 votes) · EA · GW

Yes, now I'm more careful while walking outside.
After our research on invertebrates, I also placed a net in some windows at home, and I purposefully keep them closed as long as possible to prevent any flying insects from visiting us and being "welcomed" by my cats.

Comment by daniela-r-waldhorn on We're Rethink Priorities. AMA. · 2019-12-13T16:03:10.173Z · score: 13 (7 votes) · EA · GW

I do think that the chances of bivalves being sentient are quite low. However, I do not eat them because I'm already used to a plant-based diet, and given our uncertainty, I adhere to the precautionary principle in this case.

In general, I would not recommend consuming marine invertebrates produced in countries where trawling is not banned, given its impact on other aquatic animals for whom there is a high probability that they are sentient (i.e., fish and other vertebrates).

Still, I'm unsure about the consequences of promoting bivalve consumption, even if they are farmed. I'm concerned about how some people might interpret such a message –e.g., they may assume, without much thought, that consuming other more complex invertebrates (e.g., shrimps) is equivalent.

Comment by daniela-r-waldhorn on We're Rethink Priorities. AMA. · 2019-12-13T15:34:30.236Z · score: 12 (10 votes) · EA · GW

I agree with Jason. Additionally, I probably wouldn't be a researcher if I didn't work for an organization like RP because of operational costs, security/risk, and well-being reasons. But more importantly, since I'm at an early stage of my career as a researcher, if I worked independently, I wouldn't count on the support of my team and researchers with more experience. That would make it very difficult for me to improve and develop professionally as a researcher.

Comment by daniela-r-waldhorn on Next Steps in Invertebrate Welfare, Part 2: Possible Interventions · 2019-11-25T21:11:55.749Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

¡Gracias por tu interés y tu colaboración, Mati!

Thank you for your interest and collaboration, Mati!

Comment by daniela-r-waldhorn on Next Steps in Invertebrate Welfare, Part 2: Possible Interventions · 2019-11-25T21:09:37.355Z · score: 7 (3 votes) · EA · GW


Good question about repellants. Indeed, if food were the limiting factor, repellants would be much more effective. But in agricultural lands, crops constitute a superabundant source of potential food. In these landscapes, invertebrates like some insects or snails do not seem to be mainly limited by the amount of available food –instead, access to quality feed appears to be a matter of greater importance.

Therefore, deterring insects typically move off on to a new crop, where they do not necessarily compete for food, and their populations can thrive. So it is unclear whether repellants will actually reduce populations of target invertebrates. That is why repellents are only used occasionally in crops. They work better as a part of a strategy that incorporates other forms of population control.

Comment by daniela-r-waldhorn on Next Steps in Invertebrate Welfare, Part 3: Understanding Attitudes and Possibilities · 2019-11-20T21:24:23.563Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Hi Tobias!

Thanks for your interest and your stimulating feedback. In general, I think that people do not have an elaborated position about these issues. But we are typically resistant to ideas that conflict with our beliefs, and, as you say, if one rationalization does not work, in all probability, we will make up a new excuse in order to dismiss a "troubling" or "crazy" position.

Unfortunately, there is no direct evidence about this specific effect in how we morally think about invertebrates. In fact, the psychological barriers here described are, in several cases, mere hypotheses based on existing knowledge. Thus, to what extent these psychological barriers operate, and the role of the radical flank effect and other mechanisms are issues that should be empirically addressed.

I also share your impression that, in some contexts, we may have the chance to promote welfare measures for some invertebrates, like octopuses, crabs, or lobsters. Crustacean Compassion's work in the UK is a good example in this regard. Surprisingly, some of their demands are shared by the Labour Party, and an animal welfare organization linked to the Conservative Party. I still wonder under what circumstances this is possible –(i) on behalf of which species and why (i.e., what factors make us more likely to consider some invertebrates rather than others), and (ii) what makes a society more suitable for such demands. Do you have any other suggestions in this regard?

Comment by daniela-r-waldhorn on Next Steps in Invertebrate Welfare, Part 1: Fundamental Research · 2019-11-15T03:46:43.631Z · score: 16 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Hi Tobias!

Thanks again for sharing your views. Regarding the role of further research, first, we should keep in mind that the scientific literature in invertebrate sentience is still scarce, and the extent to which invertebrates have been investigated varies. Thus, there are some particular species about which there is a comparatively great deal of knowledge (e.g., fruit flies). But for several other taxa, potentially consciousness-indicating features have not been investigated at all. It is unknown if many invertebrate taxa display particular anatomical, physiological, or behavioral functions that seem to be necessary for consciousness (e.g., nociceptors in honey bees). Especially in these cases, I think further research may significantly reduce current uncertainty.

Additionally, we should consider that the scientific community does not agree that many invertebrate taxa are sentient. Probably, the only exception are cephalopods. In this case, we have seen how further research has led to relevant ethical discussions and specific welfare measures on the use of live cephalopods in science (at least, in Europe). Some researchers believe that in the future, other invertebrate taxa will face similar challenges, and additional research will promote further discussions on invertebrate welfare. Similarly, new research would also contribute to identify the most determining factors in invertebrates' quality of life and prioritize forms of intervention.

