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Re: OT: Non-human languages (was OT: Dolphin intelligence (...))

From:Wesley Parish <wes.parish@...>
Date:Wednesday, July 9, 2003, 10:50
On Wed, 09 Jul 2003 11:30, you wrote:
> On Wed, 2 Jul 2003 16:12:15 +0200, =?iso-8859-1?Q?J=F6rg=20Rhiemeier?= > > <joerg_rhiemeier@...> wrote: > >Andreas Johansson <andjo@...> writes: > >> This is related to why I scrapped my then chief coniverse in, IIRC, > >> 1997, > and > >> started the one in which most of my conlangs are spoken in. The old one > >> contained several intelligent extraterrestrial species, and I eventually > came > >> to feel that they failed to live up to my modest demand for plausibility > in > >> two ways: 1) the existence of several alien civilzations at roughly the > same > >> technological level as we but none significantly more advanced must be > >> essentially nil, > > > >Very true.
It's something that Arthur C. Clarke does very, very well. Read his "Rendevous with Rama" and you'll conclude that that is _precisely_ how one should write about unknowable aliens - they came, we tried to get in contact, we don't know any more than we knew before. Some other SF writers are like that too - one story of William Gibson I'm trying to remember, where humanity finds itself on the junction of an interstellar travel viaduct, and keeps sending people through it trying to find out just what it is they have discovered - "Solaris" by Stanislaw Lem is perhaps the ultimate in "alien encounter" stories - it's there, it influences the planet, it influences the humans trying to study it, and nobody knows just what it is.
> > > >> and 2) no matter how alien I tried to make the > >> extraterrestrials, they still seemed way to human. > > > >It is really hard, if not outright impossible, to invent an alien race > >that is not a kind of human stereotype in disguise. Most sci-fi authors > >"alienize" their aliens by giving them a non-human anatomy > >(and be it a few amendments on the human body plan) and some > >salient personality trait. The problem with this is that the aliens > >are defined by which way they differ from humans, and the humans > >thus represent a "normal type". That is of course complete bull. > > > >One "solution" I used in a con-universe (which I have put aside > >a few years ago) was the one from the Traveller RPG: an alien race > >once colonized the vicinity of the solar system many thousand years > >ago, and for unknown reasons relocated humans to hundreds of > >planets; then the aliens conveniently disappeared.
The solution I came up with for my Lakhabrech, they being the result of genetic engineering by said aliens, who have now degenerated - through some absurd version of environmentalist absolutism - to shadows of their former world-spanning, galaxy-exploring glory, shrunken to trying to hold the desolate highlands of the planet against the human population explosion by the simple procedure of using the hyenaized humans against the rest - while a significant number of said hyenaized humans had escaped over the millenia and created a stable population who constitute a barrier now against their former masters' depradations against humanity in general. Thus,
> >I could mess around with lots of exotic but still human cultures > >which also were fairly homogenous with regard to their tech level. > > I can think of a workaround to try and do something less anthrocentric: > define an alien race carefully, and use them as the 'average' around which > humans are just one deviation. It will still come up with more humanlike > aliens than truth likely merits, but it will at least get us off the center > of things.
First thing - define a central framework for your aliens - what sort of planet have they originated on? What sort of star? What particular segment of the environment did they originate in? Were they a major part of the envirnment or a minor part? What sort of resources did they need to develop from their earlier forms into their later ones? And do some work on the human development - read books like "Extinct Humans" by Ian Tattersall and Jeffrey H. Schwartz - to get a general feel for human development and how it could've ended so easily before we became too widely dispersed. Then you've got the background which your aliens will regard as standard, ordinary, and themselves as the salt - or whatever, plutonium oxide? - of the earth, and against which your humans will appear alien, unaccountable. Wesley Parish
> > >> Should we one day meet 'intelligent' extraterrestrials, we might very > well be > >> able to discuss maths and astronomy with them, but I'd be quite > pessimistic > >> about the possibilities for meaningfully discussing things involving > emotions > >> and Weltanschauung. > > > >I am not very optimistic about the possibilities of inter-species > conversation, > >either. Their mindset will most likely be so alien that we and they have > >rather little to say to each other. > > Marvin Minsky talks about how we can at least expect some basic concepts to > be the same here and elsewhere, in particular, nouns, verbs, and clauses: > > > I think the most significant point in that text is that there are probably > not any radically different useful paradigms for representing language > (although we can probably never prove that).
-- Mau e ki, "He aha te mea nui?" You ask, "What is the most important thing?" Maku e ki, "He tangata, he tangata, he tangata." I reply, "It is people, it is people, it is people."