Bella

Head of marketing @ 80,000 Hours
1964 karmaJoined Working (0-5 years)Bethnal Green, London, UK

Bio

Hello, my name's Bella Forristal. I work at 80,000 Hours, as the head of marketing. 

I'm interested in animal advocacy, moral circle expansion, and normative ethics. 

Previously, I worked in community building with the Global Challenges Project and EA Oxford, and have interned at Charity Entrepreneurship. 

Please feel free to email me to connect at bellaforristal@gmail.com, or leave anonymous feedback at https://www.admonymous.co/bellaforristal :)

Comments
125

Yeah, I agree that many animals can & will make tradeoffs where there's a chance of death, even a high chance (though I'm not confident they'd be aware that what they're doing is taking on some chance of death — I'm not sure many animals have a mental concept of death similar to ours. Some might, but it's definitely not a given.).

I also agree that animals engage in self-destructive behaviours, e.g. feather pulling, chewing/biting, pacing, refusing food when sick, eating things that are bad for them, excessive licking at wounds, pulling on limbs when stuck, etc etc.

I'm just not sure that any of them are undertaken with the purpose/intent to end their own life, even when they have that effect. That's because I'd guess that it's kind of hard to understand "I'd be better off dead" because you need to have a concept of death, and not being conscious, plus the ability to reason causally from taking a particular action to your eventual death.

To be clear, I've not done any research here on animal suicide & concepts of death, & I'm not all that confident, but I overall think the lack of mass animal suicides is at best extremely weak evidence that animal lives are mostly worth living.

the revealed preference of living things is nearly always to live

That's because almost no living things have the ability to conceive of, or execute on, alternative options.

Consider a hypothetical squirrel whose life is definitely not worth living (say, they are subjected to torture daily). Would you expect this squirrel to commit suicide?

Should this comment be a top-level Forum post?

That makes sense!

Again, very much not an expert, but some examples that might qualify:

  • The work of Dr Amaya Albalat and her team at the University of Stirling. Crustaceans are so different from vertebrates that I think some of this is quite non-intuitive to me.
  • I haven't actually watched this talk, but it's titled 'How can we know what is good for insects,' and includes a section on why our intuitions might lead us astray
  • In general, the interaction between a species' social dynamics and stocking density in farms. Different species will have very different reactions to close contact with lots of conspecifics — for some species this may be very stressful, whereas for others it seems ~totally fine, and this is basically (IIUC) not studied in many relevant species.

[I'm an unaffiliated amateur]

I think this comment misunderstands the kind of work I expect the Arthropoda foundation to be doing.

Right now, we are farming insects, but we don't know very much about what is good or bad for them.

We might like to make recommendations like 'don't torture very large numbers of insects', but because we don't have really robust science on what conditions they might find torturous, this is hard.

I expect that the Arthropoda foundation will be focused on non-civilisation-upturning, action-relevant questions like that.

Thanks for writing up your experiences here; I found them interesting to read/reflect on!

A 3rd-year undergrad asked me for career advice in a 1-1. I provided my thoughts, but more importantly, I gave them the ‘obvious’ idea of asking 80,000 Hours for advice. They already knew about them, but somehow did not consider it.

Woo thanks so much for doing this! My impression is that a lot of people just need this kind of nudge :)

One relevant question, I think, is "in practice, will Consultants For Impact discuss, center, or create programming around anything from the diverse philosophical frameworks specifically outside EA?"

Ah okay, thanks, that helps me understand.

In that case, I think you probably don't think that people who currently believe fish experience empathy could be proven wrong by this experiment (since you think it wouldn't be providing evidence one way or another)...?

I couldn't find independent replications, but the study was preceded by two similar tests by the same team, which address concerns about weaknesses in the study setup. 

 

I'm a bit confused by your second point. If the fish didn't have detectable feelings towards fish children, wouldn't you think this was evidence that fish don't experience empathy? Or would you think it was no evidence one way or the other? 

If it's no evidence, then it can't 'prove people wrong' who currently think that fish feel empathy. But it seems like you think it could prove people wrong. So I'm confused...!

Are there any situations in which you expect fish to feel empathy?

Maybe; I'm a bit unsure. I don't know much about fish behaviour or evolution. 

The general reason I disagree-voted is that this post seems to make a leap from: A) 'We have less solid evidence for non-humans experiencing qualia than we do for humans' to B) 'We can be certain (some) non-humans don't experience qualia, and it's appropriate to behave towards them as if they don't.'

I agree with A), but I don't think your argument can support B).

I certainly wouldn't eat anything that passes the mirror test

Some fish, such as the cleaner wrasse, pass the mirror test.

evidence that the fish has empathy towards other fish parents

Fish have very different approaches to rearing young than mammals. Many fish species do not spend much effort caring for young, and probably don't meaningfully think of themselves as parents. I think this experiment stacks the deck against fish by expecting them to respond as mammals do.

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