Grammar…Why Did it Have to be Grammar — The Truth of Sentience vs Sapience

Thanks to a good majority of Science Fiction, the term Sentience has been grossly misused. Many people apply the term to mean anything that is intelligent on a human level. Even Star Trek has done this, which I’ve always wondered if they were aware they were using the word incorrectly. Below is an example

Capt. Picard: Now, tell me, Commander, what is Data?

Commander Bruce Maddox: I don’t understand.

Capt. Picard: What is he?

Commander Bruce Maddox: A machine!

Capt. Picard: Is he? Are you sure?

Commander Bruce Maddox: Yes!

Capt. Picard: You see, he’s met two of your three criteria for sentience, so what if he meets the third, consciousness, in even the smallest degree? What is he then? I don’t know. Do you?

–Star Trek: Next Generation (Measure of a Man)

Now I will tell you right now, that the term of sentience is misused here. The word Picard is looking for is Sapience. Now a good question to ask here is, if most people think the correct word is Sentience, why should I change it? Why not use the word people expect versus using the correct word?

[wdca_ad id=”224″ ]

For me, that is a question of integrity. Writing to the lowest common denominator. The Twilight series has been described as doing exactly that, and not challenging the readers. Now it has been a very successful series of book, so there is something to the idea of catering to the lowest common denominator. For me, it is intellectually dishonest to purposely dumb down your book. It’s OK to lower the education level to appeal to a specific demographic, but you can do so without being intellectually dishonest. I believe that a writer should do their very best at all times, and anything less is cheating.

So with that out of the way, what is the difference between the two.


1. the state or quality of being sentient; awareness
2. sense perception not involving intelligence or mental perception; feeling


— adj
having or showing great wisdom or sound judgement.

Basically put, Sentience is awareness not involving intelligence or mental perception but involving feeling. By this definition, a dog is sentient. Based on the misuse of the words, we may not believe that about our dog, even might sound weird to say, but it is true. But for Sapience, showing great wisdom or sound judgement, a dog wouldn’t qualify.

Now awareness can be seen as Survival instinct and feeling can be an expression of emotions and/or pain and pleasure. To this degree, a lizard doesn’t want to die, and if you step on its tail, it will feel pain. PLEASE DO NOT STEP ON LIZARD TAILS! With great wisdom and sound judgement is an indication of higher thinking. Humans are definitely Sapient and should be insulted (though true) when called Sentient.

I wouldn’t worry if you didn’t know this, because most people don’t. But it is one of those things that you should use the correct word for the correct thought as people can grow and evolve with the right book and I desire my stories to stand the test of time. Wishful thinking, but the only way I accomplish that is to continue to develop as a writer and being intellectually honest.

[wdca_ad id=”224″ ]

One comment

  1. […] very mechanical, speaks. He shows signs of sentience, and throughout the film, begins to become sapient. At first he understands very little, but given that before he was a mindless killing machine, we […]

%d bloggers like this: