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Ellogy (pronounced /ˈɛlədʒi/) refers to the capability of cognition, of rational thought and higher intellectual abilities. The adjective form of the word is ellogous (/ˈɛləgəs/). Solving mathematical equations, playing board games, and painting a landscape are activities that imply ellogy; eating, walking, and engaging in sexual relations are not. (Of course, one can use higher cognitive processes in these latter activites—a gourmand may savor the taste of a dish and try to analyze its ingredients; an actor can consciously walk in an unusual gait to portray a character; an amorous couple can engage in erotic role-play—but the activities do not necessarily require ellogy.)

The words ellogy and ellogous come ultimately from the Greek ἔλλογος, meaning "endowed with reason". The opposite of the Greek ἔλλογος was ἄλογος, which gives rise to the word alogous, meaning not ellogous, not possessing ellogy. (The latter Greek word also gave rise to "Alogi", a name pejoratively given by Epiphanius of Salamis to a second-century Anatolian Christian sect he thought heretical.)


Ellogous entities

Ellogy is generally thought of as a quality that distinguishes life forms capable of higher thought and self-reflection from those that are not. Humans are ellogous organisms, while horses, rats, dragonflies, and ferns are alogous. The first few, at least, may possess some level of consciousness and have some sorts of thought processes, but not at the human level. In fact, humans are generally considered the only ellogous Euterran beings.

On other worlds, however, multiple ellogous species may coexist. They may or may not get along; the fact that beings are intelligent and capable of profound thought does not necessarily mean they are free from irrationalities and prejudices, as amply demonstrated by the behavior of humans on Earth—and by that of just about any ellogous species on just about any world. Especially on worlds with multiple such species, an ellogous species is often called a "race" (not to be confused with the application of the term to different strains of Euterran humanity, which differ only superficially and are more properly referred to as ethnicities).

The sharp dividing line between ellogy and alogy may, however, be somewhat illusory. Like many qualities in the real world, it may be that ellogy lies along a continuum; while we may be able to say that some entities (such as humans) definitely possess it, and some (such as earthworms) definitely do not, exactly where to place the dividing line may be difficult to discern, and may not be objectively decidable. On many worlds, as on True Earth, there is enough of a gap between the ellogous and the alogous that every life form can be more or less sorted into one or the other category, but on other worlds there may be plenty of questionable borderline cases. Even on True Earth itself, there are those who think the matter isn't as cut and dried as is conventionally assumed. Certainly ontogeny provides evidence of a continuum of ellogy. Unless one is prepared to somehow defend the remarkable proposition that a single fertilized egg cell is self-aware and capable of rational thought, a human zygote is alogous, and yet it develops into an ellogous human child. The transition is gradual, without any clear dividing line just before which we can clearly say that the individual is alogous and after which ellogous. So if at some stage of development a human being can be ambiguously on the border between ellogy and alogy, it seems far from impossible that the same could be true of some life form in its adult state.

For that matter, if ellogy does lie along a continuum, it's not necessarily certain that humans lie on the end of that continuum. There are those who believe that higher states of ellogy may exist, not just higher intelligence but qualitatively different and superior modes of reasoning, observation, and consciousness. This hypothetical condition is known as hyperellogy. Many hathroists, for example, believe that cities, states, and other large hathra may be hyperellogous. Hyperellogy may also play a role in the idea of the technological singularity.

Related terms

Other words sometimes used to refer to ellogous beings are "sentient", "intelligent", "sapient", and "noetic". All of these words, however, have other meanings that make their use in this context problematic. The first three, in particular, are in very common use on True Earth (while the word "ellogy" and "ellogous" are not). "Sentient", however, really means conscious and capable of feeling, and these qualities are not limited to ellogous organisms. Anyone who has ever had a pet cat or dog will see that these animals certainly possess feelings of a sort, and are therefore by definition sentient, even though they aren't capable of thinking at the human level and are therefore not ellogous. "Sapient" is even more inappropriate as a synonym of "ellogy", and was probably put to this use only by association with the scientific name of the human, Homo sapiens. Properly, however, this use is catachrestic; a sapient being is possessed of great wisdom and sagacity (if the term isn't being used ironically, as it often is), and certainly not all ellogous beings are sapient. (The word is also sometimes used in anthropology to refer to characteristics pertaining to Homo sapiens—but of course away from True Earth ellogy is not confined to this species.) As for "intelligent", this word is already applied to many alogous beings. One often speaks of one breed of dog being more intelligent than another, but this by no means signifies that either breed is ellogous.

Unlike the previous three words, the misuse of which to refer to ellogy is more or less confined to True Earth and other worlds with only one or few ellogous species, the word "noetic" (/noʊˈɛtɪk/) and its associated noun "noesis" (/noʊˈiːsɪs/) are sometimes used even on worlds with many ellogous races. However, in addition to these etorical meanings, these words have other meanings in philosophy that can lead to ambiguity. Still other words are on rare occasion used to refer to ellogy and ellogous beings, such as "rational", "cognizant", and "cognitive". These words, too, have other meanings, however, and in the end, most etorists outside True Earth prefer the words "ellogy" and "ellogous" to refer to beings capable of higher intellectual processes.

