29 March 2000
Test Challenges for Alien Encounter:
Communicating with Aliens (Part I)
- / -
Part I: Test challenges
for alien encounter
Part II: Strategic
clues for alien communication
Part III: Distinguishing patterns
of assumption in dialogue with aliens
Part IV: Designing a team
for alien encounter
The SETI debates have included cautionary arguments about the
possibility that aliens might be hostile. But this perspective, most easily
dealt with by military attitudes, tends to be set aside in favour of an assumption
that aliens would necessarily be intelligent and motivated to communicate in
a way that fits comfortably into western assumptions -- to the point of commercializing
the despatch of personal messages into deep space at a charge of $14.95 each.
Unfortunately the assumptions associated with this process do
not seem to have been explored. Reliance on number theory as a basis for developing
communication could easily be interpreted as a convenient projection by a psycho-socially
unchallenged scientific milieu -- which has its own internal communication problems
between disciplines for which no common language has yet been developed. The
nature of the challenge can perhaps best be scoped out by exploring the difficulties
of communicating with the 'aliens' that are frequently encountered
in the daily life of a global society.
In exploring these challenges it is worth reflecting on the Aztec
culture which, according to some archeologists, was effectively destroyed by
its own surprise at the arrival of the conquistadores in 1519 -- in conformity
with predictions by its own priesthood. It could not respond effectively to
the surprising nature of those who arrived -- or the diseases they brought.
To what extent does modern civilization -- with its own apocalyptic and doom-mongering
'priesthoods' -- have lessons to learn from the cultural unpreparedness
of the Aztecs? Is our civilization as brittle and inward-looking as that of
the Aztecs proved to be? Many strategic studies relating to the future of modern
governance stress the challenge of surprise in a turbulent environment. How
might aliens surprise us and undermine assumptions vital to the integrity of
our civilization? And why is it almost universally assumed that they would bring
no microbial lifeforms that might be highly problematic for some species on
In the examples which follow it is not the issues of negotiating
the evident differences -- already difficult enough -- but understanding what
those differences may imply. A major part of the challenge may come from unforeseen
ways in which humans are challenged by what aliens value as 'positive'
as well as what they necessarily question as 'positive' in human society.
Then there is the challenge of what aliens value as 'negative', including
differences in their evaluation of what humans consider as 'negative'
-- especially when it is accompanied by deep denial. For an extensively documented
review of such challenges as they manifest in the relationships between modern
culture and the 'alien' cultures of indigenous peoples, see the study
by the United Nations Environment Programme: Cultural and Spiritual Values
of Biodiversity: a complementary contribution to global biodiversity asessment
The experiences of 'alienness' in communicating with
'normal' terrestrials can be clustered as follows:
A: Language: challenge between languages
- of same group (English-French, English-Greek)
- of different language groups (English-Chinese, English-Hopi)
- of different accent (Average English-Caribbean English)
- of different subculture (Average English-Teenage jargon)
- of different age group (older/parent--younger/teenager)
- of different gender (male (chauvinist) -- female (feminist))
- of different ideology (right-wing (establishment -- left-wing (revolutionary))
- of different computer languages (Windows -- Macintosh -- Unix)
Some of these challenges are best explored in the light of the
work on linguistic typology. The challenges of communication with aliens are
perhaps best exemplified in the classic parent-teenager situations, where supposedly
a common language is in use -- and despite lack of familiarity with prime number
theory ! The challenges of communication with mothers-in-law are a continuing
theme of drama. The appropriate language for communication between sexes has
been explored in a variety of ways in many cultures known to anthropologists
-- challenging assumptions about how neutral aliens may be to such matters.
In discussing aliens, it is ironic that a current best-seller is entitled Men
are from Mars and Women from Venus!
In a discussion of anthropomorphism, Stuart Watt (The
Lion, the Bat, and the Wardrobe: myths and metaphors in cognitive science)
comments on Ludwig Wittgenstein's (Philosophical Investigations, 1953)
point "if a lion could talk, we could not understand him". Watt remarks, in
points relevant to any foreseen communication with aliens:
Wittgenstein's point was that language forms part of a larger "language-game"
outside which that language cannot be understood: the language is shaped by
aspects of the language-game that form "outward criteria" for it, implying
that since humans and lions don't share language-games they cannot share language
or understanding. Unfortunately, it isn't that simple. Somehow we intuitively
feel that we could interpret, to some very small degree, what a lion would
say to us, even though we don't speak 'Lion.' A lot of human interaction is
based in paralinguistic rather than linguistic communication.
It would be interesting to see a typology of cultures, in the
light of cultural anthropology and cross-cultural psychology, that could be
used to identify test challenges for communication with aliens -- and to hypothesize
the existence of challenges in cases which are outside any such Earth-bound
framework. Of special interest is the possibility may have fundamental concepts
that cannot be translated into any human language. Examples in the case of human
languages havge been well-explored by Howard Rheingold (1988) and suggest the
need for an Encyclopedia
of Conceptual Insights from the World's Cultures.
The case of communication between incompatible computer languages
is intriguing because of the precise intermediary steps involved in ensuring
an appropriate interface.
B: Behavioral contexts
Challenge of overlays of etiquette
/ protocol between:
- Average Westerner -- Southern African Bushman
- Average Westerner -- Aristocrat (at court)
- Average Westerner -- Diplomat
- Average Westerner -- Gypsy
- Average Westerner -- Spiritual hierarch (charismatic guru, etc)
Etiquette may be of far greater consequence to communication than
is assumed in the crude etiquette of average western society. This may be more
clearly seen in less common cultures -- and most readily accessible in simplifed
form in the country-by-country Culturgrams
produced by a program of Brigham Young University. Is there a case for an interactive
cross-cultural web database on etiquette and protocol to guide people venturing
into challenging dialogues that may be filled with behavioural minefields and
protocol traps that could potentially undermine any fruitful outcome?
Such challenges have been most charmingly exemplified in a scene
from The Gods Must Be Crazy where the desert bushman reaches out to take
the muzzle of a revolver pointed at him in anger -- thinking it was some kind
of gift to be graciously accepted. It is therefore very possible that when the
aliens gesture to indicate some distant possibility, humans (like dogs) will
look attentively and expectantly at the gesturing portion of the alien anatomy.
More challenging to the westerner is the continuing problem of
communication between 'castes', such as those of Hindu culture, in
which associating with a westerner may itself be problematic for the higher
castes. An intriguing test case is the process of interaction with a gypsy group,
perhaps one of the best defined 'aliens' in western society -- and
visiting extraterrestrials could well be interstellar gypsies looking for a
place to camp for a while.
Perhaps the most obvious challenge is that associated with gender
bias. It is only in very recent years that gender bias in formal dialogue has
been to some degree overcome amongst westerners. It is still the case that the
presence of women in dialogue with Arabian cultures, for example, can be extremely
problematic. Japanese culture, for example, makes assumptions about the seriousness
of dialogue where younger generations are present -- also an only recently overcome
bias in the West. For aliens, of course, the reverse may well apply in each
case. The West is developing its own cult of youth -- notably in the high tech
industries and the fundamental sciences, where creativity is not to be expected
beyond a certain age.
Many have explored the communication challenges of relating to
gurus or other people held to be of spiritual authority. Especially interesting
is where the special conditions of such communication raise issues about the
replicability of development-related insights across cultures, as explored in
an earlier paper concerning the Swadhyaya (Judge,
C: Behavioural attributes
Challenges of communication
- Average Westerner -- Dwarf/Midget
- Average Westerner -- Super-gifted, genius, etc
- Average Westerner -- Mentally or behaviorally challenged
- Average Westerner -- Exceptionally beautiful, elegant, etc
- Average Westerner -- Exceptionally ugly
Communication may be severely conditioned by differences in physical
or psychological attributes and how they are to be negotiated by both parties,
as has been amply demonstrated in human societies.
Aliens may have quite different memory (and mental) capacity to
that of humans, whether individually or collectively. In human scieties the
erosion of collective memory, especially in a situation of information overload,
can lead to many dysfunctionalites (explored in Judge,
1982). There is a striking parallel between the many attempts by the UN Secretary
General to communicate to world society the urgency of the present human situation
and the following fictional account of an analogous situation for an alien encountering
a planet-bound individual:
To say that he understood what went on was true. To say that he did not
understand -- was true. I would sit and explain, over and over again. He listened,
his eyes fixed on my face, his lips moving as he repeated to himself what
I was saying. He would nod: yes, he had grasped it. But a few minutes later,
when I might be saying something of the same kind, he was uncomfortable, threatened.
Why was I saying that? and that? his troubled eyes asked of my face: What
did I mean? His questions at such moments were as if I had never taught him
anything at all. He was like one drugged or in shock. Yet it seemed that he
did absorb information for sometimes he would talk as if from a basis of shared
knowledge: it was as if a part of him knew and remembered all I told him,
but other parts had not heard a word. I have never before or since had so
strongly that experience of being with a person and knowing that all the time
there was certainly a part of that person in contact with you, something real
and alive and listening -- and yet most of the time what one said did not
reach that silent and invisible being, and what he said was not often said
by the real part of him. It was as if someone stood there bound and gagged
while an inferior impersonator spoke for him. (Doris Lessing. Re: Colonised
Planet 5 - Shikasta, London, 1979, pp. 56-57).
What may aliens believe that we have equivalent difficulty in
understanding? The collective inadequacy of society in the face of information
on the world problematique suggests that such aberrations should be reviewed
carefully. Collective memory would seem to be exposed to processes leading to
its very rapid erosion. Psychiatrist Ronald Laing has given an account which
can be interpreted as dramatising the problem of institutional and inter-institutional
learning (see elsewhere)
that may be relevant to how aliens will experience humans. Such examples suggest
that understanding the possible constraints on societal learning in the presence
of aliens could benefit from a systematic review of the pathology of individual
memory (see elsewhere)
-- notably with respect to its fragmentation, whether as systems almost completely
independent of each other, or individually in their isolation of subject categories
from each other.
D: Different agendas
Challenges of communication between:
- Average Westerner -- Media attention freak (movie star, etc)
- Average Westerner -- Mafia gangster
- Average Westerner -- Demonic cultists, satanist, etc
- Average Westerner -- Obsessive salesperson, con-artist, etc
- Average Westerner -- Obsessive entrepreneur, 'developer', etc
- Average Westerner -- Security freak, agoraphobe, etc
- Average Westerner -- Health freak, or severely/chronically/terminally ill
- Average Westerner -- Obsessive seducer, nymphomaniac, etc
- Average Westerner -- Obsessive substance abuser
- Average Westerner -- Obsessive (psycho)therapist
- Average Westerner -- Obsessive religious proselytizer, soul-saver, etc
- Average Westerner -- Obsessive socio-politcal reformer
- Average Westerner -- Political subversive, terrorist, etc
- Average Westerner -- Political refugee / Economic refugee
- Average Westerner -- Hypernationalist (Yugoslavia, etc)
- Average Westerner -- Obsessive gambler
- Average Westerner -- Obsessive property claimant
- Average Westerner -- Obsessive hunter (scalps, trophies, booty, or food)
These cases point to the ways in which the interest of the alien
in any communication may be far from as innocent as the SETI programs assume.
From the reverse perspective, presentation of a sequence of prime numbers by
a visiting alien, desirous of establishing communication with any of the above
could have quite laughable consequences. Such examples make clear that in an
encounter with an alien the process may not be a neutral, innocent exercises
in mutual curiosity.
