What Would an Alien Think?
An exercise for artists, pundits, writers — and basically everyone else. (Related Q: Is Ed Ruscha an alien?)
GroupET8 Aliens by Interdimensional Guardians on Flickr; some rights reserved
Ezra Klein had a column earlier this week on examining the weird era we are living through by trying to observe the world “as if I were an alien from another planet.” It’s an approach he got from (friend of TAoN) Kevin Kelly:
In a recent essay called “How to Future,” Kevin Kelly … writes that “most futurists are really predicting the present. It turns out that the present is very hard to see.” … .
He goes on to offer advice I’ve been mulling: “I sometimes think of ‘seeing the present’ as trying on alien eyes: looking at the world as if I were an alien from another planet.”
(It’s worth noting Kelly’s sample alien inquiry: “So tell me, why do humans listen to music? Why do those air vibrations make them so emotional?”)
I am a fan of this “alien” exercise! As it happens, the introduction to The Art of Noticing (the book) includes this related passage:
In an interview late in his life, Saul Bellow explained that over the course of his celebrated career he had learned to experience everyday life as an alien seeing Earth for the first time might. “I’ve never seen the world before,” he explained—a mindset that allowed him to regard everything he encountered as if it were a thrilling discovery, a revelation: “A beautiful, marvelous gift. Enchanting reality!”
The quote comes from this 1997 New York Times interview with Bellow. And I’ve wanted to return to it for a while now.
I’m not sure the date but I think at least a year ago Claudia Dawson wrote in Recomendo:
In Jen Sincero’s book, You Are a Badass, she describes the Alien Exercise for rebooting yourself and getting some clarity. Imagine you are an alien and you’ve just landed on Earth — into your body and life. Take notice of all the connections, opportunities, skills, possessions and people who love you and can help you. What would you do and how would you feel? I think this is great for brainstorming projects, ideas and new ways to enjoy your day-to-day life.
I kept meaning to pick up You Are a Badass so I could learn more about Sincero’s take on the Alien Exercise, but … I kept not getting around to it. So I’m happy that Klein bringing up the idea has forced my hand. Because I have one more iteration to share, and a final point about the value of Alien Exercise(s).
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to The Art of Noticing to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.