Walter Veit (@wrwveit & walterveit.com) is an interdisciplinary scientist, philosopher & writer focusing on biology, minds & ethics. He publishes the ‘Science and Philosophy‘ series on Psychology Today and Medium.
In these Sentientist Conversations we talk about the two most important questions: “what’s real?” & “what matters?” Sentientism is “evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” As well as the YouTube video above, the audio is also on our Podcast – subscribe here on Apple & here on all other platforms.
- Defending Descartes, as a child!
- Studying philosophy, politics, economics & science
- Writing a phd on the philosophy of consciousness. How sentience came to arise in a purely physical universe
- Growing up in an agnostic family, attending church but “grumbling”
- Finding it strange learning about god at school. Asking annoying questions 🙂
- A brief early teenage phase of believing in god, then reverting to atheism
- Church seemed like a “weird cult-like thing.” “It just didn’t make sense.”
- There are thousands of religions. They can’t all be right. Just disbelieving in one more than religious people do
- Being a “hard-core naturalist” but still feeling the pull of superstition
- Finding naturalism reassuring. Can abandon the “f*cking scary stuff” (monsters, ghosts, hell)
- We can just enjoy our lives & explore the universe
- The pull of being part of something larger. The universe, a tribe, a sports team fan group…
- The hesitation in Germany about collectivism
- “It’s a peculiar world we live in – it’s exciting”
- Does morality crumble without the normative force of a god. “A dude in the sky making up laws and we just have to follow them”
- People sceptical of morality aren’t sceptical about laws. You can break them but there might be consequences
- Too much of morality seems arbitrary. But Bentham almost proposed utilitarianism as a sort of science, not morality
- Utilitarians in the UK were engaged in politics & in improving the world
- Instead of considering morality – just consider the facts re: “What do animals want from their own point of view”
- Facts: animals exist. They can be harmed. They don’t like suffering
- Humans evolved as a social species. That makes us care
- “Morality” might create more harms than benefits!
- There is no dividing line between humans and other animals because we all have interests
- Both morality and religion have been used to divide humans & animals
- Even oppressive groups have divided people through an appeal to morality
- The deep connection between morality and spirituality/religion. Often naturalists & atheists don’t see the danger
- Naturalists are attacked for being amoral but are no less moral
- Naturalism can ground morality, but only in a weak way
- Naturalism doesn’t need to compete with religious, super-ordinate meta-ethics
- Is sentient experience the root of all value?
- Moral realism/anti-realism
- Nature isn’t a good guide to morality
- Nietzsche’s master & slave morality
- If people with different interests appeal to different moralities (as with different gods) it’s hard to find common ground
- Hunter-gatherer morality doesn’t work on a global scale
- The risks of relativism
- Partner Heather Browning, zoologist turned philosopher
- Are zoos intrinsically bad? What do animals want?
- Humans fantasize about what life in the wild is like
- Taking the perspective of the other
- The false distinction between subjective & objective “mattering”. The only “mattering” is subjective
- We should be more neutral about what matters to each individual
- The richness of sentient experience
- Long-termism: future sentients have no voice. Democracy is just a fight between current humans
- Is Sentientism the only moral discrimination?
- Biocentrism & ecocentrism are absurd. The only things that matter, matter to a subject
- We subjects can care about the environment
- “If you don’t think chimpanzees don’t feel pain you should re-consider everything you’ve learned”
- Donald Griffin’s revival of animal consciousness science
- Humans are just one little branching point on life’s tree
- Can there be consciousness without valence?
- Dennett’s “suffering matters” and Walter’s “pathological complexity” thesis
- Even pre-Cambrian, flexible action evolved in the face of pathological complexity in the wild (not the lab!)
- Staying away from danger, seeking the good: the evolution of utility
- Getting rid of the hard problem
- Degrees of vs. binary sentience. Favouring gradualism
- When I wake up in the morning I’m not fully conscious. Coffee is needed for us to become fully sentient beings!
- Consciousness and sentience as classes of evaluative information processing
- Panpsychism is a non-starter. It has no evolutionary rationale
- “If there is something it’s like to be an electron then it’s bloody boring”
- “Being complex in a complex world and having to make complex decisions is you need sentience as an efficient way of making choices”
- Artificial sentience might not have to have an evolutionary rationale, but biological ones do
- Living systems are goal directed. There are obstacles (pathological) to those goals
- Will even artificial sentients need some pathological drive – Robot Wars
- We are robots as well!
- We don’t yet know how it works. Maybe a whole brain wave / electrical phenomenon?
- Insect sentience. Duration, intensity, population size…
- Sentientism doesn’t have to grant equal consideration to every type of sentient
- Could we genetically engineer animals to enjoy being farmed?
- Clean/cultivated meat
- It’s hard to think beyond our own experiences
- Sentient experience is foundational, not freedom
- Peter Singer’s influence
- “We just care about suffering”. There are beings that suffer – we can do science about that
- Sentientism is a necessary stance. To find out about animal experiences we need to care about them
- Our worldview is finally changing, both re: naturalism and in how we want the world to be
- “Caring about beings that care about their lives”. There is nothing magical here
- Establishing the pluralistic foundations of naturalism and sentiocentrism in Sentientism and bringing disciplines together in that common ground.
Sentientism is “Evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” More at sentientism.info.
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Thanks, Graham for the post-prod: @cgbessellieu.