Sentience

Sentience is the ability to feel or perceive subjectively. It is an important concept in the philosophy of animal rights, in buddhist philosophy and in science fiction, although in each of these fields the term is used slightly differently. Sentience is sometimes also used in philosophy as one aspect of the important idea of consciousness.

Non-human animal rights and sentience

In the philosophy of animal rights, sentience is commonly seen as the ability to experience suffering. Animal rights advocates argue that anything which can suffer is sentient and anything which is sentient has the same or similar rights as a human being.

In the 17th century Thomas Tryon, a self-identified Pythagorean, raised the issue of non-human suffering. Soon thereafter, many philosophers used the anatomical discoveries of the Enlightenment as a reason to include animals in what philosophers call "sympatheia," the principle of who or what deserves sympathy. Benjamin Franklin's autobiography identifies Tryon's writings as an influence in his decision to try vegetarianism; no other part of the book mentions his reverting back to eating meat. [ [http://www.earlyamerica.com/lives/franklin/chapt1/index.html Ben Franklin, autobiography] ] Joseph Ritson coupled Tryon's work with Rousseau's for "Essay on Abstinence from Animal Food" as many Rousseauists became vegetarian. Voltaire compared the Hindu treatment of animals to how Europe's emperors & Popes treated even their fellow men, praising the former and heaping shame upon the latter; in the 17th century, Descartes, Pierre Gassendi, and Francis Bacon also advocated vegetarianism. [ [http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2006/aug/21/extract Guardian (UK) newspaper, review of Bloodless Revolution, published by Harper-Collins] ]

The 18th century philosopher Jeremy Bentham compiled Enlightenment beliefs in " [http://www.la.utexas.edu/research/poltheory/bentham/ipml/index.html An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation] ", and he included his own reasoning in a comparison between slavery and sadism toward animals:

In the 20th century, Princeton University professor Peter Singer argues that Bentham's conclusion is often dismissed by an appeal to a distinction that condemns human suffering but allows non-human suffering, typically "appeals" that are logical fallacies. Because many of the suggested distinguishing features of humanity -- extreme intelligence; highly complex language; etc. -- are not present in marginal cases such as young or mentally disabled humans, it appears that the only distinction is a prejudice based on species alone, which non-human animal rights supporters call speciesism - that is, differentiating humans from other animals purely on the grounds that they are human.

Gary Francione also bases his abolitionist theory of animal rights, which differs significantly from Singer's, on sentience. He asserts that "all sentient beings, humans or nonhuman, have one right: the basic right not to be treated as the property of others." [Francione, Gary. [http://www.abolitionistapproach.com/?page_id=52 Official blog] ]

Andrew Linzey, founder of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics in England, is known as a foremost international advocate for recognizing animals as sentient beings in Biblically-based faith traditions. The Interfaith Association of Animal Chaplains encourages animal ministry groups to adopt a policy of recognizing and valuing sentient beings.

cience fiction

In science fiction, an alien, android, robot, hologram or computer who is described as "sentient" is often ascribed qualities such as will, desire, consciousness, ethics, personality, intelligence, insight, and so on. Sentience is being used in this context to describe an essential human property that brings all these other qualities with it.

Some science fiction plot lines explore ethical concerns, analogous to the concerns of advocates of animal rights. In an episode of ', "The Measure of a Man," Data, a sentient android, takes legal action to prove that he has the same rights as a human being. In the episode "Author, Author" the Doctor, a holographic program by nature, Fights for his rights as a sentient lifeform. The film ' considers a machine in the form of a small boy which has been given the ability to feel human emotions, including the capacity to suffer. Another example could be the film "WALL-E", where the titular character is an initially non-sentient robot who develops sentience over the 700 years he has been active. Other robots in the film also display similar signs of personality.

In many science fiction works sentience is often used as a synomym for "sapience" meaning "human-level or higher intelligence". But others make a distinction, for example in David Brin's Uplift stories the Tandu are undoubtedly sapient (both technologically skilled and cunning) but only marginally sentient, since they regard other races and sometimes other Tandu mainly as potential prey.Fact|date=May 2008

Eastern religion

Eastern religions including Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism recognize nonhumans as sentient beings. In Jainism and Hinduism, this is closely related to the concept of ahimsa, nonviolence toward other beings. In Jainism, all matter is endowed with sentience; there are six degrees of sentience, from one to six.Fact|date=August 2008 Water, for example, is a sentient being of first order, as it is considered to possess only one sense, that of touch. Man is considered to be sentient being of the sixth order. According to Buddhism, sentient beings made of pure consciousness are possible. In Mahayana Buddhism, which includes Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, the concept is related to the Bodhisattva, an enlightened being devoted to the liberation of others. The first vow of a Bodhisattva states: "Sentient beings are numberless; I vow to free them."

