A Second Sentient Species on Earth

So, dolphins are apperently smart. So are corvids. So are various monkeys; I’m pretty sure all the Great Apes are now up to tool-using standards. Presumeably (unless we manage to wipe them all out before then), they’ll evolve to the point where they have similar mental faculties to us at the moment. So…what happens when the first animal speaks up and demands the rights of a person?
Granted, this would be in hundreds of thousands of years, and we ourselves may have evolved to some further point by then as well. On top of that, any animals that did become sentient to our current level are going to be pretty stupid at first, (by our standards; i’m thinking in terms of neanderthal man here). It’d be pretty easy to take advantage of them. So i’m just interested in what would occur; would slavery become a normal part of society again? Would we just say, alright, Flipper, here’s your passport, here’s your tax forms, get going?

Oh, a further thought; fundamentalist christians (and some moderates) believe God created us “in his image”. Would that mean any animals that become sentient at some point (thanks to foul, ungodly evolution) would be “lesser” in the eyes of these people?

I don’t think evolution works in quite the way you seem to be implying. Unless you are saying that humans themselves are going to be the ones tinkering with things to create another sentient species.

BTW, you do realize that in the past there was a time when there were two (or maybe more) sentient species on earth…right?


Consider finding and reading David Brin’s Uplift War series.

In the meantime:
How sure are you some Dolphins are not sentient? The research is on going among professional Scientist.


There is still debate if Neanderthal were actually a seperate species. The Neanderthal may have been a subspecies. It is probable that you are correct however.

From Wiki


I might be wrong - i’m certainly no expert on this. But why couldn’t what happened to apes - > humans not happen to random-smart-animal - > random sentient animal?

Yep. Cro-Magnon man (I believe they were also homo sapiens) and Homo neanderthal (IIRC) at one point lived at the same time, and it’s believed that the Cro-Magnons managed to kill off the neanderthals indirectly because either they were better at using tools, or because they had complex language skills, or they were generally smarter. I doubt though that we’d kill off another sentient species today, though?

Well, if they are, it finishes the debate. What would we do with a second sentient species? Uhm, fish for it.

I suppose it could, but the OP almost implies that it’s inevitable, which I have doubts about.

Is sentience a dichotomy or a continuum? That is, is there one specific moment at which a species becomes sentient, or does it happen gradually? For that matter, when does an individual human being (i.e. a baby) become sentient?

“So long, and thanks for all the fish”?

You’d have to get one of the boards experts on evolution to answer this correctly I’m sure. My answer would be…what would be the pressure on the random smart animal that would make sentience a survival trait and thus desirable? All species aren’t headed for true sentience after all…there is no ‘goal’ in evolution.

Actually I was thinking more along the lines of australipiticus and early homo species. They were both sentient and both roamed the earth around the same time. I think Neanderthal was a cold weather subspecies that eventually either died out or re-merged with the main branch.


Two sentient races? Jeebus, we’re having enough problems dealing with the one!

Apologies. It’s definetly not an inevitability, but it is a possibility. I should have worded the OP better.

Presumably it would come gradually; We might hear example of a particularly bright individual of that species (which we do today, but not to the level of sentience). That’s why I set out in the OP a point at which sentience could not be denied; an animal asking for it’s rights. While it’s probably true that the animal was sentient before that point, this would be a point at which you could not deny that it had an understanding of what was going on around it, and of itself.

Evolution does have a goal; survival. That’s the point of it. I would argue that the factors that led humans to gain sentience as a survival trait (or indirectly as a “symptom” of a survival trait) could also be the case for other animals.

Very likely the latter. Some species of monkeys seem to have a limited degree of self-awareness, and human infants don’t immediately display the same level.

I think what the OP is asking about is a second species with human or near-human linguistic ability. If you want to know how we would treat them, look at the treatment of black people in the antebellum US. Some would be in favor of giving them no rights, some would be in favor of giving them full rights, and I think most would fall in the middle.

Could be, if the necessary genetic variation exists and the selection pressures are just so. But from your OP, I definitely got the impression that you thought it must happen.

Before we can find what we’re looking for, or discuss who and who does not have it, we need to be sure we’re talking about the same thing.

Do we have an agreed-upon definition of sentience?

I have seen people (not on this board) use “sentience” to describe any multicellular animal with a brain. In this thread it seems to be used differently, to mean “indisputably like us in some way, mentally”.