Nevertheless, lack of scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent potential suffering –especially in cases of potential threats of serious or irreversible harms. Do you have other ideas about this?

Your question about society's lack of moral concern for invertebrates is very interesting. In general, existing knowledge about our attitudes towards invertebrates mostly looks into occurrent, spontaneous, or superficial responses that people tend to experience in the course of their everyday life (e.g., disgust, as you say). But, importantly, those attitudes do not necessarily reflect people's views on the moral consideration of invertebrates, or their actual behavior towards these animals. For example, even if someone feels disgust towards insects, that does not necessarily entail that she believes they are not sentient, that their pain does not matter or that using insecticide is morally innocuous.  Apparently, most people have not even thought about these issues as moral problems and, in turn, may hold a collection of unreflected ideas. If you're interested in this, I've just published a new post about our attitudes towards invertebrates and challenges.

Comment by daniela-r-waldhorn on Next Steps in Invertebrate Welfare, Part 1: Fundamental Research · 2019-11-13T23:19:38.834Z · score: 4 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Hi Tobias!

Thanks for commenting. You're right. All else equal, smaller organisms or those with less intense experiences may have relatively less positive and negative experiences. However, since smaller individuals are typically r-selected, while they can suffer in large numbers, they usually live relatively short lives. Thus, two shifts happen –one of which drives the net balance of suffering up, and the other which drives the net balance of suffering down:

  • First, as the more organisms in a species fail, the more cases of suffering there are relative to enjoyment.
  • Second, as the number of organisms which fail increases, based on an evolutionary constrained optimization, the degree each organism suffers may decrease. Evolution may put relatively less weight on suffering since suffering becomes more costly for genes in expectation the more organisms experience it. In the case of r-selected individuals (who are typically smaller), if indeed evolution is optimizing, then their shorter lifespan may serve to attenuate their suffering.

Because these two effects go in opposite directions, as the number of failing organisms rises, total suffering may come to exceed overall enjoyment, or the opposite may occur instead. In other words, while greater intensity of experience would lead to more suffering relative to enjoyment, a higher rate of evolutionary failure relative to success may have a surprisingly ambiguous effect.

For the time being, given this trade-off between number and degree of suffering, it is not possible to conclude whether suffering or enjoyment predominates in nature. Additionally, it should be noted that the question of how evolution produces positive and negative experiences is highly uncertain.

Comment by daniela-r-waldhorn on Opinion: Estimating Invertebrate Sentience · 2019-11-07T12:08:23.193Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

You're right! Thanks for your feedback, Max Daniel! We'll correct that shortly.

Comment by daniela-r-waldhorn on What Do Unconscious Processes in Humans Tell Us About Sentience? · 2019-07-03T14:55:59.728Z · score: 8 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Hey Max! Thanks for your feedback and for your vital contribution to this project. Sorry I couldn't get back to you before –I had taken a few days off.

The example you provide fits well in what I classified as "sophisticated information processing functions that can be performed unconsciously". Of course we can come up with creative ideas after a period of conscious thought, but it doesn't necessarily happen that way. As you describe, unconscious processes play an important role in achieving creative insights, during what is called "the incubation period". Neuroimaging studies suggest that the association cortices are the primary areas that are active during this state and that the brain is spontaneously reorganizing itself. Recent research also supports the idea that it is not merely the absence of conscious thought that drives creativity incubation effects, but that during an incubation period unconscious processes contribute to creative thinking.

It's still not clear which are the functional advantages of conscious over non-conscious thinking. In general, which kind of stimuli or tasks are more efficiently processed using unconscious mechanisms is an issue that remains to be elucidated. We also need a more refined distinction between neural correlates of unconsciousness (the absence of any conscious contents) vs. neural correlates of disconnectedness (the absence of perception of the environment) in different altered levels of consciousness.

How these findings can be applied to research on consciousness in invertebrates? I'm unsure. Perhaps we can assess if equivalent structures of their CNS are activated when performing tasks that challenge them to "make associations" –and this may shed some light on how likely they are to show flexible ("creative") responses. Currently, in my opinion, it is clearer how these findings can contribute to improving our thinking: for instance, we are likely to benefit more from an incubation period when we get stuck, or when we are dealing with a problem where the conventional approach is wrong. For specific tasks, a break of 3 min can be enough to promote unconscious thought. Understanding and facilitating creativity can have a direct application in the EA community since creativity plays a vital role in research and designing innovative solutions.

Comment by daniela-r-waldhorn on Invertebrate Sentience Table · 2019-06-27T12:59:37.723Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for your enriching comment, Gavin. Just wanted to add to Jason's response that, unfortunately, there is no consensus on whether various features potentially indicative of consciousness would be adaptive for any conscious individual, regardless of a species' evolutionary history and its adaptive needs.