Science fiction scenarios have vaunted human skills as traders,
but humans may even be perceived like a special food to some aliens (caviar
for extraterrestrials !). Groups concerned by alien abduction have articulated
their own perspective on 'communication' with aliens. Intelligence
aside, it may be that aliens have more developed skills in areas in which humans
are totally naive.
The legal issues may be significant, especially since the aliens
would necessarily be defined as 'stateless' and subject to the many
challenges of statelessness. More intriguing is the possibility that the aliens
may have a more highly developed sense of property, to the degree that any utterance
by them may be considered personal property (for which some unforeseen 'release'
may be obligatory), or that they would be free to lay claim to real estate and
mining rights according to some galactic regime (in a manner similar to European
colonial claims on American soil in recent centuries past). Current concern
with the patenting of genetic products from developing countries may point to
the need of aliens to act in a similar manner -- perhaps as a consequence of
obsession with extremely challenging diseases (such as the equivalent of AIDS).
Science fiction has explored scenarios of dying alien civilizations subject
to chronical illness for which remedies are desperately sought at any cost.
The use of humans for alien breeding programs is another theme -- making 'alien
abduction' a major preoccupation for some. The human equivalent, in the
form of (forced) acquisition and trading in physical organs, should not be forgotten.
Genetically modified animals are now being used by humans to produce new drugs
-- a process known as 'pharming' that aliens may have developed in
ways that humans would find challenging.
Also intriguing is whether the arriving aliens are accompanied
by special guarantors of appropriateness in the person of the equivalent of:
a priest (as with Columbus), a political commissar (as with Communist regimes),
an intelligence agent (reporting to secret military authorities), the representative
of the equivalent of Galactic Greenpeace (preoccupied by the environment) or
Amnesty Galactica (concerned by species rights), a trading agent (to ensure
the commercial prospects of multigalactic corporations), or a scientific researcher
-- as some would like to assume. Which might be dominant, and what others might
Some have speculated that aliens might have strong game-playing
agendas the outcome of which would determine the form of communication with
humans. Such games are as likely to be mental as emotional. The mental variants
would delight (or depress) the IQ-obsessed, as with the mathematical puzzles
favoured by Mensa. The psychological and emotional variants, used by humans
in occupational tests, might be another matter -- although those resonating
with the psycho-cultural dimensions of Hermann Hesse's famous Glass Bead
Game (discussed in Part
II) might be especially intriguing. If the tests take the form of virtual
reality simulations the uncertainties might increase considerably. If they are
situational, as with some Japanese-style executive team-building programs (termed
'hell camps'), it is quite unclear how prepared humans might be --
especially if the stakes are a matter of life or death. The current avid enthusiasm
for videogames may however be a vital preparation for such games. Perhaps aliens
might make use of virtual 'avatars' to portray and explore a variety
of positions in virtual role-playing -- or maybe this is done through forms
of psychodrama (as with the Transformation
Some might hope that aliens will have a strong spiritual preoccupation,
affirming religious beliefs of mankind -- and Earth's 'universal'
values. An appropriate tone of dialogue may be evoked by some equivalent of
preliminary prayer, attunement or meditation. Arranging this process, and its
aesthetics, can also be fraught with challenges and traps -- as outlined in
an earlier paper (Judge,
1997) based on the challenges of inter-faith dialogue. Clearly there is a high
probability that there spiritual beliefs would be 'alien' in many
ways that would make humans extremely uncomfortable and offer every opportunity
for negative stereotypes. They may have very strong proselytizing agendas like
the Christian charismatics -- effectively visiting Earth on a door-to-door-missionary
circuit armed with an appropriate sacred text through which humanity should
Checklist of possible alien purposes (incomplete)
||'because its there'
||sport, mountains, waves
||missionary / charity
||photo safari analogue
|for the opera (Wagner!)
||for the art
|'for a laugh'
||carnival / to party
||'to hang out'
||food (blood, vampire, etc)
||bodies for breeding
|tax write off analogue
|infliction of pain
||'human rights' analogue
| products / minerals
||military / security / strategic
||rest / recuperation
The ultimate irony would be if the communication priorities of
the visit mirrored those of the international community in relating to developing
countries (and transitional economies) -- namely concerned the severe underdevelopment
of the planet, the treatment of 'minority' species, and the need to
implement a variety of remedies through some stringent austerity programs à
la IMF (designed by galactic economists preoccupied by the unquestionable
logic of rapid galactization or universalization). Science fiction has frequently
explored the possibility that they might be refugees from environmental collapse,
terror or exploitation elsewhere.
E: Different knowledge disciplines (epistemological frameworks)
- Average Westerner -- Pure mathematician
- Average Westerner -- Lawyer
- Average Westerner -- Psychologist
- Average Westerner -- Cybernetician
- Average Westerner -- Engineer
- Average Westerner -- Biologist
- Average Westerner -- Political scientist
- Average Westerner -- Religious dogmatist (Catholic, Islam, Hindu, Buddhist)
The challenges in human society of communication with specialists,
or conveying their insights to others, are well-documented -- as are the tragic
dynamics of communications between specialists, even of the same discipline.
Practitioners of opposing schools of thought can readily perceive each other
as totally alien -- even in the same university common room. Those strongly
identified with a particular discipline, whether mathematics or classical music,
are commonly understood to perceive those that do not share their enthusiasm
The implications of use of different patterns of logic, beyond
the binary logic favoured by Western cultures, has been explored in an earlier
paper (Judge, 1982), but
especially by Magoroh Maruyama. Even the constraining tendency towards polarization
can be usefully reframed in the light of non-Western insights (Judge,
1998) as an illustrative challenge of the possible nature of dialogue with aliens.
Such exercises are valuable reminders when endeavouring to deal with cultures
that have a different relationship to space and time.
