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Thread: Aliens with olfactory consciousness? (Warning: highly imaginative question)

  1. #1
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    Jan 2014

    Aliens with olfactory consciousness? (Warning: highly imaginative question)

    Based on the fact that most art needs visual appreciation, that we spend hours glued to several types of screens, that our public spaces are filled with visual commercials, that we try to be fashionable and look good...

    ... that we dream in images, (like to) hallucinate, that (religious) visionaries influenced the course of history, that before myth was externalised (oration, performance, writing) it had been present interiorly as psyche defining living image...

    could it be argued that our consciousness is 'imaginal'?

    And, if such were the case, should that be considered a prerequisite for sapience, technology?
    Last edited by gufghur; 2019-Feb-19 at 10:18 AM. Reason: additional information

  2. #2
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    Oct 2009
    a long way away
    Sound and vision are the most "obvious" senses, and perhaps the ones we rely on most (or think we do). But we use information from many other sense to understand (make sense of) the world.

    I don't really see why intelligence or consciousness couldn't arise in a species without sight. It seems unlikely, just from the practical point that it is hard to imagine an environment where sight was not useful but that was also sufficiently challenging/complex to make intelligence an evolutionary advantage. Inside a hollow planet maybe?

    Vaguely related: dogs communicate using smells and I have pondered what their experience (qualia?) is when they sniff lampposts, etc. And then leave their own reply. Is it (could it evolve to be) a conversation? Do they make smell-based jokes?

  3. #3
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    Aug 2006
    Quote Originally Posted by gufghur View Post
    could it be argued that our consciousness is 'imaginal'?
    Vision is definitely highly-evolved in humans, and we have a lot of brain real estate devoted to it - some more than others.

    Some people are more easily able to process audio than others, some more easily process touch (haptics).

    My boy processes the world with more auditory input than visual input - music, talking, etc.
    Me, audio without visual makes me fall asleep.

  4. #4
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    Jan 2014
    Vaguely related: dogs communicate using smells and I have pondered what their experience (qualia?) is when they sniff lampposts, etc. And then leave their own reply. Is it (could it evolve to be) a conversation? Do they make smell-based jokes?
    I smell the pun(ter). And while I can imagine, given sufficient time, Dog could evolve, in tandem, the required organ to produce meaningful aromatics of sufficient complexity and the brain capable of processing this nose-uage (lang-uage). Still, the question remains whether the associated neuronal activity would come to represent an imaginal mind?

    Otherwise put:
    if such a Dog would suffer an identity crisis and laying comfy on a couch communicate in olfactory detail the significant dream it had the other night to its psychiatrist:

    - would that dream have been imaginal? (do regular dogs dream in images)? And,
    - would the Dog psychiatrist seek (reek?) for interpretations in terms of archetypal "smellgestalts"?

    But while I'm typing out all this, something comes to mind: only when human consciousness transited from ambiguous imagining (myth) to thoughtful logos (mind) could the rectilinear climb to philosophy, knowledge, science, and technology begin. So thought processes need take prevalence over imaginal processes for a species to enter its technological phase.

    So I guess my question is answered: it doesn't matter whether consciousness (or conscious communication) is based on neuronal or chemical activity or whatnot, the moment it succeeds in transcribing such activity to logic thought, a sapient being can (and probably will) enter its scientific era.

    Hope these thought processes at least transfer something, and that it wasn't too boring to read.

    Thanks for your contributions!

  5. #5
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    Feb 2005
    Quote Originally Posted by gufghur View Post
    I smell the pun(ter).
    - would the Dog psychiatrist seek (reek?) for interpretations in terms of archetypal "smellgestalts"?!
    No, but that ammonia smell would wake him up. Oh--I thought you said "smelling salts"

  6. #6
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    Aug 2010
    Quote Originally Posted by gufghur View Post
    Based on the fact that most art needs visual appreciation, that we spend hours glued to several types of screens, that our public spaces are filled with visual commercials, that we try to be fashionable and look good...

    ... that we dream in images, (like to) hallucinate, that (religious) visionaries influenced the course of history, that before myth was externalised (oration, performance, writing) it had been present interiorly as psyche defining living image...

    could it be argued that our consciousness is 'imaginal'?

    And, if such were the case, should that be considered a prerequisite for sapience, technology?
    There is some very well-reasoned speculation about this topic in Olaf Stapledon's sf novel Star Maker, which was first published in 1937. One of the many alien species imagined there is generally human-like but with various subtle differences in their anatomy and how they function. They have sight and hearing, but neither of those senses is as developed as ours; on the other hand, they are very good at tasting, which they do not only with their mouths but also with their hands and their feet... An excerpt:

    "Many ideas which terrestrial man has reached by way of sight, and which even in their most abstract form still bear traces of their visual origin, the Other Men conceived in terms of taste. For example, our 'brilliant,' as applied to persons or ideas, they would translate by a word whose literal meaning was 'tasty.' For 'lucid' they would use a term which in primitive times was employed by hunters to signify an easily runnable taste-trail."

