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My alien life started out inside deep caves on a dark and icy planet. Over millions of years, a strand evolved into a mighty, technologically-advanced civilization. To have achieved all that they have, they need to know how to communicate and preserve knowledge.

I thought a plausible way could be through the manipulation of electromagnetic waves, ideally X- or Gamma-rays (as their planet is drenched in them).

What would it take for this to have been a scientifically plausible way for the aliens to have evolved?

Edited to limit to a single question

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    $\begingroup$ @Cadence In addition, "dark" is meaningless here. Visible dark or gamma/x-ray dark? And are the caves gamma/x-ray dark too? Because if it's dark in the caves then what does it matter what is on the surface? And if the gamma/x-rays can get into the caves, then why do you say dark at all? $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Jun 26 at 20:18
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    $\begingroup$ @DKNguyen I mentioned 'dark' because they have not had the need to evolve to see visible light. $\endgroup$
    – marmel
    Jun 26 at 20:19
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    $\begingroup$ @DKNguyen Surely one can still use a common English word according to its everyday usage rather than a jargon usage. If you read the synopsis of a novel outside this forum with it worded the same way as the OP, would you really be genuinely confused? Clarifying it was fine, scolding him is unfair, IMO. $\endgroup$ Jun 26 at 20:54
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    $\begingroup$ @SeanOConnor For a synopsis on the back of a book? Sure. But I interpreted that not as a synopsis but as context for the question that was about to be asked. I believe it gets very confusing if you're talking about alternate worlds but use imprecise language. It'd be like talking about different planets but then talking about pounds for mass, or years or days. I would not have taken so much issue with it if caves were not mentioned because when talking about gamma/X-rays it was unclear what kind of darkness applied to the caves. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Jun 26 at 21:03
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    $\begingroup$ Seems unlikely for molecule-based life, but quite reasonable for the inhabitants of a neutron star. $\endgroup$ Jun 27 at 15:07

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For this subject, communication can be divided into two categories. The first is interpersonal communication. In humans it historically involves things like sight (hand signals, body language, symbols, colors, images, etc.), sound (vocalizations). The second is non-personal/informational, which involves anything meant/interpreted as information. Smell (rotten, sweet, sickly, musty, etc.), touch (hot, cold, wet, dry, sharp, etc.), sight (learned dangers, colors, patterns, etc.), sound (natural, animalistic), taste (bitter, sour, sweet). In more modern times, this includes books, audio recordings, video recordings, carvings, images, and other similar methods. Interpersonal communication is easy. It is anything two or more individuals agree represents a verb or idea. A middle finger could be an insult or a greeting. Informational communication is a bit trickier if the intent it to transmit information across generations. The medium needs to be something capable of lasting beyond the current generation. This can be something like paper, which is fragile, or stone, which is not. It needs to be unchanging to a large degree. Sound was not a great medium for information retention prior to the ability to record it on an unchanging medium. Monkeys can communicate just fine interpersonally, but suck at long term information storage. Your aliens will need both methods of communication, and they will likely be very different methods as interpersonal would have arisen long before informational. It also needs to be capable of expressing complex thoughts and ideas. A scream can communicate danger, but not “Throw me a spear so I can kill the lion about to pounce.”

None of the methods mentioned in the OP are great for long term information storage. I am also curious as to why sound and writing are not options for communication. The planet has an atmosphere, which means sound can travel. The absence of light would facilitate the need for a method of navigation. Sound can also be used for echolocation. As for writing, as long as the aliens have the ability to feel things, they could cut marks into the ground or onto thin pieces of slate and have alien braille. Humanity passed information along using songs and stories until the written word was invented. Even prior to writing, humans were passing down information via cave paintings and other artwork. Writing is what enabled civilization to advance its technology. It is unlikely an alien species would be able to achieve advanced technology without some form of written communication.

Out of the options you presented, electromagnetic waves are a somewhat viable option for interpersonal. Bioelectricity could allow for the generation of weak electromagnetic waves. It would be trash for storing knowledge for future generations, but would work fine for close range communication. Also poor for long range communication as the field strength fades quickly. There also wouldn’t be any shouting around cave corners using bioelectricity, so its use is limited. Plus, after they invent VCR tapes, any baby alien screaming too loud nearby would erase the video and ruin movie night.

I suggest considering thermal radiation as an interpersonal communication method. In a cold environment, heat signatures could potentially be a method of seeing things from a distance, but is still limited to line of sight. Their method of communication could be a controlled response where they are able to heat their skin to specific temperatures in patterns not unlike octopus. They could heat up a pattern on their hand and hold that against a wall to leave a temporary imprint. There is still the issue of recording information for future generations, as heat fades, but it could be combined with something like scratch writing. Humans have invented many methods of communicating. Do not limit your aliens to just one method. If you want to incorporate harsher forms of radiation, the use of radioactive (hot) minerals could potentially be used to record information. This heat would fade over time due to the material’s half-life, but it is an option. A longer lived radioactive source could transmit heat info across generations. After the heat fades, there are still the scratches. Aliens which can see heat, and live in a cold biome, would likely search for areas of heat to reduce energy expenditure. This would help them to uncover radioactive minerals and potentially incorporate them in their civilization. They could paint signs on cave walls that are invisible to humans but easily seen using their thermal vision. The invention of the heating element would allow for remote heat-based communication akin to telephones. Computer screens could project heat images which essentially are just as useful as human computers. If you use heat as a communication method, you should also ensure the vocabulary reflects it. The aliens will be thinking in terms compatible with their method of communication.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is an excellent answer and what i was looking for! I did want to distinguish between interpersonal communication and information storage, but I couldn't quite get my thoughts down, so thank you for making that distinction! and i LOVE your suggestion of thermal radiation, it works really nicely in my world and with my plot $\endgroup$
    – marmel
    Jun 30 at 0:04
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It depends on what you mean by "manipulation". Do you mean reflection? Or active transmission? It should not be unlike the way visible light is here on Earth.

If the planet is drenched in Gamma/X-ray then that would just be like how Earth is drenched in visible light. That makes visual displays that use ambient radiation through reflection "easy". I say "easy" because there are no known materials that can reflect gamma because their wavelength is smaller than atoms and X-rays are difficult to reflect. That also makes vision using ambient on your planet tricky if most materials by and large are transparent and not reflective to these wavelengths.

But if you mean active transmission then that seems unlikely in the same way that bioluminescence is not used at all (as far as I know) in sunlit areas on Earth but is very common in the darkest places. If your surroundings are drenched in something that means it's drenched in noise and you probably don't want to use it for communication.

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When atoms are affected by large amounts of high energy radiation, they can undergo transmutation to other isotopes. That means the planet likely have different minerals with radioactive isotopes. Organisms could uptake these, and include in communication organs. Communication would be by changing the spatial arrangement of the isotopes, and detection would be by the energy deposit in the receiver.

I'm not sure this could work in real life, but it would be ok for sci-fi, I think

Note: direct transmutation from gamma rays is not very likely, but secondary released particles could do it.

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Consider Mossbauer spectroscopy

Gamma rays and xrays don't correspond to easily accessible electron transition levels, i.e. to any normal chemical method. It'll be hard to make them happen without some sort of setup of radioactive isotopes in your creatures.

When it comes to receiving them, there's a thing called Mossbauer spectroscopy, where you slowly move a receiving element, causing it to absorb doppler shifted gamma rays.

Sorry this is vague; I don't have a real answer for how you make a biological gamma ray emitter.

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