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Essentially, I'm in the pre-planning stage of writing a short story where I want there to be a "normal" species (think human) that interacts with a species that for one reason or another doesn't differentiate themselves from other living things. There could definitely be religious reasons for such a culture to exist, but I'm imagining a scenario where they (the other species) never even had the idea to differentiate themselves from their planet's co-inhabitors (if it has any).

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    $\begingroup$ How can you answer a question that asks "how do you not come up with an idea"? I will be keeping an eye on this one closely. Btw I believe you answered it yourself completely, they don't differentiate themselves. Saying they do not come up with something for religios reasons is also a very interesting idea $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Feb 28 '18 at 18:18
  • $\begingroup$ That seems to be a tough call. Human language works in a way that there's always a name for anything. If that thing is new, the name is invented very quickly. I can only think of "taboo" tradition, when it would be forbidden to say the name of some things. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Feb 28 '18 at 18:22
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    $\begingroup$ @Alexander There's at least one real-life example for that. People in Sweden believed that calling a wolf by its name would summon the devil. That, of course, didn't stop them from talking about wolves; they just had to invent another word for it! So now you've got two words; one that cannot be uttered, and one that can be used freely, both referring to the same thing. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Feb 28 '18 at 18:41
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    $\begingroup$ I see a major problem here. If they don't differentiate themselves from animals, then how do they differentiate between different types of animals? Such differences can be critical: "Look, there's a deer behind that bush!" means you get lunch, while "Look, there's a bear behind that bush!" means you get to BE lunch :-) Now if you mean the intelligent species is just one of many kinds of animal... Well, English does that well enough, depending on one's particular religious/philosophical opinions. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Feb 28 '18 at 18:48
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    $\begingroup$ I like the question in theory, the problem is a matter of the nature of language and sociology: "I was having dinner with three people, one person ate another person, peed on our food, and then ran away... I had carnal relations with the last person." The inability to differentiate creates all manner of issues. Realistically, I don't know that it is feasible. $\endgroup$ – OhkaBaka Feb 28 '18 at 19:28
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One potential would be a Gaia-like ecosystem. If every creature acts as part of a greater whole then even the parts that develop self-awareness may not develop a concept of difference from the whole.

Even if these creatures become quite advanced their connection to nature (to them their connection to.. well, everything) can remain dominant over their individuality as a species.

Plus points if the ecosystem supports a lot of cross-species (ok, taxonomically inaccurate but it’s an alien biosphere, so hey) breeding, with the sentient species often giving birth to more animal species and vice-versa.

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  • $\begingroup$ If there are no taboos relating to food acquisition (hunting/grazing/agriculture), diet (cannibalism) and inter-species breeding... and the "human" race is super primitive (any internal medicine, etc, is going to require language to identify and differentiate, etc). $\endgroup$ – OhkaBaka Feb 28 '18 at 21:15
  • $\begingroup$ @OhkaBaka: in such an ecosystem I imagine all the species would perfectly happy eating and being eaten by other organisms, as it’s not so much competing to eat as working together by being eaten. As for medicines: why would they need a word for different species? The word ‘spleen’ is the word ‘spleen’, and if you view your own existence as part of the whole then even if you do identify a word for ‘this spleen is not the same as that spleen’ it doesn’t necessarily match up with ‘I am a distinct animal from you’ $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Mar 1 '18 at 7:23
  • $\begingroup$ Think about a compounds that are poisonous to one species, inert to another, and medicinal to a third... happens all the time in biology. How would a society of indistinguishable species be able to master that if they can't even describe who should and shouldn't consume it? $\endgroup$ – OhkaBaka Mar 13 '18 at 16:09
  • $\begingroup$ @OhkaBaka: Easy: “You have an allergy to arsenic, don’t eat it.” $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Mar 13 '18 at 18:05
  • $\begingroup$ How would I know what food is high in arsenic? $\endgroup$ – OhkaBaka Mar 14 '18 at 22:40
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They can hybrid with most life on their planet.

Sure banana-biped hybrids aren't very useful, but if they are viable it might not make a lot of sense to call them a different kind of thing from biped-biped lines.

Different lineages are better at different things, the sentient ones are good at thinking, but they need ox-like ones for heavy lifting or horse-like ones for speed and giving them more intelligence wouldn't really help anything they care about.

This strongly suggests cannibalism and bestiality aren't taboo.

"That fruit comes from my third cousin four times removed. Go ahead and eat him; that's how he will propagate my five times removed cousins. I can't right now because it would interfere with the tapeworm children I'm currently gestating."

