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I am currently writing a story about the very unique relationship between a sentient race of bees and humanity. Humans, through bartering and trade, have grown to have a close relationship with these insects overtime. A few humans even reach the rank of Paji (Hive Master) which gives them the ability to control an entire hive of bees as if they where their queen.

However, as I was writing, the thought accorded to me: There is no straight-foreword way for these creatures to be able to communicate with humans, especially not in the pre-industrial era this story takes place in.

The following are true:

  • The insects are not sentient on an individual level. Rather, a designated "Paji" is given complete control of any individual hive. (It is NOT a hive mind. Two individual parts of the hive cannot communicate with each other without that hives Paji acting as mediator. Further, the Paji is completely blind and is basically incapable of interacting with the outside world without the aid of another branch of the hive. Think of a "hive" in this case as being a meta-organism: with the Paji being its nervous system, and the individual elements of the hive being organs/limbs.)

  • These insects have NEVER developed a concept like human language. Instead, the Paji communicates with the rest of the hive via a very complicated logic-based system similar to a computer programming language like C++. In their "language" every member of hive is equipped with a "list" of functions that they can preform at any time. However, they can only actually do what is imputed by the Paji. The Paji itself can only input its intentions via a high-frequency ringing that is impossible for a human being to hear.

  • Only the Paji in this setting are sentient. They are incapable of learning information not told to them by other members of their hive, and are biologically incapable of learning human language.

  • Humans by this point of the story are aware that the Paji of a hive are sentient, of a Paji's general limitations, and lack their lack of language. However, "somehow" they have devised a way to communicate with them while at a late iron age level of technological development.

  • These bees are completely fictitious. However, in-build, they are of a similar size to Apis mellifera.

With all of that being said, what is the most logical way that humans can communicate with these insects baring magic?

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    $\begingroup$ I don't think you can since the bee acts as a filter. The most you could communicate is what the bee can communicate on its own which is through dance and pheremones. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Commented Jul 8, 2022 at 5:30
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    $\begingroup$ What you want are little animatronic puppets doing bee dances 😁 that's how the real ones communicate the only things they communicate beyond emotional state and identification through pheromones. $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Commented Jul 8, 2022 at 11:55
  • $\begingroup$ The answer to this question is entirely dependent on how the bees communicate with their Paji. If they can convey complex information, then a complex language system could be possible (e.g. braille). Otherwise, good luck. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 8, 2022 at 13:35
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    $\begingroup$ @EthanManess Sorry for the late response. The bees communicate with the Paji in the same way: with a high-frequency ringing. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 8, 2022 at 20:03

2 Answers 2

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Humans communicate with all sorts of animals all the time, and have done since the Stone Age. It doesn't require a shared language to do so, merely some shared senses (sound, sight, touch, ...). Think of a shepherd and sheepdog, or a falconer. To even begin to discuss a more complex relationship with the hive, humans must have achieved this basic level of communication first.

Your description of the Paji suggests that they are not merely sentient but sapient. In this case although humans cannot speak the hive's internal language, the Paji can 'program' the hive to be receptive to human behaviour. I am assuming that, as bees, they are able to see, smell, hear, etc. just like regular Earth bees.

To that end, perhaps the bees can interpret human hand signals, or whistles in the human auditory range. Perhaps the humans have learned to emit smoke, or crush berries to create certain scents. It doesn't really matter, the bees will be attuned to this and pass information through the hive to the Paji.

Communication in the other direction works the same way. Humans are also sapient, and can, with experience and time, figure out the meaning of certain hive behaviours. They attune to the meaning of bees swarming or crawling in certain places and patterns, perhaps the density of a cluster of bees, the temperature of a cluster of bees, and so on. (By analogy, dogs cannot speak but humans have learnt to understand them fairly well nonetheless.)

The really interesting question here is: in the relationship you describe, which species considers themselves the shepherd, and which the sheepdog?

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  • $\begingroup$ It is debatable as to whether the Paji are sapient or not. Although any individual Paji can do millions of calculations at any given second like a computer, they are not capable of abstract thought and have the social intelligence of a toddler. As to what they think of each-other: Most uneducated humans see hives as just dumb animals. Meanwhile, the hives see humans as eldritch abominations. Ironically, educated humans/hives venerate each other almost like living angels. It is a very complicated relationship that I can get into later if you want. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 8, 2022 at 20:27
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The humans build a set of small surfaces, protected from rain and wind, around the hive. To start a dialog with the hive the humans pour sugar on the surfaces that encode what they want to say. The bees, without specific instructions from the Paji, will report their finding of these food sources back to the hive. At this point the Paji can recognize the locations of the sources and can derive their meaning.

When the Paji wants to send back a message, it instructs bees to modify a designated part of the hive's outer surface. For the individual bee it's like extending or repairing the hive, but an observing human can read the movement and positions of working bees and/or the patterns they are building.

Example from the view point of the Paji: Sugar was put on platform 1 and 7, when both have sugar that means "danger". The platform meaning "north" has some sugar, and the platform for "2 bee hours flight worth of distance" has some, too. I better avoid sending bees too far north.

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    $\begingroup$ I think the key omission here is that you educate the Paji beforehand on a communication protocol or standard because none of what you describe is happening without education before integration into the hive. Complex communication still seems impossible though since the bee can't sense or relay info concisely enough to the Paji beyond what a normal bee can do. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Commented Jul 8, 2022 at 13:37
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    $\begingroup$ @DKNguyen The idea was to use behavior that is close to what bees do naturally - collect food sources. An intelligence in the hive could eventually derive that these suddenly appearing food sources near the hive form certain patterns and that they carry information. Sure, it will be a long way from such very first steps in communication to a useful language. But I assume humans will teach other humans just as Paji will teach other Paji, so in time the language can grow in complexity. $\endgroup$
    – user91641
    Commented Jul 8, 2022 at 16:05

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