How can they understand them?

Posted by RazzaTazz (9638 posts) - - Show Bio
One of the common problems of golden age science fiction was that they often involved a race of aliens that would have to engage humans in some kind of conversation as a preface to an invasion of Earth.  Of course things like universal translators are in fact impossible and so the common plot device was that the aliens could communicate with telepathy (in the anthology series this sometimes happened more than once in a single issue.)  I am not a psycho-linguist (in fact I am not even sure if that is a term) but even with telepathy I think that something is lacking in the ability to communicate effectively unless for instance specific parts of the brain are being manipulated in some way to elicit a specific response.  This is kind of related to the transfer of intelligence being such an impossible idea as well, as it would be effectively impossible to take someone's consciousness and transfer it to another person's unless they had the exact same structure of the brain.  Thus with unilingualism (yay! another made up word!) the most realistic way to achieve instant communication between two individuals is essentially by magic (just as it was with transferred intelligence.  This actually showed up twice this week in comics that I read - Sword of Sorcery (the Amethyst story) and in warlord of Mars Dejah Thoris.  In both cases a more mystical approach is taken to bridge the language barrier from complete ignorance to completely fluency.  It is a strange concept though, just as with transferred consciousness it is a plot device that usually shows up in a science setting but belongs firmly to magic.  As a person very interested in science though it is always hard for me to admit that something is so far out of the realm of possibility that it is more easily explained with magic than with reason.  
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#1 Posted by BumpyBoo (9236 posts) - - Show Bio

Unilingualism. If it doesn't exist then damn, you just called it! What a word.

The thing that always confused me about telepathy as a means of transcending language is, I think in English. I'm sure French people think in French. So I'm probably missing something, but I don't see how that is plausible.

Cool post! ^_^

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#3 Posted by RazzaTazz (9638 posts) - - Show Bio
@lykopis: Did I write about this before?  I have trouble keeping track sometimes.  
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#4 Posted by RazzaTazz (9638 posts) - - Show Bio
@BumpyBoo: Thats a good point as well, I think maybe the best ever example was in the Simpsons when the alien guys explain that they develop their language which just happens to be identical to English
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#5 Posted by Imagine_Man15 (1801 posts) - - Show Bio

@BumpyBoo said:

Unilingualism. If it doesn't exist then damn, you just called it! What a word.

The thing that always confused me about telepathy as a means of transcending language is, I think in English. I'm sure French people think in French. So I'm probably missing something, but I don't see how that is plausible.

Cool post! ^_^

I always took the "communicating through telepathy" thing as if you sensed the other person's general response to what you said, and it was converted to your language in your own mind... of course there are quite a few blatant holes in that theory, and it would never lead to a perfect translation, but I've always been willing to accept it as "one of those things" that you don't put too much thought into and go along with it.

#6 Posted by RazzaTazz (9638 posts) - - Show Bio
@Imagine_Man15: Sure it works fine with suspension of disbelief, it is also kind of funny that every invading alien both has figured out telepathy and wants to take a minute before exterminating the human race to explain our deaths to us
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#8 Posted by RazzaTazz (9638 posts) - - Show Bio
@lykopis: Ah yes that one, I remember now, I think you raise a good point though about body language, though the body language of aliens would also seemingly be quite different, alien even.
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#10 Posted by RazzaTazz (9638 posts) - - Show Bio
@lykopis: Yes that must be tough, I am sure there were some adorable children there.  
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#11 Posted by FatFriar_16 (167 posts) - - Show Bio

That's a good point too!! With telepathy, I think it is typically assumed that the telepath must be able to understand the other's thoughts the same way as their own. Even though, individually, we may think in different languages (which would need a translation), the telepath must be able to get to the root of the idea (the basis of the mind... popular science would probably say that chemicals or brain waves/motions are similar for thinking of similar things). In philosophy, Plato had the idea of forms (that everything we see/understand is a translation of its pure form [never perfectly the same because it would then be the form... we only see a variant of the form and it is what we recognize]) perhaps instead of a telepath reading the language in the other's mind, they are able to recognize the variant of the form.

Sorry if that's boring or whatever... And, it is just a really quick explanation. But, hopefully you get the picture.

This also reminds me of Vulcan mind-melds. =)

#12 Posted by RazzaTazz (9638 posts) - - Show Bio
@FatFriar_16: Not boring, actually pretty interesting, I wonder if there is any kind of a true biological imperative to that.  
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#13 Posted by Delphic (1470 posts) - - Show Bio

I was watching a rather interesting Doctor Who episode here recently, and in that episode the Doctor and his companion went back in time to meet William Shakespeare. While there they had to deal with these witches (or what we as humans perceive as witches). In truth these Witches were an Alien race, and they had a unique ability to where their science allowed them to envoke "Power of a Name" (sounds like a spell doesn't it?), what it really was though to these alien witches though, was a mathematical formula that allowed them to create different results, sort of like how we do things with the various elements of the periodic table. My point in all this though is that it is often the "impossible" that makes for a good story.

#14 Posted by RazzaTazz (9638 posts) - - Show Bio
@Delphic: That actually sounds pretty interesting.
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