Universal Translators

David Musick (David_Musick@msn.com)
Thu, 7 Nov 96 07:48:37 UT

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 -