    He goes on to describe how taste-based thinking affects different aspects of their culture. For instance, they have racial identities and conflicts based not on skin-colour but on flavour, with complications due to the fact that individuals sometimes artificially disguise their ancestral flavours to avoid stigma...

  7. #7
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    Oct 2009
    a long way away
    Quote Originally Posted by gufghur View Post
    Still, the question remains whether the associated neuronal activity would come to represent an imaginal mind?
    There was a radio programme about pheromones the other day. We perhaps underestimate how important the other senses to most animals. Bees and ants organise themselves around scent trails and recent messages. Their model of the world is almost entirely based on these senses.

    So I don't see why the answer shouldn't be yes.

  8. #8
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    Nov 2001
    There is a complication. Vision requires a *lot* of brainpower to process. Chemical senses like smell don't. So there would be more reason to develop advanced intelligence with vision than with chemical senses.

  9. #9
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    Jun 2005
    Quote Originally Posted by lpetrich View Post
    There is a complication. Vision requires a *lot* of brainpower to process. Chemical senses like smell don't.
    I would think that depends somewhat on how you use them. Certainly we use a lot of processing power for vision, but insects and spiders use vision and donít have huge brains.

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
    As above, so below

  10. #10
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    Oct 2006
    How much brain they use depends on the level of detail in both cases. Arthropod eyes don't produce a clear image so there's no point in devoting much brain to trying to work on it (or, they have simple brains so there's no point in eyes delivering optical data they couldn't handle anyway). Similarly, following a trail left by another member of your hive/colony only requires a single response chain triggered by reception of a single pheromone. The equivalent of our image processing or a bird's image processing, in the olfactory world, would be the most complex olfactory systems, which pick up hundreds of separate chemicals and respond not only to their absolute amounts but also possibly to their relative amounts (ratios). There still might be a point there that the biggest visual cortexes are still bigger than the biggest olfactory bulbs, but I'm not sure of it.

    A more important distinction is the kind of information each type of system generates. Designing tools & machines requires thinking in geometry, and making long-lasting records that later generations can review and build on can be done in shaped or visual media (carved stone, clay/wax tablets, ink on paper or parchment) but not in chemicals. Vision gives you information about shapes, so an animal that perceives the world mostly through vision is already predisposed toward thinking in a way that's useful for both invention and communication.

  11. #11
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    May 2005
    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    Sound and vision are the most "obvious" senses, and perhaps the ones we rely on most (or think we do). But we use information from many other sense to understand (make sense of) the world.

    I don't really see why intelligence or consciousness couldn't arise in a species without sight. It seems unlikely, just from the practical point that it is hard to imagine an environment where sight was not useful but that was also sufficiently challenging/complex to make intelligence an evolutionary advantage. Inside a hollow planet maybe?

    Vaguely related: dogs communicate using smells and I have pondered what their experience (qualia?) is when they sniff lampposts, etc. And then leave their own reply. Is it (could it evolve to be) a conversation? Do they make smell-based jokes?
    That's it. Our brand of consciousness is "jocular"

  12. #12
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    May 2009
    Extract from: "The Star Maker" (1937) by Olaf Stapledon

    The stranger wore not only boots but gloves, seemingly of tough leather.
    His boots were extremely short. I was to discover later that the feet of
    this race, the "Other Men," as I called them, were rather like the feet
    of an ostrich or a camel. The instep consisted of three great toes grown
    together. In place of the heel there was an additional broad, stumpy
    toe. The hands were without palms. Each was a bunch of three gristly
    fingers and a thumb.

    The aim of this book is not to tell of my own adventures but to give
    some idea of the worlds which I visited. I shall therefore not recount
    in detail how I established myself among the Other Men. Of myself it is
    enough to say a few words. When I had studied this agriculturalist for a
    while, I began to be strangely oppressed by his complete unawareness, of
    myself. With painful clearness I realized that the purpose of my
    pilgrimage was not merely scientific observation, but also the need to
    effect some kind of mental and spiritual traffic with other worlds, for
    mutual enrichment and community. How should I ever be able to achieve
    this end unless I could find some means of communication? It was not
    until I had followed my companion to his home, and had spent many days
    in that little circular stone house with roof of mudded wicker, that I
    discovered the power of entering into his mind, of seeing through his
    eyes, sensing through all his sense organs, perceiving his world just as
    he perceived it, and following much of his thought and his emotional
    life. Not till very much later, when I had passively "inhabited" many
    individuals of the race, did I discover how to make my presence known,
    and even to converse inwardly with my host.