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  • $\begingroup$ I really like this idea. Maybe a virus / bacteria sort of thing that mixes itself with all of the life on a planet, meaning that it is very much "one" with all of it, and therefore doesn't need to differentiate itself. $\endgroup$ – mlo Mar 1 '18 at 16:51
  • $\begingroup$ Phased like that my answer seems more of a copy of Joe Bloggs's than I though when I made it. $\endgroup$ – user25818 Mar 1 '18 at 17:36
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Your other species aren't just animals... They are animal plant hybrids. Your species do not eat like humans do, they consume nutrients from the ground in the same way that plants do. Sticking part of themselves into the ground (some sort of probing appendage on the head or feet), for a period of time functions both as a sleep and food combination.

The result of such bizarre anatomy is an interesting philosophy. The other species sees themselves as connected to every other species on their planet. For instance, when an animal dies/defecates/leaves a piece of itself somewhere on the planet eventually the substances that make up the dead animal sinks into the land and function as food for the other species.

Going strongly with the phrase "you are what you eat", the other species has come to the conclusion that since the planet is what sustains them and they are in such constant contact with the planet, they feel as one with it. That oneness extends out to every other being.

To further reinforce this, the other species "mates" via erupting spores into the air. When the spores in the air come into contact with spores from another member of the other species, there is a chance that the spores will bond together and start to form another member of the species.

Since the spores are made from food and food comes from the planet and the planet is filled with other forms of life... Whats the difference between the other species and everything else? NOTHING! The other species proclaims. If a bundle of cells is not the other species now, given enough time, the bundle of cells will eventually become the other species again.

The other species might refer to this as the real cycle of life and refer to humans (if you did want the other species to see humans as different) as "noncycled".

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  • $\begingroup$ Not sure that qualifies as "normal species" ... but I'm mostly with you, one caveat... where do the fit in the food chain? We know what THEY eat, but what eats them? $\endgroup$ – OhkaBaka Feb 28 '18 at 21:17
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    $\begingroup$ @OhkaBaka I'll concede to "normal species" point lol. You could give these creatures all sorts of fun food chain weaknesses. Maybe some bugs think that their flesh is a crop, fungus in some soil has a degenerative effect akin to aging quickly and making the species turn into fertilizer(to reduce population you could have this fertilizer death scene be the same time the species pops off spores to reproduce). Id Imagine a Gorilla or some omnivorous biped(YOU HUMAN) would probably find these things to be very healthy. A healthy other species always finds the best land to consume nutrients from. $\endgroup$ – Crettig Mar 1 '18 at 0:58
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    $\begingroup$ This idea also gives an interesting possibility where humans may be consumable / recyclable to this species, causing potential plot points where they completely embrace new alien species with absolutely no fear whereas humans are shocked by them considering their basic understanding might be that they intend to eat them. $\endgroup$ – mlo Mar 1 '18 at 16:56
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Your last line certainly suggests one possibility. If there were no other species on their planet then there would be no need for a word meaning 'other species'.

Languages vary in how malleable they are when confronted with new evidence but it is plausible that this group would not update their language when they eventually did encounter 'alien' species.

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  • $\begingroup$ If going this route, OP may want to look briefly at Icelandic. My (admittedly limited) understanding is that in Icelandic, loan words simply do not exist. Rather, they'll come up with a word of their own that actually describes the thing in question. This can lead to some interesting contortions... $\endgroup$ – a CVn Feb 28 '18 at 18:43
  • $\begingroup$ I guess my hesitation with going that route is whether a sentient species could realistically develop on a planet and be the only form of life. I guess if we're going far out with the science fiction ideas, it's definitely one worth exploring. $\endgroup$ – mlo Mar 1 '18 at 16:53
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Almost by definition, sentience requires a sense of self, which almost automatically includes a sense that one is if not unique, at least differentiable from other beings. So to not recognize differences between species might be an argument that they aren't sentient.

There's lots of memes about cats and dogs thinking of everything as nothing other than other cats/dogs, albeit larger, smaller, or having the wrong number of legs.

As you said, one could easily imagine a culture that chose to see no differences between themselves and what might be used as pack animals. But eventually they have to eat, and that would require a decision on what's lesser enough that it's okay for it to die so they can live.

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  • $\begingroup$ I don't know about that. My dog is perfectly capable of distingushing between e.g. jackrabbits (chase!) and my friends' small dog (play!) that's about the same size. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Mar 1 '18 at 0:06

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