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Thread: Alien culture - will we comprehend it?

  1. #1 Alien culture - will we comprehend it? 
    Forum Ph.D. Leszek Luchowski's Avatar
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    Alien intelligent beings, if they exist, are likely to have a set of senses different from ours.

    Some kind of eyesight is very probable, as earthly organisms have invented it scores of times independently - unless of course our alien friends live in a lightless or extremely foggy world. But even this eyesight will probably be different from ours - their eyes might be faceted and/or have an all-round visual field, and/or respond to a different part of the spectrum, and/or split it into a different number of basic colours, and/or have a visual acuity dramatically superior or inferior to ours.

    As for other senses, it's anybody's guess. Same for their modes of communication - where we use sound (speech), they may be waving their tentacles or flashing some bioluminescent organs.

    They may also have a very different social structure, even down to the notion of family (especially if they reproduce in ways unknown to human biology).

    All of this means that any works produced by their culture will be both physically and mentally difficult for us to perceive and comprehend.

    And this is a pity, because, the Universe being the size it is, there is probably a gigantic wealth of cultures out there.

    Has anybody tried to make a scientific analysis, or even just a seriously educated guess, what our chances are of ever reading their poetry, watching their theatre, or listening to their music? And enjoying it?


    Leszek. Pronounced [LEH-sheck]. The wondering Slav.
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  3. #2  
    Universal Mind John Galt's Avatar
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    It is an interesting question. I have made the point on this and other forums that most people do not fully appreciate what alien may mean. Aliens will be different, hugely different. More different than the difference between a piano sonata and a tin of baked beans. Mind boggingly different, weird, strange, peculiar, bizarre, incomprehensible, outlandish, perplexing, unfathomable, impenetrable, inexplicable....... in a word, alien.


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  4. #3  
    Your Mama! GiantEvil's Avatar
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    It's certainly likely that aliens will be truly alien, literally and metaphorically.
    But what if they are psychologically similar to us, with or without funny hat's.
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  5. #4  
    Forum Masters Degree Twit of wit's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ophiolite
    It is an interesting question. I have made the point on this and other forums that most people do not fully appreciate what alien may mean. Aliens will be different, hugely different. More different than the difference between a piano sonata and a tin of baked beans. Mind boggingly different, weird, strange, peculiar, bizarre, incomprehensible, outlandish, perplexing, unfathomable, impenetrable, inexplicable....... in a word, alien.
    I disagree. They live in the same universe. Their thinking will be similar, their senses will be similar, their science will be similar, their languages will be similar.
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    Universal Mind John Galt's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Twit of wit
    I disagree. They live in the same universe. Their thinking will be similar, their senses will be similar, their science will be similar, their languages will be similar.
    We will not know until we meet them, but your suggestions seem unlikley.

    They may live in the same universe, but they may live in the upper clouds layers of a gas giant, or in the crushing gravity field of a super-Earth, or in methane pools on a Titan-like world, or the depths of a Europa-like ocean. Each of these environments would require different sensory packages from ourselves.

    There is no particualr reason to believe they would even have science as we know it. Similar languages presuppose a similar suite of behaviours, instincts, drives etc. That becomes way too fanciful.
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    Forum Masters Degree Twit of wit's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ophiolite
    They may live in the same universe, but they may live in the upper clouds layers of a gas giant, or in the crushing gravity field of a super-Earth, or in methane pools on a Titan-like world, or the depths of a Europa-like ocean. Each of these environments would require different sensory packages from ourselves.
    How different? They will have eyesight unless there is not enough light and hearing unless the atmosphere is too thin or not present. Good eyesight (or possibly very good echolocation) is necessary for tool making and hearing is necessary for communication.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ophiolite
    There is no particualr reason to believe they would even have science as we know it.
    If we talk about aliens at least at our level of technology it is necessary.


