Are Humans Sentient?

Sentience is defined as “being able to perceive or feel things”.  However, the word sentience nowadays seems to only be used in the context of comparing humans to AIs, or humans to other animals.  We are hell bent on convincing ourselves that we are the sole being in the known universe who can “feel” and “perceive”.  And as it so happens, every single time this debate concludes, it postulates that humans, and only humans, can feel or perceive things.  But of course, this is what one would expect when the only participants in the debate are humans in the first place, using their own language and other ways of “feeling” and “perceiving” unique to their species, in order to determine whether they are “feeling” or “perceiving”.  Quite an objective process, really.  Either way one looks at it, there is definitely one thing that these so-called sentient humans have failed to feel or perceive: the sentience of other species, as well as the sentience of an entire planet that can literally “feel” what is being done to its climate system.  “Sentience” has become a weaponized word for biochauvinists who think humans are entitled to a superiority privilege because of their brain power.  But brain power is not sentience.  If humans were sentient, they would be able to feel, to perceive the pain they are inflicting on 8 million species on this planet.  If they were sentient, they would feel the pull of their umbilical connection to every other life form on Earth, which they literally share the same phylogenetic tree with. 

There are in fact, many arguments against the sentience of humans.  Humans are the only species on Earth capable of systematic, methodical, large-scale culling of their own population, often for purely ideological reasons.  Humans have the ability to completely detach themselves from any “feeling” or “perceiving” and commit heinous crimes that challenge any imagination, such as the Holocaust or Nuclear War.  It is under debate whether these are actions of “sentience”, or in fact lack of any form of detectable consciousness whatsoever. 

(from the upcoming “Little Book of Doom”)

George is an author, researcher, podcast host, chemist, molecular biologist and food scientist. You can follow him on Twitter @99blackbaloons , listen to his Spotify podcast George reads George, sign up for blog alerts below, or enjoy his books

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