No! Animals dont feel pain...

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It is said there are three main orders in the living world. The plant world, the animal kingdom and finally the world of human beings. Humans, owing to their unique capacity of spiritual reflection, are classified (even though they have animal characteristics) in altogether a different league of their own.

Now, plants obviously have a completely different set of characteristics. They are supposed to have vegitative and inanimate souls. Animals, on the other hand, have an animate and sensitive soul, which primarily means they are capable of locomotion and have feeling of sensations. Now, understood from a human perspective, sensations means anything that is perceived through the senses. This would primarily point to stimuli of sight, smell, touch, sound and taste. Would pain fall into one of the sensational categories? 

Various sources define Pain as, "an extreme feeling", "intense unpleasant sensation that may be associated with damage or injury", "motivation to take defensive or prohibitory action". They do call it a sensation but is there a sensory organ for pain? Our common painful experiences like getting cuts or burns may seem like they use the sense of touch (sensory organ: skin) but what about painful memories? pain caused by the loss of a loved one? Pain due to pang of hunger or fear? Physiological sciences say pain is just a chemical reaction composed of nervous synapses, traveling to the brain and the brain, in turn, sending sharp messages of intense feeling. So just because pain "seems to" travel on the same nervous pathway where all other sensations travel, can we classify it as a sensation too? Are all people who travel on one road necessarily of the same nature? Yes, Pain is a feeling. But most of our feelings cannot be described in terms of sensory organs and chemical reactions. What about feeling of Love, Fear, Inspiration, etc? If Pain is one of such feelings, then I would say it springs up from our spiritual being and not related to our sensory experience at all.

Man is the only being endowed with a spiritual soul (one that can contemplate in a systematically reflective way and introspectively reach out into the metaphysical realms) and hence from that spirit soul comes the feeling the pain. Pain is a feeling, not to satisfy any biological need, rather to flag messages to our conscience whenever it takes a wrong turn.

As this spiritual soul is absent in Animals and Plants, I wonder if they feel pain at all? Yes, they show symptoms which are symbolic of pain, for eg. in their sudden recoil, in their flight from threat/danger, in their loud shrieks and noises, in their struggles, but could there be more primitive reasons for those reactions, not really driven by pain?

A dog wails and runs when hit by a stone, but it could just be due to the sudden thrust of the stone. A lamb bleats aloud or a chick cocks clamourously when they face the knife at a slaughter house, but it could just be due to heightened sense of fear at being bound and forced. In fact, I see examples that prove to me animals dont feel pain at all. Consider these - If humans dont brush their teeth, then we develop painful cavities within few years. Animals dont brush at all, yet they chomp happily on their food all their life. When we have an accident or injury, we can't move out of bed until it is reasonably cured. I see animals moving around with their cuts and handicaps without any squirming at all. I have spotted so many dogs and birds, involved in accidents, with flesh dangling from their open injuries, yet they keep scooting around, dragging that flesh, without any hint of suffering. Finally, a lot of animals even eat their own kind. If they even had an inkling of that feeling of pain, they could never have been able to do that.

Animals bleed when cut, they cry when beaten or hurt, they shout and struggle when threatened, all these are very similar symptoms to what humans do when we are in pain, but this "may not" mean they feel pain too. Sometimes our instincts force us into sudden reactions, which happen even before we perceive pain. We recoil our hand from a hot iron, even before we feel the burn. Its in our instinct. May be similar instincts are programmed into animal brains too. Maybe they are just acting on instincts that are built into them by virtue of being sensitive souls, and they may not be driven by pain at all.

In trying to justify that animals dont feel pain, I am definitely not trying to remove our feeling of sympathy towards sufferings of animals. But why base our love towards animals on an assumed sympathy of pain? As spiritual beings, we anyways have the duty to love all God's creations and as intelligent beings, we anyways have the responsibility to ensure a life of peace and bliss in this world of ours. Lets fulfil our responsibilities in a more orderly and mature fashion rather than beat around the bush with stories of animal pain and anguish.

Disclaimer: This post is not to demean animals in any way or to justify their killing or culling for food or sport. Its just a critique on certain assumed judgments on animals.


Anonymous said...

Am not sure if man is the only being endowed with spiritual soul? I may not be able to talk on behalf of all the animals. But definitely talk for one animal that most houses have as their pets – Dogs. I will just give some examples of the dogs we had at our home. We had nearly 5 dogs (not all at once). The love and the pain they show is no less than human beings.
- One of our dogs used to refuse to eat if my mother and father were out of station. He had stayed hungry for 5 days. He would not bear anyone raising their hands and voice on my parents and talk. He would just go and jump on them.
- We had a cat also. When one of our dogs died, our cat used to be so low for days, and never get along with the new puppy. She used to go and sit in our dog’s area and not let the puppy move around there
- Once when one of the dogs tore a shoe and my father shouted at it, it didn’t eat for the whole day and never responded to anyone at home.

