Do You Think Fish Feel Pain?

Zebrafish. According to the Guardian: “It shares 70% of our genetic code, is transparent and can repair its own heart: little wonder that the zebrafish has become one of scientists’ best allies in the fight against devastating disease.” I wouldn’t call it an ally. Maybe slave.

The puffer fish in the last post reminded me of this experiment with zebrafish. Again, in Godfrey-Smith’s book about the octopus:

Zebrafish were tested first to see which of two environments they preferred. They were then injected with a chemical suspected to cause pain, and in some cases, the less preferred environment had a painkiller dissolved in it. The fish now preferred this environment, but only when it contained dissolved painkiller. They made a choice they’d not normally make, and they made it in a situation where the idea of a more painful or less painful environment would be quite novel to them.”

He’s not arguing here that zebrafish have consciousness. He’s arguing that they probably do feel something, and that the feeling led to an action. In many animals, the path from sensing to action travels along a nervous system. That nervous system, he says, can give rise to consciousness, but it doesn’t have to. It can stay in the realm of “subjective experience.”

Do you think fish feel pain?

4 thoughts on “Do You Think Fish Feel Pain?

  1. Mel Parsons

    Too many people assume that “lesser” animals are purely instinctual. But there are an increasing number of studies suggesting such animals have consciousness (and certainly can feel pain). This even applies to trees and other plants.


  2. Darryl

    Having read “What A Fish Knows: The Inner Lives Of Our Underwater Cousins” by Jonathan Balcombe, I’ve little doubt that fish feel pain, fear, and have a degree of consciousness.

    I suspect it isn’t a volitional consciousness as we experience it, but more akin to our dream state. In dreams our bodies often act of their own accord, but there’s less or no attempt by our conscious internal narrator to attribute cause and effect to our choices.


    1. Bix Post author

      That’s an interesting analogy to dream state. I wonder how much our consciousness guides our dreams, if at all.
      It’s an interesting book too.



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