Q – what is the definition of sentience?

Q – What is the definition of sentience?

We make so much about it that we say only humans have it… or is that arrogance? Delusion? A form of xenophobia? Human-centric?

Cogito, ergo sum- René Descartes
“I think, therefore I am”.

But what is thought? Is it some form of perceiving what surrounds you? Or some self expression of soul? Something we cannot quantify?

If we cannot determine, objectively what thought is, then how can we say even that we have thought?

(goes back to scratching and sniffing my body)

And therefore the next question is how do we communicate what we think? Or is there such a thing? And how can we possibly agree if there is nothing truly objective under the sun?

2 thoughts on “Q – what is the definition of sentience?

  1. A searching question for the weekend, to say the least, MsP!

    If I may, I would take issue with your suggestion that we say that only humans have it. To the contrary, sentience as a word was invented as recently as the 18th century, precisely because people were searching for a concept that would distinguish the ability to think (always widely known as reason) from the ability to feel, which animals clearly do.

    To feel what, though? Well, these days, we tend to mean the ability to experience various and sometimes conflicting sensations – pain and pleasure, to give one not inappropriate example! Animals clearly do, so are one with humans in this respect and this concept of sentience has informed our now widely enshrined belief (in the West and as represented by the idea of ahimsa, practised in certain religions of the East) that animals do have the right to be treated with decency.

    Where humans are thought to diverge from are fellow creatures is in our creativity or our ability to have specific, often subjective thoughts about various things. Yes, bonobos, dolphins, ants and various other of our cohabitees of the planet are capable of apparently amazing things, but they aren’t the norm and we can’t judge all of them by such exalted standards. It would be like pointing to the achievements of Newton and Einstein to explain the wonders of the human mind. The extraordinary can’t be the general benchmark…..

    So sentience and thought are not interchangeable terms. As humans, we have the ability to empathise, to listen, to be influenced by a better argument and to think rationally enough to adopt it. There is enough that is objective, empirically determinable, for us all to be going on with. The fact that we fall hopelessly short of our potential as a race, don’t use the thought capacity with which we are endowed and seem hell-bent on making the planet worse for everyone, sentient or rational being, is another matter entirely…!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right that some animals appear more sentient than others. And i think some people appear more so thn others as well. Even without including the geniuses. So called normal has variances as well. IMO


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