"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."
One of the common ways that humans and aliens differ is that they tend to think in a very different way from humans.
This can manifest in a number of ways, such as group consciousness or the capacity to feel emotion in a way that is abnormal for humans. 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.
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.
- In Krypton No More, Kryptonian therapists have very weird ideas about proper ways to deal with psychological trauma. Since Superman is having a breakdown because he is frightened of losing Earth as he lost Krypton, the Kandorians (people of the Bottle City of Kandor who survived Krypton's destruction) convince Supergirl to make him believe he is from Earth and his Kryptonians origins are a delusion he came up with.
Supergirl: Kandorian psychologists unlike Earth psychologists feel than an emotional problem should be removed, rather than solved!
- Legends of the Dead Earth: In the Green Lantern Annual #5 story "The Value of I", the Zilliphi reject the concept of individuality. They place great emphasis on the will of the majority, referred to as the Many, to the point that every important decision is put to a vote, even in the direst of circumstances. Taa presents the Conference House of Metro Nine with a Green Lantern Ring which would give the wearer the power to defeat the Barooki who are pillaging their city. Rather than making use of the ring, they decide to have a referendum. The Zilliphi reject using the ring as they fear that it would make the person who wore it stand out from the Many, meaning that they would no longer all be equal. Taa is told by the Conference House to dispose of the ring but he instead puts it on and uses its immense power to defeat the Barooki. He then gives a speech to the cheering crowd that the Many need to participate in their society as individuals if they are to survive and advance. However, his speech is misinterpreted and the Many instead decide to make Taa their king. They begin to come to Taa so that he can make all of their decisions for them. For instance, one couple, Sao and Saa, want him to decide on the hue that they should paint their quarters.
- Star Trek: Untold Voyages: In "Silent Cries", the Paridesians possess an almost religious devotion to etiquette and protocol and regard any breach thereof, no matter how minor, as a major insult.
- The Thermians from the movie Galaxy Quest have only recently been exposed to the idea of dishonesty (courtesy of the Big Bad). They cannot imagine any reason to deliberately say something that is not the absolute truth, and therefore have no concept of fiction in storytelling. After stealing cable, they mistakenly believe that everything they saw was real, and that the washed-up actors from an old Star Trek Expy are actual spacefaring heroes. They also weep for "those poor people" on Gilligan's Island.
- 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 Grdoch only ever eat living things. It's not clear if they're incapable of consuming dead flesh or if they simply prefer their prey to squirm a bit. On their homeworld, they have evolved from middle-tier predators, meaning they are both predator and prey. They are also hermaphrodites and are almost always pregnant. When running away from larger predators, they typically toss their young to distract the predators or even snack on them if they're hungry. They don't see anything wrong with making an agreement only to break it when convenient. Eating sentient beings is not a problem, as long as their food is chemically compatible. On a minor note, all their ships are identical in form and function. The only difference might be size, but all their ships have the exact same configurations and systems. Similar to how most life on their homeworld has evolved distributed and redundant organs, their ships are difficult to destroy. Even when you think you've crippled them, they may lie in wait before suddenly attacking from behind. A big part of their racial psychology is a polarized fight-or-flight response. They either go for an all-out attack or they flee. There's almost no middle ground. It confuses the hell out of them when their mad rush doesn't cause humans to turn tail and run.
- The Martians in Stranger in a Strange Land are reported to have a very different way of thinking from 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.
- Larry Niven:
- Known Space:
- Protectors, Kzinti, and other aliens all think differently enough from 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.
- The Outsiders are the go-to In-Universe example given that nobody else can understand their alien motivations/desires. Outsiders make even the Grogs look understandable (which they pretty much are not).
- The Puppeteers' defining trait is cowardice. Their leader is called "The Hindmost," under the (correct, in their case) assumption that a leader will always place himself in the safest possible position. While modern humans have trouble understanding the danger posed by global warming— likely to affect us within most people's lifetimes— the Puppeteers make far-reaching alterations to their civilization in order to escape a danger not likely to become imminent for millions of years.
- The Draco Tavern:
- The Chirps are either benign despots or monumental liars, and no-one has any real idea which.
- The Gligstithoptok breed human meat in hydroponic tanks for food, but have a strict taboo against actual killing.
