If two (or more) planets are within travel distance from each other and they often trade with each other, how likely is it that these planets cultures influence(d) each other?

For example: On planet A the dominant species is cat-people who like to do cat-things like cat-nip, yarn, etc.. They trade with the people from planet B, which is only a "short" traveling distance away and ideal for trading, a species of dog-people, who like to do dog-things like fetching and bones. Is there a chance that the dog-people from planet B adapt the customs of the cat-people?

On earth we can often see the influence of other(often long dead) cultures, like the greek or roman, in modern cultures, but how would that apply to planets?

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    $\begingroup$ Hey there. Welcome to the site! The answer to this question very much depends on how the two interact with each other and what each race is like to start with. Its all to do with information spread. Do they have real time communication? Do they just bring back trinkets and exotics foods, or do they bring back media as well? What about planetary tourism? Try narrowing the question down and defining how the two races interact with one another :-) $\endgroup$
    – Mourdos
    Sep 30, 2014 at 13:02
  • $\begingroup$ It's very easy to ask VERY broad questions here, the more detail (for example what sort of influences hobbies? Language?) you can put in the question the better an answer people would be able to give. $\endgroup$
    – Liath
    Sep 30, 2014 at 13:09
  • $\begingroup$ What do you mean with "travel distance"? In our solar systems with our current technology, a trade relation with a hypothetical civilization on Mars or Venus would be quite infeasible. Transporting just a few tons of payload between the planets of our solar system currently requires so many resources and takes so long that it wouldn't be feasible to trade anything in larger quantities. $\endgroup$
    – Philipp
    Sep 30, 2014 at 13:18
  • $\begingroup$ How is the situation from your question different to intercontinental cultural transfer in reality? $\endgroup$
    – Wrzlprmft
    Oct 1, 2014 at 19:39

4 Answers 4


The short answer to your question is "yes, of course." Two societies that come into contact, assuming that they are able to communicate, will necessarily have an exchange: communication requires this. To put it in Star Trek terms, the Prime Directive is idealistic but utterly impossible: the only way not to influence another society is not to let them know you exist.

On the other hand, there is no reason that one has to think of such contact in catastrophic terms. To be sure, the history of European colonialism is not a pleasant one, but that needn't be the sole model.

Consider, for example, the many, many tribal peoples of the Americas, prior to the arrival of European invaders in the wake of Columbus (let's ignore the Vikings here). They talked to each other, traded with each other, sometimes fought and sometimes didn't, for an extremely long time. As a result, we can spot remarkable affinities among myth-cycles all across the Americas. If we had better longitudinal data than we do, we could chart how customs and such moved; in some cases, we can do this to a degree, especially when it comes to material culture (pottery, beadwork, etc.).

You cannot possibly model all of this, of course: it's ludicrously complex. But there are a few points that could perhaps be useful in a fictional worldbuilding context.

1. Variable Usage and Interpretation

Suppose one culture has a big thing about hats, where there are all these incredibly fine variations and gradations in hat shape, style, material, color, and so on, and these are a complex sort of code having to do with social station, age, sex, place of origin and/or residence, and so forth. (At various times China has had some of this kind of thing going on.)

Now along comes the other culture, and they do some peaceful trading for a while, and this other culture takes home pictures and souvenirs and stuff in addition to actual trade goods. Now at home, they might end up with a big fad for "alien hats," and suddenly the millinery industry is going through the roof. Of course, this culture either doesn't understand the hat-code system, or doesn't understand it well, or just as likely, sort of understands it but doesn't really care: the alien code doesn't apply, but the hats look cool.

2. Reinterpretation

But maybe that second culture, after a brief fad about the alien hats, finds itself in a situation in which everyone is wearing weird hats all the time. They have the concept of the alien social hat-code, but it's an alien system that doesn't match their own life-patterns. It could well happen that, over time, this society develops a way of coding hats that does match their life-patterns, particularly if they're constantly trading with the original hat-wearing aliens.

3. Rejection as Adaptation

And then a new thing sweeps our society: hat-coding is an alien thing, and it's contrary to what we're really all about (because of the gods, or pride, or whatever). So people stop wearing hats entirely. Before alien contact, they sometimes did and sometimes didn't wear hats, but it didn't mean much: it was a fashion thing, or maybe a way to keep the rain and sun off. Then there was this fashion surge, and then this new hat-code, and now nobody ever wears hats.

I realize that this may seem like a silly set of linked examples, but the point I'm trying to make is that cultural contact and adaptation is both extremely complicated and to a significant degree non-catastrophic. While it is obviously possible for "contact" to mean "convert them at swordpoint and then enslave them," it usually doesn't work that way. Usually what happens is that objects, customs, images, and so forth are exchanged, and then each culture has to make sense of the new stuff in its own terms, which in turn changes that culture -- but not necessarily to make it any more like the one it's exchanging with.

Here's a final example, in this case from real history: Melanesian cargo cults.

Cargo cults are (mostly were) complex and varied, but the basic phenomenon is revealing and helpful for the question at stake. To give a highly simplistic account of one type: During the Pacific War, the American navy (especially) sometimes provided various goods to local Melanesian tribes. In essence, the idea was to get these people to be friendly to Americans, such that they could be enlisted to assist against the Japanese; for example, they might tolerate an airstrip, or they might tell Americans about spotting Japanese ship movements, or whatever. Now when the war ended, so, pretty soon, did the providing of free stuff.

