Saturday, June 28, 2014

Why Not Just Be Vegetarian?

Source: Wikipedia

In this post I would like to briefly answer the specific question: Why not just be vegetarian? Why should we not eat eggs or dairy? The answer is, most basically, that doing so causes immense amounts of suffering. In many ways.

First of all, eating eggs and dairy have negative consequences that are directly related to human life and health: intake of eggs is strongly linked to increased all-cause mortality risk and diabetes, dairy intake is linked to higher breast cancer mortality and prostate cancer, and exploiting billions of hens and millions of cows significantly increases the risk of zoonotic diseases, including mass killing pandemics, which may be one of the dangers most likely to pose a so-called existential risk (for elaboration on the human costs of our exploitation of non-human animals, see the second chapter of ‘Why We Should Go Vegan’).

So there are compelling reasons to stop raising and exploiting non-human animals and to stop consuming dairy and eggs for the sake of human beings. Yet this is far from the full story since the “production” of dairy and eggs obviously also involves non-human animals, and we also have an obligation to them to stop exploiting them. When we look at the reality of the egg and dairy industry, or when we just think about what eating dairy and eggs actually amounts to, it becomes obvious that the idea that it is somehow virtuous and respectful to non-human animals to be vegetarian – to “merely” consume eggs and dairy – hardly could be more wrong.

First of all, it is a common misconception that dairy and egg “production” does not involve killing any non-human animals. All cows exploited by the dairy industry and all chickens exploited by the egg industry end up hanging upside down in a slaughterhouse alongside the cows and chickens who were raised for their flesh, and by buying eggs and dairy one does inevitably support this end too: the needless death of the being who had her eggs or milk stolen from her throughout her life.

This is not the only death in the egg and dairy industry, however. In both the dairy and egg industry, males are seen as trash, and as a result, they are treated exactly as such. Male chicks are killed shortly after they have hatched, a process euphemistically referred to as 'chick culling', which usually either happens by throwing them into a grinding machine while alive (not for the faint-hearted:—faib7to), by breaking their necks or by suffocating them with gas. These practices of killing male chicks are standard in the entire egg industry – including the part of it that provides eggs labeled “free-range”, “organic” and “humane.” Similarly, in the dairy industry, newborn male calves will never give milk, and they are therefore taken away from their mothers shortly after they are born, and they are then killed as young calves in order to be cut into parts and sold as “veal.” Again, this is the standard procedure no matter the labeling. So nothing could be more wrong than to claim that our eating eggs and dairy does not involve death.

Death is not the only sad and horrible aspect of the egg and dairy industry, however, because so is life itself for the non-human victims. Hens are not magic egg-laying machines, and they are therefore commonly, whether “free-range” or not, “force molted” – that is, completely starved in up to two weeks which provokes them into a new laying cycle – and they are then killed after about 18 months when they are considered “worn out”. A short and brutish life indeed.

Similarly, cows are not magic milk-providers; they, like humans and most other mammals, must have been pregnant in order to lactate. For this reason, cows are made pregnant throughout their entire lives, usually through insemination, which involves “[…] a person inserting his arm far into the cow’s rectum in order to position the uterus, and then forcing an instrument into her vagina.” This is the life of the dairy cow: a perpetual cycle of painful insemination, pregnancy, and then giving birth to her calf who is taken away from her shortly after. So not only do the egg and dairy industries involve an extreme amount of death, they also involve lives full of unimaginable, yet completely unnecessary, pain and suffering.

It is not merely buying eggs and dairy that we should abstain from, however; we should stop consuming it altogether. Just like we should abstain from eating flesh because it reinforces a morally defunct view of non-human animals, so too should we abstain from eating eggs and dairy. It reinforces the view that chickens and cows – and non-human animals in general – are beings, or rather resources, whom we can take from and exploit for our mere pleasure and convenience. It makes us blind and indifferent to their suffering, so indifferent that we cannot be moved to act even when we see the greatest of atrocities committed against them, such as mass killings of newly hatched chicks. It all comes back to our flawed view of non-human animals: a cold and apathetic view that inevitably leads us to inflict immense amounts of suffering upon them. It is about time we stop reinforcing that view. It is about time we transcend it completely.

This post is a modified version of the fourth chapter of ‘Why We Should Go Vegan.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Real Problem of Consciousness

Why do physical processes give rise to conscious experience in the first place? This is referred to as the hard problem of consciousness, a name given by philosopher David Chalmers, and it seems widely regarded as one of the greatest unsolved problems in modern science. I think this is a mistake, however, and in this short post I would like to show why, and to present what should be considered the real problem of consciousness.

The hard problem of consciousness should not be considered an important problem to solve for the reason that it is not a hard problem, but an insolvable problem. All we can do in our study of the physical basis of consciousness is to correlate physical states with mental states, and no matter how complete a description of the relationship between physical and mental states we could provide, we will always be able to ask the question: “Why should that physical state, mechanism or process be conscious or give rise to consciousness at all?” No theory of conscious experience, including theories that suggest that a soul, quantum mechanics or consciousness at the fundamental level of the universe explains consciousness, could ever solve this hard problem, since they are all equally unable to answer why there should be any conscious experience in the first place – again, the question: why should that given mechanism, be it a soul, computation or neuronal firings, be conscious in the first place?, can always be posed no matter what mechanism we have correlated to mental states, and no matter how precisely.

At best, what we can do is to formulate fundamental laws that state how physical states relate to mental states – psychophysical laws, or maybe “psychocomputational” laws – and such laws will still not provide an answer to why there is a relationship in the first place. In fact, nothing will, since the “why-in-the-first-place” simply begs an infinite regress. We will always have primitive, unexplained fundamental facts at the bottom of any explanation we make, as it is impossible to know an infinite regress of facts, and therefore it is simply logically impossible to ultimately answer why anything, including any relationship, exists in the first place – we can only explain how certain phenomena arise based on primitive, unexplained facts we have observed. So the hard problem of consciousness is asking for nothing less than the logically impossible. No answer could possibly ever satisfy the question, as we can keep on asking it no matter what answer we provide. Such an in principle unanswerable problem is a pseudo-problem.

It should be clear, then, that the crucial question is how physical and conscious states are related, not why. This is the real problem of consciousness, the in principle answerable problem, and also the relevant problem to study and solve, since all that is valuable ultimately relates to the specific character of conscious experience. In short, it is the problem we can and should try to solve.