Alright, so I was bouncing ideas off the wall about how the society of a species (maybe genetically modified humans?) with biological radio communication and electric field communication would look like.

Radio communication is not that difficult to achieve (all we would need are metal nerves) and would actually lead to higher data transmission rates than just sound based communication. (I'll refer you to this brilliant answer by Monty Wild that details how such an ability might exist.) Electric field communication is possible even today, in some electric fishes, so that's great! However, I imagine that in a world where everyone is a walking cellphone, no one would actually use sound to communicate with anyone else. Electric field based communication would come in when discretion is needed, due to the nature of radio waves to spread out, taking advantage of the fact that electric fields don't propagate well in air. All you would need to do is hold the person's hand, and easily transmit your message via local electric field manipulation without having to worry about anyone else eavesdropping.

So my question is this: What is the use case of sound in this world? Interpersonal communications are largely handled by radio, and secret messages can be sent through touch, so communication effectively no longer requires sound. Echolocation, perhaps, given that radio and sound interact with materials differently, but what's the point of echolocation in a species with functional eyes? I don't know what's left. Expressing emotional states, maybe?

What do you guys think?

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    $\begingroup$ I think you've thought yourself into a box. Our ears don't exist first and foremost for communication. Our ears exist to tell us when something is going to sneak up on us and eat us. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Commented May 24, 2021 at 4:15
  • $\begingroup$ I'm aware that situational awareness would still be the primary application of sound, but that is a passive sensory usage. I'm talking about active generation of sound for a purpose. Would the voice box become vestigial? $\endgroup$ Commented May 24, 2021 at 4:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Baron_vonCernogratz Possibly, except for yelling. Because you know, that can be scary. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Commented May 24, 2021 at 4:30
  • $\begingroup$ Do you want the voice box to become vestigial? What pressures has the species faced which might lead to each of the possible alternative outcomes? What are you asking? $\endgroup$ Commented May 24, 2021 at 4:30
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    $\begingroup$ I put it as a comment on Monty Wilds answer as well, but metal nerves aren't a great advantage. The electricity is faster, but the synapses aren't. The synapses are the time consumers, not the electrical part of the nerves. It's like replacing sportsmen with Usain Bolt in a relay race, but not improving the hour long administration at each checkpoint. Metal nerves give a lot of problems in flexibility, like how to prevent breakage in the elbow, as well as the management of an ungodly amount of heavy metals in the body with uncertainty how glia cells could maintain it. Metal nerves? Infeasible. $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Commented May 24, 2021 at 6:09

4 Answers 4


What is the use case of sound in this world?

Secret communication via touch is rather useless. If I am a 3 letters agency and want to instruct my operatives to spy on enemy's 3 letters agency, it's a tad inconvenient to have to hold their hands, because I maybe sitting in my office while they are in enemy's country.

Or if I am a pack hunter, it's again inconvenient to have to touch my pack member to coordinate the surrounding of a target.

If you, as organism, can detect something, you can use it for communication. And being able to detect sound is very useful. A boulder rumbling above your head is a threat you want to avoid if you want to be able to mate, but a boulder doesn't produce radio waves. So either being able to see it or hear it proves really useful.

The sound of a river flowing in the distance can also be useful if drinking water can let you survive one more day.

  • $\begingroup$ I've struggled with voting to close the question as unclear and voting to close as opinion-based. The comments seem to indicate that the species' use of their voice seems to be the main issue not what you've answered. The question needs more details to be answered, but it turns out as opinion-based too. $\endgroup$ Commented May 24, 2021 at 5:50

Of course sound is useful for awareness of your surroundings. You didn't consider that with radio a creature would be less likely to have a sense of smell, touch or taste. However you mentioned this in your comments.

Your comments revealed that you are discussing sound as communication and language. Although humans are the only species which uses advanced language, many creatures generate sound for communication. This is generally to feed into the awareness of sound mentioned in my first paragraph. Examples are dogs barking to trigger the response of creatures listening for danger from other animals. (This is why the first paragraph is worth mentioning even after your comments dismissed the issue of sound as awareness.)

We might be assuming sapient creatures using EM radio waves. Birds and bees detect the earth's magnetic field by flying through it (which generates EM waves) for the purpose of navigation without being sapient creatures. Communication and tool building are essential for evolving sapient. So language versus complex radio communication might be in a race for one to obsolete the other. In our case with sound for language we didn't evolve radio. A scenario for your world might be that sound based communication evolved earlier and might have vestiges in the contemporary species.

For the case of genetic modification all bets are off. It might be up to those doing the genetic modification to judge if sound based language is necessary in a radio communicating species. Genetics have a limit of energy (not only to use but to develop features) and limit of complexity. This is why species lose previously beneficial features which are no longer as much of a benefit to adapting the current environment. It is also why sharks have not evolved, because they are at the limit of their adaptability. So genetic modification to add radio communication might have to give up other features so they might disable sound communication as no longer needed.

