Created By: Deboss on January 17, 2012 Last Edited By: StarSword on February 17, 2014
Troped

Bizarre Alien Psychology

Alien minds are weird.

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope

Rolling Updates, Needs a Better Description

"Emphatic Blossom at Dawn, like all of the Turusch, was of three minds.
"Literally. The Mind Above, as the Turusch thought of it, was the more primitive, the more atavistic, the original consciousness set that had arisen on the Turusch homeworld perhaps three million of their orbital periods in the past. The Mind Here was thought of as a cascade of higher-level consciousness from the Mind Above, more refined, sharper, faster, and more concerned with the song of intellect.
"And the Mind Below was more recent still, an artifact of both Turusch and Sh'daar technology, a merging of Minds Here into a single, more-or-less unified instrumentality."
Star Carrier: Earth Strike

One of the common ways that humans and aliens differ is that they tend to think in a very different way to humans.

This can manifest in a number of ways. Xenofiction will usually show events from the aliens' perspective and may even explore evolutionary reasons for the minds to develop that way. Works featuring Psychic Powers may have psychics affected oddly by reading alien minds.

This is frequently a trait of Starfish Aliens, but is not limited to them.

Supertrope to Hive Mind. Related to Planet of Hats, in the sense of a culture all thinking the same way resulting in "one" mindset for everything. Frequently overlaps with Bizarre Alien Biology if the brain producing this psychology is radically different. Expect Blue and Orange Morality to show up a lot. Often highlighted by Humans Through Alien Eyes.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica's race of Incubators seem to operate in an extremely rational Hive Mind. They view emotions as a mental sickness, and do not consider not telling every part of the truth as lying. Simply put, their only concern is to offset the heat-death of the universe.

    Film 
  • The alien race from the movie Galaxy Quest have only recently been exposed to the idea of dishonesty. They cannot imagine any reason to say something that is not the absolute truth, and therefore have no concept of fiction in storytelling, leading them to confuse the cast of a Star Trek-like TV show for real life spacefaring heroes.