    This kind of internal "telepathic" intercourse, which was to serve me in
    all my wanderings, was at first difficult, ineffective, and painful. But
    in time I came to be able to live through the experiences of my host
    with vividness and accuracy, while yet preserving my own individuality,
    my own critical intelligence, my own desires and fears. Only when the
    other had come to realize my presence within him could he, by a special
    act of volition, keep particular thoughts secret from me.

    It can well be understood that at first I found these alien minds quite
    unintelligible. Their very sensations differed from my familiar
    sensations in important respects. Their thoughts and all their emotions
    and sentiments were strange to me. The traditional groundwork of these
    minds, their most familiar concepts, were derived from a strange
    history, and expressed in languages which to the terrestrial mind were
    subtly misleading.

    I spent on the Other Earth many "other years," wandering from mind to
    mind and country to country, but I did not gain any clear understanding
    of the psychology of the Other Men and the significance of their history
    till I had encountered one of their philosophers, an aging but still
    vigorous man whose eccentric and unpalatable views had prevented him
    from attaining eminence. Most of my hosts, when they became aware of 'my
    presence within them, regarded me either as an evil spirit or as a
    divine messenger. The more sophisticated, however, assumed that I was a
    mere disease, a symptom of insanity in themselves. They therefore
    promptly applied to the local "Mental Sanitation Officer." After I had
    spent, according to the local calendar, a year or so of bitter
    loneliness among minds who refused to treat me as a human being, I had
    the good fortune to come under the philosopher's notice. One of my
    hosts, who complained of suffering from "voices," and visions of
    "another world," appealed to the old man for help. Bvalltu, for such
    approximately was the philosopher's name, the "11" being pronounced more
    or less as in Welsh, Bvalltu effected a "cure" by merely inviting me to
    accept the hospitality of his own mind, where, he said, he would very
    gladly entertain me. It was with extravagant joy that I made contact at
    last with a being who recognized in me a human personality.


    So many important characteristics of this world-society need to be
    described that I cannot spend much time on the more obvious features of
    the planet and its race. Civilization had reached a stage of growth much
    like that which was familiar to me. I was constantly surprised by the
    blend of similarity and difference. Traveling over the planet I found
    that cultivation had spread over most of the suitable areas, and that
    industrialism was already far advanced in many countries. On the
    prairies huge flocks of mammal-like creatures grazed and scampered.
    Larger mammals, or quasi-mammals, were farmed on all the best pasture
    land for food and leather. I say "quasi-mammal" because, though these
    creatures were viviparous, they did not suckle. The chewed cud,
    chemically treated in the maternal belly, was spat into the offspring's
    mouth as a jet of pre-digested fluid. It was thus also that human
    mothers fed their young.

    The most important means of locomotion on the Other Earth was the
    steam-train, but trains in this world were so bulky that they looked
    like whole terraces of houses on the move. This remarkable railway
    development was probably due to the great number and length of journeys
    across deserts. Occasionally I traveled on steam-ships on the few and
    small oceans, but marine transport was on the whole backward. The screw
    propeller was unknown, its place being taken by paddle wheels.
    Internal-combustion engines were used in road and desert transport.
    Flying, owing to the rarified atmosphere, had not been achieved; but
    rocket-propulsion was already used for long-distance transport of mails,
    and for long-range bombardment in war. Its application to aeronautics
    might come any day.

    My first visit to the metropolis of one of the great empires of the
    Other Earth was an outstanding experience. Everything was at once so
    strange and so familiar. There were streets and many-windowed stores and
    offices. In this old city the streets were narrow, and so congested was
    the motor traffic that pedestrians were accommodated on special elevated
    tracks slung beside the first-story windows and across the streets.

    The crowds that streamed along these footpaths were as variegated as our
    own. The men wore cloth tunics, and trousers surprisingly like the
    trousers of Europe, save that the crease affected by the respectable was
    at the side of the leg. The women, breastless and high-nostriled like
    the men, were to be distinguished by their more tubular lips, whose
    biological function it was to project food for the infant. In place of
    skirts they disported green and glossy silk tights and little gawdy
    knickers. To my unaccustomed vision the effect was inexpressibly vulgar.
    In summer both sexes often appeared in the streets naked to the waist;
    but they always wore gloves.