  • $\begingroup$ "for the purpose of navigation without being sentient creatures" - I'll accept "not sapient", maybe, but "not sentient" is a pretty harsh judgment for the average bird. $\endgroup$ Commented May 24, 2021 at 15:51


It seems fairly obvious, but if your species can hear, and started with verbal communication, they likely find sound beautiful. Singing will continue as long as there is appreciation of a beautiful human voice.

But you may find that speech continues on despite the electronic nerves. If these things are implants (metal nerves may be trickier than you think), babies are going to lack them, or may lack full function. Sound is at least useful in development in humans. And I doubt a call on your internal phone will convey urgent, intimate and personal information like speech, a grunt or appreciative vocalization, or just a good old fashioned scream.

But back to my original point, speech is likely going to become an art form. Language and sound reach deep into the primitive psyche of the human mind. In the same way that poetry is not an efficient communicator of facts but has persisted for centuries, the pure art and emotional resonance of song and speech will likely continue on long after people don't NEED to talk.

  • $\begingroup$ @ARogueAnt. The opening line discusses society that is or is like a human one. If the species never had hearing, this might be different. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Commented May 24, 2021 at 5:29

Radio is fine and dandy to communicate across long distances and electric communication can let you speak privately, but the ability to produce and interpret sound is a bit too dynamic for me to believe your creatures have absolutely zero uses for it.

Starting with navigation and predation: Dolphins aren't blind, and neither are bats, however, they both have the ability to echolocate regardless. Dolphins use it to hunt in murky darker waters without problem, and bats can use theirs to find prey and navigate in 3 dimensions across complex environments in complete darkness where there's just not enough light for their eyes to work with (funny and tragic enough, a problem regarding bats is that they give more credit to their vision than to their echolocation, which is why it's still possible for a bat to hit a glass window even though it could "hear" it was there).

And before you think it's something only highly specialize mammals can do, oilbirds also use it to navigate the dark caves they roost in. So right off the "bat" we can already see how having eyes, unlike what you might think, doesn't make echolocation pointless.

When it comes to hunting, even animals with great eyesight and no echolocation ability can use sound to their advantage. Many owls, in addition to their superb night vision and great eyesight, also make a fair use of sound to hunt, especially in snowy regions where their prey can stay hidden within the snow. The asymmetrical ears and facial disks in some of these owls also ensure they can perfectly hear the smallest sound in 3 dimensions, accurately determining where their prey is without being able to see it. This shows well how even the ability to hear well is already a big advantage even if you can't use it to "see" the world around you.

"but surely sound becomes pointless with radio communication right?" well remember how your animals can communicate privately with electric fields? Elephants also have their own private channel, except it still works between individuals several kilometers away because instead of electric fields elephants can communicate through infrasound. Even if radio waves can travel further, not every single creature around can understand or even hear certain low frequencies, seen as how humans can't even hear these frequencies (which is precisely why we're call it infrasound, being lower than the lowest frequency we can perceive with our ears). Certain crocodilians also use similar frequencies to attract mates, propagating then through the air and water in a call which humans can barely perceive with their ears (although the intense ripples they create in the surface of the water are visible). It's not crazy that in your world many animals use radio frequencies to communicate, since we have that with ordinary sound. Similarly, it's not crazy that some of your creatures don't have the same auditory range, meaning that while species A needs to rely on touching one another to talk privately, 2 individuals from species B can maintain a conversation kilometers away knowing no one can understand or, at times, even hear them (think of it as a group of coded messages, it's both the frequencies and language used that needs to be understood in order to crack the code, except not everyone can even perceive the frequencies to begin with).

Lastly: getting funky. I already mentioned how crocodilians have low frequency mating calls, but they're not alone. Whales, birds, dolphins and other animals also engage in singing to attract a mate, with birds also mixing in things like flashy displays, impressive nest buildings, gifts, dances and more. They lyre bird particularly can crank up singing to the next level and mimic a number of different sounds it hears, given enough time, with some learning to mimic sounds more common to human environments such as chainsaws and construction tool, as well as the sounds and calls emmited by different birds (supposedly being so good at it that even the mimicked animals themselves would believe to be hearing another of its own species).

I'd also add how the ability to mimic sounds can also be useful for defense, but given you said most of your creatures use radio frequencies rather than sounds, I'd suppose there wouldn't be all that many sounds useful enough for mimicking to be that big of an advantage.

So summing up, even if you have other means of communication, the ability to perceive and produce sound is still very useful, from being able to navigate in dark places where light is either absent or mostly useless (fog, murky dark waters, underground cave systems) to being Able to hear relatively silent prey scurrying around unseen to communicating privately across vast distances without using a system everyone else understands and uses. It might no longer be the best for animals that are in a calm situation and close by, but it's still got uses for navigation and for communication, especially if you're hunting a species that went through that logic and has little to no ability to perceive the sounds you're using, meaning your ability to hunt in packs remains unaffected and completely secret (until natural selection starts to do its thing, that is).


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