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Ligers tend to grow to near 1200 lbs (550 kg). As if that weren't bad enough, that mad tree-hugger xenobiologist, Deirdre Skye, grafted just enough human-derived genetic material to make them a heck of a lot smarter.

They live in the Wold, a large and frighteningly sapient forest, and act as the main hired muscle, quiet and agile as only a felide can be, even at that size. So these are not tame little ragdoll cats. They have never been captured alive, never mind tamed.

The worst thing that could happen to my ligers is if they accidentally turned into rubber headed aliens. So my ask here is for you to help me make the ligers sufficiently and felide-stylishly alien.

I've thought of a few felide characteristics that make them different from humans. I used this post as a starting point, but I want more, I want much more:

  • Social vs Semi-social -- While they may very well communicate when it suits them, the ligers do not Talk, especially not about the weather;
  • Brainy prey vs. Top-of-the-food-chain Cool-Cat -- Ligers are naturally and effortlessly cool and dominant, they find the very idea that one can be afraid of the dark endlessly amusing;
  • Physically weak vs Physically imposing -- If a metal-reinforced door were just a minor inconvenience, you'd probably feel the same;
  • Opposable thumbs and lack thereof -- but I don't think anyone would make fun of them about that deficit to their face.

So, please help me make these intelligent cats feel truly foreign! More specifically, I'm looking for ways in which they would they be different from humans.

EDIT: Since ligers have never been successfully observed over any significant period, we don't know if they're actually fertile or not. If you wish to go and ask them about their virility/fecundity, go ahead, feel free. It is a fact that their numbers seem stable, insofar as we can tell.

@Would-be-closers edit: I would love it if those thinking of voting to close would first leave a comment to clarify their concern. From my perspective, asking about the specifics of the most dramatic psychological differences between humans and a felide predatory sapience is a pretty narrow question. Also, the thousands of views and the votes suggest that lots of people think it an interesting and upvoteworthy question. But I'm more than happy to edit to take fellow worldbuilder concerns into account. I suggested some differences and opened those for criticism (so I'm not asking for new ideas whole cloth) and also invited worldbuilders to contribute others that I might not have thought about. Since we are all familiar with cats I assumed that the criteria for judging (can I imagine a smarter cat acting that way?) would be obvious.

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  • $\begingroup$ Just how social do you want these cats? Lions are very social, that's practically their defining feature. How much do you want them to affect their environment, as in build or make things? $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Mar 10 '15 at 0:38
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    $\begingroup$ @MontyWild, how much would a smart feline species alter the landscape of a mostly sapient forest? I don't know the answer... $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Mar 10 '15 at 0:49
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    $\begingroup$ Not to be pedantic, but, well, I guess I'm going to be pedantic. Strictly speaking, lions and tigers (and, by extension, ligers) are not felines. The biological family of cats is Felidae, and its members are felids. Tigers and lions (and jaguars and leopards) are panthers, in the genus Panthera, which is distinct from the subfamily Felinae. Just sayin'. Then again, in common use, "feline" refers to any type of cat, so this entire comment might be pointless. But, hey, if it were important, it wouldn't be pedantic, and where's the fun in that? $\endgroup$ – KSmarts Mar 10 '15 at 15:40
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    $\begingroup$ Not sure which of the "mad tree-hugger xenobiologist, Deirdre Skye", an obvious reference to Alpha Centauri, or the blue, superstrong cats living in a forest in Avatar is more of a source. $\endgroup$ – imallett Mar 10 '15 at 16:05
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    $\begingroup$ I was confused by the close flag when I saw it pop up, this appears perfectly valid to me. $\endgroup$ – Dan Smolinske Mar 11 '15 at 19:00
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So, we have genetically engineered big cats with genetically inflated brains. However, these are cat brains, and not ape brains. Now, Ligers are crosses between lions and tigers, so while tigers are pretty much solitary, lions, or at least lionesses are quite social (the males are sociable to a lesser degree), so we can expect at least some of that sociability. I am presuming that Ligers' brains are simply scaled up big cat brains without any geneticist-imposed imperatives.

