Copyright 2013 by Paula S. Jordan
Ok, so maybe we can’t expect to delve very far into a real alien’s instincts and behaviors, but these are my aliens. I made them up, together with a biosphere, a world, where beings of their particular physical form might evolve. So I figure, why stop with the physical? If it is the benefits and challenges of a world that shape a species, wouldn’t the same forces also shape the instincts, the imperatives for survival, and the functioning of the minds and senses of the aliens evolved there?
Then, with the motivations and capacities of the critters well in hand, why not just turn around and take a look at the universe as a whole–the one we all inhabit–as these aliens, with their uniquely evolved and calibrated set of senses, might perceive it?
These beings will see and hear in the wavelengths that provide the information they need to survive in their particular environment. Their bodies will tolerate the ranges of heat and cold that their environment provides. Their senses of smell and taste will be attuned to the chemical compounds that most affect their lives. The acuities of any or all their senses may differ from ours, and they may have senses we have never dreamed of, for detecting elements of their environment that we have no survival-level need to detect.
In short, their perception of physical reality, what I think of as their sensory universe, will differ from ours to the same degree that their biosphere differs from Earth. All of which will affect the ways in which these guys think and behave differently from us.
Ok, so I had been ruminating over all this for a while.
Then the other day I happened upon an article by Geoff Brumfiel in the Septenber 2013 Smithsonian entitled “Creating the New Human.” In it, scientists that he interviewed reflect on “a new era in bionic limbs and organs” in which highly advanced devices now in production or development are already capable of replacing “more than 50 percent of the human body.”
This, Brumfiel writes, has bioethicists, theologians, and others asking themselves “How much of a human being can be replaced and still be considered human?”
None seem concerned about devices that repair the ravages of disease or accident, aside from the worry that some might affect “a patient’s ability to relate to other people,” or “transform the brain into a semi-organic supercomputer.” But the biggie on the list seems to be this, that if such devices should “endow people with senses that perceive wavelengths of light, frequencies of sound, and even types of energy that are normally beyond our reach,” such people “might no longer be described as strictly ‘human.’”
There are uncountable elements that make “us” who we are, but our shared Sensory Universe is fundamental.