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Their medium of communication could be any form of energy; the important point is that they only use one of these to communicate (not, like humans, both sound, sight, touch, etc).

If it's not possible, they may be imagined to use two forms of energy to communicate.

Some examples of mediums: EM radiation of any spectrum, acoustical energy, thermal energy, etc.

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  • $\begingroup$ You mean like the bumblebee from Transformers, his voice got damaged but he is able to communicate wirelessly (electromagnetically) with a radio. $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Feb 23 at 17:36
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    $\begingroup$ Separate Alice and Bob with a sheet between them. Now there is only one form of energy they can use to communicate: kinetic energy in air... i.e. sound. Alice says "Yes", Bob understands. Bob says "No", Alice understands. I fail to see what problem you are trying to solve, when even humans can communicate perfectly well even if only limiting themselves to one message carrier. $\endgroup$
    – MichaelK
    Feb 23 at 17:37
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    $\begingroup$ We have a Constructed Languages site for more complex approaches to the design of the language itself. $\endgroup$ Feb 23 at 17:40
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelK Because this question is about establishing rudimentary communication between humans and an alien species. (I also don't understand your example: if they say the words, what use is the sheet? And if they don't say those words aloud, how can they know what the intention of the other party is purely based on vibrations?) $\endgroup$
    – Joachim
    Feb 23 at 22:58
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks all; I think I didn't explain my question clearly enough, but @Joachim makes the point I'm really getting at: it's basically, "how do we establish communication with an alien species." I wanted to make it more interesting than if they were walking, talking, listening, humanoids, so I abstracted it to be such that we only have e.g. sound, EM fields, etc.. Maybe I should just have asked "how do we establish a common language with a completely alien species? Maybe we don't even know by what form of energy they can receive information. $\endgroup$
    – Life5ign
    Feb 28 at 16:07

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Fundamentally, all communications use one medium: the universe between us. The division into sight, sound, etc. is a convenient division for H. sapiens with our particular evolved set of sensory organs, but it's an artificial division. So the answer to "How do you establish commonly understood terms for "yes" and "no" with beings/aliens who communicate via a single medium/form of energy?" is exactly the same answer as the shortened question: "How do you establish commonly understood terms for "yes" and "no" with beings/aliens."

For proof, consider Helen Keller. Stripped of her sight and hearing at the age of 19 months, her communication approaches were quite limited. I don't have much information on their attempts to communicate via smell or taste, but they did come up with around 60 tactile signs that could be used for limited communication.

Even with those limitations, Helen eventually was taught language. How? I'd say "hard work" is the best answer. I like the magic of her words best, describing the moment when it finally clicked that the taps on the hand the teacher kept giving her were giving names to things, letter by letter:

I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten—a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that w-a-t-e-r meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. The living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, set it free.

So one "communication medium?" No problem. It's always been that way for everyone, and even in the most strict sense, it has been overcome by Helen Keller. As for the mystery of communication, it's still a bright and magical thing.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the reply; I think I didn't explain my question well; I'm really asking how to determine how to express "yes" and "no"; could be with a people on earth with whom one didn't share a language. I just added the medium bit to make it more interesting, since I think people have done such a thing on earth before, and I wanted to extend it to possible future situations $\endgroup$
    – Life5ign
    Feb 28 at 15:59
  • $\begingroup$ Although your reduction of the problem question is accurate, there are some broad generalizations in the rest of your answer that obfuscate things "so one 'communication medium?'...it's always been that way for everyone.." $\endgroup$
    – Life5ign
    Feb 28 at 16:50
  • $\begingroup$ The funny thing about this is that people have done this before, billions of times. We do it with every infant ever reared. That's why I reduced it the way I did. Its fascinating to me how hard it is to write a procedure to communicate yes and no, yet every single parent has done it since the dawn of history. Langauge is a really peculiar thing. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Feb 29 at 14:32
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Any form of energy is applicable.

All that is necessary to communicate with the aliens would be to tune this energy to, say, 5ae (arbitrary energy level). turning it up to 10 ae would indicate a yes, and turning it off (0 ae) would be a lack of energy, being a "no"

hope this helps!

-Alka

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  • $\begingroup$ true; But this wouldn't actually indicate a link between 10 = yes, and 0 = no; you'd still need something like the discussions of using mathematics in other answers to make the link $\endgroup$
    – Life5ign
    Feb 28 at 16:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Life5ign my theory would be that 10 represents a yes because there "is a presence of energy", while 0 is "no presence" or "no" $\endgroup$
    – alkahest
    Feb 28 at 17:02
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All that's needed is a change from baseline. If they can only communicate acoustically, but cannot form/emulate/produce words (or, words/language that we can understand given our limitations for hearing, vision, touch, etc), they can still use changes in pitch/frequency (Hz), duration of a sound, patterns of sound, etc to create a communication system understood by them and us. We already do this and understand it: "yes" sounds are generally a higher pitch while "no" sounds are generally lower pitches; the end of the sentence rises in pitch to indicate it's a question. In certain situations, like medical situations, we have, for example, someone use one tap of a finger or blink of their eyes for "yes, two taps for "no." The same can be applied to acoustic communication (one beep or similar noise for yes, two beeps for no).

