What is it like to die as a 2-day-old insect?

"The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?" - Jeremy Bentham
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Brian Tomasik
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What is it like to die as a 2-day-old insect?

Post by Brian Tomasik » Thu Jan 12, 2012 11:07 am

Dying hurts (usually). And I think one of the biggest reasons why there's so much suffering in nature is that most species give birth to dozens, hundreds, or tens of thousands of offspring, most of which die a few days after birth. Even if the quality of life for an insect that reached maturity were positive, the large numbers of offspring that die young would more than offset the balance. (This is a concise statement of Yew-Kwang Ng's "Buddhist premise" in "Towards Welfare Biology.")

I would love to learn more about the details of this. In particular:
  1. How many offspring do different species give birth to, on average? (Ng has a few figures in "Towards Welfare Biology.")
  2. How many of those offspring are sentient before they die? (I assume that many of them get eaten or fail to thrive while still eggs, which presumably can't suffer.)
  3. What's the distribution of how long the offspring live? Something like exponential decay? If we know after how many days the babies begin to become sentient, then this information could answer the above question.
  4. How do the babies die? What fraction are eaten? Killed by parasites? Overcome by bacteria? Dehydrate? Starve? Freeze? What else?
  5. How painful are each of those ways of dying?
  6. Which kinds of ecosystems have longer-lived organisms with fewer offspring per parent pair? Are there practical cases where humans choose between different types of ecosystems to bring about (e.g., when introducing new species, reforesting, grass-fed cows displacing smaller and shorter-lived species, etc.)?
  7. Obviously, most human uses of land remove many short- and long-lived organisms. One example is paving paradise to put up a parking lot, where there are no plants and hence no animal food and hence no suffering of dying babies.
Hmm, maybe that's a new slogan: "Stop the suffering of dying babies: Promote concern for wild animals."

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Daniel Dorado
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Re: What is it like to die as a 2-day-old insect?

Post by Daniel Dorado » Thu Jan 12, 2012 7:25 pm

There are several studies about pain in bees. Two of them are mentioned here: http://www.vegetus.org/honey/pain.htm

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Ruairi
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Re: What is it like to die as a 2-day-old insect?

Post by Ruairi » Sun Jan 29, 2012 1:00 pm

i was at a neuroscience lecture recently and the lecturer was saying that analgesics that are very effective in mice can be not affective in humans, he suggested that this might be related to brain size and capacity to feel. im searching on google but i havnt found anything talking about what he was saying yet.

i wonder how many neurons or connections you get in an insect brain compared to a mammal?

Jesper Östman
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Re: What is it like to die as a 2-day-old insect?

Post by Jesper Östman » Sun Jan 29, 2012 1:57 pm

These questions are fundamental to the issue. However, I'm worried about the possibility of answering them in the near-future - since today's empirical consciousness studies is pretty much at a pre-scientific stage.

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Re: What is it like to die as a 2-day-old insect?

Post by Oscar Horta » Sun Jan 29, 2012 6:17 pm

I think Jesper is very right regarding questions 2 and 5, which are maybe the most important ones. This is very unfortunate, of course! Sill, research might be carried out on indicators which gave us some basis for estimations of the probabilities of what the answers might be, even though this wouldn't provide us with actual answers to those questions.

As for questions 1, 3, 4 and 6, they can be answered, there has been lots of research on 1, less on the other questions. Sadly, the answers we have to question 1 give us reasons to be very pessimistic regarding suffering vs happiness in nature...

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Brian Tomasik
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Re: What is it like to die as a 2-day-old insect?

Post by Brian Tomasik » Mon Jan 30, 2012 2:46 am

Thanks, all! Jesper, I'm less pessimistic than you about the consciousness question because I don't think we need to understand consciousness all that well before we can tackle these problems. We can get pretty far with analogies, measures of ability, evolutionary arguments, anecdotes from cases where humans are/aren't aware or in pain, and so on. The accumulation of evidence and understanding will be slow and steady -- we (most likely) don't need to wait for a breakthrough in our conception of what consciousness is.

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Ruairi
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Re: What is it like to die as a 2-day-old insect?

Post by Ruairi » Mon Jan 30, 2012 7:40 pm

are you saying we have enough information to start campaigning?

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Brian Tomasik
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Re: What is it like to die as a 2-day-old insect?

Post by Brian Tomasik » Thu Feb 02, 2012 7:23 am

Ruairi wrote:are you saying we have enough information to start campaigning?
You mean campaigning for humane insecticides and the like? Yes, I think we should start that now, because we won't learn vastly more in the next 5-10 years. The stakes are high, and in any event, it's a great, concrete way to get people thinking about wild-animal suffering.

If I controlled everything that humans do, then I would wait. I would put lots of resources into research now, and then act on that research later. However, I don't control everything, so I need to make sure that humans start acting in my lifetime, or else they may never do so. Moreover, a lot of the science that will further illuminate this question (general understanding of consciousness, as well as specific research on invertebrates) will be done whether we take action or not, just because science will continue moving forward. However, there's no inevitability to the use of humane insecticides. That will only happen if people like us do something about it.

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