F: Different temporal contexts
- Average Westerner -- Gung-ho, high pressure yuppie
- Average Westerner -- Hanging out style (Caribbean, etc)
- Average American -- Latin style
- Average American -- Arab style
- Average Westerner -- 'Eternal' style (Vatican, monasteries, ashrams,
Aliens may not favour directive, instrumental communication. Scheduling
a dialogue may be the kind of nightmare which northern Europeans experience
in dealing with other cultures. As in some rural and other contexts, communication
may only be considered possible after a variety of lengthy processes of co-existence
and mutual adjustment. Also intriguing is whether the aliens would be primarily
concerned with the past (the historical sweep of their own cultural evolution),
the future (evolution of their culture), or the present encounter with humans.
Like the Hopi or the Australian Aborigines, aliens may have a different relationship
to time and the co-presence of the past.
Like many Asians, even amongst elites, successful communication
for the aliens may be highly dependent on the auspiciousness of the time --
just as many westerners are averse to acting on days about which there are superstitions
(such as the 13th, notably Friday the 13th). It would be ironic if, in terms
of galactic time, the recent non-communication with humanity was due to the
20th century having been an inauspicious period for dialogue -- or perhaps the
century was the galactic equivalent of Ramadan or the Sabbath.
Much more intriguing is the possibility that aliens may have an
entirely different understanding of time. This might be described by humans
in terms of either a much more rapid pace or a much slower pace. If faster,
their experience would be akin to that of encountering the slowest of country
bumpkins (intriguingly a key presenter at the Davos 2000 Forum spoke so rapidly
that the chairperson had to promise to replay the presentation at half speed).
Humans might experience them like mayflies. If slower, as perhaps befitting
a species that had achieved longevity, humans experience of them might resemble
that of encountering a guru who only responded in dialogue after an hour or
day of reflection on any remark made.
G: Different spatial contexts
- Average American distance -- Latin touching/proximity
- Average American distance -- Diplomatic/Aristocratic distance
- Average American distance -- Chinese/Japanese imperial distance
Only a few decades in the past the degree of physical distance
considered appropriate between the cultured and others was very high. Marked
traces of this remain in the attitude of diplomats and government officials,
whose status and identity may be largely defined by the distance they maintain
from those they consider their inferiors. Aliens may hold such views to a much
higher degree, or may practice the reverse (possibly even requiring a degree
of intimate contact that would be considered offensively invasive). However,
reduced distance does not imply successful communication, even when it may seem
to do so.
In addition to differing senses of appropriate linear distances,
there could well be radical differences in the configuration of participants
considered appropriate to meaningful dialogue. Traces of this are to be seen
in setting up a table arrangements for a multilateral peace negotiation or great
power summits -- on which much preliminary negotiating time can be spent. Current
concern about terrorist groups is relevant in that it is claimed that such groups
do not want to get 'a place at the table' but rather to 'destroy
the table'. Other variants can be seen in ritual settings, notably with
respect to some religions, and especially those based on pagan or magical inspirations
stressing geometrical configuration of participants. Aliens may react like some
dialogue groups who see any table structure as an inappropriate separating device
between participants, as well as symbolically differentiating between what is
above (or on) the table from what is below (under) or off the table. Much is
made of this symbolism in secretive arrangements and 'under the table'
deals. This is more clearly recognized in Eastern cultures where there is as
much sensitivity to what is said as to what is not said (cf the Japanese distinction
between tatemae and honne, between the explicitly stated and the
unspoken realities). It leads to conditions in which people say one thing and
do something different -- typical of the more cynical at many international
Aliens may be far more sensitive to the geographical locus of
dialogue -- following the kinds of preference of those who consider that only
meetings in spiritual or 'powerful' locations are effective or meaningful.
What assumptions might aliens make about effective configurations and locations?
H: Different historical socio-technical eras
- 20th century western -- 15th century western
- 20th century western -- 10th century western
- 20th century western -- 5th century western
- 20th century western -- 0th century western
Many studies have explored the changes in mindsets over the centuries
and the nature of the challenge of communicating with a person from centuries
past, whether a genius like Leonardo da Vinci, or with the less educated or
I: Different species
Challenges of communication between:
- Average Westerner -- Other primates (chimpanzees, etc)
- Average Westerner -- Other mammals (dolphins, whales, horses, dogs, etc)
- Average Westerner -- Spiders, snakes, snails, scorpions
- Average Westerner -- Plants
The first two are the subject of extensive research. Many have
experience of the nature of communication with pets -- and even with plants.
The challenge of communication with aliens is that humans may have the same
status for them as pets -- and judged like other mammals (lacking some quality
analogous to a soul) as being essentially challenged in their ability to communicate.
It is also possible that the prime galactic criterion determining the basis
for any communication is that the species in question be able to demonstrate
its unambigious recognition of intelligence in species other than its own --
totally in contrast to the speciesism implict in the Universal Declaration of
Why is it assumed that aliens would be of a single distinct species,
when they may come as symbionts or an ecosystem -- a cluster of mutually dependent
species. For humans this can be best understood by those who have a strong bond
with pets and cannot travel without them. Some may travel on them -- like parrots
-- but whether the rider or the ridden is the intelligent partner may be an
initial challenge in any dialogue. As with guide dogs, animals may be essential
to the ability of the aliens to interact with their surroundings -- or perhaps
they may ride them like horses. The human-alien dialogue process may be conditioned
by the possibility of interaction via such 'pets'. Aliens may wonder
why human conferences only allow decorative plants as companion species, and
fail to benefit from the communication processes catalyzed by animal species.
After all as 'working dogs', a team of Labradors could well have a
role as dialogue facilitators in any conference -- following recent experiments
in such use in convalescent homes. Presumably, unlike Hindu temples, the only
animals tolerated in United Nations conferences on environmental issues are
guide-dogs for the visually handicapped. Aliens may well see the need for animals
as an essential aid to the emotionally handicapped. In this respect it is worth
reflecting on current human use of animal mascots by the military, and in Christmas
or harvest celebrations in churches (cf use of donkeys, sheep and cows).
