I've got a partial draft here, but I seem to have run out of gas on it. It's about a sapient (but naturally evolved) species of octopus in the pacific. I've got some ideas, which I will post below, and was wondering if anyone had any fresh and invigorating opinions.
This probably belongs in the draft forums.
I'm going to admit, I don't see why the Foundation would use their resources to contain a non-anomalous octopus. It really isn't any of their business if it's not anomalous, and quite frankly, it would take a very long time for a new species to be recognized as sapient, especially an octopus considering how different their intelligence is from ours and how anthropocentric our sapience tests tend to be. IIRC, there's still no agreement that dolphins are sapient, and they come closest to it by our standards.
Now, my own personal opinion is that the best way to keep them from going extinct in the wild is to sneakily stuff at least two examples of the species into any public aquarium that could take care of them. Especially the Georgia aquarium. No one's gonna think real hard about sapient octopi when there are whale sharks to look at. At least, that's the impression I have from people who have actually been there and don't remember anything but the sharks.
…I wonder if those whale sharks are memetic. Now that's a fun idea.
On the sapience thing, there are four non-ape groups that if not sapient, are extremely close to it: Elephants, Cetaceans (in particular dolphins), and corvids & parrots. (On the last two, Parrots have better demonstrated vocabulary and numerical skills, but depending on who you ask the corvids trump them with their lateral thinking skills and a cleverness best described as "snarky".)
Cephalopods also rank quite high, but their big limiting factors are a very short lifespan (only a few months in many cases- a few years at most) and a rather strange anatomical design choice that wraps their central ("higher-order operations") brain around their esophagus, leading to almost inevitable brain damage for some species. Still, they're smart enough to get the same ethical protections as mammalian lab animals, wreak havoc in aquariums through their insatiable curiosity and mischievousness, and make one of our best examples of a totally alien mind.
On a side note, officially it's supposed to be Octopuses, but I personally stick with octopi because a) I have an ongoing personal crusade against the oppressive dictionary regime, and b)octopuses sounds stupid.
Technically, they're both correct. Octopodes is also correct. Which one a person uses is based on education level, region they lived in during important linguistic development, birth language, and probably the phase of the moon. English is a horrible language that mugs other languages in a back alley and rifles through their pockets for spare words and grammar.
It should be noted that when I say sapient, what I mean is human-equivalent intelligence- and that which we might take as 'pure' intellectual traits rather than particularly sophisticated instinctive traits, such as abstract thought, syntactic complexity, etc. Dolphins, pigs and elephants are smart creatures with a degree of self-awareness, but you aren't going to have any philosophical debates with them. Animal intelligence is a controversial and much-debated topic, but I don't think any known animal species possesses human-equivalent intelligence.
Also, the core concept here isn't actually the octopus intelligence, but rather what constitutes an anomalous creature in the eyes of the Foundation. The wee sleekit beastie evolved its intelligence naturally- but there would probably be at least some debate as to whether it was weird enough to require containment.
I've actually expanded the concept into a short series- two that are still considered anomalies (one ubiquitous but generally considered non-anomalous by the civilian world- currently, I'm thinking of presenting the human appendix as a parasitic bio-weapon that was written into our timeline; also, one organism whose capabilities (I'm thinking the ability to denature its cells into stem cells and reuse them) are fully understood, but only through anomaly-derived science- like, math using SCP-033), and also two -EX (the thinky-squid and a house thought to be haunted, but which actually just has infrasound-producing pipes and an ergot infestation.)
Also, I didn't post it in drafts because I thought that forum was just for finished drafts to be critiqued. Should I move the thread? If so, how can I do that?
Dolphins, pigs and elephants are smart creatures with a degree of self-awareness, but you aren't going to have any philosophical debates with them.
Pigs, no- they're clever in some ways, but not sapient. Dolphins, elephants, parrots, and corvids, though? We're still working on the language barrier. They all display clear signs of abstract thinking and at least some degree of metacognition. It's generally agreed they're at least on the low end of the human range… like to the point where there's been serious discussion for decades about whether killing an elephant or whale should be formally considered murder. The discussion is about what that means in terms of something you can have a conversation with.
Beyond that, the real question is whether we're capable of comprehending their point of view sufficiently that their philosophies would make any sense to us if they could try to explain them to us: could we understand why elephants will return the bones of another elephant to the site where they died, even if they explained it to us?. Just look at the trouble we have understanding cetaceans being intelligent in a creative, problem-solving way, simply because they don't have hands or instinctively use tools.
Crows, meanwhile, figure out how to operate a pulley to raise a piece of meat just fine… but then do everything they can to get the meat without using the vile human sorcery causing something to go up by pulling a string down.
