SENTIENCE

The Inner Life of Humans, Animals and Machines — And Why it Matters

Nicholas Humphrey

Popular Science

On behalf of: Toby Mundy Associates

In this book, the product of a lifetime’s thought and research, one of the world’s preeminent authorities explains his radical new theory of consciousness.

Humphrey directly challenges the popular assumption that sentience is linked to intelligence (it’s not, which means that machines can be intelligent without being sentient), or that it exists across the animal kingdom wherever there are complex brains (it doesn’t). Instead, he argues that the evolution of sentience has happened only once, and came about in humans through a series of extraordinary accidents. This means that even if intelligent life has evolved elsewhere in the universe, sentience as it exists on Earth is almost certainly
a one-off.

On one level, this book is a gripping philosophical whodunnit. What changes in the brains of our ancestors first switched on the light of consciousness? What clues do we have to the existence of sentience in creatures other than ourselves? Why does sentience matter so much to us as individuals?

It’s also a book with implications for how we think about some big ethical questions, as governments pass laws to protect sentient animals (if only they can say just which these are); and futurists talk about conscious robots. This book re-sets the terms of the debate.