I respect the rules of the board. My first question was about how telepathic aliens could effectively communicate ideas with non-telepathic humans. Answers of course are going to be creative and speculative. We have no model to go on. I have edited my original question for clarity, I hope, but in retrospect this may not be the right resource for thinking about and creating speculative fiction.


  • $\begingroup$ While the question may or may not be opinion based, it is the kind of thing we enjoy discussing in chat, and we may be able to help you refine it if you'd like to stop by: chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/17213/the-factory-floor $\endgroup$
    – AndyD273
    Nov 2, 2018 at 14:04
  • $\begingroup$ Alternatively, you can ask on the Product Testing chatroom. $\endgroup$
    – John Locke
    Nov 2, 2018 at 14:23
  • $\begingroup$ Note that SE's definition for POB makes no sense for this site - but we do not have the ability to change the text. A proposed alternative definition exists that is gaining popularity. Basically, it shifts the onus from the answerer to the OP. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Nov 6, 2018 at 4:51

4 Answers 4


The metrics for "opinion based" and "too broad" are something we continuously grapple with here, so don't worry if your first question has trouble. It's something even I have trouble with.

The first step is to ask questions, so good job coming to Meta. You came to the right place to seek clarification!

To answer the question you've asked here, we can answer questions about "alien cultures" because we know what a culture is. We may find the culture.. well.. alien, but we know it will resemble something we are familair enough with to have chosen the word "culture." If your alien was too alien for that word, then the question probably would have used a phrase like "alien group dynamics" or "alien group structure."

So we have to be really dependent on word choice for making some of these questions fit. I know I've made some poor word choices which rendered questions unusable until they were fixed.

Within the topic of an "alien culture," there are patterns we can use. For example, relationships will either be symmetric or asymmetric. "Friend" is a symmetric relationship (usually). "Father" and "son" is an asymmetric one. If you have an asymmetric relationship, it might be hierarchial, or cyclical, or so on. These broad pattens can become the basis for answering questions about an alien culture.

Now you'll note that this entire answer so far has been about alien cultures, because that's what your meta question is about. However, when I look at your question, I see a question which is more about an interaction between humans an aliens. Don't worry, everything above still has its use!

The tricky thing about your first encounters situation is that it's a cusp event. Its a single short event which completely defines the timeline you are looking at. This is the difference between a story of two great civilizations coming together as one, or World War 4. These kinds of events are very difficult for WorldBuilding to provide. They are so incredibly important to your story and they also involve a great deal of creativity and the impulse required to take the initiative.

I'd recommend either taking this to the Sandbox, a meta question where you can refine questions, or the Product Testing chat room, where you can discuss issues about your question in depth in a discussion setting (back and forth discussions are wonderful for this sort of thing).

If I were to recommend a reframing, I'd focus on the human side of the puzzle. The end result you want is a peaceful introduction of the aliens to the humans and vice versa. What sort of interactions would humans recognize as friendly? That sort of question can be grounded symmetrically: we've sent out messages and such with the expressed intent of being friendly, which shows generally what we expect from a friend in return.

You can then restrict this by pointing out that your species is telepathic. More importantly, describe how that affects the messages that the species might send. Do they comprehend our concept of a linear language? (if not, is this species capable of thinking linear logical thoughts?) How do they interact with their environment? Do they treat all non-telepathic entities as animals, and are just starting to discover that humans just might be people? These are the useful criteria needed to shape the answers given, but note that they aren't the question themselves. The question was about human behaviors. The alien part is shaping it.

And then I'd recommend reading Ender's Game. Because that book is very relevant. (Read the book, rather than watching the movie. The book goes far more in depth into the particularly relevant bits)

  • $\begingroup$ Another great example of this type of scenario is the Conquerors trilogy by Timothy Zahn. Synopsis: First book, humans meet aliens, are attacked without provocation. Second book, same story, aliens meet humans, are attacked without provocation. Third book, aliens and humans learn how to communicate. $\endgroup$
    – AndyD273
    Nov 2, 2018 at 19:14

Not necessarily, if you provide your evaluation metric.


  • What is the best way to commute to work?

This is opinion based: car, bike, bus, walk are all good answers, and there is no way to pick one.

  • What is the best way to commute to work? Commute distance is 10 km, I will evaluate answers based on the time of commute.

Is not opinion based, as a metric is defined.

Worldbuilding is not a discussion forum where one fishes for ideas, we provide measurable solutions to well defined problem.

  • $\begingroup$ In this case, what's the difference between "opinion based" and "too broad"? $\endgroup$
    – AndyD273
    Nov 2, 2018 at 14:29

I think the answer to this is "sorta, but not really". Yes, all questions that ask about imaginary, unknowable, or mystical things are going to require some level of opinion to answer.
Where the "not really" comes in is how you ask.
For instance, your question could be answered by:

  1. They can read and project thoughts, so they just communicate telepathically, even if the humans can't normally.
  2. They read the humans minds, learn what language is, and then speak it.
  3. They may be telepathic, but they might have language anyway for when they have to communicate further than their telepathy works. A telephone wire or radio can communicate over vast distances, much further than thoughts would go.
  4. Etcetera.

So the trick is to write the question in such a way that people answering will be able to pick one possibility over another, since "best" is subjective.
In this example there is a really fine line between "opinion based" and "too broad". I've argued in the past that "opinion based" is not a good close reason, simply because that distinction is so nuanced.


Context is everything. As a 60 year old, I have a lifetime of passion about all things science fiction, and the alien invasion/friendly alien first contact concepts have always fascinated me and thrilled me the most. Alas, at one time I was an over educated scientist, that lived on the edge chasing scientific fact until I retired. Concepts like 2001, Contact and even the recent Arrival have given some thought to what the difficulties might be to fully understanding how to communicate effectively and QUICKLY. Effectively means the message sent is interpreted correctly, and I suppose, binary (good/bad, fast/slow, yes/no). I have a fiction work in progress that speaks to these difficulties and in fact error in translation combined with the typical xenophobia end up in a horrific end result due to errors in translation. That said, I can see the question, as framed was indeed misplaced, and the chat room the best place for this discussion--I WAS looking for discussion. Conversely, framing true science based questions also will be forthcoming, although I've already found many answers and ideas previously discussed. A wonderful resource!


Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .