Posts Tagged ‘sapience’

“Solidarity” is overrated (and brainless)

June 22, 2017

One trade union supports another in a conflict in which it has no part to show solidarity with the other union.

Students rampage in the streets in solidarity with striking workers to show support in a conflict in which they have no direct involvement.

The EU president wants to impose sanctions on some EU members who are not showing solidarity by accepting EU immigration rules which they do not wish to follow.

“Solidarity” has been reduced to being support for one party in a conflict by a third party for reasons of “belonging to a group” but which disregards and downgrades independent thought. It is an appeal to class and is what pits “class” against “class”. “Sympathetic strikes” are not only – by definition – brainless, they demand that a “class consciousness” override thought. The fourth title of the EU Charter of Human Rights is labelled “Solidarity” but is really concerned about workers rights. Solidarity as it is used today, either as an excuse for actions committed or as a demand for actions to be taken, is always to defend actions or demand actions of a third party in favour of one of two parties in a conflict. The defence or the demand is based on group association and not on thought.

Brainless solidarity is what produces movements such as “White Supremacy” or “Black Lives Matter” or “Occupy”.

Solidarity has become a dirty word for me. But worst is that it denies sapience. It is always an appeal for a class association to overrule thought.



The essence of human sapience lies in having opinions

February 12, 2017

When the answer to a question is not thought to lie in the field of “certain” knowledge, we expect our best specialists in the field (doctors and lawyers and judges and scientists and engineers and even economists) to have considered opinions and accept that different specialists may have differing opinions. If a specialist declines to address a question in his field and express an opinion, we think the less of him and consider him lacking in “expertise”. On the other hand when lay persons or non-specialists have intransigent opinions we consider them “opinionated” and that they have “closed minds”. Human opinions can change – though slowly – and generally due to a change of starting conditions. The same lawyer, for example, may well change his opinion about the same matter at a different time or if given different facts to address the question.

An opinion is a judgement, a conclusion about the unknown, based on knowledge and the application of intelligence and reason. We take opinions to be something characteristic of being human. We don’t expect a computer, no matter how well-programmed, to have an “opinion”. The computer (artificial intelligence) may be able to present an “answer” to a question as being most probable, but it always presents the same “answer” given the same inputs and that answer is not considered an “opinion”.

It is having an opinion which is, I think, the mark of sapience.

I take sentienceknowledge, intelligence, valuesjudgement, wisdom and sapience to be different – if sometimes connected – qualities. I take these to be as defined here.

sentience is the presence of consciousness. All living things are not sentient. While most mammals and even fish and birds and even insects seem to be sentient, it is not apparent that trees or sponges or algae have consciousness. A brain is necessary. It seems theoretically possible for a non-living artificial intelligence to become conscious, but that has yet to be achieved.

knowledge is an accumulation of observable, verifiable facts about the surrounding world. Knowledge can be recorded and stored in a variety of media including in the memory of brains (both living and artificial). It would seem that all sentient entities possess knowledge. (I take science to be the process by which some area of ignorance is investigated and converted into knowledge. Thus, a tiger exploring new territory is engaged in science).

intelligence is a composite, cognitive skill. It requires knowledge. It is a measure of an entity’s skill in solving problems by the application of its knowledge together with its ability to reason, its speed of reasoning, its language abilities and its capability to learn. Knowledge is essential and the greater the knowledge, the greater the entity’s potential intelligence. However, intelligence is a composite skill and a treasure trove of knowledge without the ability to reason would give no intelligence. A brain is required, but for intelligence to be manifested, sentience is not.

values is an internal set of referents that an intelligent, sentient entity may have. The set of values becomes an ethical code where these values allow the distinctions of the three fundamental ethical values (right and wrong, good and bad, and just and unjust). The set of values may include many distinctions and referents based on learning and experience.

