An ethereal, higher dimensional entity assumed human form and came to present-day Earth for a visit; this entity could not speak human languages nor possessed any sort of universal translator. It possesses the ability to read human minds and can even allow us to comprehend it's own thoughts; however there is but one obstacle: the language barrier.

They (the aliens) would morph into a variety of multi-dimensional shapes of which overlap one other (their knowledge of surfaces is extremely complicated) to communicate among themselves.

Would it be possible for us humans to exchange ideas with these aliens, assuming mathematic process is universally consistent?

  • $\begingroup$ worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/57454/… is a recent question that examines thought without language; I feel it partially answers/relates to this question too. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 5:55
  • $\begingroup$ Reminder to close-voters... $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 12:10
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe if your alien can learn English. I mean, we have people on earth who learn dozens of different languages. Why can't the aliens? $\endgroup$
    – Skye
    Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 13:18

2 Answers 2


You don't need language to think.

Language evolved to facilitate communication between individuals. It is neither necessary nor much used for mentation.

Your memory stores information as a complex network of complex concepts. A concept, in this sense, is everything that an individuum found relevant in relation to an object or abstract idea. For example, the concept "table" will, when you first learn it, be stored with your experience of sitting at it and eating something with your family. The concept "table" will therefore encompass both the object table, the sensation of sating hunger, the emotions that being with your family and being cared for evoke, and so on. It won't be an object, but an experience. Later, other meanings (both denotations and connotations) will be added to that initial one, both clarifying and narrowing, and expanding it. In the end, "table" will primarily mean the object itself, as that is the consistent aspect of your experience of that object, and carry with it all the personally significant experiences that for you are related with that object.

At the same time, this concept of "table" will be connected with other concepts, such as family, food, and so on; it will be connected and stored in your memory with representations of the physical sensations that the table causes (what it looks like, how it feels, how your body feels when it sits at a table), and with a linguistic label, that is, the word "table", the purpose of which is to communicate to other persons a very basic and rough idea of the concept in the hope that their concept of this object has some resemblance to or overlapping meaning with your concept of it.

Abstract concepts are the same, the only difference is that there is no physical object at the core of your experiences, but that the verbal label is given to a set of specific experiences (which is the reason why there is so little agreement on what "love" or "freedom" are: we had different experiences labelled the same).

Inside a person, only conscious reasoning is language based, and only in part (other parts are images, sounds, emotions, physiological percepts an so on). Unconscious thought deals with concepts directly: you can imagine unconscious thought as consisting of the multi-sensual input from experiences and the physiological states of being these experiences elicit. At the same time it is unconscious thought that solves problems and makes decisions. It has been shown that conscious thought is merely an after-the-fact representation of unconscious thought (see psychological studies of free will).


therefore, can be (thought to be) done on two levels: the conscious, "linguistic", or the unconscious, "conceptual".

Transferring conscious linguistic thought from one person to another requires that both persons speak the same language.

Transferring unconscious non-linguistic concepts does not require language at all, and you can even transfer your mentation to animals (although they might be understood only to the extent that your experiences match theirs) – which, incidentally, is true for human to human telepathy as well.


You don't use words

unless the telepathy is incredibly restrictive, then you would instead spread concepts, if you want to telepathically say "run from the giant duck", then send the image of the person running from a giant duck to the person. If you can only send words and nothing else, the answer to how one uses telepathy is that they only talk to people that speak the same language.


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