There are many ways you could establish a communication system and create "words" or symbols to represent concepts. I think the challenge would more likely be establishing the concept with a word/symbol - e.g. how would you establish what "no" means. Objects would be easier - hold it up and make the sound/gesture/whatever that you're going to associate with it to communicate with this species. Concepts like yes and no, good and bad, etx might be more difficult to establish since they aren't concrete things you can hold up and label.

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  • $\begingroup$ +1, but I would like to point out that the characteristics you speak of, like "'yes' sounds are generally a higher pitch while 'no' sounds are generally lower pitches", are based on tendencies in human speech (I'm not sure if they're universal, or more common in, for example, western languages), and we have no way of knowing an alien race would share these. $\endgroup$
    – Joachim
    Feb 23 at 22:06
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    $\begingroup$ True. But the question was about establishing a communication system based on one sensory modality. Changes in frequency is an easy to understand modality that we already use. If trying to create a communication system with an alien, utilizing changes in frequency that we already use is an easy way to form the basis of that system, especially since it would be easy for humans to remember (as long as their original language utilizes changes in frequency as I described). $\endgroup$
    – Konijntje
    Feb 23 at 22:21
  • $\begingroup$ I meant the change in frequency bit as an example of what we already do. Think of trying to guide someone to something using only changes in pitch - we (in the Eurocentric world) use higher pitches to indicate being close to the prize/location/object, and lower pitches to indicate the seeker is moving away from the object. If I pointed at a cookie, then myself, and then made a sound with a sliding upward frequency, you'd understand that I'm asking if I can have the cookie (which yes, that's two modalities, but that's just for the sake of explanation of understanding that sound). $\endgroup$
    – Konijntje
    Feb 23 at 22:28
  • $\begingroup$ For aliens, communication by changes in frequency might require completely different sounds and changes in pitch than humans use. But my points are that a) yes, it's possible to establish a system that both parties understand and can utilize for basic communication, regardless of if it resembles how humans use changes in pitch or other characteristics of sound (or some other sense), and b) that we already do this, to varying degrees, so creating a communication system like that isn't a foreign concept to us, but would just require knowing what sounds the aliens can hear and produce. $\endgroup$
    – Konijntje
    Feb 23 at 22:38
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, I get that, but what I was trying to get at is that even pointing and making a sound might not be understood (the same way, or at all). I do believe it is possible to establish common ground, but it might require having to forget everything we have established in communication (this is also no critique whatsoever, I've just been considering the question and your answer since I saw the latter in the review queue :). $\endgroup$
    – Joachim
    Feb 23 at 22:52
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For communication, whatever channel you use you can distinguish an absence of signal from a presence of signal.

This allows binary code, and therefore, numbers.

Then, to establish yes and no, one could transmit easily recognizable mathematical problems, as in Weinbaum's A Martian Odyssey: "one one two, yes! One one three, no!"

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    $\begingroup$ yes, this is what I'm talking about. I'll go read Weinbaum, thanks! We'd place sensors for all known forms of energy around them, and then see what we're picking up, and then transmit said forms of energy, and see if the pattern on any monitors changes; if it does, we could do a call and response type thing; then we've established our medium; then the math begins, like in your example (links followed). We could try to create "words" by substituting more complex waveforms (modulation,e.g.) into the already-established and echoed equations, to establish a "word" for "equals" e.g $\endgroup$
    – Life5ign
    Feb 28 at 16:38
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You need 3 levels:

  1. Basic equations. For example: ...-....-....... means 3+4=7. Giving enough such sentences, the receiving side will understand that it is an equation.

  2. Sentences like "A says X", "B asks from A". For example: A.-..-... can mean "A says 1+2=3". This can mean: "B asks A what is 2+3": B?A..-... . How do you map A, B, "?" to actual signals over the communication channel, does not really matter until you give enough samples.

  3. Properties like "A has right", "B can not be trusted". Similarly, you need to give a lot of sample and then a summary.

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    $\begingroup$ Conveniently, #1 provides an easy way to teach "true" or "false." Just feed them a bunch of equations, adding a "false" or "true" prefix and/or suffix based on which equations are accurate. This isn't quite the same as yes/no (true/false tends to be for objective facts whereas yes/no can be used for objective information and subjective information), but it's a decent start. $\endgroup$
    – Brian
    Feb 28 at 16:07
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    $\begingroup$ I understand 1, but not 2 and 3. You say you need all three. Can you elaborate? $\endgroup$
    – Life5ign
    Feb 28 at 16:43
  • $\begingroup$ @Life5ign You need signals for all of them and then you need to give an enough big sample to understand the connections. I extended the post. $\endgroup$
    – Gray Sheep
    Feb 29 at 9:49

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