There is also the possibility that aliens may perceive humans
themselves as belonging to a variety of co-dependent species -- if they define
'species' in terms of function in society (qualities that humans associate
with academic disciplines, occupations, inter-personal roles, class, belief
systems, ideologies, etc). For them, dialogue may require inter-action with
a healthy ecosystem of such human species -- a real challenge to an interdisciplinarily
challenged academic community.
J: Different modes of communication
- Verbal conversation -- Song (bird song, etc)
- Verbal conversation -- Touch (bird grooming, etc)
- Verbal conversation -- Smell (pheromones, etc)
- Verbal conversation -- Taste (kissing, licking, etc)
- Verbal conversation -- Movement, gesture, etc
- Verbal conversation -- Empathy, telepathy, etc
The procedure of verbal negotiation may be considered as a very
narrow band mode of communication, as it is in many human cultures and relationships.
The contrast has long been made between the vital use of gestures by Latin cultures
and its disparagement by non-Latin cultures as an indicator of inadequate education
(see especially the paper by Bernard J Hibbitts on performance cultures). Some
human subcultures even attach great importance to intuitive communication, whether
it is interpreted as sympathy, empathy, or telepathy. Alien aesthetics may well-perceive
the preferred modes of humans as totally uncouth.
Even amongst humans, the total impact of a message is reported
to down like this: 7 percent verbal (words); 38 percent vocal (volume, pitch,
rhythm, etc); 55 percent body movements (mostly facial expressions, eye contact).
However these percentages may vary with cultures, as is indicated by Japanese
preferences for avoidance of eye contact, and for the challenges of eye contact
between the sexes, notably in Islamic cultures. The discomfort that many feel
with videoconferencing as a communication medium may be indicative of another
challenge. What would the situation be with aliens?
In the light of the traditional interest of human elites in communication
with the supernatural (whether framed in religious terms or otherwise), it is
possible that the aliens may be more dependent on 'channelling' than
humans -- to the considerable annoyance of natural scientists. This dimension
is regularly explored in the popular series Star Trek -- which has a
telepathic empath as a regular crew member.
Aside from the challenge of infectious disease during the dialogue
process, there is a subtler challenge of non-physical consequences of the dialogue
process. The exchange may result in humans being memetically modified, and it
may result in some form of communicable mental or affective disturbance. Just
as encountering some humans can be experienced as inherently depressing, negative,
and an energy drain, much more severe consequences may result from alien contact.
Science fiction has explored scenarios in which contact might send people mad.
Of course many are optimistic that the reverse may be the case. This too could
be a challenge if humans become effectively enchanted or entranced by aliens
whose behaviour holds them spellbound -- as media stars can affect human teeny-boppers.
The overwhelming impact of such future development of public relations techniques
on human susceptibilities might be imagined in the light of the effects of present
day techniques on isolated peoples of the world.
Earlier, reference was made to the possibility that aliens might
consider normal in dialogue a degree of intimacy (whether physical or psychological)
that humans would experience as extremely challenging -- although the reverse
might also be the case if it was the aliens who required high degrees of distance
during social intercourse. Just as some people engage in social intercourse
in a manner which can be perceived as very 'forward' -- 'coming
on strong' -- it may be that aliens would have a degree of engagement in
such intercourse that was more reminiscent of an intense courtship initiative.
This might be expected to engender some form of inter-cultural progeny through
inter-cultural analogues to the reproductive process. They might perceive encounters
between species and cultures as having more in common, in psycho-behavioural
terms, with 'making love' than with the rigidities of diplomatic protocol
and conventional dialogue. This would be an ironic inter-cultural echo of the
1960s slogan: 'make love, not war'. Their manual of inter-cultural
intercourse might bear more resemblance to the Kama Sutra than to convcentional
manuals on negotiation and dialogue.
Do these possibilities raise the need for some form of conceptual
contraceptive to ensure 'safe dialogue'? Or maybe it will be aliens
who are more concerned at being memetically contaminated -- like members of
some sects who strongly discourage contact with non-believers.
K: Different modes of confirming trust and confidence bonds
- Giving one's word
- Sharing blood (blood-bonds)
- Signing documents
- Drinking / Breaking bread together
- Sharing (bed) partners
- Making a sacrifice
It would be a mistake to believe that signifiers of agreement
with aliens can be focussed on some variant of document signing. A useful contrast
to average Western engagement is with the Japanese understanding of giri.
Use of forms of contractual bondage could also be explored. It is worth recalling
the treaties cynically made by the Europeans with indigenous peoples in colonial
lands, and how their commitments were skillfully avoided or ignored by arrogant
authorities. Humanity might well find itself in the position of the indigenous
peoples in dealing with the equivalent of galactic law and the loopholes through
which treaty commitments could later be manipulated to the disadvantage of humans.
But it may be into conceptual, rather than territorial, 'reservations'
that humans are effectively encouraged to move.
Again, in the not too distant past, both dialogues and agreements
could be given special significance by sacrifice. After all sacrifice of animals
is still considered appropriate by some major religions at religious feasts
(even in Brussels, special containers have to be provided annually to collect
the remains) or to celebrate the opening of new building complexes. So why assume
that aliens would not consider this appropriate before a dialogue?
It should not be forgotten that our civilization effectively requires
human sacrifice prior to adopting any new health and safety legislation -- no
deaths, no legislation. It is just a question of how many bodies are required
to gain passage of the legislation, just as cultures of the past have made greater
sacrifices in response to greater need. The aliens may see our approach as we
see that of the Aztecs. In this respect, it is worth rememberng that in the
USA in 1996, about forty-five million turkeys were slaughtered for Thanksgiving
(and twenty-two million for Christmas, and nineteen million for Easter). In
what respect should this not be considered a sacrifice? The same may be asked
about Christmas trees. The question is especially pertinent to dialogue with
aliens if they resemble turkeys or pine trees.
