Blindsight mentions a group of 5 transhumans in a first contact with an unconscious alien species (Rorschach).

Which the writer mentions any form of communication in human language, interpreted by the species is treated as an attack. But how?

From the book:

"Since Rorschach doesn’t have consciousness, human languages and signals are meaningless to it. The act of receiving and decoding the signals consumes time and energy but yield no benefit for Rorschach. Thus, for Rorschach, human language is virus, and “communication” in human language is an attack.

"Imagine that you encounter a signal. It is structured, and dense with information. It meets all the criteria of an intelligent transmission. Evolution and experience offer a variety of paths to follow, branch-points in the flowcharts that handle such input.

There are no meaningful translations for these terms. They are needlessly recursive. They contain no usable intelligence, yet they are structured intelligently; there is no chance they could have arisen by chance. The only explanation is that something has coded nonsense in a way that poses as a useful message; only after wasting time and effort does the deception becomes apparent. The signal functions to consume the resources of a recipient for zero payoff and reduced fitness. The signal is a virus. Viruses do not arise from kin, symbionts, or other allies. The signal is an attack."

The writing is quite dense and could anyone explains whats the reasoning behind human language being hostile when interpreted by the Rorschach?

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    Communication for its own sake isn't logical to the Alien(s?). They are effectively intelligent but lack the consciousness that would make what we would consider common language exchanges meaningful. – Mark Rogers Dec 17 '19 at 22:41
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    Wall of text crits Harper for 121605 damage. Harper dies. No no no, not your question, but it's happened on this stack. That's why I keep a soulstone up when reading. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Dec 18 '19 at 0:18
  • Human thought is so primitive that it's looked upon as an infectious disease in some of the better galaxies. – Omegacron Dec 18 '19 at 17:44

Rorschach is not conscious, which means that it does not spend energy on daydreaming, on emotion, on opinions, or on any part of what we would experience as consciously processing our experiences. This means that to a species like Rorschach, a large part - in fact, the vast majority - of communication between humans is concerning activities that it has no purpose for, and cannot comprehend the need for.

Rorschach only spends energy on things that are directly related to its continued survival. Human activities such as entertainment are therefore considered a complete waste of energy. Even the structure of human language is wasteful - I seem to remember there being a line describing how Rorschach units "time-share" each other's brains. What this means is that Rorschach units don't "speak"; they simply transmit their thoughts in whatever form is more efficient (if I remember correctly, the trapped Rorschach entities communicated by transmitting vibrations through the hull) and each unit continues thinking the recieved thought where the original left off; a true hive-mind, essentially one brain spread across many bodies. Imagine that's how you communicate, then look at the way humans do it: by inventing words with certain meanings, choosing which ones you want to use to express an idea, and then representing those thoughts by a means of sound that includes tonality and stress patterns and tempo, which are all there to indicate social, emotional, and contextual cues... It's tremendously inefficient, from Rorschach's point of view.

When Rorschach encounters this communication, it has to analyse it and work out what it is. Doing so requires understanding all the things I just mentioned, and when it does that, it sees that so much of it is (from Rorschach's perspective) completely unneeded and wasteful. This means that the communication has made Rorschach spend energy on doing something that was ultimately not in any way useful in ensuring its continued survival. Rorschach does not have an unlimited energy budget, which means that by spending some of its energy on understanding human communication, Rorschach is now less able to pursue the activities that it needs to in order to survive.

This means that there is an intelligent creature out there that has done something that has reduced Rorschach's ability to survive. From Rorschach's single-minded perspective, this counts as an attack. The creature who is doing this must be stopped, so that Rorschach no longer has to spend energy on dealing with it, and can instead focus entirely on making its environment safer for Rorschach to live in and ensuring the continuation of its species.

I've tried to phrase this in a way that doesn't imply that Rorschach has opinions or conscious thought; in essence, Rorschach operates solely by what humans would call instinct, reflex, and gut reaction, except vastly more complex; much more direct cause-and-effect and much less reasoning and rationalisation. That's part of what makes Rorschach so scary: it cannot be reasoned with, because it lacks the capability to even think the sort of thoughts that would be required for it to engage in negotiation of the human kind. It cannot be reassured or intimidated, because it is incapable of experiencing fear or concern. The only "negotiation" it would understand is based on actions; humans would have to act in a way that led Rorschach to decide that they are not a threat. Given that this would involve ensuring that Rorschach no longer has to expend any energy in thinking about or reacting to human activities, this is very unlikely.

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    Thats a great explaination! – Quartz2 Dec 17 '19 at 15:12
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    The interesting thing is that Rorschach considers "expend energy on attacking in retaliation" to be more energy-efficient than "ignore entirely unless required to attack". – Justin Time - Reinstate Monica Dec 17 '19 at 22:35
  • An alternative is that the attacking the humans might turn out to be too difficult leading to a reduction in the survival of the Rorschach. If we are too dangerous to attack, then they might be put into a position where some form of negotiation - regardless of how you play with words - is required. – Ponder Stibbons Dec 18 '19 at 4:06
  • Admittedly, I think this is all an extended philosophical zombie discussion. – Ponder Stibbons Dec 18 '19 at 4:07
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    @JustinTime it makes sense, to be honest. Analysing whether it's safe to ignore will take up more energy. The possible outcomes are "No, it's not safe", so it will needs to retaliate and thus expend the same energy as before. If the outcome is "Yes, it's safe", then this probably has to be re-evaluated any time the foreign entity takes another action. And if the entity has spoken once, it's likely to speak again. The cumulative long term "analyse data" and "evaluate threat" energy expenditure is likely to be enough of a drain on resources to be considered an attack by itself – VLAZ Dec 19 '19 at 11:08

I think a real world example of this would be a DDOS attack on a website. Malicious users flood the website with, more-or-less, nonsense signals. This takes up all the website's ability to interpret any sort of incoming information. If someone watching the website notices a bunch of nonsense signals hitting the site, they could assume it was an attack on the site.