    Literature 
  • Star Carrier:
    • The Turusch all have split personalities that are aware of each other. The Mind Above is basically equivalent to a human's lizard brain and rarely says anything other than "Threat! Kill!" The Mind Here is the thinking brain that makes decisions. The Mind Below is the mental representation of the Sh'daar Seeds, implants created by the Sh'daar Masters that network the minds of their client races (and often double as The Political Officer).
    • The Slan are the next-best thing from a Hive Mind. They're still individuals, but their hat is collectivism: Everything they do is for the good of their Community, and taking actions harmful to the Community is considered insane. This informs how they look at war: Slan-on-Slan battles resemble a shoving match and end when one side establishes dominance. The human willingness to fight even in the face of overwhelming odds scares the hell out of them.
  • The Martians in Stranger in a Strange Land are reported to have a very different way of thinking than us, including the concept of "grokking" something: to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed, to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience.
  • Protectors, Outsiders, Puppeteers, Kzinti and other aliens from Larry Niven's Known Space tales are definitely this to varying degrees. The Outsiders being the really out-there example that nobody else can truly get and who make even the Grogs look understandable (which they pretty much are not). All think differently enough to humans (and each other) to trip themselves and those they interrelate with up, even if they do share some head-space, sometimes. It's made clear again and again that we are this to them, too.
  • C. J. Cherryh is fond of exploring alien psychologies in her novels.
    • The Chanur Novels are Xenofiction told from the perspective of a group of vaguely lion-like aliens who pick up a human stowaway.
    • The Foreignerverse is centered around a human ambassador to another species, he has to train himself to think like them.
  • Inverted in The Mote in God's Eye. Motie mediators assigned to human emissaries go mad trying to comprehend how they act.
  • China Miéville:
    • In Embassytown, the aliens can't even conceive of a single isolated mind, and, despite learning the language, humanity can even begin to communicate with them until someone stumbles across the trick of having identical twins speak in two-part harmony. When a pair of folks who aren't identical twins show up who nevertheless seem to be able to communicate, the result begins to drive the aliens mad.
    • In Perdido Street Station, the Weaver's weird mindset is represented by its non-stop, stream-of-consciousness Word Salad monologue. Its psychology becomes a key plot point, as it's perhaps the only living sentient in New Crobuzon whose consciousness the slake-moths can't consume.
  • One of the twists of Peter Watts' Blindsight is the discovery by the human explorers that humanity is pretty much the only race out there with a concept of self, reason and such things as art... which the aliens see as an abomination of infection and have decided to eliminate humanity because it hurts them.
  • The villains of one of the Bolo books are a bunch of reptilian matriarchal Blood Knight aliens that are all about killing anything that have "Kill and Eat!" as a battle cry and will not accept any surrender... especially because apparently they have a very different way of thinking of people surrendering than humans. When the female main character of the book decides to be Defiant to the End and keep on staring into the eyes of a taller alien when she approaches to kill her, the alien is puzzled because that pose (on your knees, raising your head) means "please kill me" in her language... and sees it even odder for the alien that a female did such a thing. This confusion keeps the girl alive long enough for the hero (and the titular robot tanks) to pull a Storming the Castle.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5: Lower- to mid-level telepaths like Leeta and Talia don't like to go very deep into alien minds. It's... not a comfortable experience, as demonstrated at least once on the show when a P-5 telepath scans a Narn, and practically craps herself.
  • The Borg in Star Trek: The Next Generation are a hive mind; individual thought is suppressed and all the minds are linked to think as one. This is retconned in Star Trek: First Contact, where the hive has a central queen controlling the thought, who thinks more or less like a human, but the initial concept was very alien.
  • Doctor Who
    • Time Lords have the ability to psychically connect with other advanced, telepathic beings. They can also wipe minds and put images into someone's head by concentrating and touching them. At one point the Doctor downloads his backstory into someone's mind by head butting him. They have a higher brain function than humans and can process way more at a time-understanding the nature of space-time is basically instinctive.
    • The Ood are a telepathic race that are linked by a telepathic song translated by a hive brain. They have a secondary brain which they hold in their hands at all times. Manipulating their main brain, cutting off their outer brain, and replacing that brain with a translation orb can give the them the appearance of seemingly being cattle like, happy servants.

    Music 
  • The Eiffel 65 song "Another Race": It's another race / From outer Space / We can't communicate, with their one-way brains / No matter how you try, you just can't understand them.

     Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • Beholders have two brains. For some reason they process their data through the emotional part before transfering it to the logical part. Which means, if something is against a beholder's beliefs (which, through genetic memory always amount to Always Chaotic Evil racist monster) it won't ever get far enough to apply to its logic.
    • In the Ravenloft setting, reading the far-too-alien mind of an aberration will force humanoid characters to make a Madness check.
    • The Daelkyr in Eberron are so alien in their way of thinking that in 4th edition any psychic attack against them deals damage to the attacker.

    Video Games 
  • EV Nova's Krypt believes itself to be the only intelligent creature in the universe.

    Web Original 
  • In Orion's Arm almost nothing else thinks like baseline humans. The Tol'ul'h for instance managed to combine politics and opera into a performance art called "polmusic". Within the Terragen sphere "Singularities" are defined as the threshold at which an intelligence becomes so smart that anything below that line cannot possibly comprehend their thought processes (and there are entities as high as S6).

    Real Life 
  • The reason octopus intelligence is a source of excitement in the scientific community is how far removed (from an evolutionary stand point) from relatively well understood other intelligent animals (who have a tendency to be social). The evolutionary pressures that created the octopuses' intelligence is believed far different than the evolutionary pressure that gave us ours. It's almost like having a sentient alien, so this is probably one of the closest to real life examples in terms of creatures that are intelligent on a level that at least approaches sentience for quite some time. Or the scientific community is only excited about the biology at work behind its brain (for the same reason), or both.

