Title Posted
Detection of upward hyper translations May 2009
c-Fractional pod-based missile attack plan II May 2009
Erewhon and the inertial compensator May 2009
Safeholdian ship design May 2009
PICAs and military manpower needs May 2009
Operation Ark's mission plan May 2009
Church communications May 2009
The missing figures from the Honorverse CD-release of <em>More Than Honor</em>. May 2009
Reportage of Honor's 'trial' by the Committee of Public Safety May 2009
Treecat intelligence II Apr 2009


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Pearls of Weber

A collection of posts by David Weber containing background information for his stories, collected and generously made available Joe Buckley.

Treecat intelligence II

  • Series: Honorverse
  • Date: April 26, 2009

In article <>, DWeber8145 wrote:



Compared to humans, treecats -- although in most ways they possess something between 90 and 95 percent as "much" intelligence as humans -- produce perhaps 1/10 as many individuals, proportionately, who have what we might call innovating mindsets.

Well, it may just be bad reading on my part or their lack of on air time, but I think you're boosting that a bit more than is warranted. 80 to 90 maybe, but 95 seems a bit more than has been warranted.

(Well, there's my example of nerve for today, telling an author how smart his characters are).

John Moreno


Well, that may depend on precisely how we define "intelligence." As I tried to indicate in my original post, treecat intelligence is very different from human intelligence, but the offsetting advantages which they hold in certain areas mean that as an absolute measure, their intelligence is not significantly lower than human intelligence.

One problem is that there are so many different concepts of precisely what constitutes intelligence in the first place. In terms of cognitive functions, treecats are just as capable as humans. It's a different type of cognitive thought, one which relies much more heavily on intuition for the input upon which it is based. Treecats will not do as well as humans on present-day standardized IQ tests, because they don't handle the "hard science" information processing in the same fashion humans do, or -- in the sense of efficiently and comfortably handling the tools of advanced technology -- as well as we do.  Humans, on the other hand, are extremely retarded in treecat terms when it comes to the social sciences. Despite the fact that the cats have not developed a planetary social structure and tend to relate on an individual basis to those with whom they have had actual contact, their abilities in the fields of what we would call psychology, psychiatry, etc. are phenomenal by human standards. Even without a two-way communication interface, the cats who have adopted law enforcement personnel have proved extremely useful and effective. Remember that in What Price Dreams? Princess Adrienne was saved and her assassin was captured not simply through the talents of the treecats, but through their ability -- despite the fact that the entire episode predated the cats' ability even to truly understand spoken English -- to reason their way past their instinctive response (to kill the assassin) to recognize the need to capture not simply the "adjusted" killer but also the controller who had launched him at his target. I could adduce other examples from the books which indicate the near-human intelligence of treecats generally, and not just Nimitz and Samantha. I have deliberately not emphasized them in passing, however, partly because I did not want to clearly establish the level of treecat intelligence for the reader when it was not clearly established for the people who actually live in Honor's universe.

The reason that in Field of Dishonor Nimitz failed to properly respect the safety zone of his suit impellers was quite simple and would have affected most humans equally under the same circumstances. Prior to the creation of his skinsuit by Paul Tankersley, Nimitz had never gone EVA in his entire life. As such, he had never had the suit safety and handling classes in which the theory and safety precautions are hammered into midshipmen's brains at Saganami Island. Honor was essentially both inventing and administering his training simultaneously. It would have been very surprising indeed under those circumstances if everything had gone smoothly, and although he did buzz her in the gym, I thought that his response to her empathic admonition to behave indicated that he had already intellectually grasped the concept of threat zones but was as capable as any human of forgetting about them temporarily in his excitement and enjoyment as he mastered a completely and radically new activity. It was obviously a very early stage in his training, and it had not been possible for Honor to structure and provide the simulations and hours of classroom training which would have preceded any human's first actual use of a skinsuit. As I have tried to indicate above and in my original post, not even Nimitz would actually grasp the underlying concepts and theory behind skinsuit impellers, because that's one of those areas where treecat brains simply don't work like human brains. But that does not mean that he is any more incapable of being trained in the safe operation of the equipment than a human. This is what I mean when I say that for the foreseeable future at least, treecats will tend to regard technology and advanced tools as being primarily "two-leg" things. They won't worry about the reasons things work, only about how to use those tools which suit their purposes effectively.

I am deliberately attempting to avoid defining "intelligence" in human-centric norms. This is not my own area of specialization, so I may not be expressing myself with complete clarity, but I think of it as a reflection of the dispute over whether standardized testing actually measures that elusive thing we call intelligence or simply a specific manifestation of one aspect of intelligence within a carefully defined framework. I will agree that in terms of practical consequences for surviving and thriving in a technic society while competing with other members of that society, the elements of intelligence measured in standardized IQ formats are certainly important. That does not mean that in the next couple of thousand years and following exposure to at least a dozen nonhuman species, we will not come up with a different and more comprehensive definition of intelligence. Remember that even before we all got to know Nimitz, Honor reflected that cats were rated at "point-eight-three on the sentience scale, slightly above Beowulf's gremlins or Old Earth's dolphins."   The sentience scale in question assigns an arbitrary value of 1.0 to human-level intelligence. There is at least one species which, although it was pre-technical when encountered by humanity, rates above 1.0 on the scale. But my point is that even when the treecats were deliberately attempting to conceal their full intelligence, they had been evaluated at what we might call 83 percent of human normal.

Although one might argue that the author's view of his creations should govern, it is certainly permissible for a reader to disagree with or question his judgments, particularly when they apply to something like questions of comparable intelligence levels. I can only say that the cats will act in accordance of my understanding of their intelligence, including the fact that that intelligence is different from human intelligence. I suppose in some respects we are comparing apples and oranges, and what I'm saying is that the treecats' apple is 90 or 95 percent as large as the humans' orange, while what you're saying is that an apple can't produce orange juice.

I hope there aren't too many typos in this, but I did it with my voice-activated software, and I don't have time to proof it properly. For that matter, I really shouldn't be posting stuff to the newsgroup at all given everything that's going on in my life right now!