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Bewildering Stories

Bewildering Stories Discusses

Misunderstandings in The Dohani War

part 2

with Martin Kerharo and Bewildering Stories

Part 1 of this Discussion appears in issue 516.

[Gary Inbinder] “I slept with Jane in my arms. It was all completely innocent.” Could this be an example of unreliable narrative? ;-)

[Martin Kerharo] May I point out the fact that Jane and Dexter are constantly spied on through cameras? From Dexter’s point of view, trying to make a move could lead to:

[Don Webb] Dexter already knows that if he makes a wrong move, Jane is liable to freak out and break his face or knock him into the middle of next week. Cameras or courts-martial? Hah! Dexter knows he’s a space alien as far as Jane is concerned, and he’d better keep his appendages to himself. ;-))

[Gary I.] In this episode of The Dohani War, communication is complicated by Jane’s flawed logic: All humans are bad. She may have arrived at this generalization by induction (pirates) and prejudice (Dohani indoctrination). But humans are obviously not “all” bad, since she’s granted exceptions to her rule. She’s even gone so far as to grade them on a scale.

[Martin K.] Well, you could say she did it mostly to make Dexter happy. In any case, subtlety is definitely not a trait of Jane’s. ;-)

[Don W.] The language problem is huge, of course. First, Dexter has to apply information theory by teaching Jane the word and concept of “message.” Dexter says, "It was difficult,” and that’s saying a lot. Then he has to apply set theory to explain that pirates are human but not all humans are pirates.

[Martin K.] In fact I think that the communication between Dohani and Humans is next to impossible, so that Dexter and Jane would have taken years to begin to understand each other, rather then weeks. As you pointed out Don, the concept of "message" is so abstract that I can only wonder how Dexter managed to explain it to Jane. For Dohani a message is inherently complex, with multiple parts, images and emotions interlaced.

[Don W.] I suspect we’re talking about a faux problème, a problem that really isn’t one. Dexter does not have to teach Jane the concept of “message”; she already knows what a message is.

She’s been sending messages all along: first to Dexter by means of body language; then to the technicians on Station S-804 by means of images; then to the Dohani communications probe, presumably by means of radio; and now, at the “research center,” by means of images and words. Jane is a communications node, for all practical purposes!

Dexter’s real problem is to teach Jane what human messages consist of. And that may be less difficult than we think. Earthly life forms communicate with each other — and sometimes even between species — by scent, sight, touch, sound, and even taste. All life forms know what a “message” is, otherwise they would be unable to distinguish between information and background noise.

The researchers’ problem, then, is to teach Jane not the concept of “message” but the content of the symbolism in human messages. In other words, “Okay, Jane, you know we’re trying to talk to you. Now, let us explain to you what our words mean, what they correspond to in your experience.”

The task is laborious but not difficult, provided both parties agree on what they’re trying to accomplish. They must also really want to learn and not be too self-centered. Both Jane and the humans make a good-faith effort.

Real problems arise from mistaken preconceptions and prejudices. As Jane and humans begin to communicate more efficiently than at first, they inadvertently illustrate George Bernard Shaw’s witticism, that England and America are two countries separated by the same language. The same can be said of any two people or groups of people.

The Dohani and humans think of each other as monsters. Jane’s experience with humans has already shown they’re both wrong. The Dohani now have to learn they ought not to be so self-righteous and, frankly, snooty. The humans need to do much the same.

And that is the really tall order. It’s hard enough for humans who use a common language; how much more difficult is it for two species who have gotten off on the wrong foot and consider each other mutual predators? Maybe Jane’s first verbal message is the key: “Jane loves Dexter.”

[Martin K.] It's fun discussing these subjects with you guys :-)

[Bewildering Stories] Yes, indeed it is! And I expect we’ll have more to talk about in chapters 13-19.

Copyright © 2013 by Bewildering Stories

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