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Commentary Type

Invited Commentary


Andrew N. Rowan, Joyce M. D'Silva, Ian J.H. Duncan, and Nicholas Palmer, Animal sentience: history, science, and politics


We argue that all living organisms, from the simplest unicellular prokaryotes to Homo sapiens, have valenced experiences—feelings as states of preference—and are capable of cognitive representations. Bacteria can learn, form stable memories, and communicate, hence solve problems. Rowan et al.'s statement that "Subjective feelings are just that — subjective — and are available only to the animal (or human) experiencing them" is true but irrelevant. When we see a fish flopping about in the bottom of a boat we immediately recognize suffering without having a glimpse of the nature of piscine distress. Some controlled anthropomorphism can go a long way without stumbling into the philosophical "first person" problem. Incumbent on a species with such gifts are countervailing responsibilities.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Author Biography

Arthur S. Reber, Broeklundian Professor of Psychology, Emeritus, CUNY and Visiting Professor, Psychology, University of British Columbia. His research is on implicit learning: knowledge acquired largely independently of awareness. Website

František Baluška, IZMB, University of Bonn, integrates plant cell biology and physiology with sensory ecology and electrophysiology in the emerging field of plant neurobiology. He edits Plant Signaling & Behavior and Communicative & Integrative Biology, and the book series Signaling and Communication in Plants. Website

William B. Miller, Jr., is a physician, evolutionary biologist, and lecturer on the new science of the hologenome and the impact of the microbial sphere on evolutionary development. Website