From a post to ALT.BOOKS.DAVID-WEBER dated March 29, 2000:

Treecat intelligence I

    Okay. I understand the questions of treecat political futures and basic intelligence have been receiving some examination on the newsgroup. I do not intend, for fairly obvious reasons, I believe, to go into any discussion of future political developments in the Star Kingdom at this time. But if you're truly curious about precisely how treecat intelligence compares to human intelligence, then I have a few morsels for you. Be warned that not all of this may ever find expression in the novels, given that there is a limit to the human-cat interactions which could make all the similarities and dissimilarities apparent to the humans in anything like a short period of time.

    All right, first a few words on memory singers. As I imagine you have already concluded from the short fiction which has been published, memory singers are extremely important to treecat clans. Their more obvious function is to serve as the repository of the collective wisdom and history of their species. The essential requirements to become a memory singer are an extremely strong mind voice, an ability to grasp of the nuances of other cats' mind glows with extreme acuity, an effectively "photographic memory," and the ability to project remembered mind voices and mind glows with the utmost fidelity. Normally, a very strong personality and what we might call "command presence" is bound up with the sort of mind and outlook which can satisfy the above qualifications, which further helps explain why senior memory singers are awarded so much weight when they confer with the other elders of a clan. In a very real sense, the treecats' history is truly a living entity, which moves from avatar to avatar as new generations of memory singers receive it from their predecessors and prepare to pass it on to their successors. Along the way, some of the more distant memory songs begin to lose their fine detail and resolution, and evens which do not make their way into memory songs at all are completely lost to the treecats. What this boils down to is that the portions of their history which they know have an intimacy and immediacy which no human can never match, but that there are much larger gaps in their knowledge of their history than is the case in post-oral tradition human societies.

    There is also, however, an additional function of memory singers which in its own way is even more vital to the health and future development of the treecat community, and helps explain the reason why they are so intensely venerated and protected. The memory singers are not merely the repositories of history, but also the teachers of new knowledge.

    I suppose that the fairest way to compare treecat intelligence to human intelligence is to say that the two are basically equivalent but function in quite different ways. Even the most intuitive human abilities pale beside the way that treecats process and interpret information. A treecat does not input, correlate, and evaluate data in the same way human does. They are far more likely to depend on their ability to perceive the emotion behind the thought (where humans are concerned; where other treecats are concerned, they perceive the thought itself, of course) and to form what a human might describe as a near-instant gestalt. This is one reason why it was so difficult for Climbs Quickly to reason his way through to an understanding of the bond which had formed between him and Stephanie Harrington. It was far outside the normal parameters of his species' experience, so he had no existing knowledge base to guide him, yet the fact that the telepathic channel was not available to him virtually shut down half of his normal information pathways and required him to approach the question on a deductive basis, which was not really comfortable fit for him or any other treecat.

    In interpersonal relationships, treecats are vastly more sensitive, intuitive, and likely to comprehend intricacies and nuances than humans are, but for most of them (memory singers tend to be exceptions to this rule, but that is far from a universal case) their ability to handle those relationships is restricted to those whom they have actually met. In other words, they are masters of personal relationships, but beyond their own clans, they have a much poorer grasp of the sorts of collective relationships which make mass societies function, which helps explain why a race of telepaths and empaths has not evolved a societal matrix more complex than that of the extended clan.

    The plain fact is that treecats are not exceptionally innovative, even in matters of purely social evolution. Once you step beyond the social arena (which, after all, is where they excel) they become even less innovative. As a rule, their first response to any new situation is to attempt to apply existing custom or solutions to it, and they become uneasy when they are unable to do so. When the humans first arrived on Sphinx as a permanent presence, the treecats recognized the potential danger which human technology posed to them and also that they themselves had nothing which might act as a counterweight to human tools and weapons if the situation turned ugly on them, and so they adopted the strategy of observation and concealment which lasted until Climbs Quickly met Stephanie Harrington. Their uneasiness over their inability to get a "handle" on human psychology and intentions (which was made infinitely worse for them by the fact that humans appeared to be mute race, as they were unable to "speak" in any way a treecat could understand) was also a major factor in their standoffish attitude. In addition, treecats -- because they are telempathic -- tend to be extremely consensual (by human standards) when it comes to choosing courses in action, which means that in potential threat situations the reaction of the species as a whole tends to err on the side of caution, as was demonstrated by the reaction of Climbs Quickly's clan elders once Stephanie spotted him. In addition, it usually takes something fairly extreme to cause treecats to alter an existing pattern of behavior. You might say that they rely very heavily on the concept of "If it ain't broken, don't fix it."

