Sentience

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism

Re: Sentience

Postby Sanghamitta » Wed Jul 07, 2010 2:33 pm

What am I a Buddhist maven already ?
This isnt an academic debate. My views are the result of reflection and meditation after a couple of decades of trying to live Buddhdhamma , If they are not to your taste then consult your tomes. :smile:
I am sure that Bhikkhu Doodah or Professor Thing will have something to say.
Although it is just possible that the Buddha did not offer a definition of sentience that would fit with a scientific outlook. Nor did he need to.
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Re: Sentience

Postby kc2dpt » Wed Jul 07, 2010 2:56 pm

Riverbend wrote:As someone said in this thread, a line must be drawn.

And as was said, the line is humans and animals including insects, and not plants or bacteria or viruses. It's a very simple and clear line and I don't understand why people find this so difficult.

I was wondering where that line is and, more specifically, what lies just either side of it. Not because I am interested in abstractions but because I want to get it right.

If you want to know where the real line is I will tell you: it's in your mind. On one side of the line are actions motivated by greed, hatred, and delusion and on the other side of the line are actions not motivated by these. Thus a man can unknowingly kill an animal (like running over an unseen mouse with one's car) and he doesn't create suffering for himself whereas a man can wave his arms around thinking "I hope I hit and injure all the ghosts and spirits in this room" and even though the room is empty he creates suffering for himself.

That is why I wanted to get to the bottom of exactly what sentience is.

I think this is a red herring, that getting to the bottom of this will not lead you closer to ending suffering.
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Re: Sentience

Postby Riverbend » Wed Jul 07, 2010 2:57 pm

Sanghamitta, I for one am grateful for your personal views. I can always Google what the Buddha said. You have been very helpful. Thank you.
I think the carrot infinitely more fascinating than the geranium. The carrot has mystery. Flowers are essentially tarts. Prostitutes for the bees. There is you'll agree a certain je ne se quoi oh so very special about a firm young carrot. [Uncle Monty -- Withnail & I.]
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Re: Sentience

Postby kc2dpt » Wed Jul 07, 2010 3:00 pm

chownah wrote:So far there are no references to any Buddhist text anywere in this discussion unless I have overlooked one......so is this all just personal views with no support from the Buddha's teachings?

There have been a number of references. Simply put: it has to do with realms of birth.

As far as I know, no one came to the Buddha and asked "Does this particular thing count as alive? Is that thing sentient?" Maybe because people were smarter back then. ;)
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Re: Sentience

Postby David N. Snyder » Wed Jul 07, 2010 3:35 pm

Panatipata veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living creatures.

(from Anguttara Nikaya 8.39)

"In safety and in bliss May [i]creatures all be of a blissful heart. Whatever breathing beings there may be. No matter whether they are frail or firm, With none excepted, be they long or big Or middle-sized, or be they short or small Or thick, as well as those seen or unseen, Or whether they are dwelling far or near, Existing or yet seeking to exist. May creatures all be of a blissful heart. Let no one work another one's undoing Or even slight him at all anywhere: And never let them wish each other ill Through provocation or resentful thought." And just as might a mother with her life Protect the son that was her only child, So let him then for every living thing Maintain unbounded consciousness in being[/i]; "

(from Sutta Nipata 1.5)

and there are numerous other references, but no mention of bacteria, fungi, mold, etc.

The Jains venerate and hold dear even the life of plants and try to eat only the 'tops' of plants for their vegetable -vegan foods. A religious Jain eats only vegan foods that were trimmed from the source plants, without pulling the plant from the ground. The Buddha clearly did not go that extreme.
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Re: Sentience

Postby Riverbend » Wed Jul 07, 2010 4:17 pm

And as was said, the line is humans and animals including insects, and not plants or bacteria or viruses. It's a very simple and clear line and I don't understand why people find this so difficult.


Because I am very new to this. I'll do my best to keep up from now on! :smile:
I think the carrot infinitely more fascinating than the geranium. The carrot has mystery. Flowers are essentially tarts. Prostitutes for the bees. There is you'll agree a certain je ne se quoi oh so very special about a firm young carrot. [Uncle Monty -- Withnail & I.]
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Re: Sentience

Postby brennanmang » Wed Jul 07, 2010 4:59 pm

Hello Friends,

I believe anything that possesses the 5 Shandha's is considered a "living being" for the purpose of defining the first precept.

