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  1. #1

    Default The impossibility of conceiving or imagining something totally alien

    I was pondering this question when reading about science fiction writers attempting to write about alien worlds or alien visitors or invaders.

    There are some authors who maintain that no matter how it may be attempted that all imaginative effort will in some way involve anthropomorphism or projection.

    In some ways I think the same point is made in the artwork entitled The Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Something Living which appeared in Tate modern, which was a shark corpse cut down the middle suspended in a tank (the best part was perhaps the title).

    Also I think that Witgeinstein was making similar points about divinity, the divine and deity when he wrote about language and philosophy.

    Is it a premise that you would agree with or do you think it is possible to describe or conceive of the entirely alien? Is it a waste of time even as entertainment to try and do so?

  2. #2

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    I think the narrative structure requires us to at least understand the intentions of aliens even if we don't directly communicate with them (as in The War of the Worlds). Otherwise there is really no story. I think for that reason that science fiction is limited to portraying aliens who, if not strictly speaking anthropomorphic (i.e., The Thing) at least manifest as something derived from a part of Earth's animal kingdom.
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  3. #3
    Tier 1 Member LunaLuminosity's Avatar
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    I've noticed this in sci-fi works too. I do think some of it is just that there is more interesting interaction with the alien and the people if the creature looks somewhat anthropomorphic or terrestrial.

    But some of it is yeah, how do we really fully imagine all sorts of forms that life could take? We really are trapped in our conceptions of what signifies life. Do they form societies? Do they even have a language? Can we even see them? Do they eat? Do they move? Can they sense things?

    And I think I get where you're going with the whole "how do we conceive of something we cannot know?" thing


    But nothing is a waste if it's at least entertainment, and even more than that, it's an expansion of our minds. As far as practically useful that is probably the most powerfully useful force out there.

  4. #4
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    The Four Parts of Our DNA

    Quote Originally Posted by Lark View Post
    do you think it is possible to describe or conceive of the entirely alien? Is it a waste of time even as entertainment to try and do so?
    Please! It's child's play.

    All DNA for the last 4.5 billion years from the smallest single celled living creature, to bananas and apples, on to you and me, and including the largest animal that has ever lived and is alive today, the Blue Whale, have exactly the same DNA made of four parts, AGCI.

    Yes, everything alive today on Earth and alive over the last 4.5 billion years is part of our family, is familar and not the slightest bit alien.

    So if we discover a living creature with five parts to their DNA, we know they are ineluctably alien.

  5. #5
    Analytical Dreamer Coriolis's Avatar
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    Given the right definition of alien, the assertion that it is impossible to imagine something truly alien can be tautological.
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    Senior Member KDude's Avatar
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    No one is completely original, everything references life as we know it here on earth... but you should read Machen or Lovecraft. They're whole schtick is creating situations and monsters that are kind of existentially inconcievable to humans, where the very idea of knowing about them causes psychological torture. Robert E Howard tapped a little into it with his Conan stories too. Lovecraft considered him the greatest horror writer, even though Howard was a fantasy writer. Conan was conceived as an ultimate human who could face practically anything, but every so often, he'd encounter some mysterious shit that made him run. Especially when it came to magic. Unlike D&D, not everyone was shooting fireballs out of their hands. It's written as something too beyond most people's understanding.

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by KDude View Post
    No one is completely original, everything references life as we know it here on earth... but you should read Machen or Lovecraft. They're whole schtick is creating situations and monsters that are kind of existentially inconcievable to humans, where the very idea of knowing about them causes psychological torture. Robert E Howard tapped a little into it with his Conan stories too. Lovecraft considered him the greatest horror writer, even though Howard was a fantasy writer. Conan was conceived as an ultimate human who could face practically anything, but every so often, he'd encounter some mysterious shit that made him run. Especially when it came to magic. Unlike D&D, not everyone was shooting fireballs out of their hands. It's written as something too beyond most people's understanding.
    I like both Lovecraft and Howard, I might not have read as much of Machen or anything, I dont remember if I have unfortunately.

    The thing about Howard's conceptualisation of magic is that he had a challenge as a writer to illustrate how his characters would not simply be instantly overcome by magic, so he created "blood magic", magic that drains its users and exacts a transactional cost on spell casters, its logically a hell of a lot more neat than other versions such as LOTR or even Harry Potter. There's even some of the "magic" in the Conan books which is cleverly recast psychology and politics, in one of the film adaptations, which I accept arent perfect, the leader of a snake magic cult demands one of his followers jump to their death and they do, he tells Conan that is real power, greater power than swordsmanship for instance. It is true but its not magic.

    Clark Ashton Smith was part of that Lovecraft circle too and managed some good developments of the "alien", I recall one story about strange octupus like creatures encrypted in an uncovered pyramid which are dried out and dead but can attach themselves to a human hoast's head and become animate once more, this story has a real "WTF" factor in it and its never clear at all if they creatures are good, evil or even fully sentient. Although it is parasitic rather than truly alien and weird.

    A lot of Lovecraft's weird fiction I dont actually think has the stand alone brilliance attributed to it, I like it a lot and I know it was the original material but many of his imitators and developers did a better job really.

  8. #8
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    Our Signature DNA - A G C I

    A certain kind of naivety is necessary to ask the question. And it is a naivety about the nature of life both familiar and alien.

    And our naivety leads us to look outward for the alien. We have SETI looking for alien life on other planets, but without result.

    At the same time we have learnt to sequence the genome very quickly and with complete accuracy. We have sequenced the genome of homo sapiens. and every day we are sequencing the genome of everything living.

    So rather than look outwards to other planets for the alien, we can now look for the alien on our planet Earth. Instead of looking naively outwards we can now look inwards with facility and precision.

    And we are looking for something living that does not have our signature DNA of A G C I.

  9. #9
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    I think, unless we ourselves are subject to forces that are alien to our consciousness, it's impossible to get beyond that barrier.

    But I think we are subjected to what are seemingly alien forces (at least to our consciousness), and as such, it is my hope that alien thought is possible.

    Entirely alien? I'm not sure. Partially alien? Almost certain.

    Is trying to concieve of entirely alien thought a waste of time? Is anything not a waste of time?

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