I'm looking for a short word that means "not mindless". An example usage might be:

There is evidence that any _____ creature has the ability to count small values.

(Thinking of studies such as bees being able to count and do simple math.)

The problem I'm running into is that most lists of antonyms for "mindless" veer to the opposite end of the spectrum, suggesting words such as "brilliant" or "ingenious". But that's not what I'm looking for: taking "mindless" as meaning literally without any brain or thinking capacity whatsoever, I'm looking for a term that just indicates the complement of that, i.e., something that has at least a minimal, possibly animal intelligence.

I've considered words such as mindful, conscious, or intelligent. Are one of these best? Or is there an option I'm overlooking?

  • 2
    What claim are you trying to make? I'm not sure how to fill in the blank without making the sentence so vague as to be meaningless.
    – alphabet
    Mar 14 at 4:20
  • 1
    Have you tried looking at scientific papers on insect intelligence to see what terms they use? Creatures which have a brain is another possiblility.
    – Stuart F
    Mar 14 at 10:15
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    Which creatures are mindless? Mar 14 at 18:47
  • 2
    Maybe worth considering that these critters could be said to be subitizing, rather than counting? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subitizing
    – bjmc
    Mar 15 at 12:18
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    As @bjmc indicates, these creatures are likely subitizing with their visual systems, which is characteristically different than counting. Whether this accounts for the "addition" would depend substantially on details of the experiment not presented in the article. Note human infants do this apparent adding too, but not by using arithmetic. I think the only point you can make here is that the cognitive abilities are non-trivial. This isn't a place where the science is sophisticated enough to inform that language at the sought after level of granularity.
    – jimm101
    Mar 15 at 17:35

12 Answers 12


The correct answer would be Sentient but that would be a bit more intelligent and not include bees. I would look for simpler words. The best I can find is Aware, to mean beings that are somewhat better off in the brains department. Bees might be found there. You would then add mild modifications to broach the subject, such as a mildly aware or somewhat aware creature such as a mammal or dog would figure out what small values would mean.

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    I can certainly find examples of people describing bees and other insects as sentient/exhibiting sentience: Vox, NatGeo, WaPo. Intelligent is also used.
    – Stuart F
    Mar 14 at 10:14
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    Actually, 'sentient' has to do with sensation. It is, though, I agree, usually use to contrast humans with other animals.
    – Tuffy
    Mar 14 at 14:46
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    You’d say minimally aware. Mar 14 at 18:56
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    Sentient really seems to be the best fit, though it isn’t perfect.
    – Gary R.
    Mar 14 at 22:06
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    I like "sentient", but it's often used to mean "sapient". I suppose that's because the latter is not as well-known.
    – PM 2Ring
    Mar 15 at 11:18

cognizant (adj):

knowledgeable of something especially through personal experience; also : mindful.
cognizant of the potential dangers


"cognizant creatures"

The answer may have implications which transcend mere scientific inquiry: if animals are cognizant creatures, what, if any, moral responsibility do humans have to assure their rights?
Lesley J. Rogers, Minds of Their Own. [Routledge]

Fenton says that this kind of research puts bats in a new perspective as incredibly cognizant creatures, alongside primates, whales, elephants, and humans.
—Sara K. Watson, Popular Science. [popsci.com]

More on animal cognition:

Animal cognition encompasses the mental capacities of non-human animals including insect cognition.

"cognitive capabilities" (from the source given and linked in the question):

Besides being pretty neat, this opens up the idea that members of the animal kingdom have different cognitive capabilities than we once thought.
—Anna Funk, Discover (magazine).

  • 1
    I'm uncomfortable with this. "A dog is cognizant of being hungry" is one thing, but "a dog is a cognizant animal"... well, it's certainly not common usage. Mar 16 at 15:02
  • @MarkMorganLloyd - If Border Collies and scientists were common, we'd all have one, of each, till the scientists left us for evidence, studies, and crap. Mar 17 at 0:50

I would use "thinking" or perhaps "reasoning".

There is evidence that any thinking creature has the ability to count small values.



  1. rational; reasoning:

People are thinking animals.

  1. thoughtful; reflective:

Any thinking person would reject that plan.


It rather depends on what is meant by 'mindless', which is often used to refer pejoratively to unintelligent or thoughtless human behaviour. The OP seems to have in mind creatures with some form of intelligence with or without language. The word used most often to refer to human and non-human intelligence is conscious. So the neurologist Anil Seth in his excellent book Being You applies the word 'conscious' to any creature with a brain and sensation. He says that not only is it 'like something' to be Anil Seth, it is like something to be a golden retriever, or a cat, or a snake, or a bee.


Since you're talking about having brains I would simply say:

...any animal with a brain...

But, if you don't mind a term that is only likely to be understood by biologists then you could maybe use:

...any cephalized creature...

Cephalization is the evolutionary process by which mouth, sense organs, and neural functions get centralised in a single location at the front of the animal. It covers organisms that fall short of a brain however, such as the nematode work C. elegans and I don't know whether there is evidence they can count.


Generally, when discussing this area, people speak of "consciousness", so the adjective you'd be looking for would be "conscious".