The 5 Skhandha's are:

1. Form- possessing physical form
2. Sensation- seeing objects as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral
3. Perception- can recognize objects
4. Mental Formations- mental habits and thought processes
5. Consciousness- capable of recognizing events as they happen

A being must possess all of these factors in order to be considered a "living being". A being possessing these factors should not be harmed in your personal practice. As you can see, an ant would possess these 5 things while bacteria and plants would not.

Hope this helps because this definition has always guided me with tough decisions.
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Re: Sentience

Postby Sanghamitta » Wed Jul 07, 2010 5:32 pm

I doubt if any invertebrate possesses your number 4, brennenmang.
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Re: Sentience

Postby brennanmang » Wed Jul 07, 2010 6:12 pm

I am fairly sure that all invertebrate do possess mental formations. Maybe I did not define it correctly. It can also be called impulses or volition. Any instinct that causes an animal to seek food/shelter could fall under this category.
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Re: Sentience

Postby Annapurna » Wed Jul 07, 2010 7:40 pm

Riverbend,

according to Buddhism,

animals and humans are sentient beings.

Sentient has to do with senses, so all beings which have a form of nervous system, a heart, tiny or huge brain are sentient.

Bacteria and viruses lack those criteria hence you can "kill" them, to protect yourself, if necessary.

You asked if animals feel pain, yes, of course.

But animals can have more or less complex nervous systems, (which report pain).

One of our Venerables (monk) in e sangha once explained very well a difference between sentient life though.

A member told us how he had found a tiny kitten, that was meowing in pain. He picked it up to see it was covered with large ants biting it and he tried to brush them off as quickly as possible to save the kitten.

He didn't mean to kill any ants, but some died anyway, because they didn't want to let go of the kitten, -so they had to let go of life. And he was unhappy about it.

The Venerable explained that cats have far more complex senses, obviously, than ants, I think he spoke of 5 aggregates, instead of 4 in insects, and said he should not beat himself up, since he saved a kitten, and had not intended to kill any ants.

It just happened unintentionally.
Like I said, he only wanted to remove them.To your problems with ants:

I can tell you all about it, how you get rid of them.

Food and trash bins must be inaccessible, plus: donate some sugar and water outside of the kitchen and it may sound silly, but ask them to stay out.

My ants accept the deal. ;)

Absolutely no ants in my kitchen, and I used to have an Armada in there...

Good luck with them, and hope your lot is a success again!
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Re: Sentience

Postby cooran » Wed Jul 07, 2010 8:03 pm

Hello all,

This is a deep question, and would involve study of the explanatory texts in the Ahidhamma. If you have the time, it would be worth investigating the term "jivitindriya" Life Faculty.

A note elsewhere from Ajahn Dhammanando on dsg:
"For people believe, O Bhikkhus, that life dwells in a tree."

This is the key point. The belief that plants and the earth possess one
faculty (either kaayindriya or jiivitindriya) was held by the
Niga.n.thas (Jains) and acelakas (non-affiliated naked ascetics); since
these were the largest and oldest sama.na groups at that time, their
beliefs had passed into common lore and so any sama.na worth his salt
was expected to conform to them (by keeping the rains retreat so as not
to tread on growing crops, by not digging the earth or damaging plants,
and by taking various precautions when building a hut). But nowhere
does the Buddha actually concede that these beliefs were correct and in
the Vinaya commentaries they are dismissed as "mere imagining".

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/dhammastu ... sage/69259

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Re: Sentience

Postby Riverbend » Wed Jul 07, 2010 8:37 pm

You asked if animals feel pain, yes, of course.