If we’re going to claim animals aren’t already sentient, we’ll have top define it without using any of the following concepts, since we already have evidence of them in many animals:

  • tool use
  • ability to anticipate the future
  • self-awareness in mirrors
  • communicating in language
  • ability to solve complex problems
  • distinct cultures in different populations
  • altruism
  • murder, rape and organized warfare
  • grieving
  • play
  • sense of object permanence (awareness that “out of sight” is not “out of mind”)
  • art for personal reasons, not status display or sexual selection

So if we humans have sentience and the nonhuman animals do not, what is this thing we’re calling sentience?


Thank you for the clarification. I am glad I was polite in my question. :wink:

Revenant Threshold: I actually do believe that some Cetaceans would qualify as Sentient. I hope that sometime soon we will have proof.
I fear that the Orcas may be among them as this is the only Cetacean known to eat other Cetaceans. That would be used to excuse our own horrible slaughter of these wonderful beings.
Studies of Cetacean intelligence are a tough field and progress is slow. One major break might be when the military releases their studies, but as they were mostly in training and not intelligence testing, I doubt these records will prove much.

ultrafilter: Of course I would be on the very “Liberal” side and be demanding their equal rights when their sentience is proven.

No; survival is incidental; it’s a byproduct of evolution.

Evolution has no momentum or direction. Every “improvement”–also a loaded word–in evolution is nothing more than what’s left over after everything else dies. And even that’s a temporary victory, because even the organism that’s best at surviving can’t survive for ever. Point being, evolution mostly occurs in the negative space around an organism. The organism itself doesn’t drive evolution, the environment does.

And there’s nothing in the environment that inherently prefers intelligence over other evolutionary “advances,” like flight, or venom sacs. Due to a complex constellation of random environmental stimuli, intelligence improved the survivability of humans. Due to that same constellation of factors, flight did *not *evolve in humans.

Presuming eventual sentience in birds is like presuming eventual flight in humans. Neither follows logically.

Apologies - I put my own view into that somewhat, and it appears to have got a bit twisted. I personally think that it’s likely, at some point, considering the level of sentience some animals are already at, that a second species will eventually evolve to a similar state as we humans are at now. That’s just my opinion. My OP should have been a bit more neutral.

I would agree, though, that it’s certainly not just something we can assume will happen; as you pointed out, the factors have to be just right in order for there be a need to evolve a higher level of intelligence, rather than stronger flippers or better eyes or whatever trait that’s needed for the species’ survival.

It’s unlikely that any of the Australopithicines were anything more than “upright apes”, using “ape” in its lay defintion (chimps, gorillas, etc. but not humans).

Most scientists consider Homo neanderthalensis a distinct species from Homo sapiens. Both species developed at roughly the same time (Neanderthals perhaps a bit earlier), but it’s likely that they shared a common ancestor no more recently than 600,000 years ago. There was considerable overlap of Neanderthals and Sapiens in Europe (at least 10k years), and we know next to nothing about how they interacted. There is very little evidence that any interbreeding took place, although absence of evidence is not evidence of abscence.

There are competing hypothesis about how similar or different the Neanderthal brains was from ours, but it certainly would be reasonable to say that they were sentient.

One way to look at it is, if Australopithicines were alive today, you’d almost certainly see them only in a zoo. If Neanderthals were alive today, you’d probably see them walking in the streets.

Fix code --g

Hmm…Yep, that does make sense. Alright, I agree that survival is just a result, and not the goal, of evolution. Thanks for explaining that.
And re: Sailboat’s post, I mentioned the characteristic by which we would measure the sentience of the animal in the OP - they ask for their rights. If you want a more detailed test, I would suggest that we base sentience on what we know; we presume that we, humans, are sentient. Therefore, a species that shows similar abilities in mental terms to ourselves could safely be called sentient also. So some kind of Turing Test might be in order; have a conversation with a dolphin (correctly translated), and see if you can tell the difference between it and a human responding. This would presume that we could translate between the animal’s language/languages and our own ones.

The talking snake in the Garden of eden?

IIRC the present evidence is that they - or at least many - were killed and eaten by the Cro-Magnon; Neaderthal bones with butchering marks have been found at Cro-Magnon sites.

In fact there’s a theory - that I agree with - that humans systematically killed all our near-human relatives. You will note that nothing with better tool use than chimps survived. Which brings me to this :

My guess is that it’s a continuum; it looks like a big leap because our ancestors killed/outcompeted our nearest relatives. I think the biggest single leap is likely not sentience but language.

This is not correct.