- The Folk lease areas for hunting and are good company afterwards, but too dangerous to approach beforehand.
- Bazin either has a profound philosophy or is basically an inter-galactic stuntman.
- Rick Schumann, the bartender, allows the press in when it would profit him and his only real motive is to make money from his clients, and how he ever arrived in his role is never really explained.
- Known Space:
- 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 the sole human diplomat to another species. He has received extensive training in the differences between human and alien psychology, so as to avoid misunderstandings that might lead to another war.
- Inverted in The Mote in God's Eye. Motie mediators assigned to human emissaries go mad, or Crazy Eddie as they like to call it, trying to comprehend how they act. The closest they get is a sub-class of mediators who act as heavily Capitalist economists.
- China Miéville:
- In Embassytown, the Ariekei can't even conceive of metaphorical truth, and, despite learning the language, humanity can't 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 are evolutionary dead-ends that make humans vulnerable to the creatures out there, who see it as an abomination or infection and have decided to eliminate humanity because our broadcasting of it into space 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, 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.
- Discussed by the seorni of Malacandra in Lewis's The Space Trilogy. They feel that the fact that Earth has only one sentient race (Malacandra has three) must profoundly narrow our perception of the universe.
"Your thought must be at the mercy of your blood, for you cannot compare it with thought that floats on a different blood."
- Shows up in several places in the works of Brandon Sanderson.
- The koloss of Mistborn: The Original Trilogy have only two emotions: boredom and rage. They spend all their time sitting on the ground doing nothing, until they decide to kill someone nearby for a completely random reason. "His food was better than mine" is a perfectly acceptable excuse for murder in their eyes. Furthermore, after they've finished the fight and calmly explained their reasoning, they go back to sitting around like nothing happened.
- The Parshendi of The Stormlight Archive perceive emotions as a series of rhythms to which they can attune their thoughts and speech. They naturally attune the rhythm that matches their emotion at the moment, but can deliberately attune a different rhythm instead.
- The Shards of Adonalsium, sixteen concepts endowed with virtually endless power, each of which binds itself to a human mind, then warps that mind into its image. So Ati, bearer of the Shard Ruin, comes to see all reality as a process of destruction, of building up only that you might later knock down.
- Peter Pan describes Tinker Bell thus:
Tink was not all bad; or, rather, she was all bad just now, but, on the other hand, sometimes she was all good. Fairies have to be one thing or the other, because being so small they unfortunately have room for one feeling only at a time. They are, however, allowed to change, only it must be a complete change. At present she was full of jealousy of Wendy.
- Tralfamadorians in Slaughterhouse-Five can see in four dimensions and thus have a fatalistic worldview due to their knowledge of all time and space.
- Invoked in Diaspora: The uploaded and AI citizens of the Polis have complete control over the coding of their own minds, which they use for various recreational and work purposes. People loan out their sense of aesthetics for art exhibits, rewire their brains for space travel so they can spend millennia happily watching the stars, adapt to five-dimensional virtual environments, and much more. For really alien species, they create "bridger" copies with as much of the aliens' mindset as they can add to themselves and stay intelligible. One species of Starfish Alien requires a telephone game of five Bridgers to engage.
- In Illegal Alien by Robert J. Sawyer, the Tosok race has no sense of privacy in regards to sexual matters, since with them this usually involves group sex (four males impregnating one female). Their internal anatomy, however, is viewed as sacred and not to be discussed in public except when absolutely necessary. Also, they don't have any concept of right in terms of morals, believing all things are predestined. One character speculates this is due to the fact they don't have right and left sides to their anatomy, but three, with one (an arm in the back) being inherently the strongest. They therefore have no concept of crime, although dangerous people are restrained. In his The Neanderthal Parallax books, the Neanderthals are incapable of religious and mystical beliefs due to them having a different brain structure. Calculating God features a species of aliens unable to do any math aside from the most simple arithmetic, but have no difficulty answering difficult moral questions that baffle others.
- In the Imperial Radch series, the Starfish Alien Presger are only encountered through their Artificial Human Translators, but appear to have an understanding of individual and collective identity that's completely at odds with humanity's. It rubs off on their Translators: one Translator needs to be reassured as to which translator she is at a given moment.