L: Different degrees of personal enhancement (cosmetic, bodily
modification, genetic, memetic)
- Cosmetics (including fragrances)
- Minor modifications (cosmetic surgery)
- Piercing, tattooing
- Mechanical implants (breasts, etc)
- Electronic implants (interfaces, etc)
- Biological implants (symbionts)
- Psychological implants (cognitive systems, personalities, etc)
These may be vital signifiers of status (or lack of it), as they
have been in human societies. Strong judgements may be attached to their use,
as has been the case with human attitudes to cosmetics (eg Protestant purists).
Some humans already envisage implants of various kinds to enhance their interface
with data networks -- as well as the many possibilities of nanotechnology for
personal enhancement. There has been speculation that aliens may have a closer
integration with machines. Others are already focused on the possibilities of
genetic modification which aliens may have taken to what humans would consider
More intriguing is the possibility that the differences between
humans and aliens may be undertsood in terms of memetic, rather than genetic,
modification. Focused education is effectively a process of memetic engineering
to implant new meme patterns -- especially in the case of indoctrination as
practiced in some military, religious, political, or business education programs.
Aliens may understand this in terms of memetic implants and again may have taken
the process to extremes beyond that achieved by academic specialization and
religious schism formation. This would be specially relevant if aliens assumed
the appropriateness of 'corrective memetic surgery' to remove unwanted
patterns -- as effectively practiced in cruder forms in human 're-education
programs'. Given the recognized need to change behaviour to meet environmental
challenges, the aliens may see it as appropriate for them to facilitate this
corrective process -- with a benevolent interventionist policy analogous to
that of the World Health Organization vaccination programs. Objectors to such
vaccination, as with Jehovah's Witness opposition to vaccination, would need
to be dealt with.
M: Different value systems
Challenge of non-conformity
with galactic equivalent of:
- Trade law standards
- Human rights standards
- Health and safety standards
- Military security standards
- Environmental standards
- Cultural development standards
- Indecent information (privacy, obscenity, pornography, etc)
- Species rights standards
- Child rights standards
Human standards may be viewed with repugnance, notably when they
signal underlying attitudes to alien species -- still challenged by issues of
colour and ethnicity amongst human species. As noted earlier, the conformity
of Earth's 'universal' values to galactic standards may be a real
challenge to human society. An ironic example might be galactic concern with
radio emissions from Earth as a noisy neighbour (especially at $14.95 a message)
-- an analogue to the challenge of pollution by carbon emissions.
Unlike the emphasis on the accumulation of wealth, it is possible
that aliens may be preoccupied with the accumulation of some other value. Buddhists,
for example, seek to accumulate merit. Some traditional societies have sought
to accumulate honour. Urban gangs may be primarily concerned with accumulation
of respect or reputation.
Aliens may value life quite differently. As with some human soceities
of the past (and some military leaders of the present), lives may be quite expendable
in pursuit of some larger cause. The case of fanatical suicide bombers and kamikaze
pilots should be borne in mind. As with certain religions, reincarantion may
be a fundamental reality. The consequence of this might be dialogue situations
in which participants are deliberately placed at extreme risk merely to test
out communication hypotheses. The lack of reluctance of governments in this
respect has been recently remarked in the case of experimentation on prisoners,
military personnel and hospital patients in connection with radioactivity and
N: Different understanding of the nature of agreement, disagreement
- Meaning of universal (with the contrasts of uniformity, unity-within-diversity,
- Meaning of global
- Meaning of agree versus disagree (with the extremes of physical opposition
and musical harmony as possibilities)
Aliens may have a richer or much narrower understanding of these
concepts. An agreement may brook no disagreement and may imply subservience
to some distant power (as with the colonial relationship to the British monarch).
Alternatively emphasis may be placed on the interplay between agreement and
disagreement; as with the musical interplay between consonance and dissonance
through which coherence or incoherence is judged. Concern may be far more with
the quality of the interplay than any statistical measure of agreement. As with
the Chinese concepts of wa, wei and shih, the aliens may seek
above all to maximize an insightful, elegant kind of knowledge -- a special
quality of knowing.
Especially intriguing is that aliens may attach far greater importance
to understandings of transdisciplinarity, conceptual integration and coherence
than is characteristic of human society with its plethora of academic and other
disciplines dedicated to fragmentation, specialization, turfism and mutual hostility.
Aliens may have a quite different understanding of 'global conversation'
than exchanging emails and photographs with people on the other side of the
globe -- a theme explored in an earlier paper (Judge,
1997). In this respect, as noted earlier, and to the extent that aliens attach
importance to mathematics, there is the possibility that they may assess the
value of communicating with humanity more in terms of the integrative order
which humanity has been able to give to mathematics as a whole (rather than
to a specialized 'branch' concerned with number theory). This is tentatively
explored in a separate paper (Judge,
There is an assumption that, however aliens signify whatever meaning
they attach to agreement, that it would be to some conventional text -- structured
into a laundry list of articles as with human legislation and treaties. Amazingly
there has been no innovation whatsoever in the structure of such documents since
they were first used. However aliens may expect that the structure of an agreement
should be, to the extent possible, isomorphous with the system of preoccupations
that is the subject of the agreement. Minimally this suggests (hyper)links between
parts of the text defining the feedback loops of checks and balances -- as is
done with some modelling techniques. The ability to develop such 'behavioural
flowcharts' may for them be a criterion for meaningful dialogue. Laundry
lists may signify that humanity falls below a threshold of ability to enter
into dialogue capable of operational agreement -- a form of incompetence which
human societies associate with those judged legally incompetent to act. Aliens
may also deliberately structure agreements and declarations to embody polarizing
dimensions that tend in practice to tear apart human agreements (as tentatively
explored in a Structure of concluding declarations ).
