How can you show that a species has the potential to become fully sapient like us but isn't quite there yet? So far I have social structure and versatile appendages.

  • $\begingroup$ Reminder that sentience means "being able to perceive". It doesn't imply any specific level of intelligence or specific ability to think and reason, just having senses. While sapience is how we describe the ability to think like us - the Homo Sapiens (intelligent humans) species. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Jan 6, 2021 at 9:02
  • $\begingroup$ Generally, I'm a fan of the theory that sentience or consciousness can be visualized not as a binary yes/no but rather as a sliding scale: on the one end you have creatures like insects where it's doubtful that they can feel pain, and at the other end you have humans. In the middle, you have all the other creatures and can then sort them by how close they are to human--something like a dog would be closer to sapience than, say, a snake $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Jan 6, 2021 at 11:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Dragongeek snakes are likely smarter than dogs $\endgroup$
    – user81643
    Jan 6, 2021 at 14:09
  • $\begingroup$ @user81643 I'm talking about sapience and consciousness, not intelligence. Yes, they probably correlate, but they're not the same thing. Also, I am highly skeptical that snakes are more intelligent or more sentient than dogs. Unlike canines, snakes are not social animals and cannot be domesticated. Additionally, while they have good "hunters instincts" and are proficient in tracking, dogs are capable of so, so, much more. For example, a dog can recognize an emotional state of another creature and attempt to comfort them or work as a team to herd sheep, something snakes can't do. $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Jan 6, 2021 at 14:20
  • $\begingroup$ @Dragongeek social behavior and intelligence are not correlated the way you think, the most social animals ever are also the most mindless i.e bees, ants, bacteria... $\endgroup$
    – user81643
    Jan 6, 2021 at 14:23

2 Answers 2


The ability to recognize yourself in the mirror.

This is a rare gift in that only five types of animals on earth posses. Humans, great apes, elephants, dolphins and oddly enough, manta rays. Everything else just ignores a mirror and intelligent creatures like monkeys will think that it is another member of the species and will even pick fights with them.

Problem solving

This is a tad bit more common and found in most of the above species and including birds like parrots and ravens. Can they look at a puzzle and figure out how to solve it.

Tool use

This I think is the big hurtle between just a really smart animal and a civilization builder. The closest thing we have is dolphins who use sponges and chimps who use sticks and even then a lot of people classify them as “not quite there yet.”

  • Using tools is a classic example of early sentience. Crows can do that but we don't consider them sentient.
  • A primitive language perhaps devoid of syntax and containing only a limited vocabulary is a good sign. Whales, dolphins and laboratory apes all appear to have such languages, but none of them have been granted voting privileges yet.

Stepping away from these classics, I would choose curiosity as the best indication of impending sentience. If there is a viable seed for future intelligence, I think the spirit of intrigue is it.

  • $\begingroup$ Look up sapience v sentience plz $\endgroup$
    – fartgeek
    Jan 6, 2021 at 19:47
  • $\begingroup$ @fartgeek, oops! Thanks for catching my blunder. I got a new word today (which at my age is a rare event) and it was one I thought I already knew. $\endgroup$ Jan 6, 2021 at 20:35

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