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Brain 'survival' function and veganism
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Thread: Brain 'survival' function and veganism

  1. #1

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    Default Brain 'survival' function and veganism

    Hi everyone, this is my first post here. I suspect this topic may have already been discussed, but it intrigues me.

    I first became a veggie when my sister and brother stopped eating meat. I lived with them, and rather than me taking a decision to stop, I just kinda evolved into not eating meat. There was no concious decision to stop, it happened naturally. However, as my meat consumption reduced I did become more empathetic with the idea of vegetarianism. As I say not a concious decision.

    I remember very vividly that when I was eating meat I never attached any human like qualities to the animal I was eating. Quite bizarre considering I had a dog which I could never dream of eating. So this got me thinking.

    Is the brain playing a few tricks on us. It suspends our empathetic part of our brain so we can consume meat. As humans we are clearly susceptible to humanising animals (dogs etc...). Not until we fully understand eating meat is not required for survival, like what happened with me, then do we stop suspending these emotions. Empathy and attaching human qualities to animals is obviously a useful tool in survival. but our brain does appear to have a function to switch them off if needs (or a perceived need) be.

    I remember watching animal cruelty videos and so on and it really didn't effect me in the slightest,. I recognised it was wrong in a kinda of emotionless way, but certainly not on a level which made me question what I ate or did. There was something there beyond my own thoughts that was stopping me attaching sympathy with these animals. it's something very strong.

    The strength of feeling meat eaters have, to me anyway, goes beyond a concious choice. I was once the same as them so I can sympathise with their position. My brain couldn't really understand veggies. However the fact 90% of the population wouldn't eat their dog demonstrates on some level they have the same potential make-up as a vegan.

    To a certain extent it is still a battle I rage with today, but I certainly avoid judging meat eaters because to me it's not as if they're ignorant or evil. For me there's something very real in the brain blocking normal human sympathy to animals created for food and that's demonstrated in the fact they don't eat animals they attach human qualities to.

  2. #2
    hedge
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    Default Re: Brain 'survival' function and veganism

    This is a very interesting thought Karter (welcome to the forum btw) and one I shall need to spend a while mulling over.
    My initial reaction was no, some people just like to bury their heads' in the sand, ignorance is bliss yada yada yada but that response left me unsatisfied.
    I would like to think that it is a deeper rooted reason and one that, over time, can be eliminated altogether, something that our evolution process will filter out maybe??
    *goes of to think a while*

  3. #3
    Ex-admin Korn's Avatar
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    Default Re: Brain 'survival' function and veganism

    Quote Karter Al View Post
    I remember very vividly that when I was eating meat I never attached any human like qualities to the animal I was eating. Quite bizarre considering I had a dog which I could never dream of eating. So this got me thinking.
    Hi and welcome!
    I don't think I understand what you mean by' human qualities', but - although some people react strongly to animal cruelty documentaries while others don't, I think the 'survival' part plays a role here, starting from the day a human baby eats it's first portion of solid food. If humans from birth had a built in, strong aversion against eating anything with animal products in, our childhood would be filled with conflict very day. If someone grows up in a cannibal community, the ability to keep eating human meat is essential for them, if human meat is an essential part of the diet they are given.

    There was no concious decision to stop
    That's how how all meat eaters start being meat eaters as well; there's no conscious decision to start. The only difference is that most meat eaters probably never realize that eating meat isn't something they ever decided to start to do.

    Many kids actually do have negative reactions against eating meat and fish, and maybe there is some level of shutting off these intuitive reactions against meat happening in many kids. And maybe that off-shutting is unhealthy on many levels. Maybe it evens leads to a generally higher level of shutting of compassion/empathy than we were 'equipped' with from birth.


    It's much easier for people who (for one reason or another) have lived on a plant based diet for a while to make a conscious switch to live on a vegan diet. This probably both has to do with fear of the unknown, habits, the fact that they know that there's no sacrifice (in terms of taste or health) and more. The initial reaction of many adults who eat a good vegan dinner for the first time is 'I could have continued eating only this kind of food'. It hasn't struck them, until then, that living on vegan food only is a choice they could or should consider. The reason is probably a combination of many things, one of course being that it's fully possible to live for many years in the Western world without being offered one tasty, vegan dinner ever.

    Another part of this is the kind of childhood conditioning which is derived from parents saying that 'you have to eat everything on your plate' - to kids who rather will have an banana, some nuts and plain pasta for dinner than stuff with fish and meat in. Parents come up with all kinds of silly stuff to convince their children that they have to do and eat what they do. "You'll get sick if you don eat meat' etc. I saw an article once which went through the scientific evidence for things we were more or less threatened with when were kids, like 'if you read a book in poor light you'll eyesight will be damaged' and so on, and the article concluded that most of these things have no foundation in science at all.

    Plus - finally, there's that 'Pavlov's Dog' element built into the conditioning process. Parents create a pattern in children when they at all celebrations etc, feed their kids with sugary, fat and unhealthy food. Neither the kids or parents may notice it, but an association between junk food and pleasure is being created that way, which of course affects our choices later in life. This could be an important thing to consider for "semi-vegan" parents; parents who mainly mainly vegan or at least meat free food at home, but are OK with their kids' eating animal products and other junk in weekends/at birthdays etc.

    I definitely agree that the brain is playing tricks on us, on many levels - massively helped by all the 'tricks' that have been played on us in our past. The biggest and most harmful tricks of all is probably the ability to *not* feel.
    I will not eat anything that walks, swims, flies, runs, skips, hops or crawls.

  4. #4

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    Default Re: Brain 'survival' function and veganism

    I remember very vividly when I stopped eating meat 20 years ago, that the smell of meat being cooked started to really nauseate me.

    Before it had not bothered me, quite the contrary, it had that 'mouth-watering' effect because my brain associated "food" with the smell, but about a month after I stopped eating meat, I began to realize what a hideous stench it actually is.

    I guess that the de-sensitizing to pictures of animal cruelty or animal slaughter works in a similar way.

    Best regards and also a warm welcome to the forum from my side...
    Andy

  5. #5

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    Default Re: Brain 'survival' function and veganism

    Quote Korn View Post
    Hi and welcome!
    I don't think I understand what you mean by' human qualities', but - although some people react strongly to animal cruelty documentaries while others don't, I think the 'survival' part plays a role here, starting from the day a human baby eats it's first portion of solid food. If humans from birth had a built in, strong aversion against eating anything with animal products in, our childhood would be filled with conflict very day. If someone grows up in a cannibal community, the ability to keep eating human meat is essential for them, if human meat is an essential part of the diet they are given.
    Hi, thanks for your reply.

    What I mean by human qualities is when we attribute human qualities to an animal.

    For example, when I was eating meat when I saw a cow... I saw a plain old boring emotionless cow. However when I was/am with my dog I recognise a whole plethora of emotions that relate to those of a human - happy/sad/angry/. So that's what I mean by human qualities.

    So if my dog was hurt I would empathise as a human. I'd place human qualities to that the dog so I could empathise. But this empathy wouldn't be there when I watch cows/sheeps in farms. It's as if my brain went on shut down mode.

    It's there in everyone. I have had conversations with people who would slate the Koreans for eating dogs, while tucking into a burger. There was always a slight conflict in me saying how absurd that rational really is. But most people, to some degree, have this empathy and it does affect their dietary behaviour.

    So I think sometimes people are quick to brand meat-eaters as ignorant, but you could be fighting a very powerful sub-concious tool. The positive however, is that a large amount of meat-eaters do share certain qualities with Vegans. If they have a dog, and don't eat it, then this trick of brain isn't formidable.

  6. #6
    Ex-admin Korn's Avatar
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    Default Re: Brain 'survival' function and veganism

    Quote Karter Al View Post

    For example, when I was eating meat when I saw a cow... I saw a plain old boring emotionless cow. However when I was/am with my dog I recognise a whole plethora of emotions that relate to those of a human - happy/sad/angry/. So that's what I mean by human qualities.
    Hi again,
    since a dog can be both angry, sad and happy - these aren't only human qualities - but I understand what you mean, I guess....

    http://www.seattledogspot.com/2011/0...n-afghanistan/
    I will not eat anything that walks, swims, flies, runs, skips, hops or crawls.

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    Default Re: Brain 'survival' function and veganism

    Quote Karter Al View Post
    It's there in everyone. I have had conversations with people who would slate the Koreans for eating dogs, while tucking into a burger. There was always a slight conflict in me saying how absurd that rational really is. But most people, to some degree, have this empathy and it does affect their dietary behaviour.
    Same here! I recently had a FB discussion when I commented on a friends request asking to sign a petition to ask the Korean prime minister to forbid the slaughter of dogs for food in Korea.

    Needless to say that I was called an idiot by fellow "animal rights activists" when I asked the question how they thought the German chancellor would react if a group of Koreans petitioned the ending of killing of pigs (but not cattle, chicken, fish, dogs etc.) in Germany, given that pigs are - according to some researchers - more intelligent than dogs.

    Most people posting there seemed to agree that dogs are pets that under no circumstances should be killed, but that pigs are animals to be used - even some vegans stated that. Guess it's a long time until we can arrive at true abolition - sigh...

    Best regards,
    Andy

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Brain 'survival' function and veganism

    It is ridiculous but I'm always slightly hesitant to point out the inconsistency in case they conclude that dog-eating must be OK after all A lot of people seem to appreciate that pigs are very intelligent and so on and still think it's OK to farm and eat them, so maybe it is the idea that dogs are our "friends" that's stopping them?

    That reminds me that a meat-avoiding but still fish-eating friend of mine is getting a rescue goldfish so I'm wondering how long it will be before she decides against eating fish?

