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February 21, 2007

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Alexandra Semyonova

P.S. It is striking that this discussion is flaring up just now, when the European Union is considering sharpening its laws protecting experimental animals. Descartes adopted his standpoint in the hope of creating an area of research that would be outside the control of the Church and its religious doctrines that protected living beings. Now, with secular forces gathering to reinstate some protection, this discussion seems like history repeating itself: little more than an attempt to escape now *secular* control of what researchers are allowed to do to animals.

Alexandra Semyonova

The medical researchers you mention are guilty of a contradiction I'd like to see them solve. They maintain both that animals are like us, thus can serve for testing, but are not like us, thus can be freely used for such testing. It's a bit transparent. Really, I think the whole discussion is (sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously) motivated by fear of having their lab animals taken away from them. The human wish to somehow be different from other animals has always been self-serving, beginning with Descartes.

Also please notice the sudden addition of the word "conscious" to a discussion that used to be about whether animals have feelings at all. This is another example of trying to up the ante as we discover that animals do all kinds of things we thought only we do (e.g., tool making). But in a way, this is a regression, because basically, this takes us back to the old criterion everyone was so fixated on in the 1970's -- language. Those who talk about human consciousness are, in the end, whether they realize it or not, very much relying on human verbal reports about what Skinner called private events. Indeed, you don't really know that a colleague feels pleasure. It's just that s/he can tell you s/he does.

This is a real case of scientists failing to objectively observe themselves.

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