    Here, then, was a host of persons who, in spite of their oddity, were as
    essentially human as Londoners. They went about their private affairs
    with complete assurance, ignorant that a spectator from another world
    found them one and all grotesque, with their lack of forehead, their
    great elevated quivering nostrils, their startlingly human eyes, their
    spout-like mouths. There they were, alive and busy, shopping, staring,
    talking. Children dragged at their mothers' hands. Old men with white
    facial hair bowed over walking-stocks. Young men eyed young women. The
    prosperous were easily to be distinguished from the unfortunate by their
    newer and richer clothes, their confident and sometimes arrogant

    How can I describe in a few pages the distinctive character of a whole
    teeming and storied world, so different from my own, yet so similar?
    Here, as on my own planet, infants were being born every hour. Here, as
    there, they clamored for food, and very soon for companionship. They
    discovered what pain was, and what fear, and what loneliness, and love.
    They grew up, molded by the harsh or kindly pressure of their fellows,
    to be either well nurtured, generous, sound, or mentally crippled,
    bitter, unwittingly vindictive. One and all they desperately craved the
    bliss of true community; and very few, fewer here, perhaps, than in my
    own world, found more than the vanishing flavor of it. They howled with
    the pack and hounded with the pack. Starved both physically and
    mentally, they brawled over the quarry and tore one another to pieces,
    mad with hunger, physical or mental. Sometimes some of them paused and
    asked what it was all for; and there followed a battle of words, but no
    clear answer. Suddenly they were old and finished. Then, the span from
    birth to death being an imperceptible instant of cosmical time, they

    This planet, being essentially of the terrestrial type, had produced a
    race that was essentially human, though, so to speak, human in a
    different key from the terrestrial. These continents were as variegated
    as ours, and inhabited by a race as diversified as Homo sapiens. All the
    modes and facets of the spirit manifested in our history had their
    equivalents in the history of the Other Men. As with us, there had
    been dark ages and ages of brilliance, phases of advancement and of
    retreat, cultures predominantly material, and others in the main
    intellectual, aesthetic, or spiritual. There were "Eastern" races and
    "Western" races. There were empires, republics, dictatorships. Yet all
    was different from the terrestrial. Many of the differences, of course,
    were superficial; but there was also an underlying, deep-lying
    difference which I took long to understand and will not yet describe. I
    must begin by speaking of the biological equipment of the Other Men.
    Their animal nature was at bottom much like ours. They responded with
    anger, fear, hate, tenderness, curiosity, and so on, much as we respond.
    In sensory equipment they were not unlike ourselves, save that in vision
    they were less sensitive to color and more to form than is common with
    us. The violent colors of the Other Earth appeared to me through the
    eyes of its natives very subdued. In hearing also they were rather
    ill-equipped. Though their auditory organs were as sensitive as ours to
    faint sounds, they were poor discriminators. Music, such as we know,
    never developed in this world.

  13. #13
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    May 2009
    Some ten or fifteen centuries earlier, when religion, so far as I could
    tell, was most vital, there were no churches or priesthoods; but every
    man's life was dominated by religious ideas to an extent which to me was
    almost incredible. Later, churches and priesthoods had returned, to play
    an important part in preserving what was now evidently a declining
    religious consciousness. Still later, a few centuries before the
    Industrial Revolution, institutional religion had gained such a hold on
    the most civilized peoples that three-quarters of their total income was
    spent on the upkeep of religious institutions. The working classes,
    indeed, who slaved for the owners in return for a mere pittance, gave
    much of their miserable earnings to the priests, and lived in more
    abject squalor than need have been.

    Science and industry had brought one of those sudden and extreme
    revolutions of thought which were so characteristic of the Other Men.
    Nearly all the churches were destroyed or turned into temporary
    factories or industrial museums. Atheism, lately persecuted, became
    fashionable. All the best minds turned agnostic. More recently, however,
    apparently in horror at the effects of a materialistic culture which was
    far more cynical and blatant than our own, the most industrialized
    peoples began to turn once more to religion. A spiritistic foundation
    was provided for natural science. The old churches were re-sanctified,
    and so many new religious edifices were built that they were soon as
    plentiful as cinema houses with us. Indeed, the new churches gradually
    absorbed the cinema, and provided non-stop picture shows in which
    sensual orgies and ecclesiastical propaganda were skilfully blended.

    At the time of my visit the churches had regained all their lost power.
    Radio had indeed at one time competed with them, but was successfully
    absorbed. They still refused to broadcast the immaculate union, which
    gained fresh prestige from the popular belief that it was too spiritual
    to be transmitted on the ether. The more advanced clerics, however, had
    agreed that if ever the universal system of "radio-bliss" was
    established, this difficulty might be overcome. Communism, meanwhile,
    still maintained its irreligious convention; but in the two great
    Communist countries the officially organized "irreligion" was becoming a
    religion in all but name. It had its institutions, its priesthood, its
    ritual, its morality, its system of absolution, its metaphysical
    doctrines, which, though devoutly materialistic, were none the less
    superstitious. And the flavor of deity had been displaced by the flavor
    of the proletariat.

