Foreword to the 2679 Edition

Foreword to the 2679 Edition

by Dr. Horris Lewin

The fundamental problem of xenology is just that: a problem with its foundation, if not with its validity then with its inherent limitations . In the case of xenology, it began as the attempt of human researchers to apply anthropological paradigms to extraterrestrial life. The flaws in this approach will be shown soon enough but first, we must understand the origins of our discipline in anthropology.

Anthropology itself had a rather rocky start. From its beginnings as a branch of what was then called “social physics” and later “sociology” by French philosopher Auguste Comte, anthropology passed through many stages of theoretical development during the centuries that followed. Early anthropologists like Franz Boas and Bronisław Malinowski introduced such important hallmarks of the discipline as ethnography and participant-observation respectively, which still play a part in our methodologies across the larger field of xenology [1]. Today, however, we would look back on them and their work as being just as “primitive” as the tribal societies they profiled. We have made plenty of progress along the way, but we also had our fair share of setbacks.

Phrenology, for one, racialized the study of human origins and physiology in such a way that ripples of this pseudoscientific field were still felt more than two centuries later. In the cultural field, Napoleon Chagnon’s work with the Yanomamö of Brazil generated just as much controversy for its potential implications about human nature as it did for the accusations hurled at him by contemporaries in regards to his research methods, which—if his critics are to be believed—included trading weapons and provoking violence in his subjects to validate his hypotheses about innate human aggression, and some questionable conduct during a measles epidemic that left many Yanomamö dead. While some of the ethical questions raised in those early studies have been declared solved, many more linger throughout community discourse and inform our interactions with cultures both human and extraterrestrial. However, that is not to say that many men and (increasingly) women were not making valid contributions to the field that still contribute to our current understandings of human cultures [2].

Later developments followed, both in terms of theoretical frameworks and the division of anthropology into an ever-increasing range of subfields. Of the former, some of the more prominent theoretical branches included the Marxist, feminist, poststructuralist and reflexivist [3] movements, each of which affected all the disparate subfields that emerged from what was then called the “four-field approach” of American anthropology (cultural anthropology, biological anthropology, linguistic anthropology, and archaeology). From these four, we gained even more subfields of specific inquiry: ethnomusicology; folklore studies; medical, economic, culinary, technological, and virtual anthropologies; even cosmo-anthropology, or the study of the effects of space travel and colonization on human societies [4]. These varied fields were sufficient to keep the discipline busy for the first few centuries of human expansion into space, but none of it prepared us for our first contact with extraterrestrial life in the Ryosh system.

The year 2629 marked the conceptual genesis of xenology as a discipline separate from anthropology. At first, field researchers did their best with what tools their academic training had provided them. Old standbys like participant-observation and detailed catalogues of measurements came back to the forefront as we were faced with puzzles in the field we scarcely imagined working with fellow humans. The Ryosh—the first sentient extraterrestrial species to come into contact with humans—presented a unique set of problems to the first researchers to arrive on the scene later that year.

Most apparent to them was the interspecies equivalent of a language barrier. The Ryosh communicate not with a spoken language but with one based on colors, much like terrestrial cuttlefish, although the interspecies similarities end there. Within ten minutes of landing on Ryosh c, the entire subfield of linguistic anthropology had been rendered largely irrelevant, as a method of understanding and quantifying auditory communicative systems had no place among beings with no vocal cords or skeletal resonating chambers, though Dr. Korae Hallin’s determination is duly commended. It was her careful application of analytical methods honed over centuries of anthropocentric linguistic research that provided the foundation for our first communicative event with extraterrestrial life. All of this is detailed with clarity and wit in her fieldnotes, the result of which is the present text, which represents the first ever monograph of an “alien” [5] species.

Equal credit goes to Drs. Joren Markse, Gorin Webb, Tony Holdsworth, Marius Dubé, and a young Larisha Eren, who, after eight years, continues to serve as the President of the Interspecies Studies Association. It is to these first Ryosh xenologists and all those on the frontiers—figurative and literal—that this new edition is dedicated.

Footnotes

  1. “Xenology” is an umbrella term for the study of sentient beings. This traditionally encompasses material culture (xenoarchaeology), communicative systems (formerly known as “xenolinguistics”, though the case of the Ryosh in particular led many to argue for the term “xenosemiotics” as it also incorporates non-audible communication), social behavior (cultural xenology), and biology (evolutionary xenology and  xenobiology being the primary branches).
  2. Of course, no discussion of anthropology’s setbacks would be complete without mentioning experimental psychologist Rayford Loomis and his controversial work on what he termed the “expanding consciousness of the space-born race”. Details of the legal and ethical debates generated by his research are best discussed in other works. See Farrow 2349 and Kerestin 2352 for opinions from his contemporaries, while a more recent discussion can be found in Artiss 2647.
  3. Reflexivism, sometimes referred to as auto-anthropology or auto-ethnography, is defined as the cultural study of the self and was seen as the logical extension of reflexivity to produce an anthropological study of oneself, critically analyzing one’s own beliefs, practices, and biases. While not recognized as an academic approach by the Interspecies Studies Association, it can still prove to be a useful personal exercise. For more on personal and field applications of auto-anthropology, see Lomash 2645.
  4. The first recorded use of “cosmo-anthropology” appears in Falii Rasheed’s seminal 2207 work, Cosmic Man: A Profile of Lagrangian Colonists. Though dated, her methods and conclusions can still prove instructive to students of the development of cosmo-anthropology.
  5. The reader should keep in mind that this work is a product of its time. The use of the term “alien” to refer to extraterrestrial sentients was much more prevalent during the founding of xenology as a recognized field of study than it is today. While not originally intended in a pejorative sense, the word has since taken on negative connotations within certain sectors of the xenological community, with “extraterrestrial sentient” or “exsen” gaining support as a more appropriate term. Even “xenology” itself has come under fire recently, with a growing movement in support of “sentientology” as a replacement term. See Gerrenti 2678 for a recent treatment of this debate.
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