Alienating alienly alien aliens

Aliens in science fiction are stupid. They either look like almost exactly like humans in form, or just a hodgepodge of features from earthly animals made with the intention (but not outcome) of appearing truly alien.

The reason for this is that making truly original art is hard. There's no algorithm in the brain that just randomly generates something that has never been seen before, because something "randomly generated" like that will just be noise. It will have to already have learned a distribution to sample from, based on previous knowledge, i.e. it would be an act of transfer.

But we do generate truly new knowledge, not based on observation of the environment or transfer of existing knowledge -- it is not necessarily so that the most important creativity is "truly new" or anything, but it is exciting, and we ought to think about where it comes from.

My hypothesis is that such "truly new art" is a output of some kind of specified algorithm -- indeed, it is not the haphazard exploration and imaginative thinking that lead to truly creative ideas, but algorithms that are cognitively well-defined (i.e. they need not be an actual logical deduction algorithm, but use the standard, honest outputs of basic cognitive processes, e.g. "stick this image to this image here", "pick a point of this image", "find a solution to this problem").

As an illustration, I have attempted to produce such a "truly new/un-inspired" fictional alien species from setting up a basic "axiomatization" (the conditions of the planet on which it forms) and following my brain's emulation of the evolutionary process to see where it leads.

Note that this isn't a scientific prediction (and these aren't actual "axioms")! This is not intended to give you an actual prediction of how an alien species on such a planet will appear, because the algorithm followed is not a truly mathematical model of evolution, it is not actually a logical deductive algorithm, just some cognitive processes in the brain, i.e. taking steps that "feel" right. The point of this is not to make deductions about aliens, it's to understand aspects of human cognition, and get some nice science fiction out of it. "Putting yourself in evolution's shoes" is not scientific, and should not be interpreted as achieving any goal of a scientific process.

I would be interested in seeing what species some other person would come up with from the "axioms" (the part above the "SPOILERS FOLLOW" tag) -- it would give us a clue of how much leeway/arbitrariness is involved in the unit "cognitive processes" mentioned.

Environment overview

(Note: again, the internal explanations here are probably inconsistent or silly, and so are the "deductions" we make from them -- they are not true logical implications or the results of a true evolution algorithm, they are the result of our cognitive algorithms. The point is that these algorithms are still feed-forward, despite not being rational algorithms, they are also not rationalizations. I started afresh from new axioms when I ran into dead ends I didn't like, but that's fine, because I'm not actually faking the forward-feeding steps. Observe, for example, how not everything in the process turns out to be "plot-relevant" in the end.)

The planet has a silicon-rich, glassy crust rich in hydrogen gas and ionic salts. The high atmospheric pressure has resulted in most carbon deposits having been converted into diamond underground. The planet's atmosphere is rich in ammonia gas, which often condenses near the surface at night as a result of the enormous atmospheric pressure -- while there are no permanent lakes, lakes do typically form at the same spots at night. The planet's core has long cooled down, but its proximity to its star causes it to have a very high temperature, heated from the atmosphere down. The high temperature and diurnal variation damages and cracks the upper layers of the glassy crust, the granules becoming coarser as you get to deeper, more insulated layers.

(Assumptions about resulting life forms: they will be predominantly silicon-based, with the use of ammonia as a transport solvent -- they will also require energy, which can be extracted from dissolved substances in the ammonia. We will further assume that )

SPOILERS FOLLOW. I'd be very interested to see what kind of evolutionary path(s) someone who hasn't read the below would come up with from the above prompt -- for reasons mentioned in the introductory passage.

Early life-forms

Reactions begin to take place at night in the cracks in the upper crust, where the ephemeral ammonia lakes seep into. These cracks, or pods, are more "melty", porous, so the first organisms aren't really "cellular" or "multicellular" but rather "neighbour-based"/"distance-based"/"ship of Theseus"  (i.e. you are "basically the same cell" as your neighbour, who is "basically the same cell" as his neighbour, etc., but you never exchange any material with the cell a kilometre from you). 

These life forms (or "life-continuum"), however, quickly die at daytime. But even a life-continuum permits evolution -- you just have a genetic continuum, as mutations influence neighbours (in fact, this means that evolution takes place faster and more haphazardly). Life forms that can revive the next night (i.e. upon re-exposure to liquid ammonia) eventually form. 

These life forms subsequently evolve to be able to be able to apply pressure on specific regions of the surfaces of their pods, allowing them to crack them and travel inwards into the crust. This allows them to move slightly further and further from the hot atmosphere (bringing the ammonia with them), allowing them to survive for slightly longer and longer durations in the day. 

Individualized "cells" or "cracks" result. However, cells that crack further to pursue mixing with other cells are evolutionarily selected, due to the standard advantages of sexual reproduction (sexual reproduction is a built-in feature of life on this planet, and a result of the initial "continuum" nature of the life form). These "branchings" of cracks act as physical family trees. The cells are still connected, and genetic information propagates in all directions across the family tree -- until the older regions of the trees die out, separating the offspring.