Sentience is, from a Buddhist perspective, the state of having senses (sat + ta in Pali or sat + tva in Sanskrit). In Buddhism, the senses are six in number, the sixth being the mind or consciousness, just as consciousness is in the whole body. [Sugunasiri, Suwanda H J, The Whole Body, not Heart, as 'Seat of Consciousness': the Buddha's View', Philosophy East & West, vol. 45, no. 3, pp. 409-430] Sentience, then, is the ability to sense / experience pain and pleasure, make conscious choices, such as abstaining from action, speech, speculation, etc. Thus, while an animal qualifies as a sentient being, a computer doesn't, for at least two reasons: (a) Even if it makes intelligent decisions (which no computer will ever be capable of without sentience), it has to be programmed by an outside agent (human or even a super-computer), whereas a sentient being is self-directed, and (b) a computer must always perform using instructions in order to communicate, whereas a sentient being, can still express in silence - through kinesics (body lanaguage), oculesics (eye language) and proxemics (distance).

Philosophy and sentience

In the philosophy of consciousness, "sentience" can refer to the human ability to have subjective perceptual experiences, or "qualia". [Harvnb|Cole|1983] This is distinct from other aspects of the mind and consciousness, such as creativity, intelligence, sapience, self-awareness and intentionality (the ability to have thoughts that mean something or are "about" something).

Some philosophers, notably Colin McGinn, believe that sentience will never be understood, a position known as New Mysterianism. They do not deny that most other aspects of consciousness are subject to scientific investigation but they argue that subjective experiences will never be explained; it is precisely sentience that cannot be explained. Other philosophers (such as Daniel Dennett) disagree, arguing that all aspects of consciousness will eventually yield to scientific investigation.

entience quotient

The Sentience Quotient concept was introduced by Robert A. Freitas Jr. in the late 1970s. [Dr. Freitas, Robert A. Jr., " [http://www.rfreitas.com/Astro/Xenopsychology.htm Xenopsychology] ", Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, Vol. 104, April 1984, pp 41-53] It defines sentience as the relationship between the information processing rate of each individual processing unit (neuron), the weight/size of a single unit and the total number of processing units (expressed as mass). It was proposed as a measure for the sentience of all beings living and computer from a single neuron up to a hypothetical being at the theoretical computational limit of the entire universe. On a logarithmic scale it runs from -70 up to +50.

entience vs. Sapience

The word "sentient" is often confused with the word "sapient", which can connote knowledge, consciousness, or apperception. The root of the confusion is that the word "conscious" has a number of different usages in the English language. The two words can be distinguished by looking at their Latin roots: "sentire", "to feel"; and "sapere", "to know." Thus, sentience is a subjective experience, while sapience is a somewhat more objective cognitive ability.

Notes

References

* Sugunasiri, Suwanda H J, The Whole Body, not Heart, as 'Seat of Consciousness': the Buddha's View', Philosophy East & West, vol. 45, no. 3, pp. 409-430). Prof. Sugunasiri is Founder of Nalanda College of Buddhist Studies, Toronto, Canada
* [http://www.la.utexas.edu/research/poltheory/bentham/ipml/index.html Jeremy Bentham - Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation]
* [http://www.oup.com/uk/catalogue/?ci=9780198238515 Book about A Theory of Sentience] Readership: Philosophers, psychologists, and neuroscientists interested in sensation and perception. Authors, Austen Clark, Professor of Philosophy, University of Connecticut, Storrs
* [http://www.d.umn.edu/~dcole/sense5.html D. Cole: Sense and Sentience SENSE5 8/18/90; rev. 1-19-98. (original 1983) copyright David Cole University of Minnesota, Duluth]


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  • Sentience — Sen ti*ence, Sentiency Sen ti*en*cy, n. [See {Sentient}, {Sentence}.] The quality or state of being sentient; esp., the quality or state of having sensation. G. H. Lewes. [1913 Webster] An example of harmonious action between the intelligence and …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • sentience — 1839, see SENTIENT (Cf. sentient) + ENCE (Cf. ence) …   Etymology dictionary

  • sentience — [sen′shəns, sen′shē əns] n. 1. a sentient state or quality; capacity for feeling or perceiving; consciousness 2. mere awareness or sensation that does not involve thought or perception: Also sentiency …   English World dictionary

  • sentience — noun /ˈsɛnʃəns,ˈsɛntʃiəns/ The state or quality of being sentient; possession of consciousness or sensory awareness. [T]he shadows . . . presently began to seem, as on last night, to have a sentience of their own. See Also: sentiency, sentient,… …   Wiktionary

  • sentience — sentient ► ADJECTIVE ▪ able to perceive or feel things. DERIVATIVES sentience noun sentiently adverb. ORIGIN from Latin sentire to feel …   English terms dictionary

  • sentience — noun 1. state of elementary or undifferentiated consciousness the crash intruded on his awareness • Syn: ↑awareness • Derivationally related forms: ↑sentient, ↑aware (for: ↑awareness) …   Useful english dictionary

  • sentience — noun Date: 1839 1. a sentient quality or state 2. feeling or sensation as distinguished from perception and thought …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • sentience — /sen sheuhns/, n. sentient condition or character; capacity for sensation or feeling. Also, sentiency. [1830 40; SENTI(ENT) + ENCE] * * * …   Universalium

  • sentience — Synonyms and related words: affectibility, alertness, all night vigil, consciousness, impressibility, impressionability, insomnia, insomniac, insomnolence, insomnolency, lidless vigil, limen, openness to sensation, perceptibility, physical… …   Moby Thesaurus

  • sentience — sen·ti·ence || senʃəns n. ability to perceive sensation, ability to feel …   English contemporary dictionary

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