Re: “Mainer’s idea to put the pot in the lobster sparks new research” (June 14):

Charlotte Gill, owner of Charlotte’s Legendary Lobster Pound in Southwest Harbor, doses a lobster with valerian. Gill uses the plant, sometimes called “nature’s Valium,” as a substitute for cannabis, which she uses to sedate the crustaceans before boiling them. Courtesy of Charlotte Gill

I enjoyed the story on Charlotte Gill’s compassionate approach to preparing lobsters; she is clearly wonderful, but the explanation behind what she observes likely falls short of scientific and clinical reality.

A lobster does not possess a brain. Lobsters have a supraesophageal ganglion, thoracic ganglia and abdominal ganglia, i.e., clusters of specialized neurons. The Lobster Institute at the University of Maine equates these nervous system components with those of an insect.

We should remember that pain is a complex mental state, with not only a distinct perceptual quality but also an association with suffering, which is an emotional state.

Detection and programmed reflexive reaction to irritating stimuli certainly exist across many primitive species. Anesthetics and other compounds, i.e., cannabinoids, can certainly alter and suppress neurological function in lobsters, but this does not mean that there is a difference in the putative perception and experience of pain. More importantly, the experience of pain, or of love, for that matter, requires elegant and complex sensory, cognitive and emotional function that only a brain can achieve.

Peter Pressman

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