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lukeprog comments on Hi, I'm Luke Muehlhauser. AMA about Open Philanthropy's new report on consciousness and moral patienthood - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: lukeprog 28 June 2017 11:41:38PM 1 point [-]

Cross-posted here from a comment on the announcement post, a question from Evan_Gaensbauer:

Do you think science or philosophy can meaningfully separate the capacity to experience suffering or pain from however else consciousness is posited to be distributed across species? What would be fruitful avenues of research for effective altruists to pursue if it's possible to solve the problem in the first question, without necessarily addressing whatever remains of consciousness?

(To preserve structure, I'll reply in a comment reply.)

Comment author: lukeprog 29 June 2017 12:09:49AM *  2 points [-]

I'll use the terms "nociception" and "pain" as defined in Appendix D:

nociception is the encoding and processing of noxious stimuli, where a noxious stimulus is an actually or potentially body-damaging event (either external or internal, e.g. cutaneous or visceral)… Pain, in contrast to mere nociception, is an unpleasant conscious experience associated with actual or potential body damage (or akin to unpleasant experiences associated with noxious stimuli).

…Nociception can occur without pain, and pain can occur without nociception. Loeser & Treede (2008) provide examples: “after local anesthesia of the mandibular nerve for dental procedures, there is peripheral nociception without pain, whereas in a patient with thalamic pain [a kind of neuropathic pain resulting from stroke], there is pain without peripheral nociception.”

Often, it's assumed that if animals are conscious, then it's likely that they experience pain in conjunction with the types of nociceptive processing that, in humans, would be accompanied by conscious pain — or at least, this seems likely for the animals that are fairly similar to us in their neural architecture (e.g. mammals, or perhaps all vertebrates). And likewise, it seems that if we limit the nociception that occurs in their bodies, then this will also limit the conscious pain they experience if they are conscious at all.

Unfortunately, humans also experience pain without nociception, e.g. (as my report says) "neuropathic pain, and perhaps also… some cases of psychologically-created experiences of pain, e.g. when a subject is hallucinating or dreaming a painful experience." Assuming whichever animals are conscious are also capable of non-nociceptive pain, this means that conscious animals may be capable of suffering in ways that are difficult for us to detect.

Even still, I think we can study the mechanisms of nociception (and other triggers for conscious pain) independently of studying consciousness, and this could lead to interventions that (probably) address the usual causes of conscious pain even if we don't know whether a given animal is conscious or not.

However, I'm not sure this is quite what you meant to be asking; let me know if there was a somewhat different question you were hoping I'd answer.