Will we ever understand aliens?

I often wonder, in idle moments, how we might talk to aliens if they turned up suddenly. The problem is that aliens are – well, alien. Picture the scene:

“We are from ZORG!” Public domain.
  1. Aliens turn up. Their language, to our ears, has just one word, ‘blubbleblop’. Nobody realises they communicate by eye movement and the sound is a product of their digestive system at work. Hilarity follows, until the aliens lose patience and destroy Earth with their Digestive Gas Driven Atomic Obliteration gun.
  2. Aliens turn up. Every word in their language is an Earth-language obscenity. Hilarity follows, until the aliens lose patience and unleash their B-Movie Style Planetary Disintegrator.
  3. Aliens turn up. Every word in English turns out to be a dire insult in their language. Hilarity follows until the aliens cut loose with their Atomic Planet Blasting DeNucleation Rays.
  4. Aliens turn up, speaking an actual script from a 1951 episode of ‘I Love Lucy’ which they have wildly misunderstood. Hilarity follows, until – well, you can guess the rest.

What’s your take on the likelihood of a hilarious, yet disastrous alien encounter?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2020

16 thoughts on “Will we ever understand aliens?

  1. Given I can’t understand those residing on this planet most of the time, I’m not optimistic about any encounters. I’m also not expecting an encounter. Given recent events, I’d be making a righthand turn at Pluto. Go to Earth? No way. It isn’t worth becoming embroiled in planet-wide childishness, even if the pizza is excellent.

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  2. In my estimation they would have to be so advanced to come here they would have automatic language translators such as Google. And then spending a little time off planet observing and listening they would go away silently and disgustedly. Then maybe in a few more centuries have a return visit to see if we are still here.

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    1. Thanks. I figure aliens, if they exist at all, would literally be ‘alien’ – so the chances of a funny encounter would be as high as those of a serious one. (Actually, they could be so different we might have already encountered them and not noticed…)


  3. I have a vague memory of reading a science fiction story when I was a LOT younger about first contact. Somehow or another, the astronaut’s genius girlfriend figured out that the aliens communicated with scents.

    Recently I read Stanislaw Lem’s somewhat depressing but wholly extraordinary book, Fiasco, on the theme of contact. Unfortunately, the aliens are about as warlike as we are. Hilarity did NOT ensue.

    My favorite Star Trek Next Gen episode was “Darmok.” The look of disgust (a bit too human, but hey) on the alien captain’s face when he said “Shaka, when the walls fell” was priceless. But it pointed out the difficulties of translating cultural nuance even among earth cultures — much less, sometimes, among generations of the same family!

    Alas, let’s hope any aliens attempting contact have weaponry built by Acme.

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  4. Aliens arrive speaking incoherently saying stuff about planet ‘LVR’ and ‘differentiated option models’. No-one understands them. They are heard saying they need to ‘close out their position’ just before the words “LIQUIDATE! LIQUIDATE!” echo from the mothership.

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    1. The timing of the aliens’ visit is critical. If you think of all of Earth’s history as having taken place in just one 24-hour day, then the the Earth forms at 00:01, and cools down from a molten state over the next several hours. At about 04:00 the aliens might meet very primitive single celled life, but they’ll have to wait till 13:00 to meet . single-celled eukaryotes. If they wait till 20:00, they might meet the first aquatic animals, but not land animals till 22:00. The dinosaurs are the life of the party for about an hour from 22:40 pm to 23:40. The aliens won’t even see our first human ancestors till only two minutes to midnight. To meet modern humans they would need to arrive as the clock strikes midnight.

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      1. Yes – there’s that theory that this is exactly what’s happened… the aliens missed us by a billion years. Also explains why we haven’t found any despite a fair amount of looking. The 24-hour metaphor is really excellent – shows up just how recent humans are at all, let alone our civilisation! (And begs the question – why, as a species, are we apparently trying so hard to now destroy ourselves?).


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