Little Fuzzy – Day 24 of 77

“I’ll suggest, just to keep the argument going, that speech couldn’t have been invented without pre-existing sapience,” Jack said.

Ruth laughed. “Now you’re taking me back to college. That used to be one of the burning questions in first-year psych students’ bull sessions. By the time we got to be sophomores, we’d realized that it was only an egg-and-chicken argument and dropped it.”

“That’s a pity,” Ben Rainsford said. “It’s a good question.”

“It would be if it could be answered.”

“Maybe it can be,” Gerd said. “There’s a clue to it, right there. I’ll say that those fellows are on the edge of sapience, and it’s an even-money bet which side.”

“I’ll bet every sunstone in my bag they’re over.”

“Well, maybe they’re just slightly sapient,” Jimenez suggested.

Ruth Ortheris hooted at that. “That’s like talking about being just slightly dead or just slightly pregnant,” she said. “You either are or you aren’t.”

Gerd van Riebeek was talking at the same time. “This sapience question is just as important in my field as yours, Ruth. Sapience is the result of evolution by natural selection, just as much as a physical characteristic, and it’s the most important step in the evolution of any species, our own included.”

“Wait a minute, Gerd,” Rainsford said. “Ruth, what do you mean by that? Aren’t there degrees of sapience?”

“No. There are degrees of mentation—intelligence, if you prefer—just as there are degrees of temperature. When psychology becomes an exact science like physics, we’ll be able to calibrate mentation like temperature. But sapience is qualitatively different from nonsapience. It’s more than just a higher degree of mental temperature. You might call it a sort of mental boiling point.”

“I think that’s a damn good analogy,” Rainsford said. “But what happens when the boiling point is reached?”

“That’s what we have to find out,” van Riebeek told him. “That’s what I was talking about a moment ago. We don’t know any more about how sapience appeared today than we did in the year zero, or in the year 654 Pre-Atomic for that matter.”

“Wait a minute,” Jack interrupted. “Before we go any deeper, let’s agree on a definition of sapience.”

Van Riebeek laughed. “Ever try to get a definition of life from a biologist?” he asked. “Or a definition of number from a mathematician?”

“That’s about it.” Ruth looked at the Fuzzies, who were looking at their colored-ball construction as though wondering if they could add anything more without spoiling the design. “I’d say: a level of mentation qualitatively different from nonsapience in that it includes ability to symbolize ideas and store and transmit them, ability to generalize and ability to form abstract ideas. There; I didn’t say a word about talk-and-build-a-fire, did I?”

“Little Fuzzy symbolizes and generalizes,” Jack said. “He symbolizes a damnthing by three horns, and he symbolizes a rifle by a long thing that points and makes noises. Rifles kill animals. Harpies and damnthings are both animals. If a rifle will kill a harpy, it’ll kill a damnthing too.”

Juan Jimenez had been frowning in thought; he looked up and asked, “What’s the lowest known sapient race?”

“Yggdrasil Khooghras,” Gerd van Riebeek said promptly. “Any of you ever been on Yggdrasil?”

“I saw a man shot once on Mimir, for calling another man a son of a Khooghra,” Jack said. “The man who shot him had been on Yggdrasil and knew what he was being called.”

“I spent a couple of years among them,” Gerd said. “They do build fires; I’ll give them that. They char points on sticks to make spears. And they talk. I learned their language, all eighty-two words of it. I taught a few of the intelligentsia how to use machetes without maiming themselves, and there was one mental giant I could trust to carry some of my equipment, if I kept an eye on him, but I never let him touch my rifle or my camera.”

“Can they generalize?” Ruth asked.

“Honey, they can’t do nothin’ else but! Every word in their language is a high-order generalization. Hroosha, live-thing. Noosha, bad-thing. Dhishta, thing-to-eat. Want me to go on? There are only seventy-nine more of them.”

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