Find Heather’s Sentientist Conversation with me here on Youtube or here on the Sentientism podcast.
Heather is a scientist (zoology and biology), philosopher & a former zookeeper & animal welfare officer. She is now a researcher at the London School of Economics specialising in non-human animal sentience, welfare, & ethics.
In Sentientist Conversations we talk about the two most important questions: “what’s real?” & “what matters?” Sentientism is “evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” Watch on YouTube above or find the audio on our Podcast – subscribe on Apple here & on the other platforms here.
1:33 Heather Intro – biology to zookeeping to philosophy
- Volunteering, later working at zoos. Getting to know animals
- Studying zoology/biology
- Studying philosophy, shifting to PhD focus on measuring animal welfare
- “Cheetahs don’t really like to run”
- How do “natural behaviours” relate to animal welfare
- Trying to take the animal’s point of view
- The Foundations of Animal Sentience programme at LSE
- The power of interdisciplinary work
10:55 What’s real?
- Growing up in a fairly naturalistic household. Occasional church visits
- Being encouraged to question & explore
- Joining a church group for the community
- Balking at religious rules/restrictions
- Asking questions & not getting answers
- “Science just seemed like the best way of investigating the world”
- Scientists are flawed humans too
- There are many things we don’t know & some we may never understand
- We’re evolved creatures that have developed heuristics that have been useful to us for survival/procreation
- The dangers of a need for/expectation of perfection
- Dangers of over-confidence/dogma/motivated reasoning in science
21:54 What matters morally?
- Naturalism does involve giving up meaning, but we can create our own meaning
- Hedonist nihilism. What matters to me?
- Sitting between naturalising or eliminating morality, vs. moral realism
- Evolutionary basis of human consciousness, including empathy, fairness, co-operation (and not just in humans)
- “What matters is the subjective pleasure and pains we have in our lives”
- “Our wellbeing is an objective fact about the world”
- Empathy is caring about the wellbeing of others
31:42 Which entities matter? Moral scope
- “I’ve always loved animals”
- At 5 yrs “When I grow up I want to be a zookeeper”
- Finding it difficult to eat meat. Feeling disgust
- Saying “I’m vegetarian” to get out of cooking meat in a class, then realising “I could just do that” and going vegetarian at 12 yrs
- Supportive parents: “Now you need to learn to cook!” & being joined by a sister
- A friend was told “You can’t go vegetarian”
- The increasing acceptability of veg*nism in many cultures
- Veganism might not yet have reduced the scale of animal farming but it’s at least reduced the rate of growth
- Whether fast-growing economies can bypass the fossil fuel/factory farm path
40:05 Biocentrism & ecocentrism
- Ginsburg & Jablonka’s Evolution of the Sensitive Soul
- 3 modes of being: life; sensitive; rational. Different ways of mattering morally
44:30 Wild animal suffering
- How important is freedom and “natural” behaviour to animal welfare
- Welfare biology
- We shouldn’t be naive about experiences in the wild but we shouldn’t exaggerate their suffering either. More science needed
- Suffering matters even if we didn’t cause it
- Tractability, complexity and unintended consequences are serious issues but they’re not an excuse for turning away
- Genetic engineering, fencing, wildlife corridors, contraception… or “kill them all”
- Marc Bekoff and Compassionate conservation
- It’s interesting how animals (including humans!) can be removed from moral consideration just by putting them in a category
54:46 Human ethics
- Sentientism rejects intra-human discrimination too
- Philosophical pluralism and the importance of moral considerability
- Understanding the harm/experience is separate from deciding what to do
58:14 Animal farming & fishing
- Human taste preference & social norms vs. severe physical pain & death
1:00:10 The Future
- Nearly all people on the planet disagree with Sentientism
- Cognitive vs. emotional morality
- Social conditioning and norms. Indoctrination. Social contagion
- #JustTransition (e.g. Rancher Advocacy Programme, MfA’s Transfarmation). Understanding animal farmers
- Potential common re: ending factory farming
- “Humane” slaughter & human toddler farming!
- Sentience enhancement & transhumanism
Sentientism is “Evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” More at Sentientism.info. Join Heather on our “I’m a Sentientist” wall using this simple sign-up form.
Everyone interested, Sentientist or not, is welcome in our groups. Our biggest so far is here on FaceBook.
Thanks Graham for the post-prod. Follow him @cgbessellieu.