Re: Universal Translators

Michael Lorrey (
Fri, 08 Nov 1996 14:47:57 -0500

David Musick wrote:
> After reading my post on the unlikelyhood of "universal translators" and being
> able to communicate with aliens, and a brief explaination of the basis for
> human communication, Michael Lorrey commented:
> "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
> communication."
> First of all, what aspects of my post make it sound like "psychomystical
> claptrap"? I think the concept of resonance between systems (broadly meaning
> that they cause each other to behave similarly) is a farily scientific concept
> (tuning forks are the classic example). The idea the humans mimic each other
> is a matter of observable fact. I don't see anything in my post that I would
> imagine someone could see as "psychomystical claptrap".
> I understand what you're saying about the Rosetta Stone and using our common
> base of scientific knowledge to develop forms of communication with aliens.
> However, I can conceive of possible alien beings who are technologically
> advanced and who have a very good understanding of the regularities of the
> universe (the knowledge that we discover through science), but whose concepts
> and ways of thinking are still profoundly different than ours. I am thinking
> that our way of doing science and finding out how the universe works is only
> one of many ways to approach understanding the universe. It may be that our
> science is simply a way that is especially well suited to the human brain.

This is the psychomystical claptrap. The idea that there is any other
kind of science than science, or other kind of mathermatics than math,
or that another race may have different table of the elements. This is
the sort of stuff you see in tabloids, but not among intelligent people.

If they are technological, they can only do so according to the physical
laws, and even though we may not have discovered them all yet, we still
have enough knowledge to relate pretty closely, at least on our level.
If they were a superior species, they would obviously understand our
limitations and "stoop" to our level of understanding.

If they are technological, they are mor likely to have similar modes of
thinking than not. We have been using technology of various levels since
we got out of the trees, so it has had the most impact on the evolution
of our brains than anything since we got these big things.
It only follows that a specied that developed technology would have
gone through the same evolutionary process, according to the same
physical laws, and developed similar modes of thinking.

> I imagine that alien beings would have developed their own, unique ways of
> developing accurate knowledge, which would likely be profoundly different from
> our own. They may come to understand the various properties of the different
> elements and learn how to take advantage of those properties, but the way they
> organize their knowledge and represent it to each other may be quite
> profoundly different from our Periodic Table of the Elements.

There is only ONE table of the elements, we didn't invent it, we
discovered it, and have only been filling in the blanks.

It makes sense
> to us to arrange all the elements on a chart, grouped according to similar
> properties and in order of atomic weight, but it only makes sense because of
> the particular ways that we have developed to think about things. Evolution
> on a different planet would likely yield intelligent beings with very
> different ways of thinking about things and approaching things.
> Humans seem to have a hard time imagining that intelligent beings might think
> in ways profoundly different than we do. We tend to think that our way of
> intelligence is the only way. It's difficult to imagine other ways of
> thinking; they are too alien to our minds. Humans also tend to imagine that
> intelligent aliens will be humanoid in shape, or something reasonably similar.
> We have a hard time imagining intelligent beings in shapes *very* different
> than our own.

So far, out of the three or more races here on the planet that should
have the capacity to be intelligent, we are the only ones to develop
technology, so it follows that other technological races would be more
similar to us than say, a dolphin.

> Then there's the question of how the aliens would likely communicate with each
> other. Would they vibrate the air, like we do? Perhaps they would make
> intricate bodily movements and use some kind of sonar to observe each other
> move. Perhaps they will have ways of communicating massive amounts of
> information in parallel, rather than in a stream, like we do. Maybe they will
> have developed some sort of technology so that they stimulate each other's
> minds more directly, and their communications would be so subtle that we would
> consider it telepathy. Their forms of communication may be so profoundly
> different than ours, and their ways of representing knowledge in their minds
> may be so profoundly different, that even if they understand the basic
> properties of the universe to the degree we do and have the same basic
> knowledge, we wouldn't be able to recognize how they've encoded that knowledge
> because we wouldn't understand how they even communicate knowledge to each
> other. If their knowledge is being communicated between each of the aliens by
> subtle technological links between their minds, then it would be very
> difficult to understand the workings of their communication devices, which
> would most likely be almost seamlessly integrated with their cognitive organs.