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Brain 'survival' function and veganism

    I think it reflects an inner conflict that many meat-eaters have, whether they are conscious of it or not. They need to regard the animals they eat differently in order to resolve the dissonance that comes from loving and respecting one animal and eating another, so a dog or cat is regarded as an individual but any food animal loses their 'personhood'. That, combined with many justifications for why it is necessary for them to eat meat, are necessary in order to protect their image of themselves as being a compassionate, ethical person.
    It is just like man's vanity and impertinence to call an animal dumb because it is dumb to his dull perceptions ~ Mark Twain

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    Default Re: Brain 'survival' function and veganism

    Quote BunkyVegan View Post
    any food animal loses their 'personhood'.
    That is so true. When an animal is reduced to becoming a 'steak', a slice of bacon or a minced meat pie, it becomes a bunch of scattered pieces, and then people do not make the conscious connection that there used to be an animal there who was brutalised and killed in order to make this.

    I think people who watch documentaries like Earthlings and then still eat meat or dairy afterwards, it's probably because they've so desperately tried to watch the documentary in a 'disconnected' way as in "it's probably something happening somewhere else far away; that does not affect me or my daily habits." After watching documentaries like these though, I imagine stubborn meat-eaters must re-train themselves in their minds to make a thorough diconnection, once again, between the product they buy and what they've seen in Earthlings. That always peeved me when I'd shown Earthlings to a couple of friends, and then they went straight back to eating meat and dairy right afterwards...
    "The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for whites or women for men." ~Alice Walker.

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    Default Re: Brain 'survival' function and veganism

    Well this is the power of the mind. Only now, 1 year or so of being a vegetarian, am I seeing cows as more than merely stupid animals for food. My mind still has a disconnect. This is why I try to avoid calling meat-eaters stubborn because the mechanisms that keep them eating meat are still very active inside my brain. So my concious mind has to over-ride my sub-concious. It's a constant battle. That's why I believe there must be an evolutionary mechanism that allows us to humanise certain animals because they are better off as 'helpers' while other animals are filed under food.

    Once our brain learns that we don't need meat for survival then this mechanism wanes a bit from my experience. It doesn't hold such a strangle hold over a person's concious thoughts. But I clearly remember watching animals in slaughter houses thinking that's bad, but at the same time being totally comfortable with it. Very odd feeling looking back now.

    Despite that mechanism being strong, it can be over-ridden though. So I have faith

    I'd love to see some real scientific research done on this. If anyone has any research relating to this it would be awesome.

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    Default Re: Brain 'survival' function and veganism

    I haven't seen any research specifically about that but there is research about ignoring or denying the effects of one's actions in other contexts - here's one http://www.sciencedirect.com/science...59378000000613

    Mental compartmentalisation is quite important for survival in humans I think - if we spent all the time thinking about e.g. people starving in Africa then we wouldn't be able to feed ourselves (or donate money to aid charities...). But it's too bad if people do it with things that they could easily do something about, like eating animal products.

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    Default Re: Brain 'survival' function and veganism

    It's a shame they had to use a Climate Change as their example. It's not a certain science (latest CERN work is quite interesting and proving the instability of GW theory) so the results are skewed.

  14. #14
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    Default Re: Brain 'survival' function and veganism

    I'm not sure it actually matters whether the science of climate change is correct or not for the purposes of the study, as I think they were focusing on the dissonance between the participants' beliefs and their actions. You can read the full report free here http://www.gis.uni-greifswald.de/agn...-JaegerGEC.pdf (though I haven't yet).

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    Default Re: Brain 'survival' function and veganism

    Quote Karter Al View Post
    This is why I try to avoid calling meat-eaters stubborn because the mechanisms that keep them eating meat are still very active inside my brain. So my concious mind has to over-ride my sub-concious. It's a constant battle. That's why I believe there must be an evolutionary mechanism that allows us to humanise certain animals because they are better off as 'helpers' while other animals are filed under food.

    Once our brain learns that we don't need meat for survival then this mechanism wanes a bit from my experience. It doesn't hold such a strangle hold over a person's concious thoughts. But I clearly remember watching animals in slaughter houses thinking that's bad, but at the same time being totally comfortable with it. Very odd feeling looking back now.

    Despite that mechanism being strong, it can be over-ridden though. So I have faith

    I'd love to see some real scientific research done on this. If anyone has any research relating to this it would be awesome.
    I see. Well, this sounds hopeful. Unfortunately, this also shows the extent to which meat-eaters are being brainwashed by cultures and old traditions.
    "The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for whites or women for men." ~Alice Walker.

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    Default Re: Brain 'survival' function and veganism

    It's not rocket science. We were given meat by our parents and learned from them what "food" is. In order not to view ourselves as monsters, when the topic arises, we disassociate. Those of us who consciously went vegan understand that we are not monsters and what we were taught as children wasn't our fault. Those who continue to eat meat simply have not understood this yet. All we can do is hope they do at some point, because most of them cannot be converted by speeches from us, due to this disassociation.

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