I don't think I asked that. I just wondered if ants consciously decide to avoid pain or if they just respond to it automatically. It's the whole assumption of consciousness part that I think is shaky. You could build a robotic ant to respond in exactly the same way. However, I accept that doesn't really matter. I don't want to complicate matters unnecessarily. I do however enjoy a natural curiosity, and use of the word 'sentient' got me thinking about what it means exactly. It seemed important at the time as it is the difference between life and death, literally.
I think the carrot infinitely more fascinating than the geranium. The carrot has mystery. Flowers are essentially tarts. Prostitutes for the bees. There is you'll agree a certain je ne se quoi oh so very special about a firm young carrot. [Uncle Monty -- Withnail & I.]
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Re: Sentience

Postby Riverbend » Wed Jul 07, 2010 8:39 pm

This is a deep question, and would involve study of the explanatory texts in the Ahidhamma. If you have the time, it would be worth investigating the term "jivitindriya" Life Faculty.


Thank you, Chris. I'll do that.
I think the carrot infinitely more fascinating than the geranium. The carrot has mystery. Flowers are essentially tarts. Prostitutes for the bees. There is you'll agree a certain je ne se quoi oh so very special about a firm young carrot. [Uncle Monty -- Withnail & I.]
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Re: Sentience

Postby Annapurna » Wed Jul 07, 2010 9:08 pm

Sanghamitta wrote:I doubt if any invertebrate possesses your number 4, brennenmang.


Of course it does.

Google octopus.

An Octopus has no back bone, it is an invertebrate. It is highly intelligent.
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Re: Sentience

Postby Annapurna » Wed Jul 07, 2010 9:17 pm

Riverbend wrote:
You asked if animals feel pain, yes, of course.


I don't think I asked that. I just wondered if ants consciously decide to avoid pain or if they just respond to it automatically. It's the whole assumption of consciousness part that I think is shaky. You could build a robotic ant to respond in exactly the same way. However, I accept that doesn't really matter. I don't want to complicate matters unnecessarily. I do however enjoy a natural curiosity, and use of the word 'sentient' got me thinking about what it means exactly. It seemed important at the time as it is the difference between life and death, literally.


Sorry, I meant ant. Ants can feel pain, have you never seen an injured one writhing, just like us?

We tend to associate a lack of voice with a lack of sensation, since we conclude from ourselves who scream when in great pain.

I just wondered if ants consciously decide to avoid pain or if they just respond to it automatically.


Do you consciously decide to avoid pain or does it happen automatically? :smile:

and use of the word 'sentient' got me thinking about what it means exactly.


We all asked that before... :smile:
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Re: Sentience

Postby Annapurna » Wed Jul 07, 2010 9:21 pm

For your reading convenience, Sanghamitta:
Wikipedia wrote:Intelligence
Main article: Cephalopod intelligence

Octopuses are highly intelligent, likely more so than any other order of invertebrates. The exact extent of their intelligence and learning capability is much debated among biologists,[5][6][7][8] but maze and problem-solving experiments have shown that they do have both short- and long-term memory. Their short lifespans limit the amount they can ultimately learn. There has been much speculation to the effect that almost all octopus behaviors are independently learned rather than instinct-based, although this remains largely unproven. They learn almost no behaviors from their parents, with whom young octopuses have very little contact.
An octopus opening a container with a screw cap

An octopus has a highly complex nervous system, only part of which is localized in its brain. Two-thirds of an octopus's neurons are found in the nerve cords of its arms, which have a remarkable amount of autonomy. Octopus arms show a wide variety of complex reflex actions arising on at least three different levels of the nervous system. Unlike vertebrates, the complex motor skills of octopuses in their higher brain are not organized using an internal somatotopic map of its body.[9] Some octopuses, such as the mimic octopus, will move their arms in ways that emulate the movements of other sea creatures.

In laboratory experiments, octopuses can be readily trained to distinguish between different shapes and patterns. They have been reported to practice observational learning,[10] although the validity of these findings is widely contested on a number of grounds.[5][6] Octopuses have also been observed in what some have described as play: repeatedly releasing bottles or toys into a circular current in their aquariums and then catching them.[11] Octopuses often break out of their aquariums and sometimes into others in search of food. They have even boarded fishing boats and opened holds to eat crabs.[7]

In some countries, octopuses are on the list of experimental animals on which surgery may not be performed without anesthesia. In the UK, cephalopods such as octopuses are regarded as honorary vertebrates under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 and other cruelty to animals legislation, extending to them protections not normally afforded to invertebrates.[12]

