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Who is a non-human person?
An orangutan has settled into a Florida home after a court granted her personhood rights. But what is the basis for personhood?
- An orangutan named Sandra was granted non-human personhood rights in 2015 and has been moved from the Buenos Aires Zoo to a home in Florida.
- Legal personhood is not synonymous with human being. A "non-human person" refers to an entity that possesses some rights for limited legal purposes.
- Sentience might be the characteristic necessary for granting legal rights to non-human species.
After being granted legal personhood rights in 2015, a 33-year-old orangutan named Sandra has just moved into a new, spiffy central Florida home.
Sandra has joined 21 other orangutans and 31 chimpanzees to live at the Center for Great Apes where she is reportedly thriving. Born in Germany, Sandra spent 25 years at the Buenos Aires Zoo. She was released because, according to a landmark ruling in 2015, she is a legal person who was wrongly imprisoned for the majority of her life. In the ruling, Judge Elena Liberatori declared Sandra as a "non-human person" and, thus, entitled to better living conditions and some of the same legal rights as humans.
Non-human person definition
According to legal terminology, legal personhood is not exactly synonymous with human being. The law divides the world between two entities: things and persons. According to the Nonhuman Rights Project executive director, attorney Kevin Schneider, personhood is best understood as a container for rights. Things have no rights, but once an entity is defined as a person it can obtain some rights. So, a "non-human person" refers to an entity that is guaranteed some rights for limited legal purposes.
In Sandra's case, the ruling undercut species-membership as the basis for legally denying rights, freedoms, and protections. The Association of Officials and Lawyers for Animal Rights based its argument that Sandra should not be treated as an object based on the orangutan's "sufficient cognitive functions." But others have argued that it is sentience, rather than cognitive complexity, that is the essential characteristic for granting legal rights to non-human species.
The judge in Sandra's case agreed, telling the Associated Press that by giving Sandra non-human person status she wanted to shift society's view on other-than-human beings by telling them that "animals are sentient beings and that the first right they have is our obligation to respect them."
Degrees of Sentience
Photo Source: Wikimedia
Sentience is defined as the ability to perceive one's environment and translate those perceptions into various feelings, such as suffering or pleasure. This has little to do with a species' cognitive ability.
It's been argued that it is inappropriate to humanize animal behavior in this way. Yet, science can never be totally free from this anthropomorphism, and there's a solid argument as to why.
For one, humans can only ever think about animals by drawing on their own experiences, and this facilitates many of the research questions when studying other species. Yet, beyond scientific discovery, there is an ethical motivation for relating human emotions to animal experiences. Once we accept that other species might feel pain similar to what we feel, we become responsible for their suffering.
Anthropomorphism, when used responsibly, can add emotional meaning to the science of animal sentience.
But is there a distinction to be made between sentient species? After all, we are animals. Yet, humans differentiate ourselves from other types of animals. Our culture, and the taxonomies our fields of study rely on, demand categorizations of nature. But nature is not so obedient.
Research indicates that sentience extends to a wide range of animals. For example, chimps have been found to be generous, mice have exhibited empathy and honeybees have demonstrated pessimism. But because of the limits of human perception, we don't have sufficient ways to measure just how sentient non-human species are. It likely isn't a clear-cut answer of sentient or not sentient, but shades of grey.
Currently, most of the research on animal sentience has focused on vertebrate species and been mammal-centric. It is generally accepted that vertebrates (with the disputable exception of fish) are sentient, and that invertebrates are less-so. These evolving distinctions have made nonhuman personhood protections a messy legal area.
Admittedly, humans have something these other sentient beings apparently do not: The cognitive ability to create complex cultures which have allowed us to conceive of and communicate a claim of rights. But, as environmental researcher Uta Maria Juergens has argued, "If we pride ourselves on our unique intellect, we ought to also pride ourselves on assuming the responsibility that comes with it."
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Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.
- The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
- The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
- It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
The Red Sea area where Neom will be built:
Saudi Arabia Plans Futuristic City, "Neom" (Full Promotional Video)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c646d528d230c1bf66c75422bc4ccf6f"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/N53DzL3_BHA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Are we genetically inclined for superstition or just fearful of the truth?
- From secret societies to faked moon landings, one thing that humanity seems to have an endless supply of is conspiracy theories. In this compilation, physicist Michio Kaku, science communicator Bill Nye, psychologist Sarah Rose Cavanagh, skeptic Michael Shermer, and actor and playwright John Cameron Mitchell consider the nature of truth and why some groups believe the things they do.
- "I think there's a gene for superstition, a gene for hearsay, a gene for magic, a gene for magical thinking," argues Kaku. The theoretical physicist says that science goes against "natural thinking," and that the superstition gene persists because, one out of ten times, it actually worked and saved us.
- Other theories shared include the idea of cognitive dissonance, the dangerous power of fear to inhibit critical thinking, and Hollywood's romanticization of conspiracies. Because conspiracy theories are so diverse and multifaceted, combating them has not been an easy task for science.
A growing body of research suggests COVID-19 can cause serious neurological problems.
- The new study seeks to track the health of 50,000 people who have tested positive for COVID-19.
- The study aims to explore whether the disease causes cognitive impairment and other conditions.
- Recent research suggests that COVID-19 can, directly or indirectly, cause brain dysfunction, strokes, nerve damage and other neurological problems.
Brain images of a patient with acute demyelinating encephalomyelitis.
COVID-19 and the brain<p>A growing body of research reveals alarming neurological complications among COVID-19 patients. On Wednesday, for example, researchers from University College London published a <a href="https://academic.oup.com/brain/article/doi/10.1093/brain/awaa240/5868408" target="_blank">study</a> in the journal Brain that describes how some patients have suffered temporary brain dysfunction, strokes, nerve damage, and other neurological problems concurrent with COVID-19.</p><p>Some patients suffered brain inflammation as a result of a rare disease called acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, which can cause numbness, seizures, and confusion. One patient in the study even hallucinated monkeys and lions in her home.</p>
Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images<p>A separate study published in the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7198407/" target="_blank">Journal of Clinical Neuroscience</a> notes that some COVID-19 patients have also suffered neurological complications like impaired consciousness and acute cerebrovascular disease. The study notes that past viruses like MERS and SARS also seemed to cause neurological problems.</p><p>A troubling finding among this growing body of research is that some patients seem to suffer neurological damage even when respiratory symptoms aren't obvious. Additionally, scientists aren't sure whether damage from the disease will be permanent.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Given that the disease has only been around for a matter of months, we might not yet know what long-term damage COVID-19 can cause," Dr. Ross Paterson, joint first author of the University College London study, said in a <a href="https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-07/ucl-iid070620.php" target="_blank">press release</a>. "Doctors needs to be aware of possible neurological effects, as early diagnosis can improve patient outcomes."</p><p>If you've been diagnosed with COVID-19 and want to enroll in the study, visit <a href="https://www.cambridgebrainsciences.com/studies/covid-brain-study" target="_blank">cambridgebrainsciences.com/studies/covid-brain-study</a>.</p>
Coronavirus layoffs are a glimpse into our automated future. We need to build better education opportunities now so Americans can find work in the economy of tomorrow.