Can we create new ideas?

Watching A Clockwork Orange something caught my eye. It’s supposed to be a movie with a futuristic feel to it (at least I think so, it’s not the main point any way), and instead of using a casette to listen to music, he uses a really small casette.

It occured ot me that in all sci-fi movies that offer dazzling predictions about what the future would look like there are always just variations of what we already have. Faster space ships, better computers and smaller cell phones.

Even the aliens that visit us from another part of the universe have a very familiar look. Big eyes and long fingers, maybe squidlike tentacles or even in the form of a pink cloud of dust. Either way, all the different sketches and recreations seem to suggest that wherever in the universe the alien is from, it will look like something familiar.

In fact, when I challanged myself and others to come up with an entirely new animal the suggestions were just combinations of animals I have already seen (A lion with wings and a fishes head etc).

So can we actually come up with ideas that are completely new? It has happend, sure, but it always seems to be by accident when someone was actually trying to come up with a variation of something old and somehow stumbled upon something new.

Some might say the reason we can’t come up with any new creatures or aliens that don’t have any of the features we already seen is beacuse they’ve all been used.
Maybe…but if you never seen a flying creature or object, would you be able to draw a picture of one, or would you give that same reply?

All my questions boiled down to this example:

Let’s say we have an Eskimo (Sorry if I piss any Eskimos off that may be browsing the forum) who has only seen two animals in his life; humans and penguins. And let’s say we ask that eskimo two draw 3 new animals. Would it actually be possible for him to draw 3 animals that have the charachteristics of animals he hasn’t seen yet, or would he just draw 3 different combinations of human-penguin?

No; I firmly believe that it is possible to deliberately set out to create new ideas and succeed in doing so (I’m not saying that this is the only way, or even the most common).

I’m a big fan of Edward De Bono; you should read his book Serious Creativity - it details a number of methods that he has formulated (or codified) that can be used to generate genuinely novel concepts.

On the alien thing… there’s a good chance that aliens would look sort of recognisable - at least if the environmental conditions under which the organism evolved were roughly similar - look at insects, terrestrial molluscs and mammals, for example - in all three cases they generally have a sense cluster at the front end consisting of a pair(or more) of eyes and a mouth underneath - the only reason for this similarity is that it works - they have ‘faces’ because a face is an efficient setup.

Try asking a child for something creative. I bet you’ll get some interesting results.

How anyone can ask this question when our world is only a tiny fraction of what exists always makes me surprised.

Philip K. Dick

?? Either youre agreeing with me, or you somehow managed to msis the point entirely.

Since we only know such a tiny fraction of the universe, does it really make sence saying that the reason we can’t think of new animals is because we’ve seen it all already?

*Originally posted by Mangetout *
**there’s a good chance that aliens would look sort of recognisable - at least if the environmental conditions under which the organism evolved were roughly similar - look at insects, terrestrial molluscs and mammals, for example - in all three cases they generally have a sense cluster at the front end consisting of a pair(or more) of eyes and a mouth underneath - the only reason for this similarity is that it works - they have ‘faces’ because a face is an efficient setup. **[/QUOTE

My point is that they might live under completely different conditions. Mouths, faces etc. the need for these features are based on a number of assumtions that they need to eat, see etc. Of course it makes sence that aliens would look similar to us if they had pretty much the same needs as us.

Read the quote above from criminalcatalog (guess that one backfired on you, didn’t it?), why assume that an alien shares anything with us at all? If we assume they don’t instead, the whole mouth, face thing really doesnt seem as obvious.

If we’re still using stereos in a 1000 years, it makes perfect sense that we might have really small cd’s instead of the ones we have today. But isn’t it possible that we in a 1000 years will use something vastly different than a stereo, so it might not be CD’s at all.

Is the reason why we can’t think up any new animals because we seen it all already, or because we lack the ability to think in new ways? Would the eskimo I mentioned be able to draw pictures of different animals that exist or would he stick to man-penguin combinations?

I would like to distinguish 2 aspects of future prediction/creativity.

Coming up with the next step is easy (well, for some people). I have done it lots of times in my research. Whole new ideas nobody ever thought of, or even thought was possible.

The problem is the next step after that, and the next, etc. As you try to project each step further into the future, the accuracy goes down quite a bit. Perhaps it is an exponential curve. Trying to predict what kind of consumer goodies and entertainments we will have 100 years from now is just too many generations of innovation away to predict with any reliability.

