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A Sapient is an old Solomani term from the ancient Latin language meaning "to be wise or knowledgeable". Over time this definition has changed to an intelligent, thinking creature capable of manipulating their environment. Solomani still refer to intelligent creatures as sapient, from their term "to know". The term sapient refers to entire species, where individual members are termed sapients.

Description (Characteristics)[edit]

Imperial xenologists find that three sapient characteristics, or areas of development, must interact to bring a species to the level labeled as "sapient". These are:

  • 1. Conceptual Thought (Abstract Language)
  • 2. Social Structure (Social Organization), and...
  • 3. Tool Use (Environmental manipulation, in whatever manner is physically possible for that specific race).

Biological Basis of Sapience (Advanced Intelligence)[edit]

There is a debate between xenologists about the role biological development should take in the determination of sapience.

  • It is obvious that a species must have manipulative members, a mode of communication, and the intellectual capacity for abstract thought.
  • It is also true that a species may have all of these traits (a Neural activity sensor provides a measure of intellectual capacity) without being sapient.
  • The debate revolves around these proto-sapient races and should they be declared sentient and allowed to complete their biological and cultural evolution or left declared non-sapient. The lack of consensus on this matter has led to inconsistent declarations throughout the Imperium.

Sapient Characteristic One: Conceptual Thought (Language)[edit]

Conceptual thought, as evidenced by language, remains a major sign of intelligence. The key are is not the ability to label concrete objects but the ability to treat concepts as units in new concepts and thus to develop "conceptual ladders". Abstraction enables a race to envision the future and plan for it rather than to live in an eternal present, guided only by instinct.

  • Language begins, usually, with sounds or signals for emotions. A Terran Cat's purr is an example as is the harmonic hum of the Messieran Nebon. Beyond this is the deliberate use of a sound or signal to convey a message: the alarm snort of a deer or the slapping of a Rouppa's tail would be in this category. A third step sues distinguishable sounds or signals to refer to concrete objects. The Terran Baboon gives a different warning cry for a Tiger than for a Hawk or Eagle, and the so-warned group responds accordingly, climbing to high thin branches to avoid a Tiger, but finding thick foliage to foil a Hawk or Eagle.
  • More difficult than naming a thing is referring to its attributes. Still, Ro'bolla Worms do this when describing the distance and direction to the best waterholes. This is a borderline behavior when determining intelligence.
  • Abstraction beyond attributes involves grouping things by some one common attribute and giving the group a single label. This is the key to conceptual ladders and the gateway to knowledge.
  • Language comes in a variety of physical forms. Sound is common, but non-auditory forms are known as well, such as the Hiver language of gestures. Even scents may be a form of deliberate communications.

Sapient Characteristic Two: Social Structure (Hierarchal Organization)[edit]

Certain societal structures are necessary to a species development into reasoned beings. One requirement, to which no exception has yet been found, is that adults must educate the young. If adults lay eggs and then leave them, or dive before the eggs hatch, not of the adult's acquired knowledge and skills can be passed on to the young, and no cumulative learning can take place. Even Hivers, while they ignore their larvae, do teach their adolescents.

  • In many races, though not all, care for the young implies a pair bond that lasts at least through one breeding cycle. Other raise their young collectively.
  • Another great step forward occurs when members of the species group together rather than wander as solitary individuals. Cooperation then becomes possible, enabling the group to undertake tasks that a lone individual could not handle. Division of labor sometimes occurs in relatively low-level societies such as insect hives, but the different roles are instinctual rather than learned. The advantages of cooperation and the division of labor accrue when individuals, by concentrating their effort, can improve their performance.
  • Sometimes inaccurately labeled as altruism, the impulse to protect the group as a whole and not just oneself is another byproduct of cooperation of higher animals sentients and sapients. Compassion and care for the sick and injured are also signs of greater development in animals. These behaviors promote the kind of social order the individuals can best thrive in.

