Manuscript, pp. 660-664
The following statements are excerpts from a report sent home by an anthropologist who is on an expedition to another planet in the Milky Way:
from page 1:
“The planet’s civilization is one of the most interesting we have found. One obvious reason for our interest is the striking similarity between our own anatomy and that of the planet’s dominant species. We can actually, with only a few simple cosmetic devices, mingle among them without detection. They call themselves Homo sapiens.”
from pages 3 & 4:
“In some ways Homo sapiens are quite sophisticated, but in others, quite primitive. For example, the level of their mathematics and physical sciences can be judged from their industrial and technological products. They have constructed both fission and fusion explosive devices – and fission reactors for power production. They employ solid-state electronics in computers and other devices. They have started using coherent wave devices and holography. They have sent a few members of their species in small spacecraft propelled by liquid fueled reaction rockets to explore their planet’s one natural satellite, a distance of 380,000 kilometers. They have sent instrument packages with television reporting systems to other planets in their solar system. They have started deciphering DNA, RNA, and similar molecules. Of course there is nothing unusual about such achievements by species with highly developed neurological systems. In this case, however, they were accomplished by beings who have not undergone the kind of internal resource development that usually precedes such achievements. Homo sapiens have managed to develop their technologies without first learning how to make effective use of their own perceptual and cognitive capabilities. Their technological advances have come about through the collective and sequential efforts of large numbers of individuals performing highly specialized roles or functions. But even the most sophisticated members of the species are still functioning at low levels of knowledgeability and intellectuality. They are beginning to have some awareness of the great disparity between their present and their potential performance levels, but they have, as yet, made little progress in realizing the promise of those potentials.
So, another reason for our high interest in Earth’s civilization is the precariousness of their existence. Their collective technological capabilities and their contrasting lack of individual development and sophistication have created a highly volatile situation that could easily lead to destruction of their civilization – or even to their complete self-annihilation. While we did find the remains of an extinct civilization on Zenar 3 that had reached a level of development similar to Earth’s, this is our first opportunity to witness, firsthand, such a situation in process.”
from pages 17 & 18:
“The only linguistic tools developed by Homo sapiens that have a high level of effectiveness are their mathematics and their machine languages, which have proved useful as scientific and technological facilitators. But the languages they use for common discourse and intercourse are crude and ineffectual instruments from the perceptual, logical, and epistemological standpoints. They are still employing thousands of different spoken languages and hundreds of written languages. None of their written languages make effective use of their eyes or their brains. In fact, they could hardly make it more difficult for themselves to acquire verbal-visual information than they do with their peculiar written languages. For instance, their most widely used language is English, a highly irregular alphabetic/phonographic language that looks as if it might have been designed by the slot-eyed humanoids of Arcturus 2. English sense-units consist of linear assemblies of alphabetic characters. And the sense-units (which they call “words”) are arranged in linear series to form meaning units (which they call “phrases,” “clauses,” or “sentences”). [See the addenda to this report for a description of the symbolization of English, and the grammatical and syntactical rationale of the language.] But Homo sapiens are not slot-eyed creatures. Their visual apparatus is very much like ours, that is, eyes with round retinas that have high central acuity and low peripheral acuity. Thus, when reading text in alphabetic/phonographic languages like English, they use only a narrow band along the horizontal axis of their visual field – and most of their reading is done at only a few hundred sense-units per minute, or even less. In assimilating information so slowly and so inefficiently it’s difficult to attain high comprehension or retention.
Their ‘solution’ to the slow assimilation problem is to try to improve reader’s efficiency through various training and retraining strategies – through training in the development of more regular eye movement patterns, through training in skimming and scanning, and through other adaptive efforts – rather than the use of information displays that would better utilize their eyes’ capabilities. Instead of simply removing the straightjacket, the perceptually ineffective display of information, they are expending great energy trying to help readers overcome the limitations that they have unnecessarily imposed on themselves. Such efforts characterize the Homo sapiens’ strange retardation in the development of their inner resources. Because of their underdeveloped inner resources, they spend much of their energy dealing with problems that are self-inflicted. Their vain struggle to do so many things the hard way is a fascinating tragicomedy.”
from page 21:
“The other languages used by Homo sapiens do not provide any better perceptual efficiency or permit faster assimilation than does English. The other written language with the most users is Chinese. While Chinese is ideographic rather than alphabetic, it is nonphonographic and it has over 30,000 characters and several hundred spoken dialects. (See the description of Chinese in the linguistics addenda to this field report.)”
from page 26:
“The majority of Homo sapiens are either semiliterate or are completely nonliterate. The nature, multiplicity, and inefficiencies of their languages are some of the reasons why this is so. Because their languages are so complicated and irregular, they are difficult to learn and difficult to use. The large multiplicity of languages compounds the problems of literacy training. And the perceptual inefficiencies of their languages limit the advantages of learning to read.”
from page 29:
“Homo sapiens’ methods of distributing and displaying information help perpetuate their low levels of literacy and sophistication. Their primary vehicle for printed information is still paper, with all its attendant limitations, inflexibilities, and high costs. They have started developing more efficient means of handling, recording, storing, and displaying information. However, the primary purpose of these efforts is to facilitate machine use and to reduce handling costs and storage requirements, not to facilitate the assimilation of information by the human users of that information. They do, for example, digitize information and images and store them using various technologies, including recently-developed optical storage technologies – but not for the purpose of giving the reader the kind of options we have with our muvies. Print information on their electronic displays is still shown in linear typographies and is even harder to read than it is on paper. And, while they have started using text-to-speech and speech-compression applications, these applications are used primarily to give visually-impaired individuals access to the text. They have not yet developed interactive movable type to facilitate reading and learning.”
from pages 33 & 34:
“The prevailing notions about learning and the types of facilities needed for learning also limit the use of written languages by Homo sapiens. The training that is provided in reading skill development is directed primarily at young children, despite the obviously greater needs and learning abilities of adolescents and young adults. The most common approach is to start literacy training at about six years of age. The children are required to assemble in groups of 20 or 30 or more for five or six out of each seven days to undergo training. Each group is directed by an adult facilitator. They call them “teachers” or “instructors” rather than “consultants” or “learning facilitators,” as we do, which characterizes the difference in approaches.”
“Language training is usually carried out in highly structured and confining situations in which the groups of children are compelled to learn, as groups, the signs and symbols of the written language that corresponds to their spoken language (or, in some cases, the written language for a spoken language or dialect that the children do not speak.) Such training is usually continued for 10 or 12 years, with a gradual broadening of their training to cover various subject matter areas. Even after 10 or 12 years of training, however, many of the children are still only semiliterate. But even those who have learned to read usually have only a very superficial knowledge of the areas studied because of the slow and inefficient reading methods they must use. After their initial 10-12 years of training, the children either start receiving specialized training or start working. The children who do not attend school or attend school for fewer years (which is usually the case with the more disadvantaged individuals or groups among their species) are urged to start working even earlier.”
from page 47:
“Such educational systems, with their extensive physical plants and their highly complex administrative, academic, and curriculum superstructures, are very costly, however, and only the Earth’s more affluent nation-states can afford to develop and operate them. The underdeveloped nations simply do not have the resources (see economic and political sections) that would be needed to establish the same kinds of programs. Nevertheless, the underdeveloped nations use the same approach as the affluent nations but, because their resources are so limited, their efforts reach only small portions of their populations. Even the poorest of their nation-states could afford to institute national systems of information dispensaries and self-instructional literacy programs for their inhabitants, but they have not yet developed a telereader or its equivalent with which to equip such dispensaries. As stated earlier in the report, they do have the technological capabilities of constructing a basic telereader and the manufacturing capabilities of equipping national systems of information dispensaries with them, but their limited understanding of their own perceptual and cognitive capabilities has precluded the initiation of such efforts.”
from page 59:
“Another aspect of Homo sapiens’ linguistic retardation is the way they use their languages to talk about the natural phenomena, particularly behavioral phenomena. They are still largely word-mystics. Most of their discourse reflects the view that they are describing the events to which they allude, as if they and their environments were comprised of simple and stable relationships. Thus, much of their time and energy are expended in futilely trying to reconcile the differences between phenomena and their simplistic descriptions and analyses of the phenomena. Even though they have developed a fairly sophisticated subatomic physics, their knowledge of physics has not been fully generalized to other areas. Their development of particle physics has not yet effected the kind of metalinguistic reorientation that usually follows such developments. While there has been some movement in that direction, it has been surprisingly slow. Just as their knowledge of their inner resources has been little utilized, their knowledge of particle physics has been little generalized.
from the last page:
“Homo sapiens anthropologists usually adhere to rules of non-intervention with the cultures they are observing, so we are tempted to just wait and watch to see if the species will destroy itself before learning how to achieve constructive and cooperative self-fulfillment. But our team has always found meddling more satisfying and stimulating, so we are about to move from the observation phase of our visit to the participation phase. We’ll let you know what happens.”
s/Enyaw Retrop, Expedition Reporter
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