Life forms added:
  • Cracks -- simple life forms with a continuum-based notion of identity.
  • Trees -- growing, branching versions of cracks, still with a continuum-based notion of family and reproduction.

Early neural systems

How does a tree reproduce faster? It needs to find -- or be found by -- other trees faster. 

Ideas for finding faster:
  • Vision
  • Hearing sound
  • Memory of maps and family history
  • Asking others
  • Fast motion 
Ideas for being found faster:
  • Displaying bright flashing lights
  • Producing sound 
  • Telling others

Thus develops a primitive neural system -- however, this requires a lot of energy. Thus an advantage forms for regions where some organisms evolve to be particularly adept at boring "ammonia wells" to supply energy and ammonia. These wells are then accessed by both root and borer organisms. Borers have reduced fibrage compared to roots, as they need to be able to efficiently pump fluid across their bodies, and cannot retrain whenever a part of their body is cut off or destroyed.

In the deepest level of abstraction, the cognitive processes attached to "finding" and "being found" are quite different -- the former requires optimization for observation, the second requires optimization for leaving signatures. We call these two "sexes" observers/seekers and markers. Organisms are generally hermaphroditic at this stage (because one area of a tree can move without affecting another), with each "node" (the part that cracks the crust) having a sex that determines its behaviour. Mating is more common between the sexes (because they are more likely to meet), but generally can take place between any two nodes, if they meet by happenstance. Nodes generally refrain from mating within the tree, for standard reasons.

Life forms added:
  • Roots -- hermaphroditic trees with basic cognition 
  • Borers -- hermaphroditic trees with basic cognition and powerful boring abilities

Biodiversity, food chains and systematic cognition

There are now multiple "pathways" for evolution -- e.g. What kind of modes of observing/marking does a creature adopt? Does homosexuality become less prevalent among marker nodes as a result of the low likelihood of two marker nodes meeting? What about among observer nodes? Speciation results, as different efficient equilibria cannot consistently mix to form efficient equilibria. 

As a result, organisms now eat other organisms, when mating is not an option. 

As well-borers have the ability to bore wells, they also have the ability to bore central bubbles to store their minds in, to enable greater and more complex computation. This allows more efficient mate-finding, and their branches become fewer in number, like tentacles (they don't need as much fibrage anymore). 

As a result of having central cognition loci, the bubbleheads can no longer be hermaphroditic. Nonetheless, the bubblehead sexes are not completely dimorphic, as with more advanced cognition necessary to attack and defend from other organisms, each individual organism needs observational and communicational availabilities.

Because genetic and cognitive material are mixed, child bubbleheads can be considered very small backups of each of their parents, i.e. a form of immortality, although memories do fade with time. 

Life forms added:
  • Bubbleheads -- central locus of cognition with emanating boring tentacles for mating, food-finding and other social interaction; not hermaphroditic, but also not fully dimorphic; reproduce via horcruxes
  • General speciation


Parasites form, particularly on bubbleheads, as they are great sources of energy. Roots in particular are quite successful in their raids against animals because of their great "fibrage", less concentrated locations that allow them to launch more comprehensive raids on relatively defenseless bubbleheads.

Bubbleheads evolve to rely on their strengths: powerful boring abilities, superior cognition and communication, faster motion and presence of muscles. They band together, forming caves that act as forts, where they can move more freely to evade and kill slow-growing roots with little recurring energy consumption (despite higher upfront energy consumption). Non-bubblehead borers do not form caves, as they are still required to spread roots far and wide.

Note that a single colony may contain multiple bubblehead species. However, the following type of colony proves most efficient: a colony with three species of three specializations:
  • Excavator species, to bore out caves, tunnels, ammonia chambers.
  • Killer species, to gather food, guard excavators, attack other bubbleheads, defend against roots and other bubbleheads.
  • Thinker species, to maintain mental maps and instruct killers and excavators.
Some caves co-operate with each other. Some mate, and some form predator-prey relationships. And more complicated behaviour can arise, e.g. some bubbleheads of the rival cave are eaten, others are mated with, and others are accepted into the colony.

Note how versatile tentacles have gotten -- they hold, eat, mate and communicate.

Cables, therefore, being means of trade, are very important in a co-operative colony, which makes them quite valuable, especially with the lower fibrage. The high cognitive power of bubbleheads means that children take quite a while to form, so it is inefficient to waste tentacles for long periods of time while reproducing. So the tentacles deposit necessary information into a pod during reproduction and move on.

Life forms added:
  • Generic specialization
  • Cave-dwellers -- Bubbleheads that live in caves and reproduce via horcrux-eggs. Individual identities exist amidst a lot of communication/memory-sharing and co-operation. Of note are their cables, highly versatile and important.

Machines of efficiency

Specialization increases, as killers and excavators no longer had to think and thinkers no longer had to bore (the functions were shared, via cables -- the thinkers just completely control the killers and excavators). 

Life forms added:
  • Lichens -- Composite organisms. Bubbles of cognition controlling long cables at the ends of which are nodes that hold, eat, mate, communicate, bore, kill.
Cables, are, however, very expensive and difficult to replace. A particular type of bubblehead gains an advantage over the others. Instead of growing long tentacles for motion and interaction, its cables are short and tractable, and allow locomotion of the entire body. 

