Friday, June 17, 2011

Babylon 5, Vorlons and their riddles

One of random thoughts due to (re)-watching Babylon 5 (very decent SF series, thanks to Michael Straczynski, the author, keeping true to his policy of "no cute robots or kids" and having the arc of the whole story prior to starting the project - very recommended for those who are into this type of stories).

In the series, there are different alien races represented, some of them "good", the others "evil" (the notions of "good" and "evil" prove to be somewhat fluid). One of the most cryptic races are the Vorlons, who are always wearing space suits, looking like little moving fortresses, can take any appearance depending on who sees them (but would rather not to), do not talk a lot and when they do, it takes a while to understand what they actually meant to say. Every phrase sounds like a prophecy and most of the time the characters (and those watching them) are left to wait until time decodes the messages.

It may well be, that the Vorlons were speaking so little, and then always in riddles, because they haven't been supposed to be using spoken language while communicating with their own kind. From the series it follows that they were using some sort of telepathy to convey information not only between themselves, but also to those who were "enhanced" by them (like Lita, a human telepath; the human telepaths story, by the way, seem to be at least partially borrowed from Alfred Bester's book "The Demolished Man" and one of main human telepathic characters in B5 is also called Bester). Also, even the way the Vorlons looked doesn't suggest that they even had any organs capable of producing speech (which may be one of the real reasons for them always wearing space suits outside of their own quarters).

Therefore, when they used any language, they were literally struggling with the foreign media. Very clever of Straczynski to make the species who do not normally use language talking in riddles... one can imagine that if they were conveying information to each other directly, and if they all shared common source or generic knowledge (some Vorlon Wikipedia everybody could tap into?..), then almost the only issues they might be willing to communicate to each other would be their feelings and points of view. How else to describe the feelings but via metaphors? But how can the other understand, if they don't feel what you feel, and you are not accustomed to describing your thoughts?

Of course, Vorlons are imaginary subjects living in imaginary world, but one might start wondering, what would become of humanity if we will ever acquire ability to communicate with each other bypassing slow http speech protocol? Would we also, in the end, forget how to use speech properly? Would we have to translate old literature individually for every person, depending on his, her or _its_ neuron structure? Would there be any individualities left at all if everybody will always be connected to everybody, or the humanity will change into a sort of humanhill, superintelligent only as a whole?