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Aris Katsaris writes...

A couple weeks ago, you posted a ramble in an interesting exchange of ideas with Punchinello, about the subject of "sentience" and how it's used in science fiction and fantasy, about whether it's a wall or not, etc, etc...

I thought to chime in, contributing with the concepts that Orson Scott Card introduces in "Speaker for the Dead" (an excellent book btw - I encourage everyone to read it). There he uses different words to differentiate between different kinds of 'alienness'... Let me quote:

"The Nordic language recognizes four orders of foreigness. The first is the otherlander, or 'utlanning', the stranger that we recognize as being a human of our world, but of another city or country. The second is the 'framling' [...]. This is the stranger that we recognize as human, but of another world. The third is the 'raman', the stranger that we recognize as human, but of another species. The fourth is the true alien, the 'varelse', which includes all the animals, for with them no conversation is possible. They live, but we cannot guess what purposes or causes make them act. They might be intelligent, they might be self-aware, but we cannot know it."

Obviously here the most important concepts are that of the 'raman' and of the 'varelse'. These can be useful, over and beyond the concept of 'sentience', because they refer to how much of an understanding can exist between different species - unlike 'non-sentient' for a species to be 'varelse' doesn't necessarily make it "inferior"... Only non-understandable.

On the other hand I find these concepts also intriguing because they *do* carry a moral judgment within them, even if it's a more subtle one. To recognize an alien as "raman" is to recognize him as basically human, to recognize that his fundamental motivations are the same as yours. It's the beginning of understanding and tolerance...

Now in the gargoyles universe, it's clear that both gargoyles and fae (and Nokkar's people also) are all "ramen": Other species which despite all their difference with our own, we can recognize as fundamentally 'human'. I'd also go on to say that this is what people like Jon Castaway refuse to see. By declaring that all gargoyles are monsters he doesn't necessarily refuse them their 'sentience' - he does refuse though to see that they are 'ramen'... and as such he can say things such as 'they are all evil', 'they must be destroyed', etc, etc...

And with that let me conclude with another quote from the book:
"Since we are not yet fully comfortable with the idea that people from the next village are as human as ourselves, it is presumptuous in the extreme to suppose we could ever look at sociable, tool-making creatures who arose from other evolutionary paths and see not beasts but brothers, not rivals but fellow pilgrim journeying to the shrine of intelligence.
Yet that is what I see or yearn to see. The difference between raman and varelse is not in the creature judged, but in the creature judging. When we declare an alien species to be raman, it does not mean that they have passed a threshold of moral maturity. It means that *we* have."

Sorry for the length of this ramble... :-)

Greg responds...

Don't apologize. This subject is fascinating to me. Thank you.

Response recorded on September 05, 2001