My name is Diana Fleischman and I’m an evolutionary psychologist working in the UK. I’ve studied all kinds of different phenomena from homosexuality to how parents have different rules for sons and daughters. Mostly I study how hormones influence human behavior including changes across the menstrual cycle and how humans adaptively avoid cues of contagion, like disgust (you can see my publications here).
As an evolutionary psychologist I see the mind as composed of a variety of modules, or in the language of computers, programs, designed to fulfill specific adaptive goals. Over the history of our species and before we were human there were recurring problems that we had to solve in order to survive and reproduce. Those that had the psychological tools that enabled them to successfully survive and reproduce better than others of their species passed down the genes for those psychological mechanisms that we see today *. Disgust is a great example of this. Launching an immune defense against pathogens is expensive metabolically and causes tissue damage that can be fatal (e.g. in the case of tuberculosis and Hepatitis it is the immune system that destroys the lungs and the liver respectively, not the pathogen itself) among other costs. A common view now is that the emotion of disgust evolved to distance humans away from cues of disease.
Viewing the human mind as an evolved set of programs means that our minds aren’t helping us to be happy or well adjusted or even represent the world and what’s important in it in any kind of veritable way. That’s where the Sentientist part comes in. Our evolved psychology represents the interests of those in our kin group, those in our ethnic group and those of our species as more important than the interests of those outside or those of nonhuman animals. This is a moral blind spot which is part of our evolved psychology by design. From the perspective of rationality it is sentience, not proximity, familiarity, fellow-feeling, genetic content or self-interest that makes a being’s interests important.
“That one’s own interests are one among many sets of interests, no more important than the similar interests of others, is a conclusion that, in principle, any rational being can come to see.” -Peter Singer, the Expanding Circle pg 106
If I’m defining Sentientist (and I am!) it is
1) a person who recognizes a being’s capacity to experience suffering and consciousness and be the subject of a life (otherwise known as sentience) as the the most important criteria in considering ethics
2) a person who studies sentience scientifically
3) a person who studies sentients (that is, sentient beings)*
Now, I thought of the name, Sentientist in the shower last summer BUT apparently it has been used before, namely when Peter Singer was a guest on the Colbert Report in 2006. There it was defined as:
“a person who thinks that creatures besides Man have coherent thoughts and therefore can suffer and so should get our consideration”
So, this blog is going to be an opportunity for me to discuss evolutionary psychology, evolutionary biology, ethics towards nonhuman animals and, well, anything else I fancy. Thanks for reading!
*Yes, saying “beings” over and over again is making me feel sort of new-agey