Complicating things even further, we do not even have such thing as a 'universal' intelligence measuring instrument for humans–cultural differences in intelligence determine results country by country. The above points out that we need more research that tells us both criteria for understanding which features might be more robust for detecting consciousness, and forms of measurement that are sensitive to relevant differences between different groups of individuals.

Comment by daniela-r-waldhorn on Invertebrate Sentience: Summary of findings, Part 2 · 2019-06-20T18:38:24.385Z · score: 4 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks again for your valuable comments and suggestions, Gavin! I'll definitely dig deeper into those aspects you point out.

Comment by daniela-r-waldhorn on Invertebrate Sentience Table · 2019-06-20T16:01:57.275Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Hi MichaelStJules! We'll consider that paper for a clarificatory commentary on this. Thanks again for your suggestions!

Comment by daniela-r-waldhorn on Invertebrate Sentience Table · 2019-06-17T13:19:34.842Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Hi MichaelStJules. Thanks again for your valuable suggestions! We will publicly share our plans to update /expand this database. Additionally, in upcoming posts we aim to outline the current state of improving invertebrate welfare as a cause area and suggest possible next steps in this regard.

Comment by daniela-r-waldhorn on What Do Unconscious Processes in Humans Tell Us About Sentience? · 2019-06-17T13:12:11.257Z · score: 11 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Hi, gavintaylor. Thanks for your comment. Research in patients with vegetative or minimally consciousness states –different from dementia or delirium, which should be better described as acute disturbances in consciousness– would probably shed some light on this matter. However, this area of research might be challenging by itself.

Disorders of consciousness are heterogeneous, and judging the level of actual awareness has proved a complicated process. Traditional tests and observations have been criticized since they require some level of subjective interpretation –such as deciding whether a patient's movements are purposeful or not. In fact, recent research has revealed that about 40% of vegetative state diagnoses is incorrect.

We know, for instance, that some vegetative patients and other individuals in a minimally conscious state are capable of simple learning (i.e., classical conditioning). In a study, it was observed that the amount of learning correlated with the degree of cortical damage and was a good indicator of future recovery. But none of these effects were found in control subjects under the effect of anesthesia.

Furthermore, integrative brain processing, a proposed prerequisite of awareness, has been observed in minimally conscious state patients as well. Previous neuroimaging work has shown that some vegetative patients, when asked to imagine performing physical tasks such as playing tennis, still had activity in premotor areas. In other patients, verbal cues sparked language sectors.

Hence, these results have two interpretations. First, individuals with disorders of consciousness may have partially preserved conscious processing, which cannot be exhibited clearly via voluntary movement or verbal responses. Or, a second interpretation is that conditioning, for example, can indeed be acquired in the absence of consciousness.

Given that (i) individuals in a pharmacologically controlled unconscious state were incapable of displaying signs of learning, and (ii) learning was a good predictor of recovery, researchers consider that the first interpretation is more likely. However, this comparison must be made cautiously and complementary evidence about these processes–including neuroimaging studies–should also be taken into account.

As you suggest, more research in this field may pave the way for more definitive and accurate assessments of consciousness in humans, and probably, in non-human individuals as well.

Comment by daniela-r-waldhorn on What Do Unconscious Processes in Humans Tell Us About Sentience? · 2019-06-17T11:30:44.290Z · score: 11 (7 votes) · EA · GW

Hi JoshYou. Thanks for your very pertinent comment.

We are aware of the possibility of hidden qualia. It is a valuable hypothesis. Nevertheless, we found no empirical evidence to support it, at least in the literature on invertebrate sentience. If you will, you can view our project as a compilation and analysis of the existing evidence about the sentience of individual invertebrate organisms, as opposed to subroutines within those systems. Under this reading, what we call ‘unconscious processes’ would be understood as processes which are inaccessible to the organisms’s first-person perspective.

We are also aware that, on some accounts, one really does not need empirical evidence to determine whether a process (or subroutine or algorithm) is conscious. All of them are. On such an account, the relevant distinction is between processes that matter morally and those who don’t. Someone who endorsed this view should interpret our position as agnostic about (but compatible with) the thesis that there are hidden qualia.

Comment by daniela-r-waldhorn on Invertebrate Sentience Table · 2019-06-17T11:26:15.635Z · score: 9 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Hi MichaelStJules!

For now, (1) the table is not downloadable. Regarding (3), in various cases, we use the taxon or the species name to highlight that existing evidence only applies to that specific species. Thus, generalizing from a single species to the rest of the taxon or higher taxonomic ranks is potentially problematic –primarily when an invertebrate category comprises a large group of species, as is the case with ants.

Thank you for your suggestions. We will take them into account to improve our work.

Comment by daniela-r-waldhorn on Invertebrate Sentience Table · 2019-06-17T10:52:19.582Z · score: 11 (5 votes) · EA · GW

We were aware of that study, thanks for sharing it!

However, that paper is published by a potentially predatory journal, and no further evidence on this matter was found. Hence, we maintain our current response (‘unknown’), but will introduce a clarificatory commentary mentioning this study and its reliability limitations.