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Thread: Could Alien science and epistemology be incomprehensible to humans?

  1. #1 Could Alien science and epistemology be incomprehensible to humans? 
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    On Wikipedia, I was reading the Stanisław Lem article and got linked to the Hypothetical types of biochemistry and Fermi paradox article, particularly the section on They are too alien, where it states "Another possibility is that human theoreticians have underestimated how much alien life might differ from that on Earth. Alien psychologies may simply be too different to communicate with human beings, to understand the concept of communication, or to even be interested in other lifeforms at all, and so they may be unable or unwilling to make the attempt. Human mathematics, language, tool use, and other concepts and communicative capacity may be parochial to Earth and not shared by other life."

    Can anyone provide any websites, articles, or books that explore this concept?
    Specifically I would be interested in learning about the biological evolutionary and epistemological origins of a incommensurably radically different Alien consciousness, mathematics, perception, cognition and science.
    As humans we get primarily depend on a specific range of light-waves as our way of perceiving the world. Our fellow mammals the bat "sees" sound, while the Platypus "sees" smell. Evolutionarily speaking, mammals are our close cousins. So the difference in perception of a an evolved species with a radically different environment is barely comprehensible.

    At its core, I think the question comes down to whether you have a realist or instrumentalist view of science. If our knowledge and science is just what "works for us" or is "useful" than it might not necessarily be objectively True. It is caused by the mind-independent objective world, but might be experienced in radically different ways.
    Does alien life need to even be biochemical ? Perhaps a purely electromagnetic life form can arise in the interior of stars. Or perhaps dark matter, whatever it is, is alive. Or, even if we talk about biological life forms, I believe there are bacteria which live deep underground that have much slower metabolisms than those we are familiar with. Yes, they aren't intelligent, but perhaps more complex organisms can exist with a similarly slow metabolic rate.

    This would be the epistemological basis for the cosmic horrors explored by Hp Lovecraft and Stanisław Lem in which aliens are so alien to humans, that it leads to complete incommensurablity and even madness.
    Anyway I look forward to any comments anyone has on this interesting topic


    Last edited by marnixR; November 18th, 2011 at 11:04 AM. Reason: inserted a few paragraph line breaks
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    Look up the word paragraph...


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    Considering we find madness in even our fellow species for some people who appear entirely functional and sometimes extraordinarily talented in some way--I think the answer would likely be yes--we'd think aliens quite mad.

    Mathematical concepts and laws of nature would be similar to them though--so we'd have least some potential basis for communication.
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    One of my thought experiments when I was younger was to question how different 'alien' life could be.

    I think it could be so different that humans might not recognize it as life. How about a life form based on interstellar gas clouds? No doubt someone will claim that 'life' could not exist as such. My response is it would not be life as we think of life. However, a life form that can communicate with one another and pass data back and forth might or might not be interested in our science. For instance, consider the imagination of Douglas Adams who invented the Jatravartids. They all have more than fifty arms each and therefore unique in being the only race in history to have invented aerosol deodorant before the wheel. My posited species of gas beings might not have a use for geometry, for example.

    Of course, if we travel far enough into the Universe, humanity might find life forms varying even more than on Earth. Some might be nearly identical to humanity and some might be - again from Douglas Adams - the Hooloovoo; a hyper intelligent shade of the color blue.

    For that matter, we may find we are it. No other life of any sort, let alone sentient.

    So, will alien science be comprehensible to humanity? Probably some will and some won't.
    The universe is a real place. However, you can't see it, you have to imagine it. Like it or not, God designed, built and sustains the Universe. Deal with it.
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    Quote Originally Posted by firerobin88 View Post
    On Wikipedia, I was reading the Stanisław Lem article and got linked to the Hypothetical types of biochemistry and Fermi paradox article, particularly the section on They are too alien, where it states "Another possibility is that human theoreticians have underestimated how much alien life might differ from that on Earth. Alien psychologies may simply be too different to communicate with human beings, to understand the concept of communication, or to even be interested in other lifeforms at all, and so they may be unable or unwilling to make the attempt. Human mathematics, language, tool use, and other concepts and communicative capacity may be parochial to Earth and not shared by other life."

    Can anyone provide any websites, articles, or books that explore this concept?
    Specifically I would be interested in learning about the biological evolutionary and epistemological origins of a incommensurably radically different Alien consciousness, mathematics, perception, cognition and science.
    As humans we get primarily depend on a specific range of light-waves as our way of perceiving the world. Our fellow mammals the bat "sees" sound, while the Platypus "sees" smell. Evolutionarily speaking, mammals are our close cousins. So the difference in perception of a an evolved species with a radically different environment is barely comprehensible.

    At its core, I think the question comes down to whether you have a realist or instrumentalist view of science. If our knowledge and science is just what "works for us" or is "useful" than it might not necessarily be objectively True. It is caused by the mind-independent objective world, but might be experienced in radically different ways.
    Does alien life need to even be biochemical ? Perhaps a purely electromagnetic life form can arise in the interior of stars. Or perhaps dark matter, whatever it is, is alive. Or, even if we talk about biological life forms, I believe there are bacteria which live deep underground that have much slower metabolisms than those we are familiar with. Yes, they aren't intelligent, but perhaps more complex organisms can exist with a similarly slow metabolic rate.

    This would be the epistemological basis for the cosmic horrors explored by Hp Lovecraft and Stanisław Lem in which aliens are so alien to humans, that it leads to complete incommensurablity and even madness.
    Anyway I look forward to any comments anyone has on this interesting topic

    Maybe this is why we need to be taught history, to iron out these bugs? What's your understanding of history like in the context of your question?
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    Quote Originally Posted by firerobin88
    As humans we get primarily depend on a specific range of light-waves as our way of perceiving the world. Our fellow mammals the bat "sees" sound, while the Platypus "sees" smell.
    It could be that we humans "smell" light.

    Would these incomprehensible aliens when discovering us distinguish between humans, animals, insect, and so on? Or would we be just a single life form, all together, that all have traits which the alien does not?

    I "feel" sound.
    Do not try and bend the spoon. That's impossible. Instead... only realize the truth. There is no spoon. Then you'll see that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself. -Spoon Boy
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    Much like some folks with synesthesia that can do math in their head with color and shapes. And that would be an easy one. Imagine an intelligent bat species what perceives reality through sense humans don't even possess--such as Doppler echolocation.
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