An ellogous being is sometimes called a "sophont", a term introduced by the science-fiction author Poul Anderson (though apparently invented by his wife Karen Anderson) and employed by several later noteworthy writers, including David Brin, Spider Robinson, and Vernor Vinge (as well as seeing use in the Traveller RPG). The word hnau, introduced by C. S. Lewis in his Space Trilogy to refer (more or less) to ellogous creatures, has also been used by a few other authors (including Lewis's friend J. R. R. Tolkien—not in his famous stories themselves, but in some of his essays about them—and science-fiction author James Blish). However, Lewis saddled his word with theological associations that make its use in other contexts problematic.


Although perhaps not quite as vague as intelligence, ellogy is still admittedly something of a nebulous term; it's very difficult to objectively measure a life form's abilities of complex rational thought, short of mind reading, and even that carries some disadvantages as well. Furthermore, the presence of complex thought processes isn't necessarily an all or nothing quality. Many animals classified as alogous have shown some cognitive ability. Octopuses have demonstrated remarkable problem-solving skills; some observations have suggested that crows are capable of counting at least to four, and according to some accounts as high as sixteen. Many accounts exist of various animals producing novel solutions to problems they cannot have encountered in the wild, implying that they must have arrived at these solutions through some sort of thought process rather than pure instinct. Certainly these animals have not shown human levels of cognition, but they have shown some cognitive ability; if humans are to be classified as ellogous and crows and octopuses not, then some threshold must be defined.

While there is no universal agreement among etorists as to what qualities define ellogy, the following are probably the most commonly proposed:

  • Having a well developed language discernable by other ellogous species and capable of conveying complex thoughts
  • Possessing some form of manufacture and technology
  • Capable of varied artwork, both representational and non-representational
Elephant "painting" at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center
Usually a species with any of these qualities will possess all three of them, but demonstration of a single quality is sufficient. Even with respect to these individual qualities, however, some judgment must be made. Communication in one form or another is widespread among the animal world (and not unknown to plants, either), and the communication of some animals—humpback whales, for instance—seems varied enough that it might have some characteristics of an actual language. However, no one has managed to learn these languages, and until that time it can't be regarded as proven that they are actual languages capable of conveying complex thoughts, so these whales are not necessarily considered to be ellogous. Similarly, there have been some accounts of elephants producing artwork, but they have not unquestionably demonstrated the ability to recognizably represent a variety of subjects. The only representational image an elephant has been shown to produce is that of an elephant, and even that is dubious; skeptics have brought up questions as to whether the elephant might have been trained to produce only that particular image, rather than spontaneously creating it on its own and consciously realizing it is producing representational art. Certainly if elephants were really prone to produce artwork, one would expect them to do it not just in captivity but in the wild as well, but there is no evidence that they do any such thing.

As for manufacture and technology, there too humans are not entirely alone. The nests of birds are manufactured objects, some of which, like those of the bowerbird, can be quite complex. So too the elaborate hives of many social insects. It's easy to say, of course, that these animals are acting only out of instinct when they produce these structures, and that there is no real cognition involved. But then one might ask how an outside observer would know that humans weren't acting out of instinct in their construction as well—a question that may not be unanswerable, but isn't necessarily trivial either. And if no one seriously suggests that bowerbirds are ellogous, the same cannot be said of the social insects; there are hathroists who believe that the hive as a whole, if not the individual insects, may be an ellogous being. Still, the scale and diversity of human construction and technology certainly drastically dwarfs anything seen elsewhere among the Euterran animal world.

Objections have been raised to these guidelines, and there are those who believe that dolphins, for instance, may be capable of thought processes as complex as humans, and should be classified as an ellogous species, even though they do not meet these criteria. However, no better benchmarks have been advanced that have met with widespread approval. The best that can be said, perhaps, is that for a being to be ellogous, it is sufficient that it meet one of these qualities, but may not be necessary. However, lacking any better way of proving the complexity of the thought processes of a life form with no language or art and no apparent way of detailed communication, only life forms that meet these criteria are generally considered to be established as ellogous. Certainly dolphins, elephants, and humpback whales, among others, are highly intelligent beings that apparently possess deep emotions and empathy, but there is no firm evidence that they are actually capable of the complex thought processes necessary for detailed language and mathematics, and so they are currently considered alogous. (To what extent these and other animals merit certain moral rights is an entirely separate issue that has nothing directly to do with their ellogy or alogy.)

Ellogy and sentience

Although intelligence without feeling has been a theme of many technophobic tales, of emotionless robots, unfettered by empathy or consciousness, rising against their masters and becoming mercilessly murderous, no such entities have ever been shown to exist. Indeed, even the fictional examples are self-contradictory; the very fact that these purportedly dispassionate robots and computers betray their masters implies they have some motivation for such betrayal, which means they have some desires, something that makes them prefer one course of action over another. And that, of course, means they do have some sort of feelings after all, even if feelings of sympathy for humans are not among them.

Most scholars believe that an ellogous being is necessarily sentient—that is, that any entity with sufficiently complex thought patterns must also have some sort of feelings and awareness. This may be because such qualities emerge naturally in a sufficiently complex system. A twentieth-century or early twenty-first-century computer certainly isn't self-aware or sentient, but it has nothing near the cognitive capacity of a human. It has considerable computational capacity, but that's not at all the same thing; it can quickly perform any calculations it's programmed to do, but it's not capable of coming up with novel solutions to problems, except in a relatively narrow trial-and-error sense. It could very well be that if a computer were made that was complex enough to rival a human in its cognitive capacities, it would ipso facto also develop self-awareness, and some sorts of feelings to go along with it. In any case, certainly all known ellogous races do possess self-awareness and some form of emotions... even if those emotions may be very different from those of humanity.

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