New ANU centre to explore ‘are bees like us?’ and other big questions

9 August 2017

People and philosophers think that what makes you an object of moral concern is that you are conscious and you can feel things, especially if you can feel any pain or suffering.

ANU has opened a new Centre for the Philosophy of Sciences to help people make sense of the world and to explore questions such as 'are bees like us?'.

Centre Director Dr Rachael Brown said consciousness was one of the most fundamental mysteries that humans faced.

"Is it likely that bees have feelings like us, or less likely?" Dr Brown said.

"Associate Professor Colin Klein, who will be joining the Centre at ANU next year, has done research finding that bees are probably like us - they have some degree of consciousness. Now we need to explore what that means for society.

"People and philosophers think that what makes you an object of moral concern is that you are conscious and you can feel things, especially if you can feel any pain or suffering."

The Centre will explore concepts such as consciousness, cognition and intelligence, and will aim to bring philosophers of the sciences together with scientists to develop interdisciplinary research and education projects.

ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt officially launched the new Centre.

"The Centre for Philosophy of the Sciences shares the University's ambition: knitting together the University's strengths so that we can all learn from one another, and make a bigger contribution to Australian knowledge and public life," Professor Schmidt said.

"Some think of philosophy as the ultimate ivory tower pursuit; the lone philosopher in a garret, sat in an armchair, musing on the world.

"ANU philosophy has never been like that. It has always looked outwards, seeking collaborators not only across disciplines but also outside the academy. This has never been truer than now."

Professor Peter Godfrey-Smith, author of Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness, delivered a lecture about the nature and origins of the mind at the launch of the Centre.