- The Geck are aquatic, and as such believe that the water is "good" and the entire universe outside it is some sort of nightmarish hell. The Geck ambassador in Provenance is actually sort of surprised to find out that people seem to be able to thrive there. Additionally, they have strong sibling bonds but no connection with parents or children.
- Kris Longknife:
- Downplayed with the Iteeche, who have a tendency to react to grammatical mistakes by speakers of their Starfish Language by attacking the offender with a sword (at least one early human negotiator lost a limb that way). Aside from that, they're actually quite humanlike in thought, despite being amphibians.
- The Alwans, a race of flightless omnivorous birds, have several populations, but the most prominent, nicknamed "Roosters" by the humans, has no concept of large-scale violence (outside of hunting game): interpersonal violence is extremely rare because the Roosters have evolved to settle disputes by dominance displays, and are greatly disturbed when the Planet Looters refuse to surrender despite the human forces' clear superiority. Neither they nor the more warlike "Ostriches" understand the concept of money in exchange for goods, either: after attempts to introduce coinage quite literally turn into Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!, the humans defending them from the Planet Looters resort to "paying" Alwan workers and soldiers by letting them pick consumer goods from a catalog and then telling them how much work they need to do to earn the "gift."
- In Animorphs, the Yeerks were originally treated as Always Chaotic Evil, and when Jake saw inside one's head, he detected alien emotions and speculated that they don't experience love. Characterization Marches On, though, and in later books Yeerks become more sympathetic and more human. (Incidentally, we see a Yeerk demonstrate love only two books later.) However, one thing that Jake notices—that unlike humans, Yeerks won't keep fighting if they think that they'll lose—is actually a major plot point.
- The Leerans have Psychic Powers more active than other species; they instantly know all your secrets just by your being around them, and as a result, seem cheerfully indifferent to the concept of personal privacy.
- The Helmacrons are basically an entire species of The Napoleon, make ranting threats to anyone (including each other), and do bizarre things like ritualistically execute their leaders, since they obviously can't make any mistakes if they're dead. This seems partially related to them having a weird sort of Mind Hive—kill a Helmacron, their mind somehow transfers to another, creating a whole species of nutcases.
- The Skrit Na are the species which we call The Greys, and yes, they fly around abducting humans (and others) for pointless medical experiments or as exhibits in their People Zoos. Why? None of the other species know, and Elfangor believes that they don't really know either.
- This is basically the entire overarching premise of the Ender's Game series. At its heart, it deals with the question of whether or not an alien culture thinks and acts so utterly different from humans that there could never be any communication or understanding between them. In such a case it puts forth that total annihilation is the only workable approach to protect humanity. To this end, Orson Scott Card created the Hierarchy of Foreigness.
- In Knights Of The Forty Islands, the entire premise turns out to be an alien experiment to figure out human psychology. There's much they still don't understand. Some aspects of their own psychology disgust the human teenagers. For example, their "less advanced" members tend to be stuck in one mode of behavior. The elite are able to "modify their behavior" to whatever is necessary for the moment, with no social qualms. The disgust part comes in, when one of the aliens simply submits to the humans and readily agrees to betray its own comrades for its own survival. When the humans point out that it's betraying its own kind, the creature simply reiterates that it has merely adjusted its behavior and doesn't understand the human resistance to that sort of thing.
- Terry Pratchett's Strata:
- While most aliens seem to have essentially human psychologies with added quirks — kungs are paranoiacs who will fight without regard for their own safety, shands are pacifist intellectuals who think nothing of eating their own kind — the protagonist, Kin, reflects that everybody (including humans) projects their own psychology onto other species, and understanding another species beyond a superficial level may be impossible.
- The Ehfts are a more extreme example, and they weird out everybody else. Although a running gag shows one habit common to *every* species, even Ehfts — when they ask for Kin's autograph on a copy of her book, they'll say it's for (the closest equivalent of) their nephew.
- Isaac Asimov
- "C-Chute": Stuart reminds the other humans that Kloros aren't just physically different, they are also psychologically different. The Kloros will assume that any group is a social union deeper than family bonds, even a group that just happens to share a ride on a transport.
- "Homo Sol": The alien humans completely lack the mob psychology of the humans of Sol, making them individually emotional, but not very empathic. Theyve formed detailed mathematics around psychology in order to take advantage of the emotional reactions from humanoid life as they know it. Discovering how we react in groups and proving our mob psychology frightens the political representatives.
- Semiosis: The Plant Alien Stevland's control over his biological processes allows him to do things like partition off aspects of his consciousness and literally grow a sense of humour.
- Babylon 5:
- Lower- to mid-level telepaths like Lyta Alexander and Talia Winters 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 B5 novel Clark's Law features the Tuchanq, a race who lose their sense of identity (and then become insane) if they are rendered unconscious. Since they're old enemies of the Narns, when they arrive on station, a riot breaks out, and the security forces use stun guns to break it up. It doesn't end well.
- 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.
- In both TNG and Star Trek: Voyager, this mindset is shown when individual drones flat out ignore the heroes walking around in their presence until they became a problem. The Borg, as 7 of 9 explains, think about the survival of the collective. Units are expendable because the data can still be preserved. Humans think on an individual scale, where the preservation of data must mean the preservation of the individual and thus fight to minimize casualties.
- SF Debris posits that the Borg, as originally introduced, are alien to us because they are simultaneously Greedy Capitalists and Dirty Commies.
- The Prophets in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine are disturbed by linear time. They can't understand how a being could live from moment to moment without knowing what will happen in the future. Because to them it's a Timey-Wimey Ball. Sisko resorts to using baseball to explain that humans can act without knowing the future.
- 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. (Don't think too hard about how such an unwieldy physiology could possibly evolve naturally.) Manipulating their main brain, cutting off their outer brain, and replacing that brain with a translation orb can give them the appearance of seemingly being cattle-like, happy servants.
- The Daleks are xenophobic and believe themselves to be the Ultimate Lifeform. Anything else must be exterminated or enslaved to serve their purposes. The one exception is their creator Davros, who they revere with religious fervor except when they overcome their subservience to him and enslave him. Even other Daleks that they fear are slightly different are considered un-Dalek, and they have near-constant civil wars as any new idea creates a schism. When one group of "pure" Daleks decided that the human-born Daleks weren't inferior to the originals, being that they are identical in all but origin, another group declared war (which included some human-born Daleks who saw their inferiority as a given).
- Taken: In the final episode "Taken", John confirms what Mary Crawford and Dr. Chet Wakeman had suspected about the aliens for some time: that they have no emotions and no concept of morality due to the manner in which they had evolved over the course of millions of years.
- Journey into Space: In Journey to the Moon / Operation Luna, the Time Travellers cannot kill any living creature.
- Dungeons & Dragons:
- In more recent editions, Beholders have two brains. For some reason they process their data through the emotional part before transferring 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. They also have an intense hatred of things that are different from themselves, including beholders with different numbers of eye stalks, skin color, magical abilities, or levels of xenophobia. They reproduce by regurgitating and biting off their reproductive sac, sterilizing themselves in the process, and then only keep the children that look the most like themselves while devouring the rest.
- 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.
- Warhammer 40,000:
- As noted by Ciaphas Cain (HERO OF THE IMPERIUM!) in the novel For the Emperor, the Tau will actually fall back from a contested objective if diplomatic means have failed and taking it would take too great an expenditure of men and material, completely anathema to Imperial commanders, who would rather die where they stand than retreat. (Or at least, this is the case with the more zealous and/or stupid Guard generals. Smarter commanders do exist, including Cain's own superior Zyvan, they're just not as prominent.) As the Tau see it, if the Imperials want a world bad enough to waste thousands of lives for it, they can have it. The Tau will just go do something else and wait until the humans get complacent or focus on other things, and then take the planet back. The Tau also see nothing wrong with eradicating the completely defenseless should they refuse to join the Tau Empire - the only true alliance is the Empire itself and all other allegiances are untrustworthy, and they won't take even the most remote chance of betrayal even from those who can't reasonably fight back. After all, if someone offers to ally with you but they won't enter the hegemony, how sincere could they possibly be?
- The Eldar, being prescient, also often fall back and use such tactics against their more brutal enemies.
