Not even the most heavily-armed police state can exert brute force to all of its citizens all of the time. Meme management is so much subtler; the rose-tinted refraction of perceived reality, the contagious fear of threatening alternatives.
Well, according to game theory, you should never tell anyone when your birthday is. It's a lose-lose proposition. There's no winning strategy. (If they throw you a party) Then you don't know whether they're doing it sincerely, or if your earlier interaction just guilted them into observing an occasion they'd rather have ignored. But if you don't tell anyone, and nobody commemorates the event, there's no reason to feel badly because after all, nobody knew. And if someone does buy you a drink then you know it's sincere because nobody would go to all the trouble of finding out when your birthday is— and then celebrating it—if they didn't honestly like you.
It was easy to forget the Quantical AI at the heart of our ship. It stayed so discreetly in the background, nurtured and carried us and permeated our existence like an unobtrusive God; but like God, it never took your calls.
I could have tried. Please don't, I could have said. I'm begging you. I never meant to drive you away completely, just a little, just to a safer distance. Please. In thirty long years the only time I haven't felt worthless was when we were together.
Perfect hexagonal tubes in a packed array. Bees are hardwired to lay them down, but how does an insect know enough geometry to lay down a precise hexagon? It doesn't. It's programmed to chew up wax and spit it out while turning on its axis, and that generates a circle. Put a bunch of bees on the same surface, chewing side-by-side, and the circles abut against each other—deform each other into hexagons, which just happen to be more efficient for close packing anyway.
Insight, then. Wisdom. The quest for knowledge, the derivation of theorems, science and technology and all those exclusively human pursuits that must surely rest on a conscious foundation. Maybe that's what sentience would be for — if scientific breakthroughs didn't spring fully-formed from the subconscious mind, manifest themselves in dreams, as full-blown insights after a deep night's sleep. It's the most basic rule of the stymied researcher: stop thinking about the problem. Do something else. It will come to you if you just stop being conscious of it.