How they communicate is not important as WHAT they communicate. If they
are technological, they will be communicating SCIENCE and MATH. We have
experience with many ways of communication, not just sound, including
the electronic form we are using now and we seem to communicate, though
this seems to illustrate the difference between communication between
technological and nontechnological entities. I'm an engineer, your an
artist (?). Space traveling aliens are likely to be scientists and
engineers, so my argument stands.

> Yeah, if they had a periodic chart written down somewhere, then we could
> compare it with ours and understand a little of their language, but what if
> they don't write anything down? What if all their communication is
> "telepathic"?

You were asking me about psychomystical claptrap? There it is right

How do we crack into their communication systems to even have a
> start at understanding the information that they are passing back and forth?
> And then how do we understand what they're "talking" about? Maybe each of
> them has all the properties of physical matter memorized, so they no longer
> talk about it; they just refer to that set of knowledge with arbitrary
> symbols. Then we would never see their scientific knowledge being
> communicated between them, only arbitrary symbols that are meaningful only to
> the aliens themselves.

Interpretation happens by using concepts that are shared to equate the
sybols of communication that represent them.

> Language is an evolved technological device, with symbols pointing to various
> concepts, which are linked to other concepts with varying degrees of fuzziness
> inside each individual's mind. Language grows as we invent new symbols to
> point to our shared concepts and develop new fuzzy links between concepts.
> Language grows and evolves very much like an organism. Minor mutations are
> constantly being made to the symbolic structure. It's also very much like a
> computer program that keeps getting added to and changed here and there until
> it is almost unrecognizable compared to what it was and is very complex and
> messy.
> Michael asks, "Who ever said that humans have a "low" level of
> communication?"
> I did. It was right in my post. Did you not see it? :-)

Yes I did, show me proof. Based on our limited experience, we are the
best communicating race on this planet, otherwize we would not be able
to organize this huge worldwide and soon interplanetary civilization.

Show me one other species that has done that and I'll concede the point.

> Humans DO have a low level of communication. Most of the activities and
> thoughts occurring in our brains have no representation in our languages. We
> can look at the sky, but can we communicate the color blue?

There you just did, the sky is blue.

If you were an alien, you would tell me what the wavelength of "blue" is
translated in units measured, probably angstroms, as that is based on
atomic structure, and I would look at that wave length and say HMMMMM
interesting. If we saw in different wavelengths (unlikely for reasons
due to the effects of various radiation on genetic and biological
material) the best we could do is wait until we could graft one of their
types of eyes into one of our people. Using artificianl visual
augmentation, we should be able to "See" in any wavelength.

No; we can only
> refer the person we are talking to, to their experience of the color blue.
> When we're communicating with each other, we're basically referring each other
> to common, similar memories and experiences. We can only really communicate
> about common experiences and concepts.
> Also, it is extremely difficult for us to communicate with each other about
> experiences we have in common but which haven't been talked about before, so
> no symbols have been developed yet to represent that common experience.
> Various bodily sensations and nuances of emotion are common, mutual
> experiences for which we haven't yet developed symbols, and so we cannot
> really communicate with each other about these experiences, because we don't
> know what sounds or images to make to get the other person to remember the
> experience we are wanting to refer them to.

We all feel the same, and if one romance writer hasn't described about
every feeling and emotion possible, I haven't heard about it.

> Most of our thoughts have to do mainly with our own specific, individual
> memories and experiencs, and these thoughts cannot be shared through language
> because only the individual thinking them has the proper background (memories)
> to understand those thoughts.

Thats why we communicate, as a form of relation...

> Do you understand what I am saying? It's very difficult to communicate these
> ideas well. Especially since I don't know how much background you have in
> these areas, and I don't know how much to explain and how much to assume you
> already know.

You erroneously assume that every human has as much trouble
communicating their thoughts as you do. This has more to do with
education than evolution.

I also don't know how you think about things and link up
> concepts, so I don't know if I'm triggering off your concepts in the proper
> order so that you form the links that I am trying to get you to form with this
> communication.
> Effective communication is very difficult to achieve between humans. It is an
> art that requires much training and practice.

Sure but once you are there, the same rule pretty much apply to any form
of communication.