Admittedly, after spending countless hours scouring sci-fi-related subreddits and Tumblr feeds, you come across some pretty strange stuff. I’m talking about highly graphic alien-based erotica and some extremely whacked-out theories about the inception of the universe. So, I’ve become a bit jaded to the eccentricities of the internet and very few things surprise me. However, I recently began to come across the phrase “humans are space orcs” quite a bit, and I was immediately intrigued.
Posts across the internet that contain “humans are space orcs” range from short commentaries on human behavior to novella series about alien races visiting Earth for the first time and observing the strange animals that make up the human race. One common theme runs throughout the entirety of the “humans are space orcs” genre, however. Humans are flat-out weird. The whole “Earth is space Australia” thing is basically an offshoot of “humans are space orcs” that seems to expand the scope of the thought experiment to analyzing the Earth as a whole instead of only the human race.
The whole idea of “humans are space orcs” seems to be based around the idea that if we take a step back and really analyze our own behavior as human beings, we’ll realize that the behaviors we perform on a daily basis are pretty strange and often nonsensical. Sometimes these posts shed a negative and pessimistic light on human behavior (as the orc comparison implies that humans are stupid and overly aggressive like the creatures in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings), while other times they highlight just how compassionate and comical we can be.
Whether you believe that our human ability to self-reflect was the result of a human-ape hybrid eating a magic mushroom or that it was an accidental byproduct in the process of evolution, I think we can all agree that the ability to look at yourself and your own behavior represents the height of conscious, and no other animal on our planet can conceptualize the self quite the human being.
The Ability to Self-Reflect
In psychology, a major benchmark for whether or not an animal can conceptualize itself is the mirror test. It basically tests whether or not an animal is able to recognize itself in a mirror. Very few species have passed this test, among them are the Eurasian magpie, a fish called the cleaner wrasse, the Asian elephant, bottlenose dolphins, killer whales, bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas, and, of course, humans. While all of these animals may possess a level of consciousness that allows them to recognize themselves, none of them come close to the level of self-understanding exhibited by human beings.
In order to understand the self, one must first understand the difference between the self and the other. This idea was first conceived back in the 18th century by W. F. Hegel, and has since been forwarded by renowned philosophers like René Descartes and Jean-Paul Sartre. The idea can be boiled down to the fact that before one can have any sort of self-awareness, one must first distinguish between what constitutes “the self” and what constitutes “the other”, or not the self. Humans have proven their ability to do this to a greater degree than any other animal on our planet.
The reason I bring this up in the context of “humans are space orcs” is that this particular line of thinking, trying to imagine what it would be like to encounter our species and observe our behaviors from a completely foreign perspective, shows just how self-aware we humans truly are. Rather than just mindlessly going about our daily routines and following our basic instincts, we’re able to remove ourselves from our personal situations, examine our behaviors, and think, Damn, we’re pretty freakin’ weird.
This self-reflective ability that we humans have is enough to make me proud to be Homo sapiens sapiens, and as much as we often shame ourselves for our carelessness, our cruelty, and our shortcomings, I think it’s worth doing a little “human are space orcs” exercise to highlight the positive attributes that we humans possess.
For this exercise, I’ll be taking the perspective of an alien that’s never encountered human beings before and that’s visiting Earth for the first time:
Upon my arrival on Earth, I noticed that the landscape looked entirely different to the landscape of any other planet in the solar system. Then, however, upon my descent to the surface, I realized that the planet had been largely terraformed by some species. There were structures that seemed to reach as high as to puncture the inner layer of the atmosphere. There were grey veins running all along the Earth’s surface, with metal boxes moving through them in both directions like the blood cells in an artery.
Upon closer inspection, I realized that the metal boxes contain lifeforms. Suddenly, I looked around, and this same lifeform was moving all around me. I realized that this must be the species known as “humans”.
While all humans have four limbs and are bipedal, they come in a wide variety of different shapes, sizes, colors, and demeanors. Some humans are tall and long, while others are short and more round. Some humans have extremely light skin, while others have very dark skin, with every color within that spectrum exemplified. Humans’ hair takes on an even wider range of hues. Some have hair that’s a shade of brown, others jet black, others the shade of the sand that I encountered while flying over the edge of the Earth’s oceans, and some humans have hair that is pink, purple, green, or a combination of any amount of those colors. Many of these humans have strange markings on their skin. Whether these markings are meant for communicating or for pure aesthetic value is unclear.
I noticed that one human had the image of a different species marked on his arm, the species I recognized as “lion”. I found it quite strange and delightful that a human should have a representation of another species on their body.
Overall, I found the rich diversity of the appearances of these human beings to be fascinating. It seems that they will deliberately differentiate their own appearances as an expression of their conscious thought. What a wonderful way to communicate!
I spent my second day on Earth trying to understand the movements and behavior of humans. After identifying the physical responses that indicate human enjoyment, it seems that enjoyment is a shared experience among humans. When one human raises the corners of its mouth as an expression of enjoyment, it causes other human beings to raise the corners of their mouths as well, thus multiplying the enjoyment in an exponential way. Humans may raise the corners of their mouths directly at each other, or one human may observe another human exhibiting enjoyment and raise the corners of their mouth in response. In this way, humans seem to have some level of collective emotion.
Observing the movements of humans was quite confusing at first. I observed some humans using tools to erect a shelter. Two of them were using verbal communication to coordinate the work; however, the third human seemed not to understand their language. As an ingenious workaround for their lack of ability to communicate verbally, they used physical gestures to communicate, and the work was completed with great efficiency.
I then observed another group of humans on a patch of grass that was shaped in a perfect rectangle. They seemed to be using their feet to move an orb along the surface of the ground. They were moving quickly, passing the orb between them. I could not fathom what the purpose or productive value of this activity was; however, when one of the humans kicked the orb through an upright metal rectangle, half of the humans exhibited heightened enjoyment responses. It seems that these humans are able to enjoy activities that have no practical application whatsoever. How interesting!
After observing humans for two days, it would seem that their collective emotion extends not only to their own species but to other species as well. One of the humans I encountered was holding an infant human and moving it side to side. This seemed to comfort the infant human. Later, I observed another human holding an infant from the “dog” species in very much the same way. It appears that humans enjoy the company of other species, and will even go so far as to care for members of other species as if they were their own kin. Incredible!
There are many sounds vibrating through Earth, many of which are made by the humans. There seem to be several different languages that correspond with different regions of the planet. Each of these languages has its own distinct sound, structure, and modes of inflection. In certain ways, the character of the language seems to influence the people of that region. It’s really quite amazing. There is also another method of communication that differs from normal verbal speech, as it is far more rhythmic and melodic. When this kind of communication is made, humans tend to gather in groups, exhibit signs of enjoyment, and move their bodies in accordance with the rhythm.
After observing what humans consume for sustenance, it seems that their species differs from the other species of the planet in that they modify their foods heavily before consuming them. They use sharp tools to cut the food items into smaller pieces, they will use fire to warm the food, and they will combine the foods in a series of endless combinations, some of which they seem to enjoy more than others.
After three days of observing the human species, I have grown very fond of the communal way in which they express emotions, come to each others’ aid, collaborate in order to create things, and differ so greatly in their appearances and modes of living. This is a truly fascinating species with incredible diversity, resiliency, and compassion. I hope to visit Earth soon and learn more about these incredible beings.