I'm generally unwilling to accept the assertion that any animal species we've encountered so far is sapient. Yes, intelligence is a nebulous concept, and yes, some simians and cetaceans can be taught to communicate with us in a rudimentary way, but intelligence is basically the only ethically necessary factor for personhood, isn't it? Should we extend the vote to gorillas? When a dolphin kills another dolphin, as they have been known to do, does that count as murder, or a natural, instinct-driven act? If you do count it as murder, given that a dolphin lacks the cognitive power of an adult human being, is it competent to stand trial?
The assertion that animals have human-equivalent consciousness sounds like hyperbole. It would mean that owning higher mammals as pets, eating their meat, and simply failing to provide them with health-care and voting rights and such is unethical.
I'm willing to admit that such animals are advanced enough to deserve humane treatment, and if alternatives to using them as food sources and test subjects are available, or could be developed, they must be pursued. But I don't think they qualify as people, and I think that the life and needs of a person matter more than those of an animal. Maybe, after a few millennia of evolution or a few decades of genetic engineering, we can welcome them as citizens, and replace our meat with cloned or veggie-based products. But currently, I think homo sapiens sapiens is the only game in town, intelligence-wise.
Of course, that's just my personal opinion.
intelligence is basically the only ethically necessary factor for personhood, isn't it?
Hence the fact that I'm eating a bacon cheeseburger right now, but would consider killing an elephant murder. Put it this way: a mentally handicapped human is still a person, correct? If a dolphin displays the same mental capacity, why are they not a "person"?
Not all animals are sapient- but at least one is, and that species has found pretty strong evidence for a few others.
Should we extend the vote to gorillas?
If they pass a citizenship test, follow the laws of the land, and start paying taxes, sure. Probably not going to happen, but should some genius gorilla do it, I for one would be fine with it, just like I would be for an AI or an alien lifeform.
When a dolphin kills another dolphin, as they have been known to do, does that count as murder, or a natural, instinct-driven act? If you do count it as murder, given that a dolphin lacks the cognitive power of an adult human being, is it competent to stand trial?
If a human kills another human in the heat of the moment, as humans have been known to do, does that count as a murder or a natural, instinct-driven act? If you do count it as murder, if the human is mentally handicapped, are they competent to stand trial? If a human lives in a society where killing a member of a rival tribe is socially acceptable, are you right to demand they be put on trial for doing so?
…Ouch. I cannot refute any of your arguments. One (unsettling) amendment: as previously discussed, intelligence is a difficult to define trait. You claim pigs aren't sapient, whereas certain pachyderms, cetaceans, and simians are; however, tests have shown that they can out-do chimpanzees and dogs in cognitive performance. Likewise, given how little we know about the brain and the intellect it houses, theoretically any animal with an advanced nervous system is a possible candidate for citizen-hood.
Does the ethical responsibility of every human being include veganism? But without an energy-rich omnivorous diet and ergo animal husbandry, we wouldn't have developed to where we are.
Your analogy with mentally handicapped people is striking, and irrefutable, but incomplete: animals are not of below-average human intelligence because of medical issues. They are not exceptions to a rule; they are not children of intelligent, aware parents capable of mourning. The analogy is complete only if we subject the disabled individuals you've mentioned to the conditions animals subsist in: to live in the wild, fighting for life, having to kill others to survive, and bearing offspring similarly disabled into the same terrible straits. I'm not saying these conditions make it ethically acceptable to domesticate or kill animals at our convenience; but it is what it is. The world is a terribly unfair place, and the human race- which can create art, appreciate tragedy, etc.- suffers if animals do not.
We are, like it or not, part of the food chain. We have to draw ethical lines, as to how advanced a species might be before we can no longer kill it for our needs, and develop guidelines for the humane treatment of animals that are used for our purposes: but ultimately, there are going to be animals, which feel pain and to some degree think, on the wrong side of that line. Life is a series of terrible moral choices: Even if one goes vegetarian, or vegan, land has to be developed, and natural habitats destroyed, in order to make your food. Entropy is an inevitability, and the marvelous, miraculous, complex system that is life requires the ugly trade of destruction for sustainability.
I think it was Camus that said that the only real moral decision was whether to suicide- whether to lessen the entropy we create in our environment to reduce entropy in ourselves, or whether to make a brave, and possibly futile go of it, in a world with terrifyingly few absolute truths.
For the record, I have a close relative that suffered an acquired brain injury at birth, and my mother works with the handicapped professionally. The above statements in no way condone the inhuman treatment of the mentally disabled.