judgement is the ability to compare some knowledge or event against some reference values and to make a conclusion about that piece of knowledge or event. A set of inbuilt values becomes a necessity to be able to make a judgement. The conclusions to be reached by means of making a judgement are relative and qualitative and often abstract (right, good, just, better than, more beautiful, tastier, safer, friendlier, …..).  Judgements which lead to quantitative conclusions, in contrast, are just new pieces of knowledge (faster, higher, heavier, …). Having a set of values is a necessary ingredient for the exercise of judgement which then becomes the value derivative of knowledge. Knowledge and intelligence are both required but sentience is not.

wisdom, I take to be the accumulation of knowledge about the quality of judgements. It is thus the second value derivative of knowledge, and requires not only knowledge, intelligence and a set of values, but also an accumulation of previous judgements to which values can also be applied.

And so we come to sapience. In the hierarchy of these qualities, humans are first sentient, then accumulate knowledge (by the practice of learning or of science) and have intelligence. However to be able to then move on to making judgements and accumulating wisdom, something else is required. An internal set of values is necessary. But just the capability to make judgements is insufficient. There must also be a drive to make these judgements and draw conclusions. It is this propensity to make judgements and draw conclusions which gives sapience. Sapience is not wisdom. It is the ability and the drive to make judgements (have opinions) and judgements when valued and accumulated give wisdom.

The drive to take what is known and leap in to what may be, in the form of opinions, is the essence of sapience. Having opinions is what makes us human.

And that also means that to decline to have an opinion is a denial of sapience.




No sentience without sapience

June 26, 2014

There was a great deal of publicity last week but I am not very convinced that the computer program Eugene Goostman actually passed the Turing test. But whether it did or not, I got to wondering how to distinguish sapience from sentience.

I find that I tend to use “sapience” to imply the capability for thought while I take “sentience” to be a quality of consciousness of self. Which of course leaves rather diffuse and undefined what precisely “thought” involves and what “consciousness of self” consists of. But is sapience linked to sentience? Can one have one without the other? Or does the quality of being conscious only become possible once thought exists?

Rene Descartes’ Cogito ergo sum (I think therefore I am) should perhaps be modified to be Cogito ergo, ego ut sit (I think therefore I may be). “I think therefore I am” requires a pre-conception of individuality, of the “I”. To be aware of the “I”, to be conscious of oneself and to be able to articulate that consciousness would suggest that thought is already present before consciousness of self can come into play. Clearly my computer “thinks” in a fashion, as do many animals – in their fashion. But while some minimum capability for thought may be necessary for consciousness, it is also clearly not sufficient. A certain level of sapience may be necessary for sentience but sapience does not necessarily lead to sentience. Some other attribute or quality is required for a thinking entity to be said to have the level of consciousness necessary for sentience.

The Turing test is, I think, a test of reaching a particular level of sapience but it is not a test of sentience. But I also think that there is a scale of sapience. All  “artifical intelligences” show varying levels of applying “thought” and could be said to be sapient to some degree. Sapience would seem therefore to be on a continuous scale. Many animals and birds also exhibit some level of thought and clearly exhibit different degrees of sapience. But chimpanzees and gorillas and dolphins and even elephants seem to recognise themselves in a mirror while monkeys do not. They would seem to have different levels of self-consciousness and – it would seem – different levels of sentience. I take gorillas and chimpanzees and maybe elephants to be sentient – just – but not dogs or cats. Is there then a scale of sentience which is constrained (or enabled) by, and depends upon, an entity’s position on a scale of sapience?  I suspect that whatever it is I intuitively consider to be sentient depends upon a combination of sapience and the level of consciousness of self of an entity.

Therefore my tentative definitions / conclusions become

  1. Entities may be “alive” or “inert”.
  2. Only some entities are sapient to any significant degree but sapience is independent of being alive.
  3. There is no sentience without sapience.
  4. Only some “living”, sapient entities are sentient.
  5. Sentience is a composite quality and – I propose – depends on the level of sapience and the level of consciousness exhibited by an entity.


sapience and sentience

sapience and sentience

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