Removing all barriers to communication between different races and cultures

Thursday, August 16th, 2018

I still enjoy the Babel Fish segment from the old BBC version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy:

That last witty bit seems more darkly humorous than I remembered:

Meanwhile, the poor Babel fish, by effectively removing all barriers to communication between different races and cultures, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation.


  1. Graham says:

    It’s as if Douglas Adams knew that thing so many have forgotten — the worst conflicts and the most vicious and/or durable hatreds are between or among people(s) who know each other very, very well.

    I have no idea what doofus first came up with the notion that ignorance is responsible for conflict and hate. How could anyone actually think that?

  2. Kirk says:


    Let me propose a rule of thumb: If the fatuous thought you are thinking sounds like something that would come out of the mouth of a Miss America Pageant contestant during her speech, it’s probably worthless.

    The idea that “knowing the other” would reduce conflict ignores 99% of human experience. Take a look at who murders who–Compared to the number who kill strangers, the vast majority of murder victims know their killers quite well, and vice-versa. No knowledge, no motive. Knowledge? Motivation.

    As well, you can only really live in peace with people you don’t really know all that well. Look at the number of roommates who wind up killing each other over the silliest of things–”She ate my Froot Loops!!!”. So long as you can ascribe their transgressions to misunderstandings, all is well. The minute it becomes apparent that they really did know better than to eat your precious Froot Loops, wellllll… Then, murder becomes thinkable. The bitch had it coming.

    Telepathy or built-in networking for the human mind is gonna have one hell of an effect on the race. The people going in for it are gonna be appalled to find out what runs through their fellow human’s minds on any given day. My guess is that if someone were to wave a magic wand, and make us all telepathically transparent to each other, we’d all become hermits somewhere miles away from each other, and enforce that solitude with death.

    On the other hand, we might see something of a network effect go on, as we discover that all the nastiness we repress in ourselves, ashamed of it, is actually mirrored in a lot of other people, and once the freak flags fly, well… Who the hell knows where that ends?

    If you were to ask me to posit how telepathy or some technological equivalent would work out, in interpersonal relationships, my suppositions would have to include it being only workable in small, isolated populations that are up against heavy survival pressure, and who absolutely have to make it all work or die. Those groups might be able to get past the initial hump of disgust, and make their way to acceptance of truly knowing “the other” that a less pressured population wouldn’t be able to manage. Observing the effect on one of these isolate populations would be interesting, as well as to see how they interacted with the rest of the non-networked human population upon losing their solitude. How would the other monkeys react, seeing the way the group worked together, seamlessly and efficiently? Would there be a sense of awe, jealousy? Or, more likely, fear, once they realized what was going on.

    It’s an interesting thought experiment. What effect would truly open and complete communication have, on people? Could you cope with knowing that your most intimate secrets are public, to some degree? Would knowing everyone else’s deepest and darkest make it easier to know they knew yours?

  3. Felix says:

    Kirk, along those lines, perhaps we can extrapolate from two different environments on the telepathy scale:

    Big cities.
    Small towns.

    Small towns would be more “telepathic” than big cities, so…

    if people were telepathic, it would be like a small town filled with 1,000-year-old people who’ve all lived there all their lives.

    Or, consider close twins. Or, consider those few who are co-joined physically in various ways.

    Anyway, it’s been my experience that those who figure people would be less war-like if only they “Understood each other,” really mean, “If they all agreed”. And generally, that means “If they all agreed with my own reasonable and intelligent viewpoint”.

    This can also take the form of “Those warring people just need education”.

  4. Felix says:


    The URL for the comment form is hard coded for http://

    Firefox correctly fusses if the page is viewed https:// when a comment is posted.

    Now that the site has a LetsEncrypt cert, the form’s URL could be changed.

  5. Lu An Li says:

    Attempt to do a translation from English to whatever language. Say from English to French. Then take the translation and the reverse, translate once more from French to English. See the results and consider if the translation accurate.

  6. Graham says:


    That gave me a big smile.

    Have you seen last year’s Emma Watson ‘film’ “The Circle”? It’s not that good, though it features a worthy if brief final performance by Bill Paxton as her father.

    It does, however, even after more than a year, strike me as evidence of the consolidated worldview of the modern progressive filtered through more or less millennial tastes:

    Maximum personal autonomy, yet maximum interpersonal connection. Nothing can interfere with choice, even on an ontological level. Yet there is a desire to have personal connections to the point of never losing touch with anyone ever, and always having maximum intimacy of thought and action with others.

    (This one struck me as significant because these are all once ineradicable contradictions of the human condition and, on some level, who has not regretted its constraints or the loss of some connection or failure of understanding with a current relationship. On the other hand, until now, I would have thought all would have recognized the horror inherent in eliminating them entirely.)

    Maximum opportunity for adventure/experience, yet maximum safety.

    (This one strikes me as equally interesting. I am about as couch potato as most of us ever get, and conscious plenty of people are out there climbing mountains and kayaking the Atlantic. But there seems an equal desire to maximally democratize these experiences by expanding the safety net around everything. I’m not sure how to fully express it.)

    Other films get at bits of these things- there was a teen romance this year that involved some human consciousness that wakes up everyday in a different person, and the young woman in love with that consciousness who therefore has to seek out somehow and be with that entity in a different form daily. The consciousness proclaimed it now knows what makes us all different and what makes us all the same.

    I couldn’t decide whether to call the sensibility post-human or transhuman, since I’m not clear on the distinction given between or for these terms in the past decade, but one way or another it may portend a revolution in perceptions that leaves much or all of what we once considered humanity or humanism in the dust, all of it together regardless of old conflicts and distinctions we once thought mattered.

    Might even be more important than AI rights.

    All in all, Star Trek scripts are a quite mild example. Whether it’s evolution, telepathic connection, new ideas of both autonomy and connection, artificial versus real environments and intelligence, transcendence of the human seems like the unifying theme. It would almost be Nietszchean (?) if both the author and the people today wouldn’t both recoil at the comparison.

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