Aliens may have developed ways to reflect the content of complex
agreements in visual, or other patterns, as humans may come to do in the light
of their use of system flow charts. But their aesthetic qualities may be considered
a vital attribute -- making them resemble carpets or tapestries perhaps. In
this respect it is worth reflecting on the encounter between the Spanish conquistadores
and the Inca who used quipu instead of written records -- complex networks
of coloured, knotted strings, some weighing up to 20 kilos and composed of tens
of thousands of knots. These allowed them to organize information (including
their agreements) in a non-linear manner. These media were systematically destroyed
by the 'aliens' from Europe. What might human texts contain that would
cause aliens to destroy them all?
O: Different sense of content and modality
Different understanding of:
It is readily assumed that aliens will be as interested in responses
to a barrage of questions and answers as are western tourists in exotic locations.
Aliens may reframe any question/answer focus within an unexpected context. An
earlier paper (Judge,
1982) explored the challenges of questionable answers, the 'answer economy',
and possibilities of shifting into a more complex pattern of strategic dialogue.
The Web provides an interesting metaphor in that it is through
the universal use of 'browsers' that the process of question and answer
is sustained. But in nature there are predators who feed on browsers, just as
there are those who are designing Web usage to exploit browser users in various
ways. The human question-and-answer process may be encouraged ('cultivated')
by aliens in a similar manner.
However, even amongst existing cultures of the world there are
many who do not give priority to questions and answers in their encounters,
nor to the facts and opinions which arise from such interactions. Greater priority
may be attached to patterns of behaviour, courtesy and attentiveness, for example.
The assumption that aliens will have any motivation to engage in the kind of
structured discourse that would satisfy scientists, is indeed an assumption
of the 20th century. Like the tourists, their motivations may be cultural, philosophic,
religious, or otherwise. Alternatively, as with military agents, they may only
be willing to disclose the equivalent of 'name, rank, and serial number'
-- possibly disguised within a pattern of disinformation. Would western military
agencies require of their agents to do otherwise under such circumstances --
especially when some equivalent of 'national security' was considered
to be at stake?
There is another well-documented challenge exemplified by Japanese
avoidance of negative answers -- the use of 'no'. Aliens may have
a range of linguistic sensitivities of this kind -- possibly including reluctance
to discuss numbers for 'religious' reasons (as was the case at the
time of some early Christian heresies regarding the trinity). Edward de Bono
(1972) has explored ways of moving beyond 'yes' or 'no'
in a dialogue -- namely through the use of 'po'. He maintains that
most of us are trapped within the rigid confines of traditional thinking, limited
by concepts which have developed simply for the purpose of arriving at the 'right'
answer. While humanity has advanced technologically, in the realm of ideas and
thought processes we are, he says, still using the restricted and the restricting
concepts that have always been used. Po is a device for changing our ways of
thinking: a method for approaching problems in a new and more creative way.
The basis of logical thinking is the word "no". By enabling you to reject what
is wrong, it allows you to be right at each step. The new word, Po, is a new
thinking tool - but with a completely different function. Po lets you step outside
the harsh rigidity of the Yes/No system and change from the present thought
pattern to creating new ideas.
Aliens may well be more 'politically correct' in their
own terms than the most extreme in human society. It is worth remembering the
tendency of some very active religious groups today to suspect the demonic in
discourse alien to their own -- even after past centuries of witch-hunts. However,
it is virtually certain that some religious groups will perceive aliens as necessarily
demonic since their origins will call into question (or reinforce) some interpretations
of sacred scriptures. To many the arrival of aliens may be symbolically heralded
by 'luciferian' phenomena (recalling biblical predictions) resulting
from the operations of their spacecraft. Such factors will make it extremely
problematic to initiate and maintain fruitful dialogue.
There is also the possibility that the aliens may be primarily
intrigued by the curiosity or entertainment value of contact with humans --
just as many tourists visit exotic locations, from within protective environments
(buses, hotels), to take away photographs and other memories, leaving little
of meaning in exchange. Aliens may be the ultimate 'couch potatoes'
such that media communications from the Earth are avidly watched within a radius
of 100 light years -- with FTL relays to other parts of the galaxy. Earth may
be seen as the Hollywood of the sector -- observed liked Dynasty or Dallas
as the ultimate soap opera. Like Western tourists, there may be little impulse
for more meaningful contact. Worse still, as explored in the Truman Show,
civilization on Earth may have been set up and maintained as an entertainment
show or experiment.
P: Different sense of aesthetics
Implicit in a number of the points above are the ways in which
aliens may have a radically different sense of aesthetics that they may consider
vital to appropriate dialogue. Some sense of the importance of this can be seen
in the attention given on the occasion of carefully orchestrated ceremonies
and celebrations -- where care is taken not to offend invited notables from
foreign cultures. It is possible that aesthetics may be woven by them into their
dialogue and decision-making processes in ways that humans would find quite
challenging (as explored in an earlier paper Judge,
There is now widespread use of music in public spaces, offices
and conference environments -- often carefully selected to enhance preferred
dynamics. The early experience of such use to promote sales in shopping complexes
is bening enhanced by the use of fragrances in air conditioning for similar
purposes. Such preferences may be experienced as offensive by aliens, who may
on the other hand favour alternatives which humans would experience as undermining
any possibility of dialogue. This challenge is easily experienced by a person
favouring low noise levels when encountering a group that prefers to meet with
It is also possible that certain forms of design or decor would
be considered inauspicious by the aliens -- as with the Chinese attitude to
feng shui in certain buildings considered unlucky and totally inappropriate
for successful business. Colour schemes for colour sensitive aliens may also
be a challenge -- as with different appreciations of black, white, red, green
between human cultures. Also of possible concern is the sexual symbolism associated
with conference room podia and proscenium design and their confusion with altars
for religious celebrations.
