Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Thought Experiments - Book Review - Huddersfield Student - October 08 Edition




The Pig That Wants To Be Eaten (and 99 other thought experiments) by Julian Baggini RRP £8.99

Yes this book is as interesting as its title sounds. It’s all about questioning and analyzing why we think the way we do and why certain situations (or thought scenarios) pose even more questions about us, our culture and the way we view the world.
To help explain what I mean let’s take the title’s thought scenario as an example. This thought scenario is actually taken from Douglas Adam’s book ‘The Restaurant at the End of the Universe’ in which a character called Max Berger, a vegetarian for 40 years, is about to eat ‘pork sausages, crispy bacon and pan-fried chicken breast’ but this is a meal with a difference. Not due to the way it’s cooked but the way the animals have been reared or even engineered. You see the bacon and sausage meat has come from a pig called Priscilla who has been genetically engineered to be able to speak and most significantly to want to be eaten. Max Berger is aware of this and thinks it would be disrespectful not to eat her. The chicken had come from a genetically modified bird which has lived the life of a vegetable with no awareness of itself, feelings or emotions. ‘Killing it was therefore no more barbarous than uprooting a carrot’ the book says.
This scenario really does question whether there is any method of satisfying the problems vegetarians find with eating meat from an animal. The book explains that there are firstly two issues with this, one is that of the conditions the animals were kept in and two is the of the act of killing an animal who might have led a fairly decent life. Hence the way Douglas Adams has invented two fictional animals that would satisfy these two issues, firstly a chicken who is totally unaware of its own existence that it wouldn’t matter a great deal by killing it and secondly a pig whose dream in life is to be humanely killed and eaten for lunch. So what is wrong with this scenario? And if so why is it wrong? When it seems to negotiate two issues that so trouble us. The main character Arthur Dent ‘recoiled in horror at this suggestion, describing it as ‘the most revolting thing I’ve ever heard’.
Yet even he fails to state exactly what is so wrong with this scene. It all comes down to us not wanting to accept what isn’t natural. For example the fuss about using or eating Genetically Modified Crops, all this scene has done is apply it to animals and we still get the same response of disgust or even fear at what humanity has altered in the natural cycle or life of things.
Anyway if you are interested or even entertained by the questions posed in this example then I recommend this book because it not only helps you learn about yourself and your own personal views but also the way our thoughts work.

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