The octopus is the only invertebrate which has been conclusively shown to use tools. At least four specimens of the Veined Octopus (Amphioctopus marginatus) have been witnessed retrieving discarded coconut shells, manipulating them, and then reassembling them to use as shelter. This discovery was documented in the journal Current Biology and has also been caught on video.[13][14]
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Re: Sentience

Postby Riverbend » Wed Jul 07, 2010 10:54 pm

Anna, I am not assuming ants do not feel pain. I am only saying I cannot assume that they have a subjective self-awareness or consciousness. Feeling pain does not qualify one for subjective self-awareness. When I feel pain I react, but that is not the issue. The issue is that I am aware of an 'I' who feels pain. I can ask who or what that 'I' is. And I am led to an understanding of no permanent, unchanging self.

The octopus in your example is no doubt intelligent. But that is not what I am questioning.

Again I hasten to add I am not trying to justify harming any living thing. I am terrified of spiders, as I said, but I still capture them alive and let them out even though I know they'll just come back in; and I am pretty sure they have no subjective self-awareness.
I think the carrot infinitely more fascinating than the geranium. The carrot has mystery. Flowers are essentially tarts. Prostitutes for the bees. There is you'll agree a certain je ne se quoi oh so very special about a firm young carrot. [Uncle Monty -- Withnail & I.]
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Re: Sentience

Postby Wind » Thu Jul 08, 2010 3:54 am

Hi Riverbend.

You should watch a documentary on the lives of ants. Not only do ants have individual awareness but they also have compassion for their colony. A recent studies shows ants who contracted a terminal disease would choose to leave their colony so not to spread it to others and they die alone.

http://atheism.about.com/b/2008/10/09/e ... colony.htm
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Re: Sentience

Postby Annapurna » Thu Jul 08, 2010 6:15 am

Riverbend wrote:Anna, I am not assuming ants do not feel pain. I am only saying I cannot assume that they have a subjective self-awareness or consciousness. Feeling pain does not qualify one for subjective self-awareness. When I feel pain I react, but that is not the issue. The issue is that I am aware of an 'I' who feels pain. I can ask who or what that 'I' is. And I am led to an understanding of no permanent, unchanging self.

The octopus in your example is no doubt intelligent. But that is not what I am questioning.

Again I hasten to add I am not trying to justify harming any living thing. I am terrified of spiders, as I said, but I still capture them alive and let them out even though I know they'll just come back in; and I am pretty sure they have no subjective self-awareness.


:anjali:

Yeah, spiders ARE scary, especially when they run fast and you can't even look that fast where to, making you jump just SOMEWHERE. I prefer them over winged beasts though.

Did you know mosquitos are fortune tellers?

They'll always fly to where you can't get them.

They must be very clever as well, at least when it comes to judging human reach.

:lol:
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Re: Sentience

Postby Sanghamitta » Thu Jul 08, 2010 7:07 am

Annapurna wrote:
Sanghamitta wrote:I doubt if any invertebrate possesses your number 4, brennenmang.


Of course it does.

Google octopus.

An Octopus has no back bone, it is an invertebrate. It is highly intelligent.

Thank you for that Annapurna. This is very interesting to me as part of my first degree was in Neurology.
Octopuses are clearly more intelligent than I realised. On reading further I see that there is still doubt about whether their intelligence (which we will return to ) equates to problem solving skills that are not instinctive or whether they are entirely instinctive.
What is clear is that no invertebrate has the neurological equipment for thought processes which was a key part of brennanmangs list of five qualities. " Intelligence "as used by the scientific community does not exclusively imply a "mind" or cognition's. It has to do with learning. Which even in human beings includes behavioural aspects with no cognitive activity. For example a learned salivation response occurs in the absence of cognitive activity.
According to Paulson, who has carried out extensive research on the cephalopod nervous system, cephalopods including octopuses do not have the particular neurological structures which indicate and necessitate cognitive behaviour. Cognitive behaviour is characterised by activity called oscillations which are entirely absent in invertebrates, and indeed are absent in most vertebrates.

Ergo they do not have "thoughts " as such , nor "mental activity" as commonly understood.
Ergo we cannot include cognitive or mental functions in our model of sentience. That would exclude whole Phyla that are universally regarded as sentient.
So breenanmangs theoretical model is not acceptable. Which does not indicate that as a working model it is without merit.
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