Communication

Cats do communicate with each other, despite being largely solitary, except for lions, and, we can presume, ligers. They would share the basic language of the cats from which they descended, of sounds and body language. However, with inflated brains would come inflated language centres, and additional complexity in communication is a certainty. That their communication would be quite unlike ape communication is also pretty much a certainty. While apes vocal communication takes the form of a variety of hoots and screeches, and this is modified to more modulated vocal communication, cats communicate vocally with more limited growls and roars. While this could be modulated to a human-intelligible voice, there is no reason for it to be so convenient for us.

Some bird calls sound like a fairly bland raucous squawk, but examine them using modern sound processing equipment, and you'll find that there are subtle, rapid frequency shifts. So might our Ligers have particularly resonant roars that are carriers for subtle frequency shifts and harmonics in which information can be conveyed. As cats are known for their particularly good hearing, they would have no problem receiving such communication.

So, we have communication that to a human ear still sounds like a roar, perhaps modulated a bit, but if a human tried to emulate that, it would sound to the Ligers like a monkey trying to emulate a human voice would sound to humans - amusing or infantile at best.

As for the particulars of their language(s)... that could be a whole other question in itself. However, we can state that for complex communication to occur, there should be distinct words, however the linguistic typology will most likely differ from that of humans, and the content would differ due to the different life experiences.

As for communicating with humans, we may well find that the ligers are better able to understand human language than humans could understand their speech, due to their neurology. We can still not understand dolphins or elephants, but they are quite able to understand us in a limited way.

Sociability

With sociability comes the necessity for social interaction. You can't get away from it without having the blood and corpses of your former pride-mates everywhere. So, we can expect that our ligers would talk amongst each other, and engage in both verbal and physical social grooming. However, due to the lower pitch of their voices, their communication would carry far further than would a human voice in the same circumstances, we could expect that a greater degree of physical separation between members of a pride would be comfortable than would be the case for humans, but they could also be comfortable with sleeping in very close proximity.

As to what would constitute verbal social grooming, for humans it is the weather - we don't like getting rained on much. For ligers, it may be something else of common interest, such as "How's the prey running today?" or "Have you smelled the wind today?"

Mindset

Humans are highly social omnivorous apes with concealed estrous, and that colours our mindset very strongly. However, Ligers are mildly social carnivorous cats, probably still with overt estrous.

As a top predator throughout their evolutionary history (as opposed to humans who have become top predators relatively recently), we can expect a certain degree of confidence that humans lack. However, even a pride of lions must be wary of other predator species. On the other hand, predators are to a degree cowardly by human standards. A solitary predator cannot afford to take an injury when hunting, so they take as few risks as possible. However, social hunters such as lions can afford to take more risks as they have family to fall back on in case of injury. Ligers would fall between these extremes.

Big cats have been observed to catch the young of prey species alive to give to their own offspring as toys to practice hunting upon. There is no reason why Ligers would be any different. Quite obviously Ligers would see any species incapable of proactively fighting back as being potential prey, but like most predators, they would not be averse to reducing the numbers of other, competing, predatory species if the opportunity presented itself. They would be smart enough to recognise humans as being a predatory species highly inclined to retaliate for the obvious loss of members to predator species, but if the opportunity presented itself for the quiet "disappearance" of a solitary human, they'd jump at it (pun intended).

As predators descending from a species with fewer or more specific mirror neurons, Ligers would have some empathy for their own kind, and to other cats to a lesser degree than humans have for monkeys, but would have pretty much none for other species. Any pain or inconvenience that they may inflict on other species would be either a matter of indifference or utility - if by deliberately causing a non-fatal injury, they could gain some advantage, they wouldn't hesitate. No animal protection society for them.

On the other hand, Ligers may feel quite a degree of like toward other species, much as human farmers tend to like their livestock. That Ligers can like the species that they prey on, and then go on to terrorise and kill members of those species would not be perceived as anything unusual by the ligers.

Ligers, probably having an overt oestrous cycle like other cats, would be unlike humans in their sexual behaviour. Humans use sex as an intimate bonding activity, whereas for Ligers, sex would be an occasional enjoyable diversion and other activities - such as mutual grooming and conversation - would be used for social bonding. Since, like lions, the main social bonds would likely between members of like gender, and mainly between the females of a pride, it is likely that despite any difference in size favouring the males, males would be viewed as the second-class gender, that the females keep around to fight other males and to have fun with when estrus occurs, and the rest of the time, they are considered a bit useless.

Male lions have a tendency to kill the offspring of other males, unless they are closely related, however Liger females may be highly protective of their own offspring, and are unlikely to allow this to happen if they can help it. Infanticide by males would likely be one of those nasty little throwbacks to primitive behaviour that occurs now and then in any species, and the culprit would be unlikely to be allowed to profit from such a crime as may be the case with less intelligent species of cat. Male Ligers would struggle against their instinctive dislike of unrelated cubs and oppose it with the need to be near the female ligers in order to engender their own offspring.

As creatures with some intelligence, however, the female Ligers may allow a degree of infanticide as a means of population control and fitness selection. Very young cubs would be protected as long as they were healthy (and not if they were otherwise) and conditions permit (Lions will abandon their cubs if times are hard), but older cubs may be subjected to tests involving a high degree of risk of death. This could be in some form of military training led by adult males (who would be the primary fighters, as opposed to the females who would be the primary hunters), and it is possible that any significant training injuries or other major failures for cubs would be punishable by death, providing incentive for the others, and strengthening the bloodline by removing defective genetic material.

As a predatory species, Ligers would likely have little sympathy with any members who did not have the potential of being useful members of a pride. Certainly they would look after injured individuals who had the potential for recovery, but crippling injuries, illnesses or birth defects would earn the sufferer only contempt, regardless of that individual's previous strengths.

Tool Use

This section pre-supposes that Ligers do not have genetically-modified opposable thumbs.

With greatly enhanced intelligence comes the ability to manipulate the environment. Cats are not the least dextrous species, despite having thumbs of only limited opposability, as they use their paws to grasp their prey. The structure of the cat paw allows for some limited ability to grasp objects between the pad of the hand and the digits. However, for Ligers, the manipulation of objects is more likely to be a calculated or learned ability, rather than the instinctive activity it is for humans. A Liger wouldn't instinctively think of throwing something, but with the power of observation and reason, they could quickly learn from the example provided by other animals (such as humans). They are unlikely to ever be as good at it as humans, as in comparison their paws are large and clumsy, but what they may lack in finesse, they would make up in power.

A Liger would not see most human doors as much of an obstacle, when they have the size and strength to crash through them, though if they were being stealthy they could use a human door handle and maybe even a round knob (Humans: Recess those circular doorknobs!)

It is possible that after observing humans that Ligers may be able to make simple flint tools, shaped to fit the feline paw. These, in turn, could be used to assist in the production of simple traps, such as covered pits or deadfalls, though a Liger's sharp teeth and claws would be additional tools readily available for most purposes.

Relations with Humans

Ligers would see Humans as inherently weak, making up for serious deficiencies in strength, toughness, claws and dentition with some clever feats of dexterity. On the other hand, a Liger is strong, tough and smart, strong enough that they can make mincemeat of a number of humans in a stand-up fight, and smart and stealthy enough to avoid being shot by those humans' pesky projectiles.

Even if some humans managed to capture a Liger cub - and managed to communicate with it - the cub would inevitably grow to see its human captors as weak and contemptible, regardless of how successfully they might restrain their captive for a while.

For the most part, Humans would be considered as an Other Predatory Species, and no true peace could exist between the two species. Ligers may pretend to compromise with humans, but they would always be looking for an opportunity to rid their range of these competitors. Given the potential danger that a human community poses, any action is likely to be a swift, decisive elimination of that human community in it's entirety rather than a piecemeal reduction in human numbers that would allow and even encourage retaliation.

