Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Fishy theories about pain in fish

By Geoff Russell

There's more to sensory perception than the complexity of an animal's brain circuitry.

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Brian Key makes it sound so simple (Australasian Science April 2016, http://www.australasianscience.com.au/article/issue-april-2016/do-fish-f...). People feel pain in a particular part of our brain which fish simply don't have. End of story. But this only creates a bigger mystery. We've known where people feel pain and the essentials of both fish and human anatomy for decades. So why, I wonder, is there a debate? Key acknowledges the debate at the beginning of the article but doesn't explain it. Are those who think fish feel pain simply ignorant of basic piscean anatomy and the pain centres in people? No and no.

Clues to this mysterious debate are contained within Key's article itself. First, his computer analogy. It's simply wrong. A low end computer can do any computation that a supercomputer can do; it just takes longer. The complexity of the circuits is irrelevant. Alan Turing proved this result back in the 1930s; long before anybody made a computer of any kind! It's not quite as film worthy as breaking German U-boat codes, but it's a result with deep practical significance. The complicated instructions used by programmers in their various programming languages are...

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