I have been asked to clarify "effective". "I have an alien contact concept running where they are telepathic. Right now I have imagery being sent mind to mind, but the only thing I can think of is that this could be misinterpreted as aggression, given how xenophobic the world's governments seem to be. How else might they communicate effectively? TIA..."

Let's say an alien race wants to make first contact with inhabitants of earth. Peacefully, no aggression. They communicate primarily through telepathy, although color changes and gestures can enhance or modify what ever is being sent telepathically. I'm using imagery, but I'm guessing other cues like smell and what's being sensed through other physical input could be transmitted/received as well telepathically.

Humans are verbal, and for decades have been dumping radio waves into space in many, many languages. So, other than the proverbial "We come in peace" statement from '50s B movies, it's not clear the languages could be deciphered on their end.

I'm assuming face to face contact, or even physical contact. "Effective" here means little ambiguity on the peaceful/aggressive scale. Does that help at all?

  • $\begingroup$ Depends on the kind of telepathy I guess - our minds are a lot more than words and pictures, and we don't process things linearly, so your aliens would potentially be able to transmit scent, sound, sensorial stimuli, etc, to cause a desired effect $\endgroup$
    – Vmf
    Nov 1 '18 at 16:06
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    $\begingroup$ Rather than aggression, I think your main problem would be people (the recipient or others) thinking the recipient is going crazy. $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Nov 1 '18 at 16:09
  • $\begingroup$ Please clarify what is it that you're actually asking. How do you define effective communication in this case? What are the aliens' intentions? An aggressive message is perfectly fine if your intention is to declare war $\endgroup$ Nov 2 '18 at 7:54
  • $\begingroup$ I once had an idea for a race that was telepathic, but could only communicate to the memory centers of human brains. So you'd ask them a question, and it'd feel like you "remembered" being told the answer as they placed in your memory. $\endgroup$ Nov 5 '18 at 19:26

The idea of first contact being a tentacled being emerging from a capsule on a remote farm (or even the white-house lawn) and saying "Take me to your leader" . . . is never going to happen.

There will be a long period where the aliens communicate with us first, to set up boundaries and expectations.

It may be customary for them at important state meetings, to sever a limb and offer it to the other party, or for each to sacrifice one of their many larva and feed it to the other . . . or lots of things we humans cannot or will not do.

So, there will be lots of communication, protocols will be defined and a first contact ceremony created.

This is a problem even if it's not telepathy, the human answer to the "how do you communicate?" question is "sound, i.e. vibrations through the gaseous atmosphere on our planet" . . . but vibrations at what amplitudes and frequencies? It's no good if their voices make our ears bleed or are pitched above a dog whistle, some form of technology will be needed to bridge the gap, to translate their communication into speech we can hear.

With telepathy, compatibility will be down to the structures that make up their mind & how that mind operates, which is all down to biology. What are the chances that two independently evolved minds will even be telepathically compatible?

Who's to say they will have something we would even recognize as a brain?

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    $\begingroup$ While I laughed out loud regarding "severing a limb and offer it...", it kind of makes sense given we just don't know and the exchange may seem over the top to us. Appreciate the feedback and the chuckle. $\endgroup$
    – JJ White
    Nov 1 '18 at 20:51
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    $\begingroup$ @JJWhite I found that one, and the "sacrifice larva" to be odd (but interesting) too, but they could actually make sense. Imagine an ET race that can just regrow a limb like a lizard; offering a limb might not be a big deal to them. Or, if they eat the animals they encounter like we do, offering a larva could be a sign of respect, as in: We do value life, but we understand that creatures eat each other; the feral bxy eat us just as your wolves eat you, and you eat cows, and we eat hna. So too, here is one of ours for your meal, and we expect one of yours for us." $\endgroup$
    – Loduwijk
    Nov 1 '18 at 21:45

By finding humans that associate together and sending them the same imagery that is not something they'd come up with on their own. Once they know others are independently "dreaming" these same bizarre (but harmless) things, they'll realize something outside of them is happening.

Then it spreads. And goes in the media. Perhaps surreptitiously, so only the "dreamers" can recognize it. Think symbols or shapes or various creations like an unusual building.

Soon there are internet groups and meetings and either underground or public discourse, depending on your storyline.

Once people believe these images have meaning, the aliens can start communicating more complex things. And the people will start sending images of their own.

  • $\begingroup$ Like in the 1985 move Explorers? $\endgroup$ Nov 1 '18 at 16:44
  • $\begingroup$ I've never heard of that movie. Though the idea of people seeing shared symbols and getting together around it is one I've seen in various media. $\endgroup$ Nov 1 '18 at 16:49
  • $\begingroup$ It was a fun movie if you were a kid in the 80s, but otherwise there's no reason you'd have heard of it :) $\endgroup$ Nov 1 '18 at 17:04
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    $\begingroup$ I was slightly too old :-) $\endgroup$ Nov 1 '18 at 17:54

I think your aliens would have the best success with imagery and symbology. It's very human to communicate that way. But these aren't humans and they may not realize that, so direct telepathy seems natural to them. However, humans may view such messages skeptically and may respond unfavorably. Personally, I'd find telepathy I can't prevent terrifying and would likely avoid the aliens because of it. Depending on their prose, I may respond with hostility.

They might try talking or reading and writing. You can give your aliens various levels of ineptitude depending on your story goals. You can even have them grunt and pantomime like caveman, inciting mockery, scorn, and indifference, much like how humans treat other humans they think are dumb.

You can make them very bad at communicating on human levels and come up with some off-the-wall attempts. They might try to create cosmic signs, formulate math equations, or repeat incessantly "[Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra](http://memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/Darmok_(episode))". On the simple end, you can be very creative here by having them do what children or any species of animals do.

If they understand humans and also cannot talk, they might favor appointing a human liaison. They communicate telepathically with him, who in turn relays the message in human language. I think there would still be skepticism here, as many would wonder if we could trust this "alien prophet".

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    $\begingroup$ I like the liaison idea, perhaps someone they can sense has a touch of the "gift", although as others are commenting it's all up in the air. We just don't know, and never will until it happens. Dramatic license is my friend I guess, and I'll just have to get a feel for how far I can have readers suspend belief. Thanks! $\endgroup$
    – JJ White
    Nov 1 '18 at 20:49

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