So the Rorschach species might interpret the nonsense communications similarly as a malicious attack.

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    This analogy works best with the example from the book - just as some anti-DDoS protection systems, Rorschach is not conscious and simply classifies the data as an attack. A false positive if you wish. – Tomáš Zato - Reinstate Monica Dec 17 '19 at 16:26
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    @TomášZato-ReinstateMonica From Rorschach's perspective, it is an attack, and not a false positive. It has a very different definition of "attack" to us; one that does not take motive or malice into account, because Rorschach has no concept of such things. – anaximander Dec 17 '19 at 17:11

It looks like you're asking for an interpretation of this passage from the book.

The key point, is that Rorschach has assigned a motive to the communication. Since it cannot interpret the message, it can only suppose that the message has no meaning; it has categorized the message as nonsense, and furthermore categorized it as deliberate nonsense. It's as if it's thinking "Why else would something communicate a message with no meaning? It must be on purpose!" Since attempting to interpret the message consumes energy, Rorschach views the communication as ethically equivalent to trying to suffocate it to death with a pillow. This may not be what the transhumans intended, but no other interpretation has occurred to Rorschach, so it takes it as an attack.

  • Thank you, that gives a clearer picture on the situation. then why they arent able to interpret the message? – Quartz2 Dec 17 '19 at 12:18
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    @Quartz2 That seems like a good question, but probably should be made as a separate post. – Misha R Dec 17 '19 at 14:19
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    I interpreted this part a little differently. I don't think Rorschach assigned a motive at all, because doing so would require it to acknowledge that humans are conscious, and Rorschach - being non-conscious - has no concept of such a thing. – anaximander Dec 17 '19 at 14:45
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    In other words, it has classified the message as a denial of service attack. – zovits Dec 17 '19 at 15:39
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    @Quartz2 What happens when you connect your WoW client to a Counter-Strike server? For both sides, there's just lots of structured nonsense. They don't understand each other. They have no facilities to "learn" to understand each other (they could have, and those were proposals from the 70s, but software engineering... isn't very good). Humans have ridiculous brain-software to handle language processing, and we're ridiculously overdriven to learn and create languages; we're a bit special in that regard. But it's not a necessary thing we can automatically expect of every form of intelligence. – Luaan Dec 18 '19 at 8:23

It's not all human language that is interpreted as an attack , it's specifically inter-human messages that assume consciousness. Since Rorschach is non-conscious, it doesn't have the terms of reference available to 'understand' those messages.

There are examples given, between the passages you quote. In my 2006 Tor edition, the relevant section starts on p.323 with "Imagine you're a scrambler"

You decode the [intercepted human-to-human] signals, and stumble:

I had a great time. I really enjoyed him. Even if he cost twice as much as any other hooker in the dome--

To fully appreciate Kesey's Quartet--

They hate us for our freedom--

Pay attention, now--


My emphases indicate the particular parts that would have no meaning to a non-conscious intelligence.

You can see the kind of non-conscious language that would not be interpreted as an attack, later on after

vampires take over the Earth, and all the humans are killed - the comms Siri picks up from his escape torpedo are "mostly traffic control and telemetry", but "Every now and then I still hear a burst of pure voice, tight with tension ... other ships in dispassionate pursuit" - vampires, who as it turns out are also non-conscious, chasing down the last humans.

  • Thanks! thats explains the conflict clearly, since they have no consciousness, they cant have feelings or understand what is "I" from the Rorschach's point of view – Quartz2 Dec 17 '19 at 12:26
  • Also, I am intrigued by the game theory of the novel. Siri mentions that Rorschach will not retaliate against humans after Theseus smashed into big ben, out of some kind of game theory? but why? Did the spaceship explode with the blob of Rorschach or it get stopped by them before crashing into big ben? – Quartz2 Dec 17 '19 at 12:28
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    The outcome is left deliberately ambiguous but I think we are to assume Theseus' matter-antimatter explosion takes out Rorschach in a kamikaze attack. The game theory stuff harks back to the earlier discussion of 'technology implies belligerence'; if word gets back to the Rorschach homeworld, it will be word of a defeat, I think. – AakashM Dec 17 '19 at 12:41
  • also, during the onslaught of scramblers against Theseus, the writer mentions, where 2 of scramblers touch the ship they arc. And they carry weapons, but what sort of weapons are they welding or how they engage in combat?? So Rorschach loses the war and they learned not to send their scramblers in that direction? – Quartz2 Dec 17 '19 at 13:17

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