wolven7: (Emotion-Intensified)
[personal profile] wolven7
'Fine, I'll tell you. But I have to warn you, Richard, that your question falls under the umbrella of a pseudoscience called xenology. Xenology is an unnatural mixture of science fiction and formal logic. At its core is a flawed assumption--that an alien race would be psychologically human.'
'Why flawed?' asked Noonan.
'Because biologists have already been burned attempting to apply human psychology to animals. Earth animals, I note.'
'Just a second,' said Noonan. 'That's totally different. We're talking about the psychology of INTELLIGENT beings.'
'True. And that would be just fine, if we knew what intelligence was.'
'And we don't?' asked Noonan in surprise.
'Believe it or not, we don't. We usually proceed from a trivial definition: intelligence is the attribute of man that separates his activity from that of the animals. It's a kind of attempt to distinguish the master from his dog. who seems to understand everything, but can't speak. However this trivial definition does lead to wittier ones. They are based on depressing observations of the aforementioned human activity. For example: intelligence is the ability of a living creature to perform pointless or unnatural acts.'
'Yes, that's us,' agreed Noonan.
'Unfortunately. Or here's a definition-hypothesis. Intelligence is a complex instinct which hasn't yet fully matured. The idea is that instinctive activity is always natural and useful. A million years will pass, the instinct will mature, and we will cease making the mistakes which are probably and integral part of intelligence. And then, if anything in the universe changes, we will happily become extinct--again, precisely because we've lost the art of making mistakes, that is, trying various things not prescribed by a rigid code.'
'Somehow this all sounds so…demeaning.'
'All right, then here's another definition--a very lofty and noble one. Intelligence is the ability to harness the powers of the surrounding world without destroying said world.'
Noonan grimaced and shook his head. 'No,' he said. 'That's a bit much… That's not us. Well How about the idea that humans, unlike animals, have an overpowering need for knowledge? I've read that somewhere.'
'So have I,' said Valentine. 'But the issue is that [humans], at least the average [human], can easily overcome this need. In my opinion, the need doesn't exist at all. There's a need to understand, but that doesn't require knowledge. The God hypothesis, for example, allows you to have unparalleled understanding of absolutely everything while knowing absolutely nothing… Give a man a highly simplified model of the world and interpret every event on the basis of this simple model. This approach requires no knowledge. A few rote formulas, plus some so-called intuition, plus some so-called practical acumen, and some so-called common sense.'
'Wait,' said Noonan. He finished his beer and banged the empty stein down on the table. 'Don't get off track. Let's put it this way. A man meets an alien. How does each figure out that the other is intelligent?'
'No idea,' Valentine said merrily. 'All I've read on the subject reduces to a vicious circle. If they are capable of contact, then they are intelligent, and conversely, if they are intelligent, then they are capable of contact. And in general: if an alien creature has the honor of being psychologically Human, then it's intelligent. That's how it is, Richard. Read Vonnegut?'

--Roadside Picnic, by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, 1972, Chicago Review Press 2012 Translation

Right up until the hopeless cast to his circularity, I’m Valentine. All the way. The problem is that, even at the end, he acquiesces to anthropocentric models of the mind. We can do better than that we can recognise that our native metric is not the ONLY metric.
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