Community Feedback Replies: 26
  • January 17, 2012
    Gamermaster
  • January 17, 2012
    Xzenu
    Music
    • The Eiffel65 song "Another Race": It's another race / From outer Space / We can't communicate, with their one-way brains / No matter how you try, you just can't understand them.
  • January 17, 2012
    dalek955
    Starfish Aliens and Eldritch Abominations usually have this.
  • January 17, 2012
    PaulA
    "Bizarre"
  • February 1, 2012
    Deboss
    Blue And Orange Morality is not a subtrope, just a way of doing it. This is supposed to be an index mostly.
  • February 2, 2012
    fulltimeD

    Live Action Television:

    • Babylon Five: Lower-mid level telepaths like Leeta and Talia don't like to go very deep into alien minds. It's... not a comfortable experience, as demonstrated at least once on the show when a P-5 telepath scans a Narn, and practically craps herself.
  • February 2, 2012
    Mozgwsloiku
    Beholders in D&D have two brains - for some reason they process their data through the emotional part before transfering it to the logical part. Which means, if something is against a beholder's beliefs (which, through genetic memory always amount to Always Chaotic Evil racist monster) it won't ever get far enought to apply to its logic.
  • August 27, 2012
    captainsandwich
    Real Life: The reason octopus intelligence is a source of excitement in the scientific community is how far removed (from an evolutionary stand point) from relatively well understood other intelligent animals (who have a tendency to be social). The evolutionary pressures that created the octopuses intelligence is believed far different than the evolutionary pressure that gave us ours. Its like almost like having a sentient alien, so this is probably one of the closest to real life examples in terms of creatures that are intelligent on a level that at least approaches sentience for quite some time. Or the scientific community is only excited about the biology at work behind its brain (for the same reason), or both. I'm not sure.
  • August 27, 2012
    SharleeD
    • In the Ravenloft D&D setting, reading the far-too-alien mind of an aberration will force humanoid characters to make a Madness check.
  • August 28, 2012
    captainsandwich
    Sharlee D we already have a trope for that. Too Spicy For Yog Sothoth, maybe also Go Mad From The Revelation, but i suppose it fits here too.
  • August 28, 2012
    CobraPrime
    ^ No its not. Read the description If anything, it's the reverse.

    • The Daelkyr in Eberron are so alien in their way of thinking that in 4th edition any psychic attack against them deals damage to attacker because their minds are so alien.
  • August 28, 2012
    SharleeD
    ^^ Yeah, my example's on the Go Mad From page too. It's the fact that it's specifically the alien nature of aberrations' minds which affect people in this way that makes it Bizarre Alien Psychology; reading darklords' or insane characters' minds can have the same effect in Ravenloft, but I left those out because they're not "alien", just super-evil and/or nuts.
  • August 28, 2012
    randomsurfer
    The Martians in Stranger In A Strange Land are reported to have a very different way of thinking than us, including the concept of "grokking" something: to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed, to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience.
  • August 28, 2012
    Euodiachloris
    Protectors, Outsiders, Puppeteers, Kzinti and other aliens from Larry Niven's Known Space tales are definitely this to varying degrees. With the Outsiders being the really out-there example that nobody else can truly get and who make even the Grogs look understandable (which they pretty much are not). All think significantly differently to humans (and each other) enough to trip themselves and those they interrelate with up, even if they do share some head-space, sometimes. It's made clear again and again that we are this to them, too.

    Hmmm... Protectors might be stretching the trope a bit, actually... however, it's a good play with it. After all, although you can get human Protectors, with the changes made to the brain thanks to the Tree of Life virus, their thought processes become rather... different... to any normative scale you care to point at.
  • August 28, 2012
    zarpaulus
    • CJ Cherryh is fond of exploring alien psychologies in her novels.
      • The Chanur Novels are Xeno Fiction told from the perspective of a group of vaguely lion-like aliens who pick up a human stowaway.
      • The Foreigner 'verse is centered around a human ambassador to another species, he has to train himself to think like them.

    • Inversion in The Mote In Gods Eye, Motie mediators assigned to human emissaries go mad trying to comprehend how they act.

