The Thought Experiment – Or: Life through Alien Spectacles

From time to time, when the human species is involved, I like to look at biology through what i would like to call « The Alien Point of View ». There are several reasons why someone would choose to do that, but the most important one is this certainly the simple fact that, being alien, you can’t get sued or insulted by people or groups of people who take matters too personally…a thing which is likely to happen if you talk about human biology…

To give you an idea how it works, follow me in this little thought experiment:

Imagine being an alien biologist, coming home in your fairly luxurious interstellar spacecraft from a mission on a small planet near Alpha Centauri to your home planet Zorb, somewhere in the Milky Way star system.

Now…being a biologist can be hard to imagine. You have to imagine having a fond interest in everything that lives, even if it’s a slime mould which moves at speeds invisibly small to the human, and yes..even alien,eye and isn’t even fluorescent or poisonous.

To imagine being alien however, can’t be that difficult. Exactly HOW alien you want to look depends on your imagination and your willingness to go on with this though experiment, but it helps a lot if you add a few tentacles…a few eyes on stalks and a terrifying metallic voice that speaks Zorbulan with an Irish accent.

So you’re almost at home, just a few lightyears away from your family and children, but as you’re running late and you will probably get caught in heavy traffic later on, you decide to stop for an interstellar snack. Your board computer mentions a small planet on your route, with an atmospheric signature that signals there might just be something edible to be found on the surface. Perfect.

As you land your spacecraft somewhere behind a rock and you finally get out to stretch your tentacles after a long flight (let’s pretend you breathe air. getting those stalks in a helmet can be tricky) and you go looking for food.

You are of course.. a carnivore. That might be a problem, as you surely remember from your last disastrous mid-voyage stop for a quick snack on Planet B of the Lettuce system a few weeks ago. By chance, though, you happened to land in the USA, so you couldn’t have chosen better.

As you move on in this unknown territory, you decide it’s best to activate your invisibility shield. (despite it being a lame narrative solution to explain why people won’t run away screaming at the first sight of your slimy appearance, it’s quite usefull and spares me a paragraph. I have an explaination though. You’re a biologist from an advanced civilization. You HAVE such things to go about unnoticed in your research).

The first thing you notice about this place, is the presence of dozens of bite-size creatures of a species that seems to move about in groups. In fact, in your visible spectrum (let’s assume you can’t see things as small as ants. You have to assume a lot of things actually) it’s the most abundant species you find. It’s everywhere. It squeaks in high tones. It moves at speeds higher than any of the slime-driven creatures of your world would move..and most important of all..they use tools…

By interplanetary and interstellar law, species who have developed tools do not legally qualify as snack food and are protected by the so called Snack Act. In an instant, you see your chances of a quick meal go up in smoke. However, you smell eternal glory (among other things). Discovering a new species is a major event for an alien biologist (indeed for any biologist of any planet), and coming home with an empty stomach ( have five in fact..the things you eat on your planet call for a heavy digestive system) suddenly seems less important. It is then that you decide to call home to tell you’ll be a little late..