    Religion, then, was a very real force in the life of all these peoples.
    But there was something puzzling about their devoutness. In a sense it
    was sincere, and even beneficial; for in very small personal temptations
    and very obvious and stereotyped moral choices, the Other Men were far
    more conscientious than my own kind. But I discovered that the typical
    modern Other Man was conscientious only in conventional situations, and
    that in genuine moral sensibility he was strangely lacking. Thus, though
    practical generosity and superficial comradeship were more usual than
    with us, the most diabolic mental persecution was perpetrated with a
    clear conscience. The more sensitive had always to be on their guard.
    The deeper kinds of intimacy and mutual reliance were precarious and
    rare. In this passionately social world, loneliness dogged the spirit.
    People were constantly "getting together," but they never really got
    there. Everyone was terrified of being alone with himself; yet in
    company, in spite of the universal assumption of comradeship, these
    strange beings remained as remote from one another as the stars. For
    everyone searched his neighbor's eyes for the image of himself, and
    never saw anything else. Or if he did, he was outraged and terrified.

    Another perplexing fact about the religious life of the Other Men at the
    time of my visit was this. Though all were devout, and blasphemy was
    regarded with horror, the general attitude to the deity was one of
    blasphemous commercialism. Men assumed that the flavor of deity could be
    bought for all eternity with money or with ritual. Further, the God whom
    they worshipped with the superb and heart-searching language of an
    earlier age was now conceived either as a just but jealous employer or
    as an indulgent parent, or else as sheer physical energy. The crowning
    vulgarity was the conviction that in no earlier age had religion been so
    widespread and so enlightened. It was almost universally agreed that the
    profound teachings of the prophetic era were only now being understood
    in the sense in which they had originally been intended by the prophets
    themselves. Contemporary writers and broadcasters claimed to be
    re-interpreting the scriptures to suit the enlightened religious needs
    of an age which called itself the Age of Scientific Religion. Now behind
    all the complacency which characterized the civilization of the Other
    Men before the outbreak of the war I had often detected a vague
    restlessness and anxiety. Of course for the most part people went about
    their affairs with the same absorbed and self-satisfied interest as on
    my own planet. They were far too busy making a living, marrying, rearing
    families, trying to get the better of one another, to spare time for
    conscious doubt about the aim of life. Yet they had often the air of one
    who has forgotten some very important thing and is racking his brains to
    recover it, or of an aging preacher who uses the old stirring phrases
    without clear apprehension of their significance. Increasingly I
    suspected that this race, in spite of all its triumphs, was now living
    on the great ideas of its past, mouthing concepts that it no longer had
    the sensibility to understand, paying verbal homage to ideals which it
    could no longer sincerely will, and behaving within a system of
    institutions many of which could only be worked successfully by minds of
    a slightly finer temper. These institutions, I suspected, must have been
    created by a race endowed not only with much greater intelligence, but
    with a much stronger and more comprehensive capacity for community than
    was now possible on the Other Earth. They seemed to be based on the
    assumption that men were on the whole kindly, reasonable and

    I had often questioned Bvalltu on this subject, but he had always turned
    my question aside. It will be remembered that, though I had access to
    all his thoughts so long as he did not positively wish to withhold them,
    he could always, if he made a special effort, think privately. I had
    long suspected that he was keeping something from me, when at last he
    told me the strange and tragic facts.

  14. #14
    Join Date
    May 2009
    It was a few days after the bombardment of the metropolis of his
    country. Through Bvalltu's eyes and the goggles of his gas-mask I saw
    the results of that bombardment. We had missed the horror itself, but
    had attempted to return to the city to play some part in the rescue
    work. Little could be done. So great was the heat still radiated from
    the city's incandescent heart, that we could not penetrate beyond the
    first suburb. Even there, the streets were obliterated, choked with
    fallen buildings. Human bodies, crushed and charred, projected here and
    there from masses of tumbled masonry. Most of the population was hidden
    under the ruins. In the open spaces many lay gassed. Salvage parties
    impotently wandered. Between the smoke-clouds the Other Sun occasionally
    appeared, and even a daytime star.