Q: Different dependence on stimulants
Just as some human cultures and sub-cultures favour the use of
stimulants as a catalysis for effective dialogue, aliens may have unforeseen
requirements in this respect. The challenge may be seen in efforts to dialogue
with human business partners who favour alcohol or drugs, or are effectively
chain smokers -- or need women. American Indians traditionally attached great
importance to participative smoking of a peace pipe in support of dialogue.
Analogous behaviour is involved in modern use in sub-cultures of marihuana (notably
in the case of the Rastafarians) and harder drugs. It is difficult to imagine
effective communication with some sub-cultures in the absence of such stimulants.
The issue of allergy during alien contact should not be forgotten
given its determining effect on contact between humans, and with pets. Beyond
smoking, alcohol and drug sensitivities, the city of Halifax (Canada), for example,
now has an ordinance restricting use of fragrances (perfumes and other odiferous
cosmetic substances) in public places.
R: Different understanding of team work
The contrast between Western and Asian approaches to team work
has been widely explored in the light of the individualism of the former and
the collective preoccupation of the latter. Aliens in a dialogue may be either
more individualistic, or more collective in their approach -- or stress some
other dimension quite unfamiliar to humans. The challenge to comprehension is
illustrated by the problem for westerners to understand some of the dimensions
of dialogue important to Japanese (cf nemawashi) .
The dialogue process may not 'work' if it is assumed
that it is based on one principal 'representative' of the aliens speaking
to a human counterpart -- according to the model favoured by western diplomats.
The aliens may have the practice of speaking simultaneously as a group, interacting
with one another and their dialogue counterparts. Elements of this may be seen
in television talk shows that do not follow the northern model of one speaker
at a time. As a richer means of communicating, they may have developed what
humans only practice in complex multi-part songs A single voice may be considered
primitive and inadequate to the needs of multi-channel communication in highly
uncertain situations of which such a dialogue would be typical.
Ironically it might also be team ball players who would have the
best insight into some of the complexities of moving a point of dialogue focus
(the 'ball') around between dialogue team members 'marked'
by members of an opposing team. But then the aliens may have worked out how
two teams can do this in a way that is more meaningful than the competitive
desire to score against the opponent. Some sense of this may be gained from
present understanding of what constitutes a 'good game' rather than
one in which one side simply seeks to 'beat' the other.
S: Different understanding of privacy and confidentiality
Modern civilization has moved towards media-dependence and invasiveness.
Aliens may be hypersensitive to privacy or even more preoccupied with media
coverage for galactic audiences. Efforts to have confidential discussions and
negotiations may be undermined by their media needs. To the extent that this
capacity is lacking, any response is inhibited or focused on superficial detail.
Humans may find themselves in the same situation as the representatives from
British colonies in the 1960s negotiating their independence in Lancaster House
(London) -- whose every word amongst themselves was subject to electronic eavesdropping
by the government from whom they were seeking freedom. Aliens might legitimately
see such invasiveness as a total breach of faith.
A variant of some possible concern is the kind of personal privacy
needs which evoke the need for veils, screens or some equivalent. This remains
an issue in dealing with women in purdah or in Islamic societies, or with Touaregs.
New variants are emerging with the need to silver vehicle windows. It is still
the case that direct eye contact may be considered offensive in some cultures.
T: Different sense of personal hygiene
The period of colonial exploration was characterized by expressions
of astonishment at the total lack of personal hygiene exhibited by indigenous
peoples. Ironically those same explorers would now be seen to quite offensive
for the same reasons (infrequent bathing, unwashed clothing, etc). Westerners
are still experienced as having an unwelcome level of transpiration in a number
of Eastern (tropical) countries. These differences were not assisted by the
preference of some indigenous peoples for nudity -- ensuring them a higher degree
of cleanliness than that of their clothed invaders. The situation in any dialogue
is further complicated by food preferences -- as exposure to Mediterranean garlic
eaters quickly makes clear.
If aliens have a quite different relationship to other species,
as suggested earlier, it is possible that they may appreciate a much higher
degree of personal 'infestation' than humans -- although it is only
in recent years that humans have become obsessed with ridding themselves of
lice and fleas to some degree. Like the primates, they may provide an opportunity
for grooming rituals or the equivalent of cocktail snacks. The tendency of humans
to repress any insight into the millions of microrganisums for which they provide
a personal environment may be considered barberous by aliens with a preference
for being 'inhabited'. Or perhaps they will have a dynamic relationship
to such species -- as with the necessarily 'dynamic' realtionship
to flies in the Australian Outback. The reverse may of course be the case, especially
for a space travelling species.
But aliens may be far more focused on what might be termed emotional,
conceptual, or even spiritual hygiene. A sense of this is evident in the increasing
use of the expression that someone in perfect physical health 'needs help'.
Group and personal psychotherapy is very clear on the extent to which attention
needs to be given to this dimension in order not to undermine personal relations
-- including dialogue situations. What probability is there that an encounter
with aliens would be undermined by experience of what would be described as
emotional, conceptual, or spiritual 'halitosis' -- by either or both
U: Different understanding of maturity
It was noted above that aliens may assess worthiness in dialogue
in terms of age (as in Japanese culture), youth (as in Western high tech culture),
or lineage (as in aristocratic systems). There is also the possibility that
aliens may be most sensitive to some understanding of spiritual maturity (as
in Buddhist culture). Western New Age cultures have on the other hand developed
criteria based on some understanding of number of initiations (and in what context
they were given or received). Some schools of psychotherapy focus very seriously
on the number of years of analysis (and with whom). Alternatively personal charisma,
as evidenced by evangelical preachers or Eastern gurus, may be valued.
Next: Part II: Strategic clues