Approach to Ethical Issues Based on Fundamental Informatics: "School Days With a Pig" as a Clue
1. Introduction - "School Days With a Pig"
From 1990 to 1992, there had been a practical educational trial in an elementary school in Japan which is to raise a young pig for eating. The aim of this trial was to make children realize the importance of life or food, but the method which mixes up companion animals and domestic livestock caused an ethical sensation. The trial was made into a movie named "Buta ga ita kyôshitsu / School Days With a Pig" (2008).
In this article, I would like to discuss "School Days With a Pig" and explore the difference between companion animals and domestic livestock from the viewpoint of fundamental informatics (FI). FI is the information theory proposed by Toru Nishigaki (2004, 2008) based on neo-cybernetics which is a developed version of cybernetics originated by Heinz von Foerster and superimposed on autopoiesis theory of Maturana and Varela.
2. A System Composed of Communications between Children and a Pig
In the beginning of "School Days With a Pig", children treated a pig as a pet, and soon became friends or classmates with the pig. We can say with fair certainty that communications between children and the pig composed a "communication system".
From the viewpoint of FI, the communication system can be seen not only an autopoietic system (APS), but also an upper level HACS (Hierarchical Autonomous Communication System). In this case, the systems of lower level HACS are mental systems of children and a pig. They are also autonomous (autopoietic) systems while they can be seen as heteronomous (allopoietic) systems from the viewpoint of the upper level HACS. This hierarchical view can be derived from a shift of the viewpoint of an observer.
Information transmission can be understood by this HACS model. Although each APS is closed system and cannot "transmit" information in principle, information "seems to be" transmitted as long as an upper level HACS works continuously. In FI, all kinds of information transmission are grasped as this kind of fiction. Therefore, there is no need to say whether the "real" information transmission between children and a pig exist or not.
3. Communication System and Ethical Norms
In FI, ethical norms are understood as a kind of "media" which guides the continuance of communications. For example, academic communications are regulated by ethical norms like "as a scholar, set up a theory for truth, not for money, power, love, etc." Communication systems operate smoothly by virtue of these kinds of media. A sense of ethics is generated when the members of a community share the ethical norms consciously and practically.
Note that information content itself is not primarily connected to ethical problems. From neo-cybernetic point of view, information is self-generated inside a system, for each system is operationally closed. We cannot say whether the information itself is ethical or not as if it exists objectively.
What is important here is the continuance of communications. It is not likely that a communication system composed of communications between children and a pig has as clear ethical norms as those of human-social systems. However, as long as such a communication system continuously operates, we can assume that there are some ethical norms like "behave as a classmate" which work with the system. At least, from the viewpoint of upper level HACS, lower systems can be seen as ethically expected actors that contribute equally to the operation of upper level HACS. In this sense, each of the lower systems can be seen even as a moral actor.
4. Conversion into Non-Communicational Sign Interpreter and Abandonment of Ethical Norms
From the viewpoint of FI, the problem which children faced amidst discussion and criticism is derived from an informatic difference between seeing a grown pig still as a classmate and as food, pork, in daily lives. That is, we usually do not construct a "communication system" together with pork. From informatic viewpoint, pork is regarded just as "signs" and humans are just "sign interpreter". There is no ethical relationship between humans and pork.
Therefore, if children eat the pig as pork, they must abandon the ethical norms related to the pig that they had held until then. They must stop to be a moral actor as classmates and kill the pig that had been an equal existence to them. Children themselves would understand this situation as "unethical", which is even equal to "murder".
Livestock breeder generally do not construct a "communication system like classmates" with livestock. They treat many animals at the same time, they don't give them names, and the period of relationship is limited at a minimum, for about half a year, or at least for one year. In this way, they protect themselves ethically. In contract, the children in this trial communicated to the only one animal, gave it a unique name, and raised it for 900 days long.
In the end, the grown pig was sent to a meat treatment center. Although each APS is closed and the external world can only give some stimuli to trigger the activities of APS, this trial could be observed as particular stimuli because of the destruction of a communicational actor. Because of this particularity, this practice can be criticized as "unethical". However, that is originally intended by teacher-side. This situation or relationship is the "sacrifice" from the viewpoint of children and the "self-victim" from the viewpoint of the pig, and that causes children to have feelings of the unavoidable tragedy concerning life and eating and a kind of sacredness within a living thing which is to be eaten.
Considering on ethical issues, being a communicational actor or to be a lower system of HACS should be distinguished from just being a non-communicational sign interpreter. When we see the living things as companion animals, we are in the former style, while we see them as food or domestic livestock, we are in the latter style.
We can assume ethical norms when a higher system of HACS continually works as a communication system. This argument based on informatics can be a starting point for developing new argument on ethical issues, not in terms of difference of intelligence or importance of lives, but in terms of the possibility of construction of communication system.
Toru Nishigaki. The Wisdom to Bridge the Gap between Lives and Machines: An introduction to Fundamental Informatics
-. "For the Establishment of Fundamental Informatics on the Basis of Autopoiesis: Consideration on the Concept of Hierarchical Autonomous Systems"
-. "The ethics in Japanese information society: Consideration on Francisco Varela's The Embodied Mind from the perspective of fundamental informatics" Ethics and Information Technology, Springer Netherlands, Volume 8, Number 4, Nov. 2006, pp.237-242