Photo credit: Tanner Smida, CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Excerpt from an online newsletter Voice writer Kenny Torrellawe learn that a study confirms that bumblebees feel pain:

In a study published last week in the journal PNAS, researchers from the UK found that bees compromise the amount of pain they are willing to tolerate in order to get better food. The finding suggests that bees are not just mindless, stimulus-responsive automatons, but rather conscious, sentient creatures that can feel pain and engage in complex decision-making.

KENNY TORRELLA, “CAN A BEE SMELL”, VOICE (AUGUST 5, 2022) ON PAPER IS IN FREE ACCESS.

Essentially, the researchers offered bumblebees sugar water in unheated colored containers, in 10%, 20%, 30% or 40% solutions. Then they introduced a catch: they heated the high-sugar containers to an unpleasant 55°C (131°F). The bees continued to prefer to drink from the high-sugar containers. However, when unheated high sugar containers were available, they gravitated towards these. The study abstract, which is admirably easy to read, offers:

The bees used learned color cues for their decisions, and so the trade-off was based on processing in the brain, rather than peripheral processing. Therefore, bees can use contextual information to modulate nociceptive behavior. This ability is consistent with an ability to experience pain in insects.

MOTIVATIONAL TRADE-OFFS AND MODULATION OF NOCICEPTION IN Bumblebees MATILDA GIBBONS, ELISABETTA VERSACE, ANDREW CRUMP, BARTOSZ BARAN AND LARS CHITTKA, JULY 26, 2022, 119 (31) E2205821119 HTTPS://DOI.ORG/10.1073/PNAS.2205821119

A “revolutionary” result?

heather browning at the London School of Economics tells Torrella that this result is “groundbreaking” because “the ability to make motivational trade-offs is an important marker in determining sensitivity” (the ability to feel pain).

Maybe. Many people wouldn’t be as surprised as her. Pain for gain is an old problem. If bees couldn’t feel pain, take risks, or learn from their experiences, they would hardly be around in such large numbers today. But do their answers come from consciousness or from coding? The answers could be, like Eric Cassel I would say a animal algorithm: prepackaged decision trees for conventional circumstances.

Sensitivity can be very real but not associated with consciousness. Besides consciousness, does anyone feel? The study does not (and cannot) answer this.

One of the areas of advocacy of the writer Torrella is the “the future of meat” (i.e. the plea for a without meat human food). He quickly grasps the implications of sentience in insects for animal rights advocacy:

The debate over whether insects are sentient may seem frivolous, given how distant they are from mammals, let alone humans. But every past debate about who deserves moral attention and the extent of our circle of concern has seemed frivolous to some. If only a small fraction of the 10 quintillion insects alive today can feel pain, some changes might need to be made.

KENNY TORRELLA, “CAN A BEE SMELL”, VOICE (AUGUST 5, 2022)

He explicitly assures readers that the new concern about pain in bees is not about insect rights:

As groundbreaking as the new study may be, it won’t usher in an insect rights revolution – just look at how we treat many birds and mammals despite the general consensus about their susceptibility.

KENNY TORRELLA, “CAN A BEE SMELL”, VOICE (AUGUST 5, 2022)

The critical question

But the crucial question should be: is it a lack of interest in insect rights on the part of animal rights activists or their lack of ability (so far) to put it on the agenda? PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) answers the question: “What about insects and other ‘pests’?” saying“All animals have feelings and have the right to live free from unnecessary suffering – whether they are considered ‘pest’ or ‘ugly,'” adding that “PETA encourages non-lethal methods of insect and rodent control as far as possible.” It sounds like a coil spring from an agenda.

A successful insect rights movement could be disastrous for most humans because about 40 percent of crops are lost to insects every year, despite our best efforts in all types of control.

Read more on The mind matterspublished by the Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence at the Discovery Institute.