9 thoughts on “Saturday: Hili dialogue

  1. Does that mean if we encountered aliens we won’t understand them either? Why? Why can’t we decipher it? If you go into the jungle and encounter the Yanomamo you can eventually learn their language like Napoleon Chagnon did. (Just read his brilliant book Noble Savages).

    1. I think the bottom line is: we just don’t know until we try it. However, there is good reason to think that it may be more difficult than we think.

      Learning another human language is one thing, we all have the same brain, the same language-ability “software” and the same mental model of the world.

      It’s a lot more of a challenge with other species. We have lived with cats and dogs for thousands of years, but we have very limited communication with them. Even the best and smartest success stories of communication with higher mammals are far from a comprehensive breakthrough. For example, Koko the gorilla has an astounding human vocabulary, but so far we can’t communicate in gorilla – not with her or any other gorilla. And it hasn’t brought us any closer to being able to communicate with lions.

      It may well be impossible with most species.

      1. Do we have any reason to think that gorillas have any form of language even half as rich as ASL? It’s my understanding that Coco taught ASL to other gorillas and that, for a gorilla that knows ASL, it’s the preferred means of communication. That suggests to me that, intelligent as the other apes are, they don’t understand each other any better than humans do, and the ones with the best understanding are those with human languages to use.

        Remember, our languages are themselves quite sophisticated technological works. Humans who grow without language are as difficult to understand as apes, and they have as much difficulty in communicating — until, of course, they learn a language.

        If we ever encounter an extraterrestrial intelligence — which is never going to happen, but it’s an useful thought experiment — once we decipher each other’s languages, I expect we’ll understand each other as well as, say, a native Japanese speaker would understand a native Navaho speaker after each had studied French. Assuming communication (and not deception, etc.) is the goal, that’s plenty.


    2. 1] Look up the subject of astrolinguistics. It’s a hot field in SETI.

      2] Sit in a pub & earwig a couple having a falling out about who said what & what was meant by what they did [or didn’t] say

      3] Read the 1961 SciFi novel Solaris by Polish author Stanisław Lem about the futility of communication between humans & a single planet-spanning oceanic organism. A most excellent read!

      4] In your example the first contact is between two groups from the same evolutionary tree who descend from a most recent common ancestor who lived approx 14k to 40k years ago. These beings share the same system of replication & associated drives, the same sensory systems & underlying nerve/brain structures, almost identical empires of trillions of bacterial organisms and so on and so.

      Two individuals from across such a small divide, with so many commonalities, should have plenty to talk about precisely because they are almost identical ~ from a purely human perspective we have the most fulfilling conversations with whom we share a wealth of common experience. As the amount of overlap in experience decreases the conversation becomes increasingly more strained & less rewarding unless the participants have goals [not necessarily identical goals] to drive communication forward ~ you can see this happening down any noisy nightclub on a Friday night 🙂

      When we meet our first aliens they’re are not going to be obligingly humanoid. The maths says that “they” will not share our goals in the least bit. It might turn out that the reason the universe is so quiet is because it doesn’t pay to make a noise in the big dark woods ~ perhaps we’ll find that out to our cost as our radio waves spread further & fall on ears that are listening especially for the noisy…

      we may struggle to know the most basic things about “them” and it will be in absolutely unpredictable ways. Even knowing that communication is wanted [or is even happening] could be a lifetime of research in itself.

      What’s your next move if your alien is an amoeboid who talks to it’s peers by “eating” them? It’s a tough call if the process of information exchange is literally a sexual act or a case of having YOU for dinner. LOL

    1. When she’s too big for face-sleeping, she’ll just move to the chest — likely, with the cheek for a pillow. If she were a big-species cat, I’m sure there’d be a progression to the point that the humans would be the ones to use her as a pillow, with intermediate phases being a chaotic jumble of limbs.


  2. I don’t think we have much chance of understanding aliens. Heck, we have a job understanding each other, and that’s with the same emotional setup, drives, psychology. Do you think you could understand a starfish’s view of the world?

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