Now the problem is, a lot of Melanesian societies base their economic systems in social exchange. Think of it sort of like The Godfather: if I'm a big powerful dude, that's not because I have a lot of goods, but because everyone owes me favors. And to retain and increase that power, I have to keep people owing me by giving them stuff and not letting them pay me back. For my birthday, I'm going to throw a huge party and invite everyone, and I'm not only going to feed them but I'm going to give them all presents. This both demonstrates and increases my power.

So for these Melanesians, the American goodies represented a problem. The Americans gave them stuff, but didn't accept anything back. So this meant that the Americans were incredibly powerful. But when they just stopped giving stuff, what were the Melanesians supposed to do? They owed favors, but now the folks to whom they owed the favors wouldn't talk to them. So in these cargo cults, you'd get a millenarian religious movement centering around the Americans and their stuff. People built wicker airplanes, put on wooden headsets, and generally did anything they could to force the American "gods" (loosely speaking) to restore the relationship, not necessarily because the Melanesians wanted or needed the stuff as such, but because this gross absence threatened the whole system of exchange itself.

If you do a little research on cargo cults, and think about what's happening on the two ends of the exchange, you'll end up with a very wide range of ways to think about cultural adaptation.


So I think using cats and dogs in your example is a little misleading as they tend to be thought of as opposed forces...BUT.

From your questions I am presupposing a couple things (if I am correct please edit these assumptions into your question.

  1. Space travel is fairly common
  2. Trade by space is economically feasible, i.e. tech advancements have made it so that the practice is more than exploratory
  3. The races on each planet are capable of communicating and understanding, truly understanding, not just communicating with each other

The meat of the question though is will they trade cultural info and the answer is yes absolutely. When any two nations/cultures/peoples interact there is an exchange of ideas and knowledge and customs. Rarely, these exchanges go evenly and things are shared evenly. Most often, one dominates the other (at least in world history). Look at US culture around the globe. The other scenario, again... easy to see around the world even today, is a backlash against the invasive culture. This is common but still doesn't wipe out the interaction or changes that come from intercultural exchange.

So not only would it occur, odds are its irreversible. Its kind of like knowing what a hot dog is made out of, once you know you can't unlearn it for good or ill.

  • $\begingroup$ +1 for emphasizing the inevitability of influences when trade is frequent and active and the irreversibility of said influences. $\endgroup$
    – mechalynx
    Sep 30, 2014 at 21:23

Check this out:

Aztec <-> European

The European conquered South America. Most Aztecs died from European diseases which their immune systems where not able to handle. Those who survived the epidemics, mixed up with the conquerors and evolved to one of the younger ethnicities on this planet (Hispanics). Whoever refused to adopt christian religion, got killed by the Spanish inquisition.

Chinese <-> European

Again, the European tried to colonize an sub-continent. First, the Chinese let the European build up harbours and cities for their settlers. But as it came to the point where the "conquerors" forced the Chinese Emperor to resign the throne, a war started in which the Chinese fought the Europeans back. The Europeans then held only small parts of China, such as Hong Kong. The influence of the European culture to the Chinese was very small, but the Europeans which went home again brought culture from China to Europe.

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    $\begingroup$ This has the potential to be a really good answer. Can you expand it to give examples of the sort of influences the cultures took from each other despite limited interaction? $\endgroup$
    – Liath
    Sep 30, 2014 at 13:15
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, would you mind expanding on your answer to help those who might not understand what you are referring to? $\endgroup$
    – bowlturner
    Sep 30, 2014 at 13:22
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    $\begingroup$ Okay, theres a little more. But I'm in hurry. Expanding my post later. $\endgroup$
    – jawo
    Sep 30, 2014 at 13:29
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    $\begingroup$ I have my doubts on some of the facts, my memory of the Inquisition was that it was a primarily European affair and to say that everyone else was wiped out is perhaps simply an exaggeration but it is not accurate. Again with the Chinese description it seems over simplified. World building requires nuance. Sources would be helpful $\endgroup$
    – James
    Sep 30, 2014 at 14:28
  • $\begingroup$ Chinese <-> European : Overall your are correct but I don't recall a Chinese emperor resigning the throne because of the European. $\endgroup$
    – Vincent
    Sep 30, 2014 at 16:03

I dislike the theory of material trade between planets, unless it is based on very scarce resources found on one planet and not the other. In your example, why would the cat-people trade balls of yarn with the dog-people by sending it via transport from one planet to another when the materials for yarn are common on both planets? In this scenario it is more likely that the knowledge to make yarn is what is traded, not the physical yarn itself.

Consider the move from a material driven economy where material is the scarce resource in question to an information driven one where material is no longer scarce. To give an example, currently we go into a Mcdonalds and buy a burger (you go to a place to trade for a resource). Now consider a world in which the material is no longer scarce...a person can take a 3-d printer and 'print' themselves a burger on demand. The exchange for the material burger is no longer needed and instead the you buy the 'right' to use the information required to produce that burger instead (you have purchased a print one burger PDF file?).

In this light...the trade between dog-people and cat-people is not on a material level, it's trading knowledge between the two races instead. Knowledge is based on interpretation, a common set of interpretations between people is the cultural "we"...so yes, each culture would have an impact on the other as they trade knowledge. Just by 'using' the yarn, one could say the dog-people are adopting customs of the cat world.

On earth we can often see the influence of other(often long dead) cultures, like the greek or roman, in modern cultures, but how would that apply to planets?

Hard to compare...unless we were saying that the dog-people conquered the cat people and 500 years later there is still trace elements of cat culture in the conquered cat-peoples language.


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