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Seesul's avatar

Doesn’t it mean that non-humans can experience suffering? Consciousness is being aware of one’s place in nature.

augustlan's avatar

To me it means, not only being aware of your surroundings and condition, but also able to perceive the good or bad effects of such.

tinyfaery's avatar

Awareness of the self and the other (other being other selves as well as objects), through sense (and perhaps, extrasensory) perception, via the medium of language and art.


aidje's avatar

Sentience is the capacity to think and to feel. It is often used in science fiction where the term sapience would be more correct (sapience is the capacity for higher thought).

PupnTaco's avatar

Consciousness: the state of being awake and aware of one’s surroundings.

Harp's avatar

If thought plays into it, where do animals fall on the sentience scale?

bodyhead's avatar

I believe that it’s the ability to pass the Turing test.

aanuszek1's avatar


(n) sentient condition or character; capacity for sensation or feeling.

wundayatta's avatar

Conciousness is the ability to model the self, make predictions about one’s own behavior in response to various environmental conditions, and improve one’s personal outcomes by first modeling, and then acting based on the predictions of the model. The model actually can model itself, as well.

Sentience, I think, is about consciousness but looking from the outside. If we see behaviors that indicate that another life form is modeling it’s own sense of self, then I think we would believe it is sentient.

Of course, both these things exist on a spectrum, and I would not hazard a guess as to where on that spectrum one could draw the line between consciousness and non-consciousness, or sentience and not sentience.

aidje's avatar

In terms of animal rights, sentience is defined as the capacity to experience suffering. In terms of animal intelligence, from the little I know on the topic, there are a few species that are regarded as sentient, such as dolphins and chimpanzees.

shudderbrother's avatar

@aidje and harp
In my understanding sentience is a quite non-intellectual state: it´s about the ability to gather information from the sences or simply feeling. Heat, cold, sounds, smell, taste, pain etc. Most “higher” animals could be considered sentient and able to suffer I guess.

Consciousness on the other hand may be a state that demands a higher degree of thinking.

aidje's avatar

Notice my distinction between sapience and sentience.

As for thinking and feeling:
Pure feeling would, to me, mean that any appearance of suffering was actually just programmed, automatic reflexes. The addition of “lower” thought to the equation means that the animal is consciously aware of the suffering, and able to process the fact that the suffering sucks.

nikipedia's avatar

What’s the difference between a reflex and processing the fact that the suffering sucks?

aidje's avatar

Reflexes are automatic. No thinking involved.

(I meant to compare this to raw instinct, but I forgot because I was in a hurry.)

nikipedia's avatar

Okay, then let me rephrase. What’s the difference between a reflex and a thought?

augustlan's avatar

One can learn to avoid the situation in the future if one has thought at their disposal. If only reflex is available, the same painful experience could be had over and over again.

aidje's avatar

One does not think about a reflex. It just happens. The difference is not between a reflex and a thought, but between a reflex and a willful action. A reflex does not involve thought.

aidje's avatar

…and to clarify further, a reflex doesn’t even go through the brain (at least in a human—I don’t know much about animal physiology). It’s all mediated through the reflex arc.

nikipedia's avatar

@augustlan: Not so:

@aidje: Okay, so what’s the difference between a reflex and a willful action?

And why does it matter where it takes place? I disagree that all reflexes in humans go through the reflex arc——but that is another conversation, I think.

augustlan's avatar

@niki: Interesting. Thanks.

aidje's avatar

I believe I answered that. A reflex does not involve thought. No decision is consciously made. A willful action is, as one might guess, willful.

nikipedia's avatar

@aidje: I guess I’m trying to get at a deeper level of meaning. It seems like defining “sentience” as “thinking” and “thinking” as “consciousness” etc. is just shuffling the same problem around from word to word. What is a thought? What is a decision? How are those things qualitatively different from reflexes when the same biological process underlies them? Where does this decision-making show up? What does a decision look like? Ultimately, are we even making decisions or are our actions really just complicated reflexes with way more steps in between?

bodyhead's avatar

@nikipedia, That’s a vegetarian argument if I’ve ever heard one. It’s nice that your dedication shows through your philosophies in addition to your actions.

Decisions are very different from reflexes. I’ll agree that there’s a gray area between the two when animals have an extremely small amount of lower brain function. Their ‘thoughts’(for lack of a better term) probably fall on a chart between reflex and decision. Because we don’t have a better method, we just draw an arbitrary line at some point and say ‘this is where a reflex becomes a decision’.

Myself, I think that the difference comes in this: Decisions include hesitation. Reflexes do not.

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