    • In Orions Arm almost nothing else thinks like baseline humans. The Tol'ul'h for instance managed to combine politics and opera into a performance art called "polmusic". Within the Terragen sphere "Singularities" are defined as the threshold at which an intelligence becomes so smart that anything below that line cannot possibly comprehend their thought processes (and there are entities as high as S6).
  • August 28, 2012
    Xtifr
    Literature:
    • In China Mieville's Embassytown, the aliens can't even conceive of a single isolated mind, and, despite learning the language, humanity can even begin to communicate with them until someone stumbles across the trick of having identical twins speak in two-part harmony. When a pair of folks who aren't identical twins show up who nevertheless seem to be able to communicate, the result begins to drive the aliens mad.
  • August 28, 2012
    SharleeD
    Same author as ^, so two *s to place it under that one:

    • In Perdido Street Station, the Weaver's weird mindset is represented by its non-stop, stream-of-consciousness Word Salad monologue. Its Bizarre Alien Psychology becomes a key plot point, as it's perhaps the only living sentient in New Crobuzon whose consciousness the slake-moths can't consume.
  • August 28, 2012
    MrRuano
    Puella Magi Madoka Magica's race of Incubators seem to operate in an extremely rational Hive Mind. They view emotions as a mental sickness, and do not consider not telling every part of the truth as lying. Simply put, their only concern is to offset the heat-death of the universe.
  • August 29, 2012
    TBeholder
    iz currently covered by de Starfish Aliens

    @Mozgwsloiku: Wait, how it's different from the "warring hemispheres" pseudoscience which freudists preach for the semiliterate in tabloids? =)
  • August 30, 2012
    Mozgwsloiku
    No idea. never heard of those.
  • August 30, 2012
    Aronatia
    The alien race from the movie "Galaxy Quest" have only recently been exposed to the idea of dishonesty. They can not imagine any reason to say something that is not the absolute truth, and therefor have no concept of fiction in storytelling, leading them to confuse the cast of a Star-Trek-like Sci-fi TV show for real life spacefaring heroes.
  • February 15, 2014
    StarSword
    Found this when looking for alien psychology tropes. Looks usable so I'm taking it over.

    @T Beholder: It's perfectly possible to have Bizarre Alien Psychology applied to Human Aliens. This is usually a trait of Starfish Aliens but there's no rule that says it only applies to them.
  • February 15, 2014
    marcoasalazarm
    Couple of possible examples:

    One of the twists of Peter Watts' "Blindsight" is the discovery by the human explorers that humanity is pretty much the only race out there with a concept of self, reason and such things as art... which the aliens see as an abomination of infection and have decided to eliminate humanity because it hurts them.

    Another may be from one of the BOLO books. The villains of the story are a bunch of reptilian matriarchal Blood Knight aliens that are all about killing anything that have "Kill and Eat!" as a battle cry and will not accept any surrender... especially because apparently they have a very different way of thinking of people surrendering than humans. When the female main character of the book decides to be Defiant To The End and keep on staring into the eyes of a taller alien when she approaches to kill her, the alien is puzzled because that pose (on your knees, raising your head) means "please kill me" in her language... and sees it even odder for the alien that a female did such a thing. This keeps the girl alive long enough for the hero (and the titular robot tanks) to pull a Storming The Castle.
  • February 17, 2014
    JonnyB
    The Borg in Star Trek The Next Generation are a hive mind; individual thought is suppressed and all the minds are linked to think as one. This is retconned in Star Trek First Contact, where the hive has a central queen controlling the thought, who thinks more or less like a human, but the initial concept was very alien.
  • February 17, 2014
    StarSword
    No time to launch at the moment; I have class in half an hour. Will do it at some point this afternoon.
  • February 17, 2014
    paycheckgurl
    • Doctor Who
      • Time Lords have the ability to psychically connect with other advanced, telepathic beings. They can also wipe minds and put images into someone's head by concentrating and touching them. At one point the Doctor downloads his backstory into someone's mind by head butting him. They have a higher brain function than humans and can process way more at a time-understanding the nature of space-time is basically instinctive.
      • The Ood are a telepathic race that are linked by a telepathic song translated by a hive brain. They have a secondary brain which they hold in their hands at all times. Manipulating their main brain, cutting off their outer brain, and replacing that brain with a translation orb can give the them the appearance of seemingly being cattle like, happy servants.

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable

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