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  • $\begingroup$ Given the large distances, I could imagine that their social "smalltalk" mirrors behaviour found with people on phones: They would simply tend to tell each other where they currently are. Indeed, that could extend to telling about the position of others out of hear range for one of them and even positions of others they were themselves told by again others, so that ultimately every Liger knows quite well where all the other Ligers relevant to him are, even if they are far out of hearing range. $\endgroup$ – celtschk Mar 10 '15 at 8:55
  • $\begingroup$ Very thoughtful and thorough answer! I enjoyed reading it very much, and am inclined to agree on your deductions about behaviors. $\endgroup$ – m t Mar 10 '15 at 17:23
  • $\begingroup$ However, due to the lower pitch of their voices, their communication would carry far further than would a human voice in the same circumstances. Are you sure? I've always heard that low frequencies attenuate more quickly. Just imagine a pair of headphones. With them right up against your ears, the sound is great, but listen from across the room and all you hear is the high frequencies. This is why you need massive, overpowered specialty speakers (subwoofers) to generate low tones that will project. $\endgroup$ – Mason Wheeler Mar 10 '15 at 17:57
  • $\begingroup$ @MasonWheeler, I work a few kilometres away from a port and a city. I never hear the sounds of car and truck horns (high pitched), but on the rare occasion a ship sounds its horn (low pitched), I can hear it clearly, even in my office. Lions' roars and elephants subsonic vocalisations can be heard for many kilometres, while higher pitched animal calls can only be heard at relatively close range. Of course, there is blurring of the signal, so ligers would not be able to convey as much information at long ranges as at close range. Also, high frequencies allow higher bandwidth. $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Mar 10 '15 at 23:00
  • $\begingroup$ @MontyWild: You're missing out on the one thing that ship's horns, lions, elephants, and subwoofers all have in common, compared to car's horns, smaller animals, and smaller speakers: they're very, very big and have a lot of power behind them. That's needed to project low frequencies over a great distance. $\endgroup$ – Mason Wheeler Mar 10 '15 at 23:17
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In my experience reading Science Fiction, I've found the most "alien" aliens - to me - are those with a modified morality axis. Very little else matters - there's such a variety of human cultures that you can do a ton with culture and language and yet they still feel human. But do something radical with morals, and explore that concept to it's logical conclusion, and it feels alien.

One of the best examples I've read was an alien race that had no moral stigma against betrayal. They would think nothing of turning against current allies if they saw advantage in it (whether they care about long or short term was up to the individuals in question). Now the above in itself isn't sufficient - lots of human cultures have very little loyalty to groups, and betrayal is common. What made them feel alien is that betrayal as "bad" wasn't on their radar - it wasn't something they could even comprehend. Human cultures with betrayal, even when common, generally consider it negative in at least some aspects (within family, for example). But these aliens didn't have that - it just didn't compute with them - and that really made them feel foreign to me.

Now I don't think the above (betrayal) works for Ligers. I would consider the following possibilities:

  1. Killing - I don't think your Ligers would be pure unremittent murderbeasts, but as killing carnivores they'd likely have a much more relaxed view of killing than humans.
  2. Torture/playing with food - might not even compute as even potentially wrong to a big cat.

Alternatively, you can go the other direction and make certain things humans do as immoral to Ligers. For example, maybe they feel that land ownership is wrong on the order of murder/rape, or obscene. Or since they were created by a tree hugger, they might have inhumanly strong feelings on pollution/environmental damage.

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    $\begingroup$ A male lion taking over a pride will kill even the cutest little lion cub. Describing a cub-killing from the killer's point of view could be really chilling. $\endgroup$ – Patricia Shanahan Mar 10 '15 at 8:09
  • $\begingroup$ One of the best examples I've read was an alien race that had no moral stigma against betrayal. This wouldn't happen to be the centipede-like Vovokans, would it? I didn't actually read them as unimaginably alien; it kind of felt to me like "this race is what happens when your race has a 'human nature' such that Objectivism actually produces a stable society." (Which, I suppose, is pretty alien, but the underlying concept is unfortunately all too familiar.) $\endgroup$ – Mason Wheeler Mar 10 '15 at 17:59
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    $\begingroup$ Yep, that's them. I think there's a difference between unimaginable and alien for this question, though - presumably a truly unimaginable alien would do things that made no sense to humans at all. The Vovokans are comprehensible in that we can understand how they work, but I still consider them foreign/alien, just like Randists. :) $\endgroup$ – Dan Smolinske Mar 10 '15 at 18:25
  • $\begingroup$ As a practical note. In world building an alien race that is incomprehensible is very hard to use. Aliens must think enough like humans to be comprehensible to human for humans to be capable of feeling them as alien and different instead of simply fake. If the story is about the aliens and you can spend lots of words explaining how the aliens think in detail, you can make them weirder. Otherwise it is best to stay fairly close but drastically change something story relevant that is nearly universal among the audience. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Mar 11 '15 at 7:50
  • $\begingroup$ "Unremittent murderbeasts"? I'm pretty sure the term is murderhobos. $\endgroup$ – KSmarts Mar 11 '15 at 21:31
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They would be super-strong, agile, and fast, obviously. Less obviously, they'd sleep 16 to 20 hours a day and have a lifespan of 25 years or less (tigers being somewhat longer-lived than lions on average). They'd have less stamina than humans -- I imagine their movements in battle would be quick, vicious, and have an exit strategy. Being less dexterous than humans, I think they'd be hard-pressed to develop the bow and arrow. Some craftier, more patient individuals might trade for human weapons or other technology. They may rely less on color (feline color vision not being quite as good as ours) and more on scent and hearing. Someone's great grand-damn may have claimed she could smell into the future or such. Their vocal apparatus may not be as flexible as ours, so language might be slower and/or depend more on body language. Writing would be difficult, though simple messages might be scratched into rock or bark, but if you combine limited writing with their shorter lifespans, knowledge may be lost more easily. Or teaching could become a very prized profession. Eventually, arms limitation treating with humans would forbid the use of laser pointers in combat.