As to aliens and such, which are not (???) in the future but in the present, if they have developed outside our knowledge, then it again is a multi-step difference in tech and as equally hard to predict as the future. Clarke’s Third Law will definitely apply, even if they are not that much ahead, just differently developed.

The Star Trek universe where all the aliens look like humans is just bad Science Fiction and in no way relates to how Scientists could envision aliens.

Do the new animals have to meet all of our current criteria for calling something an animal? Can it be partially bio-mechanical?

Not to mention no matter how wild of an idea/invention/creature one can create, someone will always be able to find a similarity between it and something else that exists. It’s all the in the perception.


  • Eskimos exist only in the Northern Hemisphere.

  • Penguins exist only in the Southern Hemisphere.

If an eskimo were to draw a sphere, would you accept that as a life-like drawing of an alien creature? You would probably honor it but disregard it as feasable. So it becomes a belief issue, once a radical looking lifeform is manifested, not a matter of ability to create innovatively.

Considering that so many people already favor solid-state electronic listening devices (like a portable mp3 player), CDs will probably die a slow death. A personal music library will migrate from CDs, tapes, and records to some hard drive somewhere, and you’ll be able to listen to it remotely with wireless technologies. Probably.

People come up with new ideas all the time. These are usually small leaps from experience, with fewer being larger leaps and even less being huge leaps.

I am sure a proportion of your eskimo population could come up with new creatures that were not based on humans and the arctic penguin.

Of course; if they are crystalline metallic beings that live inside volcanoes of molten sulphur though, the chances are, we’ll just never meet them; anyway, there are very good reasons for thinking that the kind of chemistries, temperatures and pressures that gave rise to life on Earth are pretty much the optimal set - (there have been many threads about this - search on silicon-based life) - if this is the case, then most alien life would come from environments that have something in common with Earth.

**How so? Please don’t mistake brevity on my part for ignorance.

I think you may have missed my point about faces; here it is again; the basic ‘face’ layout (with binocular vision and a mouth underneath) is something that has evolved multiple times independently here on Earth - if course it isn’t the only possible configuration and we have many other layouts here on Earth too.
The mouth is at the bottom of the face because our planet has a surface, onto which food falls under the influence of gravity; the eyes are near the top of the face because they get a better view that way; there are two of them because that enables us to perceive depth.
So, on another somewhat Earthlike planet, that has life, a surface, gravity and an atmosphere that is transparent to some kind of electromagnetic radiation, organisms with ‘faces’ are quite likely.

**As I’ve said, I don’t think it is inevitable, but I do think it is likely - the thing would have to do some of the same stuff that life here does, or it simply wouldn’t qualify as a living organism by any definition.
Predation is a key factor in evolution and it involves one organism consuming another in order to gain an energy advantage - a mouth (or something like it) is an efficient way to do this.

Yes, I agree. You should read Desertion by Clifford D. Simak. It may be very close to the idea of existence in an entirely different kind of “another world”.

It is (I believe) nothing more than a question of whether we choose to imagine the probable or the improbable.

From one of my earlier threads on this general topic:

I hadn’t seen this thread when I posted Stalking the Wild Idea (original plot) yesterday morning, but the ideas are similar enough that I think they dovetail with each other.

One thing about the totally unfamilar creature, presented without any notice that it is indeed a creature, is that its total unfamiliarity would cause the reader/viewer/observer not to pay much attention to it until it did something “creaturelike.” Just to have a totally new form appear in the picture wouldn’t call much more attention to it unless it did something. This would be much harder to do in narrative prose, I suspect.

Another way of saying this is that the “completely new” idea, whether a plot line, a character, a new life form (plant or animal), a new element, a new device, whatever, must have some resemblance in some way to something already known to the audience or it will most likely not be noticed or attended to.

Unless this new something has a way of calling attention to itself in a rather blatant way, odds are it will escape scrutiny.

I can think of a few ads on TV for some new service or product, or at least a major spin on existing ones, and the way they usually work is to make a big deal about how radically new and/or different these new things are before ever showing them to the audience. They rarely (if ever) just show the new thing unobtrusively and let the audience figure out what they are and what they do.

Imagine finding a spherical object on the sidewalk. Imagine it having no buttons, dials, attachments, special coloring, or anything that would lead anyone to think it was much more than a pretty little ball or snow globe, or paperweight. I submit that the average person would just pass on by, pay it little mind, or else just pick it up and heft it and (if it was odd in some way like weight or texture) perhaps take it home as a knicknack for the mantel. If it just happened to be the Rosetta Stone of the Universe, I suspect that only 1 out of 1000 would have the needed inquisitiveness to discover that.