    After clambering among the ruins for some time, seeking vainly to give
    help, Bvalltu sat down. The devastation round about us seemed to "loosen
    his tongue," if I may use such a phrase to express a sudden frankness in
    his thinking toward myself. I had said something to the effect that a
    future age would look back on all this madness and destruction with
    amazement. He sighed through his gas-mask, and said, "My unhappy race
    has probably now doomed itself irrevocably." I expostulated; for though
    ours was about the fortieth city to be destroyed, there would surely
    some day be a recovery, and the race would at last pass through this
    crisis and go forward from strength to strength. Bvalltu then told me of
    the strange matters which, he said, he had often intended to tell me,
    but somehow he had always shunned doing so. Though many scientists and
    students of the contemporary world-society had now some vague suspicion
    of the truth, it was clearly known only to himself and a few others.

    The species, he said, was apparently subject to strange and
    long-drawn-out fluctuations of nature, fluctuations which lasted for
    some twenty thousand years. All races in all climates seemed to manifest
    this vast rhythm of the spirit, and to suffer it simultaneously. Its
    cause was unknown. Though it seemed to be due to an influence affecting
    the whole planet at once, perhaps it actually radiated from a single
    starting point, but spread rapidly into all lands. Very recently an
    advanced scientist had suggested that it might be due to variations in
    the intensity of "cosmic rays." Geological evidence had established that
    such a fluctuation of cosmical radiation did occur, caused perhaps by
    variations in a neighboring cluster of young stars. It was still
    doubtful whether the psychological rhythm and the astronomical rhythm
    coincided, but many facts pointed to the conclusion that when the rays
    were more violent the human spirit declined.

    Bvalltu was not convinced by this story. On the whole he inclined to the
    opinion that the rhythmical waxing and waning of human mentality was due
    to causes nearer home. Whatever the true explanation, it was almost
    certain that a high degree of civilization had been attained many times
    in the past, and that some potent influence had over and over again
    damped down the mental vigor of the human race. In the troughs of these
    vast waves Other Man sank to a state of mental and spiritual dullness
    more abject than anything which my own race had ever known since it
    awoke from the subhuman. But at the wave's crest man's intellectual
    power, moral integrity, and spiritual insight seem to have risen to a
    pitch that we should regard as superhuman.

    Again and again the race would emerge from savagery, and pass through
    barbarian culture into a phase of worldwide brilliance and sensibility.
    Whole populations would conceive simultaneously an ever-increasing
    capacity for generosity, self-knowledge, self-discipline, for
    dispassionate and penetrating thought and uncontaminated religious

    Consequently within a few centuries the whole world would blossom with
    free and happy societies. Average human beings would attain an
    unprecedented clarity of mind, and by massed action do away with all
    grave social injustices and private cruelties. Subsequent generations,
    inherently sound, and blessed with a favorable environment, would create
    a world-wide Utopia of awakened beings.

    Presently a general loosening of fiber would set in. The golden age
    would be followed by a silver age. Living on the achievements of the
    past, the leaders of thought would lose themselves in a jungle of
    subtlety, or fall exhausted into mere slovenliness. At the same time
    moral sensibility would decline. Men would become on the whole less
    sincere, less self-searching, less sensitive to the needs of others, in
    fact less capable of community. Social machinery, which had worked well
    so long as citizens attained a certain level of humanity, would be
    dislocated by injustice and corruption. Tyrants and tyrannical
    oligarchies would set about destroying liberty. Hate-mad submerged
    classes would give them good excuse. Little by little, though the
    material benefits of civilization might smolder on for centuries, the
    flame of the spirit would die down into a mere flicker in a few isolated
    individuals. Then would come sheer barbarism, followed by the trough of
    almost sub-human savagery.

    On the whole there seemed to have been a higher achievement on the more
    recent crests of the wave than on those of the "geological" past. So at
    least some anthropologists persuaded themselves. It was confidently
    believed that the present apex of civilization was the most brilliant of
    all, that its best was as yet to come, and that by means of its unique
    scientific knowledge it would discover how to preserve the mentality of
    the race from a recurrence of deterioration.

    The present condition of the species was certainly exceptional. In no
    earlier recorded cycle had science and mechanization advanced to such
    lengths. So far as could be inferred from the fragmentary relics of the
    previous cycle, mechanical invention had never passed beyond the crude
    machinery known in our own mid-nineteenth century. The still earlier
    cycles, it was believed, stagnated at even earlier stages in their
    industrial revolutions.

    Now though it was generally assumed in intellectual circles that the
    best was yet to be, Bvalltu and his friends were convinced that the
    crest of the wave had already occurred many centuries ago. To most men,
    of course, the decade before the war had seemed better and more
    civilized than any earlier age. In their view civilization and
    mechanization were almost identical, and never before had there been
    such a triumph of mechanization. The benefits of a scientific
    civilization were obvious. For the fortunate class there was more
    comfort, better health, increased stature, a prolongation of youth, and
    a system of technical knowledge so vast and intricate that no man could
    know more than its outline or some tiny corner of its detail. Moreover,
    increased communications had brought all the peoples into contact. Local
    idiosyncrasies were fading out before the radio, the cinema, and the
    gramophone. In comparison with these hopeful signs it was easily
    overlooked that the human constitution, though strengthened by improved
    conditions, was intrinsically less stable than formerly. Certain
    disintegrative diseases were slowly but surely increasing. In
    particular, diseases of the nervous system were becoming more common and
    more pernicious. Cynics used to say that the mental hospitals would soon
    outnumber even the churches. But the cynics were only jesters. It was
    almost universally agreed that, in spite of wars and economic troubles
    and social upheavals, all was now well, and the future would be better.

  15. #15
    Join Date
    May 2009
    The truth, said Bvalltu, was almost certainly otherwise. There was, as I
    had suspected, unmistakable evidence that the average of intelligence
    and of moral integrity throughout the world had declined; and they would
    probably continue to do so. Already the race was living on its past. All
    the great seminal ideas of the modern world had been conceived
    centuries ago. Since then, world-changing applications of these ideas
    had indeed been made; but none of these sensational inventions had
    depended on the extreme kind of penetrating the whole course of thought
    in an earlier age. Recently there had been, Bvalltu admitted, a spate of
    revolutionary scientific discoveries and theories, but not one of them,
    he said, contained any really novel principle. They were all
    re-combinations of familiar principles. Scientific method, invented some
    centuries ago, was so fertile a technique that it might well continue to
    yield rich fruit for centuries to come even in the hands of workers
    incapable of any high degree of originality.

    But it was not in the field of science so much as in moral and practical
    activity that the deterioration of mental caliber was most evident. I
    myself, with Bvalltu's aid, had learnt to appreciate to some extent the
    literature of that amazing period, many centuries earlier, when every
    country seemed to blossom with art, philosophy and religion; when people
    after people had changed its whole social and political order so as to
    secure a measure of freedom and prosperity to all men; when state after
    state had courageously disarmed, risking destruction but reaping peace
    and prosperity; when police forces were disbanded, prisons turned into
    libraries or colleges; when weapons and even locks and keys came to be
    known only as museum pieces; when the four great established priesthoods
    of the world had exposed their own mysteries, given their wealth to the
    poor, and led the triumphant campaign for community; or had taken to
    agriculture, handicrafts, teaching, as befitted humble supporters of the
    new priestless, faithless, Godless religion of world-wide community and
    inarticulate worship. After some five hundred years locks and keys,
    weapons and doctrines, began to return. The golden age left behind it
    only a lovely and incredible tradition, and a set of principles which,
    though now sadly misconceived, were still the best influences in a
    distraught world.

    Those scientists who attributed mental deterioration to the increase of
    cosmic rays affirmed that if the race had discovered science many
    centuries earlier, when it had still before it the period of greatest
    vitality, all would have been well. It would soon have mastered the
    social problems which industrial civilization entails. It would have
    created not merely a "mediaeval" but a highly mechanized Utopia. It
    would almost certainly have discovered how to cope with the excess of
    cosmic rays and prevent deterioration. But science had come too late.
    Bvalltu, on the other hand, suspected that deterioration was due to some
    factor in human nature itself. He was inclined to believe that it was a
    consequence of civilization, that in changing the whole environment of
    the human species, seemingly for the better, science had unwittingly
    brought about a state of affairs hostile to spiritual vigor. He did not
    pretend to know whether the disaster was caused by the increase of
    artificial food, or the increased nervous strain of modern conditions,
    or interference with natural selection, or the softer upbringing of
    children, or to some other cause. Perhaps it should be attributed to
    none of these comparatively recent influences; for evidence did suggest
    that deterioration had set in at the very beginning of the scientific
    age, if not even earlier. It might be that some mysterious factor in the
    conditions of the golden age itself had started the rot. It might even
    be, he suggested, that genuine community generated its own poison, that
    the young human being, brought up in a perfected society, in a veritable
    "city of God" on earth, must inevitably revolt toward moral and
    intellectual laziness, toward romantic individualism and sheer
    devilment; and that once this disposition had taken root, science and a
    mechanized civilization had augmented the spiritual decay.

    Shortly before I left the Other Earth a geologist discovered a fossil
    diagram of a very complicated radio set. It appeared to be a
    lithographic plate which had been made some ten million years earlier.
    The highly developed society which produced it had left no other trace.
    This find was a shock to the intelligent world; but the comforting view
    was spread abroad that some non-human and less hardy species had long
    ago attained a brief flicker of civilization. It was agreed that man,
    once he had reached such a height of culture, would never have fallen
    from it.

    In Bvalltu's view, man had climbed approximately to the same height time
    after time, only to be undone by some hidden consequence of his own

    When Bvalltu propounded this theory, among the ruins of his native city,
    I suggested that some time, if not this time, man would successfully
    pass this critical point in his career. Bvalltu then spoke of another
    matter which seemed to indicate that we were witnessing the final act of
    this long-drawn-out and repetitive drama. It was known to scientists
    that, owing to the weak gravitational hold of their world, the
    atmosphere, already scant, was steadily deceasing. Sooner or later
    humanity would have to face the problem of stopping this constant
    leakage of precious oxygen. Hitherto life had successfully adapted
    itself to the progressive rarefaction of atmosphere, but the human
    physique had already reached the limit of adaptability in this respect.
    If the loss were not soon checked, the race would inevitably decline.
    The only hope was that some means to deal with the atmospheric problem
    would be discovered before the onset of the next age of barbarism. There
    had only been a slight possibility that this would be achieved. This
    slender hope the war had destroyed by setting the clock of scientific
    research back for a century just at the time when human nature itself
    was deteriorating and might never again be able to tackle so difficult a

    The thought of the disaster which almost certainly lay in wait for the
    Other Men threw me into a horror of doubt about the universe in which
    such a thing could happen. That a whole world of intelligent beings
    could be destroyed was not an unfamiliar idea to me; but there is a
    great difference between an abstract possibility and a concrete and
    inescapable danger. On my native planet, whenever I had been dismayed by
    the suffering and the futility of individuals, I had taken comfort in
    the thought that at least the massed effect of all our blind striving
    must be the slow but glorious awakening of the human spirit. This hope,
    this certainty, had been the one sure consolation. But now I saw that
    there was no guarantee of any such triumph. It seemed that the universe,
    or the maker of the universe, must be indifferent to the fate of worlds.
    That there should be endless struggle and suffering and waste must
    of course be accepted; and gladly, for these were the very soil in which
    the spirit grew. But that all struggle should be finally, absolutely
    vain, that a whole world of sensitive spirits fail and die, must be
    sheer evil. In my horror it seemed to me that Hate must be the Star

    Not so to Bvalltu. "Even if the powers destroy us," he said, "who are
    we, to condemn them? As well might a fleeting word judge the speaker
    that forms it. Perhaps they use us for their own high ends, use our
    strength and our weakness, our joy and our pain, in some theme
    inconceivable to us, and excellent." But I protested, "What theme could
    justify such waste, such futility? And how can we help judging; and how
    otherwise can we judge than by the light of our own hearts, by which we
    judge ourselves? It would be base to praise the Star Maker, knowing that
    he was too insensitive to care about the fate of his worlds." Bvalltu
    was silent in his mind for a moment. Then he looked up, searching among
    the smoke-clouds for a daytime star. And then he said to me in his mind,
    "If he saved all the worlds, but tormented just one man, would you
    forgive him? Or if he was a little harsh only to one stupid child? What
    has our pain to do with it, or our failure? Star Maker! It is a good
    word, though we can have no notion of its meaning. Oh, Star Maker, even
    if you destroy me, I must praise you. Even if you torture my dearest.
    Even if you torment and waste all your lovely worlds, the little
    figments of your imagination, yet I must praise you. For if you do so,
    it must be right. In me it would be wrong, but in you it must be right."

    He looked down once more upon the ruined city, then continued, "And if
    after all there is no Star Maker, if the great company of galaxies leapt
    into being of their own accord, and even if this little nasty world of
    ours is the only habitation of the spirit anywhere among the stars, and
    this world doomed, even so, even so, I must praise. But if there is no
    Star Maker, what can it be that I praise? I do not know. I will call it
    only the sharp tang and savor of existence. But to call it this is to
    say little."

  16. #16
    Join Date
    Sep 2004
    Quote Originally Posted by Delvo View Post
    Vision gives you information about shapes, so an animal that perceives the world mostly through vision is already predisposed toward thinking in a way that's useful for both invention and communication.
    Tactile sensations can also teach about shapes. Olfactory input combined with other non-visual sensations could possibly lead to special perception. A creature on a dark world with enormous bar-ears could have a radar-like map of the world around, with the senses of smell and taste allowing for complex communication. Tool-making isn't out of the question with manipulative "hands" or teeth or whatnot.

  17. #17
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    Nowhere (middle)
    I've read SF about creatures with scent-based communications, to "talk" to them required mediation via artificial scent glands and olfactory sensors. One human cyborg so equipped, used this array to track another character like a bloodhound as well.
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

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