How would an alien describe the human race?

Discussion in 'Science Fiction' started by Matt E, Feb 24, 2019.

  1. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    13,593
    Likes Received:
    8,185
    Location:
    California, US
    The answer to this depends on the alien race. They're going to see humanity through the lens of their own culture and experience (and, perhaps, biology). That will dictate how they see us. An alien short-lived bipedal race that is somewhat humanoid in morphology is going to see us a lot differently than a race of vast energy beings who exist in the depths of space for millenia.
     
  2. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Ex-Patriot Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2015
    Messages:
    18,217
    Likes Received:
    34,594
    Location:
    Face down in the dirt
    Currently Reading::
    Telemachus Sneezed
    I am right now reading Children of Ruin, which is the sequel to the stand(s)alone Children of Time. Amazing books which deal with (serious spoilers in the spoiler box):

    sentient, uplifted jumping spiders the size of golden retrievers in the first book and sentient, uplifted octopuses in the second. These are originally Terran organisms, but the author spent a lot of time thinking about what intelligence might look like from those perspectives. Other than the snake clusters in Anvil of the Stars by Greg Bear, I can't think of any more truly "alien" aliens I've read.
     
    Steerpike likes this.
  3. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    13,593
    Likes Received:
    8,185
    Location:
    California, US
    I'm reading Children of Time right now.
     
    Iain Aschendale likes this.
  4. Naomasa298

    Naomasa298 HP: 10/190 Status: Confused Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 9, 2019
    Messages:
    4,461
    Likes Received:
    5,209
    Location:
    The White Rose county, UK
    Ugly offspring of a quatronian zark.

    "Look, this guy's tail is on the wrong side!"
     
    Cave Troll likes this.
  5. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    13,593
    Likes Received:
    8,185
    Location:
    California, US
    I'm about halfway through Children of Time. Quite good thus far. First book I've read by Tchaikovsky, but I'll read more after this.
     
    Iain Aschendale likes this.
  6. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    23,827
    Likes Received:
    20,807
    Location:
    El Tembloroso Caribe
    When one endeavors to create an ethnography - a paper or book that describes a people - there are two kinds of data one must gather, emic and etic. The reason there are two is because each has some problems that the other serves to assuage... hopefully... in the creation of the ethnography.

    Emic data is what you get when you interview and speak with members of the race or culture. Emic data suffers from the issue of social lying, the profound urge we have as humans to paint ourselves in a particular light, to be seen in our Sunday best, never mind that we're still Saturday hung-over and reeking.

    Etic data is what you get when you only observe, no questions, no interviews. Etic data can suffer from a lack of context or related information of which the observer is unaware. It also suffers most especially from the prejudices and preconceptions the observer brings to the table, and we all have prejudices and preconceptions no matter how balls deep we think we are in wokeness.

    So you collect both with the intent that the holes in the fabric left by one will be covered by the other and your ethnography will be as solid and consistent as a human can possibly make it.

    Assuming they aren't down here conducting interviews, your aliens will be suffering from the issues inherent in an etic-only data collection scheme. The answers you gave in the initial post are all answers filtered through a human mind, one that actually understands and knows us, one that is trying to employ the dynamics found in emic data collection.

    Your task will be to try your best to remove your knowledge of our race as you attempt to explore the mind of the alien race.

    What is a story? Would the aliens even acknowledge our common storytelling structures?

    Or maybe we just look like a bacteria, ever dividing and reproducing, spreading in a growing arc across the face of the microscope slide.

    Why would they draw the same line we draw, one of the most arbitrary lines ever drawn, the one that divides us from the rest of life? We're not descendants. We are primates. And that argument, whether we are or aren't, is deeply entrenched in Western Abrahamic thought, a school of thought that has a known beginning and will surely have a noticeable end. Why would they come to the conclusions to which we come without knowing all of the reasons why we come to the bonkers conclusions we come?

    ETA: Silly example:

    Imagine the aliens live on land on their world, but must return to a body of water to breed or spawn. Imagine that this is a very common reproductive scheme on their planet, as, in fact, it is on ours.

    Imagine what they think when they watch us go to the beach, the river, to the lake, the pond.

    “Ah, look, they are spawning! The hot season must be their mating season. They have even taken off most of their outer decorations (clothes).”

    “Yes, yes! Spawning! What a delight! Oh, and look over here, where some of them have larger dwellings. Each dwelling has its own spawning pool! These must be a different class of being that needs to make sure their gene-transfer remains controlled. They are eusocial! This was not in the last report!”

    Without emic data to correct this conclusion, we get an Ethnography of Sol 3 that paints us eusocial (like bees or ants that display clear dimorphism or poly morphism depending on the role of the individual) creatures that return to the ocean or individual spawning pool every summer to make babies.​
     
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2020
  7. NigeTheHat

    NigeTheHat Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 20, 2008
    Messages:
    1,514
    Likes Received:
    1,624
    Location:
    London
    I'm almost done with it at the moment. Was given a copy for Christmas, picked it up properly the weekend before last, had got through 200 pages by the end of the first Saturday. Seriously impressed with his worldbuilding.

    I read another of his, Dogs Of War, last year. Very different book, but also extremely good. Would definitely recommend.
     
    Iain Aschendale likes this.
  8. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Ex-Patriot Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2015
    Messages:
    18,217
    Likes Received:
    34,594
    Location:
    Face down in the dirt
    Currently Reading::
    Telemachus Sneezed
    I'm about halfway through Children of Ruin now, and it's up to the standard of its predecessor without being repetitive.
     
    NigeTheHat, Steerpike and Cave Troll like this.

Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.
    Dismiss Notice