This allows them to easily dominate existing colonies by virtue of their speed -- and while they lose their ability to maintain constant communication with their peers, they make up for it by developing more efficient, abstracted form of thinking that doesn't require a constant data stream of information but allows them to make inferences and predictions.

They still do have peers, to help them gang on each other and on simpler cave-dwellers. But their thoughts are more individualized, which promotes competition.

Life forms added:
  • Roamers -- Smart, individualized lichens with short cables that hold, walk, eat, mate, communicate, bore, kill.


A Roamer species -- whom we will call Psychs -- gain clearer, finer control over the thoughts they communicate -- however, it is still possible to break these barriers and invade the mind of another Psych. The arts of offense and defense in these areas force the Psychs to plot, make alliances to invade minds and uncover secrets (because someone may have found a great food source they're keeping for themselves -- or may be plotting to invade your mind -- or may be plotting to invade your mind after helping you take down the competition), giving rise to the birth of politics.

Life forms added:
  • Psychs -- a highly intelligent Roamer species. Also psychic: telepathy, rapid teaching, truth verification, mind-reading, memory manipulation, psychic brainwashing, hypnosis, mind-hijacking, mind-killing and mental defense are all serious arts among the Psychs.

Culture, religion and politics

The combination of "individualist" morals and "collectivist" ability to control and understand others creates an ingenious -- albeit violent and ruthless -- society. And as a result of the dangers, a very risk-averse one. 

Psych culture, aka "How do Psychs view the world?":
  • The danger of mind-invasion quickly leads to monogamy (as the same cables control psychic powers and mating); spousal trust highly valued.
  • Psych politics heavily rewards power. States grow, and the only thing standing in the way of complete world domination by a faction or individual is the use of physical (non-psychological) barriers against mind invasion, such as coverings on cables, or just territorial defenses and perimeters.
  • As a result, clan leaders often install themselves as gods in their members' minds, a memory to be passed on and worshipped (to prevent memory from fading). When a clan conquers another clan, the earlier gods are wiped out.
  • High degree of tribalism, as tribe members loyal to their leaders/religion.
  • Heretics who refuse to join a clan or religion are killed to avoid the threat of rebellion. But there are secret heretics who are brilliant at mind defense (everything in Psych society is ultimately a race between mind-offense and mind-defense).
  • Hatred, mistrust and skepticism are traits highly valued in Psych society, because you cannot trust someone who doesn't mistrust people (because they might be hypnotized to harm you).
  • It is important to take your cables very seriously! Psychs develop complex emotions and culture surrounding cables -- they can't just hate and run away from other people's cables, because they serve important purposes, but they need to be vigilant.
  • Psychs do not engage in smalltalk -- talking is very dangerous, and may get you killed -- it should be reserved for important things only!
  • Psychs are curious, of course. But they are also risk-calculating. They wonder about things, but are very reluctant to hold beliefs about the unknown. So they don't have mythology -- just mystery and intense passions towards mysteries they find important. Unfortunately, this limits their creativity, as it's very hard for them to just imagine hypotheses to test, or to imagine interpretations of concepts before seeing if it truly works.
  • Psychs are protective of their children, but view them with suspicion because they are easily brainwashed. As children eventually outgrow brainwashing that are made in their childhood, there is a coming-of-age ritual in which children are brainwashed by the state (generally via their parents).
  • Wars are never publicly-announced, as brainwashing of military by opposing military would make it very easy for 3rd party to swoop in (such wars would be almost entirely a numbers game) -- and treatises to ban mental warfare just don't work (it's possible to fool opponent to believe he isn't being fooled or cheated). Instead elaborate scheming to allow rapid takeovers that kill the king (to allow freeing, re-brainwashing of subjects). Heretics often created this way.

Economics, technology and progress

  • Initial advancements -- use of diamond tools for rapid boring, hunting and gathering replacing their biological lichen-era cable tips; ammonia canals for underground farming of roots, borers and bubbleheads. Writing is not invented, as better forms of communication (human books) exist.
  • Technological advancement driven mostly by heretic Psychs who usurp power. Heretics who refuse to re-brainwash their subjects are quickly killed. Progress is, despite the high intelligence of the Psychs, quite slow.
  • Instead of freedom and capitalism, what causes the Psych industrial revolution is a king who figures out a way to have his subjects be creative for him, rather than for themselves. This is hard -- it's a value alignment problem! Must make sure that whatever the subjects discover, it will never cause their goals and desires to change. 
  • A totalitarian world government results, run by a hereditary absolute monarchy (the king has advisors, of course, but they're concerned with his well-being). Heretics are rapidly and systematically eliminated through ritualized mind-invasions to ensure perfect loyalty. The king himself is regularly invaded to check for impostering.
  • A heretical king may eventually -- hopefully! -- find a way to create a better, more individualistic value alignment. You probably won't have a king screw up and result in a chaotic value alignment, because Psychs are risk-averse.

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