A note before this topic starts. Please, keep religion OUT of this thread. It will be far more bloodless that way.
Sentience in and of itself is an anomaly on this Earth.
All life on earth serves a purpose in its ecosystem, yet sentience does not. Humans consume resources, construct arbritrary shelters, create abstract concepts that do not aid in survival nor enrich the ecosystem (or rather, does the exact opposite) and engage in fratricidal conflicts with one another over said resources and arbritrary concepts.
Furthermore, we are one of the few species that actively kills it's own kind, and the ONLY species that has the capacity to die for a concept (IE, Freedom).
Sentience in and of itself appears to be an anomaly.
Consider the following.
Let us treat, for the purpose of this topic, Sentience as an object of study.
Thus far, we have only one kind of sentience that we can observe. That of mammal closely related to apes with a centralised brain organ. Alone, they are not powerful at all, but if allowed to agglomerate into large numbers, then Man indeed does become powerful because of a hivelike behaviour. The various nations of man can be considered to be competing hives. Although a very simplified model this fits as a description.
To open out the scope of this topic, let us refer to science fiction for a bit of inspiration. Yes, I know, I'm using science fiction but bear with me please.
Thus far, we have the following:
Centralised Brain Intelligence (Man)
Digital Intelligence (Computers)
Planetary Intelligence (Vast neural net spanning the entire surface of a planet)
Nebular Intelligence (Much like man, only the physiology is changed to that of a gas cloud)
Gas Bag Intelligence (Life that evolves intelligence floating in the confines of a gas giant)
If these are the kinds of intelligence, we must find common traits.
Intelligence Evolves from what would otherwise be chaos, or at least ordered chaos, with the exception of Digital Intelligence which is artificial.
Each kind is naturally capable of thought, but what would these thoughts be to us? They may not think the same as we do, and thus our classification of thought may have to be altered if it is ever to pertain to sentience as a whole.
This begs an interesting scenario. Suppose a man is dying, and just before the moment of death, transfers his consciousness into a machine. Is the man still a man? Or is he a digital sentient? Is he changed by this process? Is he now fundamentally a different man then he was before having undergone this process?
Now consider that instead of a machine, this man opts to have his consciousness "absorbed" by a planetary intelligence before death. Is he alive for as long as the planetary intelligence is alive, or is that which has been absorbed now merely an echo in a canyon?
Can intelligence be singular and collective? Can it be miniscule and/or vast?
At what limit do we say that something is something MORE then sentient? We can already see that a planetary intelligence will be vastly more intelligent then a single man. What if that were the tip of the iceberg? What if planets are miniscule in comparison to intelligent galaxies? And what if these intelligent galaxies are in and of themselves miniscule to the merest thoughts of an intelligent universe? What if, after all, Intelligence as we know it are merely the agglomerate thoughts of a super-intelligence?
Whoah, thats a helluva tangent. I better get off whatever non-existent drugs I'm on and get me some sleep
Errm, Discuss, if you dare