1: having mental faculties not dulled by sleep, faintness, or stupor : awake 2: perceiving, apprehending, or noticing with a degree of controlled thought or observation 6: capable of or marked by thought, will, design, or perception


But beware that as soon as you use that, you're pulling in a whoooole lot of baggage, because the definition of consciousness is filled with people trying to make it mean whatever their paper is about.

So you get people arguing that consciousness requires awareness of your own thoughts, or some other criteria that fits their need. English is slippery, and a word can have many overloaded meanings, or indeed an entire continuity of meanings, defined by context.

"Conscious" is infamous as being such a word.

From papers like:

Honey bees, I shall argue, are conscious, as are fish; amoeba are not.

(1997) The Problem of Simple Minds: Is There Anything It Is like to Be a Honey Bee?, https://www.jstor.org/stable/4320801


But evidence of cross-modal learning, especially if it is sensitive to masking, seems likely to form part of the eventual case for bee consciousness.

(2020) The search for invertebrate consciousness https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/nous.12351

... it's clear that there is no consensus whether awake bees are conscious, even though a sleeping or drugged bee might perfectly reasonably be called unconscious.

So what is consciousness?

It may be awareness, awareness of awareness, or self-awareness either continuously changing or not.


It feels like this is the term you'd want for the question you seem to be addressing in your quote: is numeracy inherent to consciousness, arising from it naturally and inevitably; or is it tangential, something that can be done by non-conscious things like trees or even natural processes such as crystals, waves, or erosion; or is it perhaps a subset of consciousness, and there are things which are conscious but not numerate?

Though it could simply be that you are looking for "has senses", in which case the suggestions by @Elliot of 'Sentient' or 'Aware' are great.

Another, much less often used, so perhaps less open to vague interpretation, is "sensate".

Sensate: perceiving or perceived by the senses.


If you're trying to make the argument "having senses makes you able to count at least up to 2", that might be a good option.

There's a kind of spectrum from external awareness to introspection, that goes sensate -> sentient -> conscious -> sapient. But this spectrum is so vague that many would even order it differently (swapping "sentient" and "conscious", in particular).

Which is all a long way of saying: if you're using these terms in a scholarly context, then you will probably need to define your terms, as there is likely no universally recognized meaning for a single-word term, and even if there were, there's a huge amount of debate over where each animal falls in the spectrum.


You may find heedful useful in some contexts.

Merriam Webster
taking heed : ATTENTIVE
to pay attention

Any animal that is heedful is paying attention to something (risks, movements, size, quantity, mates, food etc) so may be safely assumed not to be mindless.


I know that my answer is not a single word, but instead of

"any ______ creature",

how about

"even an individually unaware creature",

since there might be considerable collective intelligence back at the hive?


Several of the terms offered in the other answers may work, in the right context, but whichever of them you choose to use, you will, if you are engaged in a serious scientific or philosophical argument, need to explain what you mean by it. There is no term that can be guaranteed to convey precisely the meaning that you have in mind without such an explanation. There is, for example, a tradition of philosophical thought, rooted in Descartes' writings, in which thinking is used very broadly, but the term is often used more narrowly. Terms mind and mental may be taken to imply consciousness or not, depending on what theory of mind one espouses. Sentience and consciousness may be used interchangeably or distinguished. Elaborating on all this would be well outside the scope of this site; what is within its scope is to simply note that a particular author's use of such terms in inextricably intertwined with the author's theoretical commitments. If one wants to be clear and precise in writing about such matters, one needs to make one's theoretical commitments explicit.


Possibly "problem-solving" is a good descriptor for some of the range of what you're wanting. But I do think (from amateurish reading and contemplation) that there are significantly different regimes for this. For example, in North America, crows are apparently able to intuit numbers-of-objects up to seven, which exceeds some humans' capacity. And, apparently various very-different animals are able to recognize (human, and other) faces. So, this is a non-answer, except to speculate that what you're wanting is not at all a single thing, but too varied to have a single name...?


"I'm looking for a short word that means "not mindless". An example usage might be:

There is evidence that any _____ creature has the ability to count small values."

There is evidence any creature with a mind has the ability to count small values.

I think that deals with the language. The truth of the statement is another matter. Many creatures have minds and cannot count. Infant humans, for example.


I am going to write a challenge to the concept in a different way from how I did it before.

You say

taking "mindless" as meaning literally without any brain or thinking capacity whatsoever, I'm looking for a term that just indicates the complement of that, i.e., something that has at least a minimal, possibly animal intelligence.

So basically you are saying that animals have 'animal intelligence' and therefore can count, yes?

If that is so then the answer is "There is evidence that any animal has the ability to count small values.

I'm not sure why people can't see the futility of trying to find a name for an animal that is intelligent, but not intelligent enough to count. If that's what you want, you have to say exactly what level of intelligence (or other abilities)the non-counting animals have. Again you are stuck with "Animals that are just intelligent enough to count, can count. Animals that aren't quite intelligent enough to count can't count."

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    Upvoted for demonstrating more clearly than my own answer the inherent ambiguity of the question: WHICH animal's intelligence? A sponge? Coral? Are the animals at the bottom of the animal scale any smarter than non-animals like the maze-solving, learning slime mold? Mar 19 at 19:17

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