Are Hurricanes Sentient?

Jim Mason
2 min readSep 30, 2022

Yes, but they are not self-aware

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

With Hurricane Ian in the news these days, it provides an interesting, albeit devastating, example of the differences between what we generally mean by “sentient”, “self-aware”, “conscious”, and “living”. It also illustrates what we consider to be an event or process that is worth giving a proper name for.

As we know, hurricanes grow and shrink in response to changes in the temperature and moisture in their central “eyes”. Over warm water they grow larger and rotate faster; over cool water and over land they grow smaller and rotate more slowly. Like many active natural phenomena, including many forms of life, the births and deaths of hurricanes are not instantaneous, but take some time to occur.

We can say that hurricanes are “sentient” because they can sense the temperature and humidity of the air rising into their central “eyes”. But they are quite clearly not self-aware in the sense of having internal mechanisms for modeling their own structure and behavior.

Are they “conscious”? That question itself shows what a slippery concept “consciousness” is, since it can cover both sentience and self-awareness.

Are they “alive”? Most people would say “no”, but although they lack self-reproduction abilities, they do have finite existences in time, during which they exhibit very active behavior.

And probably only we humans consider them to be discrete enough to give them names and even important enough to give them proper names.

At least most of us are past the stage in human history when hurricanes were considered to be malevolent forces driven by angry gods.

Jim Mason

I study language, cognition, and humans as social animals. You can support me by joining Medium at