There are more examples I can give about dogs, cows, cats, goats, etc that I have known. But because they are tamed by human, may be they behave like us. Not sure about wild animals. May be if human beings were in forest, we would behave like wild animals. Just because they can’t talk or cry like human beings, it doesn’t mean they are not emotional beings.

Have you noticed how animals protect their kid… what do you call that feeling???

Animals are innocent creatures. We do not have to do any good to them. But we shouldn’t harm them. May be that’s the message about animal pain and anguish.

Vicky Dada (Vikas) said...

Radha - first of all, thanks for giving value and time to my thoughts. Your detailed response does say a lot and I totally respect your views on this. In fact, I do expect all 'animal lovers' to hit back at me for this. My post is a bit offensive, I agree. If animals could read, I would have been mauled to death by now. :)

My response to your answer : I see pain as a combination of two things - a sharp, repulsive sensation coupled with an intense, overwhelming feeling. Depends on how you define pain. If you consider only the first part then yes, animals also have pain. They sense a sharp feeling in the impulsively respond to it. The emotional feeling is missing in them, they dont cry like we do. In the examples that you gave, I see shades of attachment and territoriality that made them behave in that manner. Have you seen animals cry? Not just water coming out of their eyes, but actually crying?

R-A-J said...

Dude, very interesting thought - I really like the way you brought the point bout how different their experiences are between animals and humans when they don't brush the teeth - its really a point worth thinking about.

I like the thought process that went into this post - I must agree that there are quite a lot of aspects that do warrant a rethink on the points that u brought about..

I'm actually thinking if you could be right here... :)

Good thought provoking post dude ...:)

Indrani said...

Interesting observations. Not sure whether I agree with your thoughts... :)I always thought animals do feel pain, the magnitude of pain is different may be.

Thanks so much for going through my posts and your wonderful comments. :)

Vicky Dada (Vikas) said...

Indrani jee- I too have started realizing that animals do feel pain.. because I realized that human beings are animals too.

thanks for visiting my blog.

Dr Mandeep Khanuja said...

oh now that's what you call Controversy at hand ! :)
Actually not just me vikas but anybody who reads this post would have something to agree and disagree upon.
I loved the first part of the post,you were 100% right when you said humans have 'spirit' and that's what makes us different from animal kingdom. For a minute there i thought that the pain you were talking about is the intangible kind..that kind of pain which we put in the same slot with love or inspiration. That was right i dont think that kind of 'pain' is felt by any other species than us!
But then you lost me by the end of post. Animals do feel pain,the pain from the sensory pathways...the 'anatomical' kind,because they have the same neural circuit.And yes they do develop tooth cavities,and have stomachaches and everything else too
So the post is beautiful for as long as you say that pain that is woven into and by the conscience is felt only by humans...yes that would be right.

Vicky Dada (Vikas) said...

Mandeep ji - So you agreed with the first-half and then disagreed with the second-half. What you didn't realize is that the second half is just an inside out look of the first, so basically you disagreed with yourself. :)

All pain is mental - the intangible kind. There is no anatomical pain at all. Its all just a sharp bodily reaction. Whenever there is physical injury, it sends out an intense sensation which triggers perceptions in our mind that raise "feelings of pain". The same feeling can be aroused even by reflection or memory (like painful memories, etc). Pain is not a sensation, its a feeling. This feeling part, animals lack.

Oh god! a philosopher debating with a doctor on matters of biology. Couldn't be more badly matched than this :)

Vicky Dada (Vikas) said...

Consider this - whenever you ask your patients about pain.. do you normally ask "do you sense pain" or "do you feel pain"?

Anamika Anyone said...

A very interesting question. I've seen animals, especially pets react 'emotionally', similar to us.. Like avoiding a certain person after they've been hurt by them a couple of times. Could this behaviour be due to the memory of pain?
Also, we avoid stuff like fire, or even bittergourd chutney for example, because we remember uncomfortable past experiences. Not just pain in every circumstance, but dislike or irritation too. On the most basic level, when we take away our spiritual core, our impulses are driven towards pleasure, away from pain - our primal needs are food, water, sleep, procreation. Maybe this holds good for animals as well.

Vicky Dada (Vikas) said...

As per your words, you have 'seen' animals react emotionally. Its the way how you constructed the situation in your mind based on some analogies between its reactions and ours. Animals don't have an intellect like ours, what they possess is only an instinct and a store house of learned habits. All their responses to stimuli are based on these two inputs. They don't have memory also. Animals purely live within the present, within the confines of their perceptual reality. They don't form ideas or thoughts or conceptions. The example of a dog avoiding a person who hurts it is just out of habit (after a couple of experiences) and not by use of any level of reasoning.

To explain the similarity between us and animals, i used the expressed 'a sharp sensation'. that is felt by both and we have instinctive reactions to it. The 'feeling' of pain is out altogether out of question for them.

I am loving these questions, its making my belief more and more clearer :)

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