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Cats are notoriously curious and love to "play". Those they play with often don't appreciate the attention they are receiving.

The cats are capable killing machines and they don't have much to be afraid of. Especially in their home forest.

Ideas to use:

The Sphinx: Enigmatic, intelligent and can't be bothered to speak clearly. Plays with words and ideas.

The Cheshire Cat: Crazy, loves mind games, always has multiple meanings to what it says.

Garfield: Egocentric to the extreme, only cares about his cares and food

Vain, most cats show a level of vanity that would likely be their Achilles heel. Fickle. If you live or die, it is mostly based on how they are feeling. Are they hungry? Feeling tired and lazy in the sun? Been bored? Maybe they give you a sporting chance.

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A couple of random thoughts:

  1. All cats that we know of sleep 75-80% of the time; it's not just your housecat. That could be something that would either has to be dealt with by the ligers themselves in order for them to remain effective longer during a given day (either personally or as part of their social structure), or perhaps that trait was modified or ameliorated genetically during engineering. Maybe a semi-conscious trance-like state for part of that time (in which they are aware of their environment and are able to rouse themselves nearly instantly) and real sleep on a more human-useful time period?

  2. A large component of cats' communication is scent-based; perhaps your ligers have a whole other dimension to their communication. I can imagine a system whereby a particular scent or pheromone vs another can give an entirely different meaning to vocalizations that would otherwise be identical aurally. And it could also be used for fully non-verbal communication: "M'rama silently exuded disapproval-anger, which smelled a bit like sage and cinnamon to Col. Jessup." Sarcasm pheromone?

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I would expect them to be able to psychically communicate images and impressions at least with those they are connected with, and to have developed deep symbiotic relationships with the sentient forest.

I would expect their concept of well-being to be founded in a reliable source of food (which I'd expect them to consume a lot of), and territory, though the territory part might become something else if they have

I would expect them to be very attentive to territory intrusions, dangers, and prey/food.

I would expect them to habitually explore and map out (memorize) their surroundings so as to know all the paths (including climbing options), hiding places, and sources of food, water, etc.

I would expect them to avoid direct immediate contact with threat creatures by acute senses, psychic radar, and having memorized all their surroundings. I'd expect them to avoid detection by remaining still and silent in concealment, and/or quickly and silently retreating and observing until they had assessed the threat, and only to confront or attack threats when they are very sure they have a solid advantage, by waiting for ambush opportunities and/or gathering neighbour ligers for reinforcements. I would expect a group of intelligent ligers to be capable of coordinating some terrible concentric ambush attacks.

I would expect that they would tend to relate to members of other species as either agreeable/tolerable/unappetizing, or as target/prey/food, and to be fairly unwilling to accept unfavorable compromise unless/while they thought that they had little choice.

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In the real world (Earth) Ligers DO breed. Several such cubs, a product of liger and liger do exist. I am not terribly sure I would enjoy living near Ligers with enhanced intelligence. Normal things like fences and closed windows may not deter them for long. I have seen photos of a real world liger casually rocking a double decker bus from the outside. Well if I wanted to make them way scarier (and unlike any Earthly feline) I would give them opposable thumbs. Any anthropologist can tell you what that means. Tools, with writing to follow. I would also consider extending their range of vision, further into the far red and perhaps a blue shift capability too.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is incorrect. While female ligers (ligresses) can be fertile, the males are not. The cubs of female ligers that exist have been sired by pure-bred tigers or lions, not ligers. $\endgroup$ – KSmarts Mar 11 '15 at 15:39

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