September 6th, 2006

run the fuck away

Rational, Sapient Beings

Science fiction seeks out sentient life, but I don't find that terribly interesting. Far more interesting is sapient life, of which I find very little. In common usage, the terms have been conflated, but for the pedants, there is a very large and meaningful difference between them- cows are sentient.

I want to refine the definition of sapeince a bit. "The ability of an organism to act with judgement"- let's disregard problems like the Chinese Room and similar issues that restrict our ability to determine if anyone acts with judgement. Let's assume that we can identify "judgement based", or rational, actions by interaction with the actor. The refinement I wish to make is this- sapience might be the ability to act with judgement, but the "manifest sapience" is the frequency that an organism acts with judgement.

Manifest sapience seems to me more useful than just raw sapience- a binary value. Behavioral research has shown us that the myth that only humans reason is false. I have watched my cat do pretty complex multi-step problem solving in several situations- and then watched him teach another cat. There was definitely judgement- reason- involved in that. But it is also equally clear that the manifest sapience of my cat is very low- such behavior is exhibted infrequently.

Manifest sapience is theoretically quantifiable. Take the number of actions an organism performs voluntarially, divide that into the number that can clearly be identified as rational, and a simple 0 - 1 scale can be used to evaluate manifest sapience. Given that, I put forward this claim- all humans fall under a 0.5 on that scale, and the average is probably much lower. Less than half the time, our actions are directed from true consious impulse, and far more often arise from instinct, habit, and social acclimation.

I'll expand on this later, but this just gets the initial thought out. This also is not a claim that a 1.0 on the scale is definitely a good thing. Mind you, I lean towards promoting a move in that direction, pushing many of the adaptive non-rational behaviors (valuable instincts and habits) into cognitive tools (computers and similar automations) and training our far more flexible wetware for rational tasks.