    Quote Originally Posted by Ophiolite
    Similar languages presuppose a similar suite of behaviours, instincts, drives etc. That becomes way too fanciful.
    They will certainly have words for things we don't have, but in general their languages will work on similar principles. Alien languages, like human languages, will use a set of phonemes that will be used to create words and will use these words to create sentences. Why? It's simple - because there is no other way to create a useful language. Completely different phonemes are the only likely significant difference.
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  8. #7  
    Forum Masters Degree thyristor's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Twit of wit
    Quote Originally Posted by Ophiolite
    They may live in the same universe, but they may live in the upper clouds layers of a gas giant, or in the crushing gravity field of a super-Earth, or in methane pools on a Titan-like world, or the depths of a Europa-like ocean. Each of these environments would require different sensory packages from ourselves.
    How different? They will have eyesight unless there is not enough light and hearing unless the atmosphere is too thin or not present. Good eyesight (or possibly very good echolocation) is necessary for tool making and hearing is necessary for communication.
    Well, hearing is certainly not necessary for communication. Communication via sensory inputs are quite efficient. And who knows, spinning off on some ideas from The Foundation, maybe they are capable of telepathy.
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    Quote Originally Posted by thyristor
    Quote Originally Posted by Twit of wit
    Quote Originally Posted by Ophiolite
    They may live in the same universe, but they may live in the upper clouds layers of a gas giant, or in the crushing gravity field of a super-Earth, or in methane pools on a Titan-like world, or the depths of a Europa-like ocean. Each of these environments would require different sensory packages from ourselves.
    How different? They will have eyesight unless there is not enough light and hearing unless the atmosphere is too thin or not present. Good eyesight (or possibly very good echolocation) is necessary for tool making and hearing is necessary for communication.
    Well, hearing is certainly not necessary for communication. Communication via sensory inputs are quite efficient. And who knows, spinning off on some ideas from The Foundation, maybe they are capable of telepathy.
    Very well said till we meet them we have absolutely no idea what they are.
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  10. #9  
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    Sometimes wonder the same thing. Even here are earth it's hard to get our heads around some concepts. For example there's an article out this week about whether grass roots and the chemical and electrical signals between them is some form of swarm intelligence.

    I don't really agree with the senses discussion above either. Would an intelligent bat think the same of us because we're effectively deaf compared to their incredible abilities to use combinations of advanced multi-frequency signaling, Doppler effect, jamming and bug sonar countermeasures to echo locate and determine the velocity of a flying insect.
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  11. #10  
    Forum Masters Degree Twit of wit's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by thyristor
    Well, hearing is certainly not necessary for communication. Communication via sensory inputs are quite efficient. And who knows, spinning off on some ideas from The Foundation, maybe they are capable of telepathy.
    It is. Other means of communication are either too slow or too impractical.
    What do you mean by "Communication via sensory inputs"?
    Telepathy is not known to be possible.
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  12. #11  
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    I've wondered about "extra" sensory organs of different life here one Earth, but the alien spin on the question is interesting. If they were intelligent and we were able to communicate with them, we would have no way of knowing what they experience through their extra organs. Similar to verbally describing "red" to someone born blind.
    "I wouldn't belong to a club that would have me as a member." Groucho
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  13. #12  
    Forum Radioactive Isotope skeptic's Avatar
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    It may be worth while thinking about how different Earth life is from us. Aliens would be even more different. For example : birds can see with ultra violet light. This changes their perception significantly. A starling looks drab to us, but in ultraviolet, it positively glows.

    Other life might be able to see with infra red, which operates in what we know as complete darkness. Sonar works for bats, some swallows, and cetaceans. How does this alter world view and thinking patterns?

    Communication may not be with sound. A cuttlefish can communicate with complex colour patterns rippling over its skin. Perhaps our aliens do the same.

    Science, of course, must be very similar, since the principles are universal. It is rather unlikely that an intelligent alien would arrive at different laws of thermodynamics.
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  14. #13  
    Forum Ph.D. Leszek Luchowski's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Twit of wit
    Telepathy is not known to be possible.
    I beg to differ. I am starting a thread under General Discussion about it (perhaps it will get moved to Pseudo Science).
    Leszek. Pronounced [LEH-sheck]. The wondering Slav.
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  15. #14  
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    To me, there are huge chances the difference will be so big that we might not even think of them as intelligent OR they might not think we are intelligent.
    If we supposed alien living in a murky water or hydrocarbon environement, they might communicate by electric/induction signal or pressure pulse (not sure we can call this a 'sound'), not have developped any eyes. Our communication system, at least for most terrestrial mammals, is based on discrete units (Shout, scream, words, sign with the arms etc...). Take for example the elephant fish. This is a very interesting case. These animals are pretty intelligent, the ratio of brain mass/body mass is similar to humans ! They are communicating together but we don't understand what they transmit...

    How will we be able to communicate i.e. translate a language based on continuous variations ? And if we cannot communicate, there might go to aggressive behaviour.

    In summary, I am not very optimistic.
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  16. #15  
    WYSIWYG Moderator marnixR's Avatar
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    what all of the previous discussions have confirmed with me is that it's impossible to make a sensible extrapolation from a sample of 1 - all we have so far is knowledge of life on earth, with no indication of how typical this might be for life elsewhere
    "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." (Philip K. Dick)
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