The developing intrinsic value of nature

December 10, 2021

A review of scientific literature recently concluded that there is strong evidence that invertebrates, such as octopuses, are capable of having sentient experiences and conscious impressions. The review defines sentience as having “the capacity to have feelings, such as feelings of pain, pleasure, hunger, thirst, warmth, joy, comfort and excitement.” Indeed, several countries have banned various ways of treating animals that cause them harm or unpleasant sensations. This goes to show that the concept of consciousness and welfare is expanding beyond the purely human scale and range of experience, adding to a post-humanist philosophical discourse.

People increasingly believe in the intrinsic value of animals and nature. Besides animal welfare, this will have ramifications for our broader socio-technical systems. In the process of modernization, we developed a largely instrumental view of nature as well as humans, leading to the exploitation of human labor as well as nature as a resource used for man’s activities. These new findings and the resulting ideas mean that nature and animals can no longer be used as instrumental input into our systems of production and consumption. Ethical alternatives are bound to add costs in an economic sense, but, in a cultural sense, will also lead to a richer living world.

Burning questions:

  • How do we determine the intrinsic value of non-human entities (e.g. animals or even robots)?
  • What is the role of media (e.g. the popular series My Octopus Teacher, Fantastic Fungi) and other institutions in this shifting view?
  • What other exponents of this shifting view will we be seeing (e.g. liability for AI/computers, legal value for other natural phenomena)?

Series 'AI Metaphors'

1. The Tool
Category: Objects
Humans shape tools.

We make them part of our body while we melt their essence with our intentions. They require some finesse to use but they never fool us or trick us. Humans use tools, tools never use humans.

We are the masters determining their course, integrating them gracefully into the minutiae of our everyday lives. Immovable and unyielding, they remain reliant on our guidance, devoid of desire and intent, they remain exactly where we leave them, their functionality unchanging over time.

We retain the ultimate authority, able to discard them at will or, in today's context, simply power them down. Though they may occasionally foster irritation, largely they stand steadfast, loyal allies in our daily toils.

Thus we place our faith in tools, acknowledging that they are mere reflections of our own capabilities. In them, there is no entity to venerate or fault but ourselves, for they are but inert extensions of our own being, inanimate and steadfast, awaiting our command.
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2. The Machine
Category: Objects
Unlike a mere tool, the machine does not need the guidance of our hand, operating autonomously through its intricate network of gears and wheels. It achieves feats of motion that surpass the wildest human imaginations, harboring a power reminiscent of a cavalry of horses. Though it demands maintenance to replace broken parts and fix malfunctions, it mostly acts independently, allowing us to retreat and become mere observers to its diligent performance. We interact with it through buttons and handles, guiding its operations with minor adjustments and feedback as it works tirelessly. Embodying relentless purpose, laboring in a cycle of infinite repetition, the machine is a testament to human ingenuity manifested in metal and motion.
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About the author(s)

Pim Korsten has a background in continental philosophy and macroeconomics. At the thinktank, he primarily focuses on research, consultancy projects, and writing articles related to technology, politics, and the economy. He has a keen interest in the philosophy of history and economics, metamodernism, and cultural anthropology.

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