Jun 23, 2021 7:59 PM
Bubblehead aliens meet Amenta
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"I'm curious to know more about brain exchanging," says Mai. "How much is usually exchanged at a time, is it usually two-way, how do the updates propagate, how does a colony stay in sync with itself..."

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"There's two kinds really, where we connect the ends of our bubbles, and where we actually move bubbles from head to head. Well, three kinds I suppose, since the bubbles on a head also talk to each other, but in a different and more... Direct and constant way that results in consciousness. The first kind is a lot like some depictions of telepathy in your fiction. It can be factual information or sense-impressions or anything really. Before bubble-caps became common these exchanges tended to be infrequent but somewhat lengthy and in-depth. Now they are constant and shallow. Some complain that modern technology is destroying old ways of socializing. The second kind is... We are not individuals. Colonies are somewhat individual, but we also have a distinct sense of kinship and connectedness because in many cases we literally are partially another colony. Science Eater and Beauty of Life in particular have [untranslatable]. Have... Blurred into each other. Colonies stay in sync because every small part understands that it is a small part, and the consciousness in each body knows that it is part of something greater and instinctually seeks the good of the entire group. This is why bodies to be discarded or bubbles that are old and damaged don't fight it, they know the whole lives on. How exactly ego and goals and consciousness gestalts out of bubbles is a question we are still studying."

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"That makes sense, we don't know much about the hard problem of consciousness as it applies to us either. How do the bubble-caps work?"

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"The first ones were bulky devices passing short distances to allow polluted bodies to brain-exchange without spreading it. Over time they were miniaturized and networked and made portable. It was only significantly later that they became input devices for computers and a way to consume media. It's much easier to transfer electrical impulses than interpret them."

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"I wonder if any of the same technology is adaptable to Amentan brain-computer interface frontiers," wonders Tahmu.

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"We have natural interfacing capability already. I doubt it would be straightforward. It would be fascinating to investigate, though," Science Eater replies.

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"How specialized is each bubble?" asks Mai.

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"...That is surprisingly hard to describe. Not debilitatingly so in most cases. The function of a bubble depends on where on your head it goes, a bit. You can definitely pick out a few bubbles that are especially good at calculus or something, skills bleed over between bubbles on the same head, but only a bit and it depends on what kind of skill. Physical or sensory things transfer well, abstract skills like technical writing or warp math much less so, memories hardly at all without deliberate effort."

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"Effort? What is that like?"

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"I don't know if you have the concepts. There is a basic action to put a bubble into a receptive state, then you do mental-" The translator program hesitates. "-Exercises. It demands most of our attention and feels like meticulously doing the same thing many times at once."

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"...like meditation?" suggests Tahmu.

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"...Allow me to look up the meaning cloud for that."

Pause.

"...Not really. It is a disassociative experience. It disrupts consciousness."

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"Huh. - like a seizure?"

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"I don't know how you experience those. It probably doesn't make sense to you without the qualia of splitting but you split until you're not conscious anymore, until suddenly you are again. It's relaxing and pleasurable if there is actually anything to learn. There are addictive drugs that create the same feeling? You do nothing for hours and feel like you've understood something profound but actually have learned nothing..."

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"We have those," remarks Mai. "So you go on a bit of a trip and at the end all the insights are real, that must be amazing."

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"Well, insights vary in quality," Science Eater says with a wave of two forelimbs. The other bodies make chittering noises.

"But yes, it's a good feeling, spreading knowledge," Many Water adds. "And you can get paid for teaching directly this way or sharing interesting memories. Our memories of meeting all of you are going to be a popular craze."

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"The Amentans back home are going to have to settle for recordings," laughs Tuanke, gesturing at the photographer.

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"For now, at least," Coordination Minister says, having been quiet for a while. "I think your mention of mind-interfacing technology has set off our pair of science siblings a bit... Would you like to see any other parts of the ship? Perhaps that will expose more areas where we can give each other insights into technology."

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"Yes please!" says Atamsho.

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They show off the science labs (lots of little robot arms and self-delivering tables, all networked) and bridge (big overhead consoles that have dozens of plugs for their heads) and the crew quarters.

Here are some bubblehead children complete with miniature bubbles on their miniature heads! They're cute enough, in a six-limbed alien centaur sort of way, and babble about FINDING ALIENS and SPACESHIPS and LOOK AT THE THING I PAINTED (a spaceship). The bubbleheads treat them protectively but aren't doting on them quite as much as springing Amentans.

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"We'd love to get some robotics knowhow from you, we're sort of doing catchup in that field for historical reasons," Tuanke says. Atamsho gets MANY pictures of BABY ALIENS but the Amentans stay back from them so as not to trigger alien parent instincts. Mai does ask, "How does having children work given how you have multiple bodies per colony?"

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"I could describe the biology, but is that what you mean? Or more like social structure?"

"They are more separate than adults while growing, with only the first kind of brain-exchanging possible," Engineer Scout comments. "Typically prospective parent colonies plan two good genetic combinations and each take responsibility for one resulting egg."

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"And then they join their parent colony?" Mai asks.

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"Yes. Beginning slowly in adolesence, then fully as they mature. Welcoming an adolescent is a cause for a party."

"I think you may be underestimating how much internal differentiation we have. Different bodies do have somewhat different internal experiences, habits, skills, and preferences. We blend and share, yes, but we are not composed of all identical minds. That would be... Disturbing and obviously unhealthy."

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"Do bodies ever want to leave their colonies?" Mai asks.

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