Re: Universal Translators

Michael Lorrey (
Thu, 07 Nov 1996 05:29:19 -0500

David Musick wrote:
> Michael Lorrey said, "universal translators "may" be possible".
> With regards to aliens, the "may" ought to be stressed infinitely more. I
> think it is extremely unlikely that any sort of "universal translator" will
> ever be possible. My belief is that the sum of all human thinking is an
> almost insignificantly small subset of all possible ways of thinking. I
> believe that nearly all ways of thinking are incomprehensible to the human
> mind. Shit, most of the ideas I think about would be nearly incomprehensible
> to anyone not as intimately familiar with my mind as I am. Nearly everything
> I think is impossible to translate into language that other humans would
> understand (I do try my best, though. But what I'm able to translate is only
> a small subset of my thinking). I think the situation would be even worse
> with aliens. Communication is only possible among sufficiently similar
> systems. Communication is a form of resonance, a way for one system to cause
> another to behave similarly. The greater the resonance, the greater the
> communication between two systems. If two systems aren't similar enough, they
> can't cause each other to resonate together. They can't mimic each other to a
> high enough degree to be considered to be communicating. Human minds share
> enough similarities that they can create sensory experiences for each other
> which cause their minds to think similarly about various things. We can guess
> the mental patterns of another human, based on how they're acting (what sounds
> they're making, what bodily movements they're expressing, things like that).
> We're good enough at guessing each other's mental states that we can maintain
> a reasonable level of communication. And the better we get to know someone,
> the more accurately we learn to guess what they're thinking, based on their
> actions. I don't think we'd have much luck guessing what a being truly alien
> was thinking. Not well enough to communicate, I think.
> I think that one of the basic reasons that humans have even the low level of
> communication that we do is because we mimic each other so much. We mimic
> each other's forms of expression so much that we have developed a lot of
> common forms of expression that we use with each other. Thus, we build a lot
> of similar memories. We also have grown up in similar cultural and physical
> environments, so we have at least some common ground. I see no reason to
> expect that aliens will have much at all in common with us in our thinking and
> our ways of doing things.
> - David Musick
> - question tradition -
Sorry Dave, that sounds like psychomystical claptrap to me. The fact is
that using mathematics, and our knowledge of the physical laws, we
already have a Rosetta Stone to relate with any technological society of
aliens. If they were non technological, I'm not sure it would be so
easy. The fact that we would be two intelligent races with scientists
makes for a huge overlap of common ground from which to build greater

Who ever said that humans have a "low" level of communication?

The fact that any one human can have such diverse thoughts shows that we
have the diversity of thought to communicate with many different modes
of intelligent existence. Now I know the first objection is gonna be
"What about the whales? we can't understand them and they have such big
brains they MUST be intelligent." Wrong. Their minds are almost totally
occupied with the vast signal processing required by their sonar
system. Did you know that they can create a sonic image of the whole
pacific ocean? That takes major processing. That does not leave much
room for abstract thought. Plus if you look at their brian mass to body
mass ratio, they would still be far below humans, as are all othr earth

For support of my scientific Rosetta Stone idea, I direct you to read H.
Beam Piper's short story collection "Federation" (this was long before
star trek), in which a human expedition to Mars uncovers a dead
civilization. They think they can't ever decode the language till they
come across a Martian copy of the table of the elements.....