Foreword to the Fifth Edition

Foreword to the Fifth Edition [1]

by Dr. Korae Hallin

Eleven years ago, I was in the same state as the field of anthropology in general. By that, I mean that I felt entirely unprepared for what was coming next. I had just entered into a comfortable career as a professor of linguistics at Keffin University. As far as I was concerned, my greatest challenge was behind me as soon as I had attached those three little letters to the end of my name. How little I knew indeed. How little we all knew, really.

This is not to say that any of us couldn’t have anticipated the specific issues that would face us after extraterrestrial contact. Xenology as a concept has existed for centuries, and arguably laid the foundations for anthropology itself. When European explorers of the sixteenth century first met the native inhabitants of the Americas, their first question was not how people could have arrived there but whether or not these inhabitants were people at all. As their understanding of archaeology and evolutionary theory improved, it became clear that Amerind peoples were human after all. However, the field of ethnography still concerned itself with understanding by contrast the difference between Europeans and native peoples across the world, injecting a series of artificial divides—culture, race, religion, and social organization—into a space already created by geography and language. Transcending the prevailing obsession with racial categories was then the primary concern for anthropologists well into the twenty-second century.

But before the discourse could settle down, we were forced to reckon with changes wrought on our species by interplanetary travel and colonization. While it may seem quaint to us now, the idea of humans living in orbit and on Luna was accomplished within two hundred years of our first manned space flight: not even the blink of an eye, in evolutionary terms. As a result, we were forced to come to terms with a whole slew of other variables affecting our already incredibly varied species. For one, the effects of long-term space travel on language development. Among those pioneers was Joanna Legazpi, whose work among Tagalog-speaking crewmembers on interplanetary resource freighters contributed to the formation of the Cosmo-isolate Principle, or Legazpi Effect [2].

While physiological changes were expected as well, we still have a long way to go before macroevolution can make more significant changes to Homo sapiens sapiens. My biological anthropology colleagues would have to content themselves in the meantime with more minute changes—proxemics in low-gee environments [3], immune system adaptations, developments in lung capacity, variation in melatonin cycles and effects on circadian rhythm—that, while still vital to understanding our now space-borne species, bore little resemblance to the kinds of predictions made by scientists like Rayford Loomis or Georg Brand [4]. Without sounding too reductionist, the discipline had found a cozy niche in which to expand on its base of anthropocentric research, if only because it was all we had at the time. While biologists made many fascinating discoveries on our newly colonized worlds, those species that were not bacteria were flora: nothing with sentience and more importantly for us anthropologists, nothing with social organization. All of this changed nine years ago with the detection of complex life on Ryosh c.

This discovery appropriately marks a new era in human scientific endeavor and in our very existence as a species. I liken it to the impact made by Columbus’ reports of men living in the Americas, or to Darwin and Wallace’s presentation of the theory of natural selection to the Linnaean Society in London. Proof of extraterrestrial life was without question the most important discovery our species had ever made. But simply making the discovery was not enough: we had to go farther. We had to stretch the frontiers of our scientific understanding to incorporate a set of new phenomena: semiotic systems, ecosystems, biology, everything. It was unknown if Ryosh life was even based on DNA. How were we supposed to apply any of our intrinsically anthropocentric paradigms to a world about which nothing was even remotely anthropocentric?

Honestly, it wasn’t as if we lacked a precedent for doing so. The same reflexivity within mid-twenty-first century anthropology that granted non-human personhood to the great apes, dolphins, and some cephalopods would have to account for an infinite universe of non-human persons in greater variety than our previous conceptions would allow. It was a shock to the system, yes, but a necessary one. And somehow I’d found myself right in the middle of it.

Were there more qualified researchers for this project? Of course. Some of them are sitting here in this audience, probably fighting back the urge to choke me with my own notes. As well they should. I felt sufficiently upjumped when I found out I’d been recommended for the Ryosh project. And then when I finally got the message telling me I’d been accepted, I remember wanting to jump out the nearest window; whether out of excitement or anxiety, I can’t say. All I knew was that I was in and with something this big, you can really only make a career or get yourself blacklisted by every research institution in human space. The only answer that made sense was “yes”.

And now here I am; here we all are. Of course, I include some of my Ryoshi colleagues who’ve also made it here today, who are here to see how the helpless human scientist turned out all these years later. I suppose it’s entertaining to watch me reflect on my experiences as if I’ve accomplished something final, as if the bridge between human and Ryoshi epistemologies were already complete. Such is not the case: it’s never been the case with each of our many human societies, so why should extraterrestrial societies be any different? Yet this very tension is what propels us to learn; to chase after those differences we see so prominently on the surface but which only truly reveal the things that bring us closer. Life is not a homogenous mass that can simply be quantified and archived for posterity; it’s an experience that all of us pass through in our own ways, viewing this infinite universe before us with an equally infinite range of hopes and fears and considerations. Whether we dwell on the lessons of the past, struggle through the trials of the present, or chase after the promise of the future, we are all here. We are all life. This was a lesson I learned more than most all those years ago on Ryosh c; let it be the lesson we take with us into the wild depths that lie before us all, beyond every uncharted system, every orbit of our worlds, and every boundary of our imaginations.

Footnotes

  1. Adapted from a talk given by the author at the First Annual Meeting of the Interspecies Studies Association, University of Genei, ESD June 14th, 2638.
  2. The principle that the development of sociolects increases rapidly with long-term isolation of a given linguistic sample as a result of space travel and colonization. While Legazpi’s 2267 work Wikang Manlalakbay-Langit: Isang Pag-aaral ng Pananalitang pang-IFW [Language of the Star Travellers: A Study of Speech Patterns of Interplanetary Filipino Workers] posited this development within a single small group, later researchers observed similar phenomena occurring throughout the Sol System colonies and trade routes. It is now a highly regarded concept within linguistic anthropology.
  3. Ahmed Yallishen was one of the first biological anthropologists to study populations in permanent zero- and low-gee environments, particularly effects on cultural concepts of proxemics and spatial awareness. His 2291 work Downside Up, Upside Down: Adventures in Zero-gee Proxemics is still beneficial to modern readers, partly for the author’s humorous relation of his own gradual acclimation to life in zero-gee.
  4. Evolutionary biologist who made far-reaching predictions about potential human speciation events in regards to space travel and colonization. While his claims may seem entertaining or shocking todayincluding elongated limbs and especially enlarged brainsthey are instructive in understanding the development of attitudes in science surrounding human expansion into space.
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