It’s time to establish some terms that will have relevance for The Mermaid Boneyard and for our gaming IP Tribe of Liars, as well as countless other topics.

How does sentience differ from sapience differ from ensoulment?

Sentience is the ability to sense. A rock is not sentient; an ant is. Is bacteria sentient? It responds to stimuli, after all. The term “sentient” seems to encompass a whole heck of a lot. Many sentient organisms hold no interest for me whatsoever. For the purposes of storytelling, though, the sentience of animals, humans and (ahem) mer-people is important. A computer or robot that achieves sentience is very interesting indeed.

Sapience is the next level up. I would say that “reason” is synonymous with “sapience”. We’re looking for things that can reason. Dogs are pretty low on the scale. According to Pavlov they’re not even on the scale, I guess. Can a computer reason? Maybe a chess-playing computer can, although it is not sentient.

Not yet.

And ensoulment defines itself. The current political discussion is about the moment a fetus is ensouled, and the subsequent argument for/against abortion. I am more focused on the notion of a being — let’s say the Frankenstein monster — that is created in a laboratory by man. At what point does the Monster gain his soul and how did it get there? Would the same process work on a self-realizing robot? I am also interested in fantasy versions of animals and creatures that may be ensouled.


A mermaid, part-fish and part-human, is obviously sentient; its component parts are, so it should be, too. Since the mermaid has, we can assume, a human brain, then she would also be sapient. In Boneyard I am committed to this much for my mermaid, and in Tribe of Liars I am committed to this much for the animal companions.

Will these beings have souls? Did their races always have souls, or did they reach a level of development that activated ensoulment? For that matter, did Neanderthals have souls? These questions all fascinate me.

No decisions yet. Just a palm-rubbing anticipation to delve into these issues through storytelling.

Leave a Reply