Saptient Characteristic Three: Tool Use (Advanced Technology)[edit]

A first definition of man was "a tool-using animal". However, many non-sapients use implements to aid them. The revised definition was "a tool-making animal", requiring modification of an implement to make it usable. When Terran Apes were seen to strip twigs to use as "fishing poles" in Termite nests, anthropologists again revised their definition to say that sapients "make tools to make tools"

  • This is actually too restrictive, since a species without manipulative members may be highly intelligent despite its inability to use tools or fire. Special consideration must be given to psionic creatures, who may manipulate their environment by telekinesis with no material tools at all. A theory was advanced in 508 that psionics were linked to intelligence, but the theory was abandoned after the Anolas of Pysadi were found to be psionic.
  • "Animals adapt to their environment; man adapts his environment to suit himself." Usually true, but what of the Terran Beaver? It not only builds a lake to suit himself, but may dig a canal several hundred meters into the woods to float his chosen logs to the construction site. Sylean Cultivator Moths are farmers who create the soil in which to grow their fungi from bark. The means of adapting the environment must be judged.
  • Control of fire, in any atmosphere that permits it, was considered a definite mark of sapience until the Maniku were found on Kimu in the Daibei sector. These primates observed that lighting-caused fires roasted the pods of a tree whose pods were poisonous when raw. The Maniku began carrying torches from these fires to set off other patches of trees. Unfortunately this also sets off brush fires and trims the Maniku population somewhat. The Maniku are not sapient despite their use of fire. The definition was revised to the ability to make a new fire from scratch.
  • Aesthetics are commonly an interest of more advanced species, but some lower animals decorate their homes (e.g. the Agidda bird) while some advanced races disdain aesthetics entirely.
  • The domestication of other animals to one's own purposes can begin very low on the intelligence scale, as in the leading of Aphids by Honeydew Ants on Terra, but such cases are rare. In general, a species the uses and cares for another, not in the sense of symbiosis, is a good candidate for a closer inspection.

History & Background (Dossier)[edit]

Official determination of a race as sapient is important within the Third Imperium because sapients have a set of rights and protections laid out in the Warrant of Restoration. The determination is made by panel including field experts in the Scout service (one-half the members), Scout administrators (one-fourth of the members), and Imperial nobility (one-fourth of the members).

  • A developing sapient race is placed under the protection of the Scout service. This occasionally means declaring the planet a red zone but this is not absolutely necessary. Once a race has the scientific outlook necessary to believe that being could come from other planets, they may become actual members of the Imperium.
  • A race with less than tech level 5 development is generally not informed of the existence of the Imperium as such, but trade is often conducted discreetly. Without proper license it is against Imperial law to sell, to races below tech level 5, artifacts which are more than one tech level above the planet's, assuming that the low-tech world is part of the Imperium and not a red zone. Any member race may buy any available technology, but the economics of intersystem trade usually prevent major abuses of this right.

Sapience Determination by Other Races[edit]

In other Empires, approaches to the determination and treatment of sapient species vary widely.

  • Aslan & Sapience: The Aslan have similar policies toward primitive sapient races as the Imperium.
  • Droyne & Sapience: It is unknown how the Droyne determine sapience or what policies they have towards primitive sapient races.
  • Hivers & Sapience: Hivers are maternalistic, alternating between a covert and overt contact. Hiver are more likely to declare a proto-sapient race as sapient and take the time to direct both the biological and cultural evolution to allow the race to join the Federation.
  • Humaniti: Solomani & Sapience: The Solomani have similar policies toward primitive sapient races as the Imperium.
  • Humaniti: Zhodani & Sapience: The Zhodani have similar policies toward primitive sapient races as the Imperium. The Zhodani are more likely to restrict contact with a primitive race than the Imperial norm.
  • K'kree & Sapience: The K'kree have a very paternistic approach and are likely to make overt contact almost immediately, to ensure fealty and direct cultural development to the K'kree liking.
  • Vargr & Sapience: The Vargr have no regular policies regarding primitive sapient races or the determination of sapience.

See also[edit]


References & Contributors (Sources)[edit]

This list of sources was used by the Traveller Wiki Editorial Team and individual contributors to compose this article. Copyrighted material is used under license from Far Future Enterprises or by permission of the author. The page history lists all of the contributions.