I wasn’t talking about Eskimos coming up with aliens, since we don’t know what they look like. I’m wondering if the Eskimo can draw a picture of a cow, or whale, or eagle or crocodile etc. or if he’s limited to drawing penguin-man combinations.

@ Mangetout

The “backfire” thing wasn’t meant at you, it was meant at criminalcatalog since I felt his statement proved my point which I don’t think he intended.

And yes I agree with you, if I had to bet money on it I would bet that an alien species would have much in common with us. Thing is, I’m not sure if I think so just because I can’t imagine anything else…

Apparantly I managed to piss an Eskimo off after all, so here’s a new example.

I think when discussing this, people who were born blind make for interesting subjects. Would a person who has never seen be able to have any understanding for what seeing is? If you explain to a person blind from birth that when light hits your eyes an image is created in your head that represents your surroundings, would he at all be able to understand?

People blind from birth use other senses to compensate, but those who have their vision restored do not recognize objects they’ve learned to “see” with their hands, they have to learn to identify them by sight all over again.

My point with this is that a person who has only 4 senses can’t imagine a 5th sense. You can explain to him that you perceive the world by use of something called “sight”, but he can’t grasp it until he himself has seen something.

So an alien might have a set of completely different senses, that we simply can’t imagine or understand, which in turn would mean that they might look nothing like us.

In a world were creatures only had 4 senses, lacking vision, would they make the guess that visitors from another planet had complex organs in their heads that allowed them to see light, colours and shape? No, because lights & colours are completly unknown concepts to them. They’d probably say the same things we’re saying now about what an alien might look like.

What if the aliens use a sense completely unnown to us instead of touch? The way our body looks is mainly based on that sense.

Ah; fair enough.

One way to look at this might be to wonder whether there are any senses that we don’t possess…


…are the usual five, but how about if we look at it differently:

Sight and the ability to feel heat on the skin are two different methods of perceiving electromagnetic radiation

Hearing and the remainder of the sense of touch constitute the ability to perceive physical force.

Smell and taste constitute the ability to analyse chemicals

What other attributes/properties of the physical environment are there, besides what something is made of, how much energy it radiates and whether it is moving relative to yourself? - in other words, what properties other than composition, temperature, position and velocity can an object in our universe have?

Otherwise, what other methods of sensing these properties could we hypothesise?

Sight, which is a passive sense, could be replaced by some sort of active sense; dolphins and bats do this (echolocation is an active sense), but they do it by employing one of the other attributes.

Perhaps some kind of direct sensing of mass would be possible?
(I can’t imagine how this could be made to work effectively as a sense, given all the ‘noise’ that would exist from fluctuations in gravity and acceleration.

Well, to create a new alien (something I have done a couple of times) first consider what kind of world it lives on-
Early Earth-like
Europa like
Io like
or perhaps a wholly new type such as the predicted Giant Water-world terrestrial planets;

Then you consider what the chemistry woulb be-
Carbon/water/protein/DNA or similar
Ammonia/maethanol/protein or similar
Silicone or crystalline magmatic or magneto-plasma for example;

Then you consider if the creature is radially or bilaterally symmetrical (or totally asymmetric, which is unlikely as life is a kind of self-organisation- it is difficult to have totally chaotic organisation)

The creature might be sessile or float freely, in which case it could be radially symmetric or perhaps branching like a coral or a flowering plant;

if the creature is subject to a gravity field it may have locomotion organs underneath and or at the rear, sometimes stabiliser organs on each side or on top;
if it has a preferred direction of movement there may be an invagination at the front to allow food in - usually a mouth or mouth/anus or mouth/cloaca;
(perhaps there are several smaller mouths distributed on appendages around the body- not a bodyplan common in Earth life);
there may be manipulatory appendages at the front, or possibly distributed all over the organism but capable of moving food towards the mouth(s);
the mouth(s) may be expected to proces the food in some way, perhaps using abrasive appendages, claws or mandibles(jaws);

Sense organs may be at the front end of a blateral unidirectional organism, and may expected to be relatively simple in operation- no multidimensional telepathy or gravtational/neutrino detection for instance.

If you put all that together and come up with a Klingon, something is not quite right.

SF worldbuilding at