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  • Writer's pictureMarika

Sentience Vs. Sapience, A Crossover Special! All Around Science with Bobby and Maura (Ep 85)

Updated: Jan 8

In an ever-evolving world of scientific discoveries and ethical debates, the intricate relationship between humans and animals continues to captivate our attention. All Around Science, a popular podcast hosted by Maura and Bobby, delves into the fascinating realm of scientific wonders and sheds light on various incredible phenomena. In a special crossover episode titled "85: Crossover Special! All Around Science with Bobby and Maura," the hosts engage in an enlightening discussion about the mystery of why humans don't have tails, and concepts of sentience and sapience. This blog post aims to explore the thought-provoking insights shared in their conversation and dive deeper into the underlying complexities of these concepts.

The Mystery of Human Tail Loss

The episode explores two main segments. The first dives into humans' evolutionary history, particularly discussing the disappearance of tails, and the discovery of the TBXT gene responsible for tail growth. The second segment addresses the recognition of octopus as sentient creatures.

Understanding Sentience: The Capacity for Experience

At the core, sentience refers to the capacity for a living creature to experience feelings and sensations. It forms the foundation for our understanding of the intricate relationship between humans and animals. Animals that fall under the umbrella of sentience have the ability to perceive pain, pleasure, and potentially experience a wide range of emotions. However, it's important to recognize that sentience exists on a spectrum and is not limited to humans alone. From bacteria and plants to mammals and birds, the degree of sentience varies across different species.

The Mirror Test: A Glimpse into Sapience

To further explore the nuances of consciousness, the hosts touch upon sapience – the ability for a creature to possess self-awareness and engage in higher-level thought processes. The mirror test emerges as a classic method for assessing sapience. When presented with their own reflection in a mirror, sapient beings recognize themselves rather than seeing the reflection as another creature. Among the creatures that have demonstrated sapience is the remarkable elephant. Their ability to pass the mirror test, coupled with other behavioral observations, suggests a form of consciousness beyond basic sentience.

Decoding the Evolutionary Connection: Sentience and Survival

The conversation takes an intriguing turn as Maura and Bobby discuss the evolutionary aspect of sentience and sapience. While sapience seems prevalent in humans, some non-human creatures demonstrate high levels of intelligence, such as the great apes and select bird species, like magpies. The debate arises when considering sentient animals that are not considered sapient, like octopuses, dogs, and pigs. Ethical dilemmas emerge as we ponder the treatment and rights afforded to these sentient beings. Understanding evolutionary pressures and the diverse needs of different species is crucial in navigating these ethical considerations.

The Octopus Paradox: A Shift in Perspective

An intriguing development shared by the hosts is the inclusion of octopuses in the United Kingdom's list of sentient animals, extending beyond the typical classification of vertebrate creatures. This decision, backed by scientific research and analysis of over 300 papers, signifies a progressive step in acknowledging the complex sentience of these fascinating invertebrates. Additionally, the hosts mention upcoming octopus farms, breaking new ground in overcoming the challenges of farming these intelligent creatures.

An Octopus Floating in the Black Ocean
Photo from Unsplash

Ethical Implications: Sentience and Animal Treatment

The ethical treatment of sentient animals lies at the heart of discussions surrounding animal welfare and the ethics of consumption. As humans, we have a responsibility to consider the treatment of animals in various domains, including research, farming practices, and daily interactions. The definition of humane treatment varies, which contributes to ongoing debates. Striving for a consensus on the definition of humane treatment becomes challenging due to cultural differences and individual beliefs.

The Power of Scientific Data: Informing Ethical Decisions

While ethics and philosophy often shape decisions regarding animal treatment, the hosts emphasize the importance of incorporating scientific data into these discussions. Scientific research plays a crucial role in informing policies and regulations surrounding animal welfare. The rigorous evaluation of animal behavior, brain scans, and extensive analysis of data aids in unraveling the complexities of sentience and sapience.


The podcast episode "85: Crossover Special! All Around Science with Bobby and Maura" provides a captivating exploration of sentience and sapience. The discussion takes the audience on a journey through the intricacies of consciousness, evolutionary connections, and the ethical implications of recognizing and respecting animal sentience. By embracing scientific research, we can make more informed decisions and foster meaningful dialogue surrounding animal welfare, ensuring the humane treatment of sentient creatures. As we embark on series nine of The Deal with Animals podcast, let us continue to dive deeper into these compelling topics and expand our understanding of the remarkable world of humans and animals.

Show Notes:

You may remember.  Back from October 16th, this last year, 2023. I was a guest on a really great podcast called, All Around Science.  It's a really fun podcast hosted by two huge science nerds, that help us learn all sorts of really cool scientific things that are going on right now.

I really wanted to introduce you all to Maura and Bobby and all around science.

So, I invited them to put together a couple of the segments from their past episodes that closely relate to Anthrozoology or the connection and interaction between humans and other animals. And here is what they have brought to us.

Guests: Maura and Bobby are two people who love talking about science so much that they did what everyone does in the 2020s… They started a podcast! They have a passion for education and science communication, and all they really want you to do is to love learning about the world as much as they do.

Bobby Frankenberger is an audio producer and science communicator by day, and a stay-at-home dad also by day... It's a busy existence. Between reading science news in the school carpool line, editing podcasts, and cooking dinner, Bobby finds time to volunteer to teach science and math in elementary schools and fly planes. 

Other Links:

All Around Science Episode with me!

(This blog post was based on an AI generated script and edited by me for accuracy and additional information)


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