    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. Their intelligence also tends to lie within a narrower band then human intelligence, with comparatively few individuals who fall very far below or very far above the median. In short, treecats Leonardo da Vincis are very, very rare, and "village idiots" are equally rare. As individuals, treecats are very unlikely to make great leaps forward, but in the rare occurrences when a treecat possesses both the ability to innovate and what one might call "genius," the fact that he or she has on the rest of his species is far more profound than the effect a similar human could have on humanity as a whole. The reason for this is the existence of the memory singers. Literally anything a treecat can learn or conceptualize can be passed on in its entirety to any other treecat via a memory singer. It does not necessarily follow that every treecat who receives a concept or knowledge through a memory singer will be able to use it as effectively as any other treecat, because there are levels of ability in all things. But this does mean that when the rare treecat genius comes along, his or her accomplishments can be added to the intellectual armory of his clan -- and spread beyond his clan through the traditional interacting of memory singers -- far more rapidly and completely than would be possible in a human society. This is precisely what made Climbs Quickly and Sings Truly so extremely valuable to their clan and to their species as a whole. Sings Truly, in particular, was not simply an innovator of genius, but was also a memory singer in her own right, which both gave her very high prestige and made her particularly effective in spreading her innovations throughout all treecats.  By the same token, Samantha -- who is very similar to her in both "intellectual stature" and inherent ability as a memory singer -- is perhaps even more important to her people than Sings Truly, even though she has never assumed the formal mantle of a memory singer.

    There are certain areas in which treecats do not and probably never will equal human capabilities, just as humans will never be telepaths or (with a few significant exceptions) empaths -- or certainly never on a scale which will conceivably equaled the abilities of treecats. One major treecat "disability" which probably precludes their ever developing a high-tech society of their own, is a fundamental inability to grasp higher mathematics. It is significant that a society which has been around for thousands upon thousands of years still refers to numbers in terms of "hands of hands" and has never developed a written form of mathematics. Obviously, this has strong implications for all areas of advanced human technology. It is possible, that this inability will begin to ease if and when the treecats do completely internalize the concept of written language. It is also possible that sufficiently persistent humans will be able to teach a treecat someday to transcend the current limitations of his species, and if that happens, the existence of the memory singers means that it would constitute effectively a species-wide breakthrough. Of course, it is always possible that the treecats will never approach human levels of ability in math.

    For the foreseeable future, certainly, treecats will continue to regard human technology much as they have for the past several centuries. They will probably learn to use certain human tools more effectively and confidently than is currently the case, and they will not be actively uncomfortable in the presence of humans' machines and tools, but they will regard those devices as being uniquely "two-leg" in nature. On the social front, treecats will almost certainly become much more deeply integrated into human society as a whole, using their empathic abilities and their intuitive grasp of complex personal interrelationships to make themselves invaluable in such professions as psychology, politics, dispute arbitration, "social services," the law, etc.  The precise effect which this will have upon their social and political standing is, of course, something which I have no intention of telling you about at this time.

    I will add just one more thing. The Ninth Amendment of the Constitution establishes treecats as the native sentient race of Sphinx, reserves just over one-third of the total planetary surface for their sole possession, and grants them the legal status of minor children under the direct protection of the Crown. It does not grant them citizenship in the Star Kingdom of Manticore, enfranchise them as voters, or in any other way contemplate their full integration into the human society of the Star Kingdom. This is not to say that such integration is absolutely ruled out by the Constitution, only that it is not guaranteed or provided for, and that it is quite likely that it would be necessary to further amend the Constitution in order to make treecats citizens or subjects of the Crown. It probably also would require a degree of planet-wide social integration which treecats have not yet attained in order to provide anything like a representative body of treecats empowered to speak for the race as a whole if they were invited to become subjects of Queen Elizabeth.