- Orks have a single strategy: gather up all the boyz you can, find a planet with lots of enemies, and run towards them with as much dakka as you have (it won't be enough though) yelling WAAAAAAAAGGGGGHHHHHH! This rush to throw themselves into melee is alien to all but the most enthusiastic of Khorne's berserkers. This is because, to them, fighting is all there is. Even their occasional retreats are justified in that they get to fight again tomorrow, so it's more fighting overall. They practically treat ambushes as gifts, and think the humans built those giant fortresses because they're asking for someone to attack them already. Large and in Charge is biologically enforced, too. And their other rationalizations fill a sizeable section of Insane Troll Logic's page. A lot of this is because when "fear of death" was being handed out by the Nightbringer, the Orks somehow missed out.
- The Craftworld Eldar have serious obsessive tendencies, and their culture is structured to use this constructively. The same Eldar can come across as very different people depending on what Path he's on, because each Path draws from a different part of the psyche, and staying too long in one Path is risky because there's a chance they'll walk too far down the Path and be psychologically unable to leave it.
- It's worth noting that, in general, the most human aliens in the setting are those Necrons whose minds remain mostly intact after going into robot bodies; some of them are indistinguishable from semi-realistic comic book villains or Blackadder supporting characters.
- EV Nova's Krypt believes itself to be the only intelligent creature in the universe.
- The geth in Mass Effect are an artificial Hive Mind species of Artificial Intelligences that get progressively smarter the more of them are located in close proximity, since they're able to share data processing with each other. They also think and communicate at the speed of light. Your geth teammate Legion further explains in Mass Effect 2 that, being computers, they literally think in math: the "heretics" joined up with the Reapers because an equation that should have returned one number, returned a number a tiny fraction different. Legion also notes during its Loyalty Mission that making the decision on what to do with the heretic geth ( erase them or alter their programming, in effect killing or brainwashing them) based on what Shepard would consider moral for organic life could be considered somewhat insulting, because geth aren't organics.
- Angels in Kill Six Billion Demons have an utterly bizarre psychology that even other residents of Throne don't seem to really understand. All are bound by the Old Law, which is a set of unexplained rules chiseled into their being, and are physically incapable of outright breaking it (evil angels do some heavy Loophole Abuse to get around the Law). They see fighting evil and staring into the void as equally noble tasks. Rank is determined by length of their previous incarnation, regardless of how many preceded it. The Prime Angels have done nothing but maintain a shield around Throne for several millennia, but they outrank all other angels simply because they've never had to reincarnate.
- That being said, some angels play with this trope, downplay it, or even outright avert it. Some angels display more human psychology or value systems, most notably deuteragonist/tritagonist 82 White Chain (whose struggle with both the system of Throne and her identity form the basis of her character arc). While much less human than 82 White Chain, 10 Vigilant Gaze Purges the Horizon expresses intense support for White Chain and encourages her more human side. Antagonist 6 Juggernaut Star is implied to be heavily repressing her identity out of sheer hatred for Zoss and the constant spinning of the Wheel.
- Servants and Devils also have their psychological quirkswith Servant races having forged for one specific purpose and devils being desire incarnate, bound by many names they slowly learn to slough away, becoming more powerful and changing personality as they do so.
- In El Goonish Shive, Uryuoms and hybrids that have Uryuom ancestry are predisposed to be polyamorous as a natural consequence of their reproductive biology in which 3 or more biological parents are the norm. Given that Uryuom biology features external fertilization involving raw DNA, Uryuom descended individuals are also more likely to be asexual. Finally, as a One-Gender Race of shapeshifters, Uryuoms have no set gender from birth and even if they pick one, it's often not fixed making them inherently agender and often genderfluid.
- 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), and even at the baseline sophont level you have to factor in the radically different mindsets of the various human descendants, uplifts, vecs note and AIs, many of whom think and behave nothing like modern humans.
- Irken society in Invader Zim is a hierarchy based solely around height, where shorter individuals are looked down on (literally) and assigned menial labor, while taller ones are greatly respected and admired. The leaders of The Empire are even called the Almighty Tallest. At one point, when Zim is describing humanity to them, the Tallest are baffled by the idea that anything tall, let alone as tall as them, could somehow also be dumb.
- 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) they are. The evolutionary pressures that created the octopuses' intelligence are believed to be far different from the evolutionary pressure that gave us ours. It's almost like having a sapient 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 sapience for quite some time. Or the scientific community is only excited about the biology at work behind its brain (for the same reasons), or both.