The study of intelligent life in the universe would be pretty dull if all the intelligent life in the universe was also rational life, but rational life isn’t really a thing, so no worries about the universe getting dull.
One of the most common things intelligent life does with intelligence, is come up with kind of brilliantly imaginative, but also batshit crazy and ultimately destructive explanations for how the hell everything got where it is and what it’s all about. Throughout the universe, mythology is all intelligence’s first and favorite pastime.
I’d like to say there is wisdom to be gained in studying myth. I’d like to say that they represent the universal phenomenon of minds being blown by the paradoxical confusion of being a finite being in an infinite universe. I’d like to say that the universality of myth gives us a way to relate to all minds, that the crushing recognition of our miniscule, futile lives begs for the soothing mercy of myth, that this is all good, and fine, and okay. But I don’t think that- I think myths are pointless. If they ever were good things, then that time has long passed by the time anybody knows what a myth is enough to study it as a myth. They’re kind of like a civilization’s equivalent to a bad dream where you know you’re in a dream but can’t wake up and you keep punching yourself in the face for some reason.
That said, myths exist, and they can be interesting, funny, sometimes thoughtful and even insightful, most importantly though, they’re never boring. So it’s fun to learn about other alien culture’s myths, especially the big ones about where life came from and what happens after it.
Humans might be surprised that a large majority of intelligent life believes in some form of altered-state psycho-genesis. That is to say- most aliens believe the universe was created by and\or is a cosmic mind experiencing some kind of trip.
Humans in general are shockingly prudish about altered mental states. Even Terence Mckenna would be considered a little reserved about mental states by universal or even galactic standards.
A lot of it has to do with human physiology. We do sleep and dream, and have puberty, pregnancy, and menopause, but overall human experience of consciousness is a pretty constant flow over a lifetime. Aliens that evolved from species that pupate, go through multiple gender stages, or undergo radical hibernation cycles are far more common than the relatively smooth birth-growth-death cycle humans enjoy. These species develop much greater comfort levels with radical changes to their mental states for extended periods, even becoming different beings entirely. Subsequently a lot of alien cultures require very little justification for inducing or modifying mental states voluntarily for a range of purposes including recreation. On the universally relative scale of behaviors, getting completely blasted out of your mind for whatever reason you want is about as significant as most human cultures consider burping.
So turns out myths like the cosmos being the dream of a giant turtle are pretty standard issue, except the turtle is usually something else, and usually not dreaming, but hallucinating its balls off on some chemical or radiation or gravitational effect.
The best Earth analog might be The Dreaming in Aboriginal myths, but influencing culture at planetary scales and with expansive organizations that dwarf the Catholic Church.
The Cyloforms are an interesting example of altered-state psycho-genesis myth’s and its long term effects on an interplanetary culture. The Cyloforms are a colonial cellular species capable of collating the consciousnesses of up to a dozen individuals by carefully structured mingling of their cellular colonies. The co-experience of the conscious coupling can be changed dramatically by changing the physical patterns of their minglings. A small group may choose to integrate in a pattern that induces experiences of dispassionate communication of ideas, or they may integrate in a pattern that induces sharing extreme emotional drives.
This deep experience with conscious states beyond their own control generated a vast and sophisticated cultural belief system of loop-instantiated self-imagining cosmo-genesis. In the Cyloform belief system the universe quite literally continuously imagines itself into existence. Everything that exists in the universe is a construct of the imagination of something else in the universe. I imagine you, and you imagine me, and it doesn’t matter that I’m now and you’re later, neither of us can exist without the other. Scale that up to a whole universe full of creatures imagining each other and you’ve got the Cyloforms basic belief system.
As the Cyloforms species dominated its home planet this belief system primarily affected the Cyloforms worldview regarding other Cyloforms and indiginous planetary life. Traditions and rituals surrounding consumption of nutrition, colonial mitosis, and colonial dispersion respected the value of actively imagining the experiences of everything necessary for life. It was morally expected that a Cyloform should vividly imagine the entire lifecycle of creatures that it consumes, including being consumed. Since Cyloforms could mingle their consciousnesses, some individuals specialized in facilitating these important experiences. A Gontaform is Cyloform profession somewhere between a psychedelic chef, a spiritual guide, and a drill sergeant. From a coarse human perspective they were sloppy goo balls that mixed themselves with other sloppy goo balls to make the sloppy goo ball temporarily think they’re whatever the sloppy goo ball had for lunch. But in Cyloform culture they served the influential function of both supporting and enforcing adherence to tradition by creating experiences that the culture defined as beneficial or otherwise required.
The Gontaforms became a priestlike guild and eventually dictated experiential requirements that supported their own power base rather than conforming to anything resembling ancient Cyloform cosmo-genesis beliefs. In practice this meant they would selectively force undesirable or uncooperative Cyloform individuals and groups to undergo horrific experiences, while reserving enjoyable experiences as rewards for allies.
The Gontaform era came to a rather abrupt end with the introduction of ultrasonic cellular stimulation that could create rough, though satisfying alternatives to the experiences facilitated by direct Cyloform-to-Cyloform contact. The Gontaforms initially tried to embrace the technology, but were unable to control its dissemination and it quickly eroded their bases of power.
With ultrasonic stimulated experiences came greater experimentation and a period of explosive cultural growth and change, culminating in the development of entirely new understandings of physics that paved the way for the Cyloform expansion into space. Also they had a lot of advantages in their manned space program because they’re basically homogenous goo. They started sending people up on like the third test launch because why wouldn’t you if you could just pour yourself into a can on top of a rocket?
An interesting facet of Cyloform space exploration to a human observer might be that the Cyloforms never really asked the question ‘is their life on other planets’? Cyloforms had begun to imagine life on other planets as soon as they understood the uncountable lights in the sky suggested the existence of uncountable planets. And if they imagined it, it was out there.
There were some pretty heroically insane efforts to define how cosmo-genesis beliefs should be interpreted in the context of exploring a vast universe. Cyloform supremacy happened- something about Cyloforms being the only ones who really imagine anything, then it was only certain Cyloforms, then those Cyloforms killed each other over who was imagining who and eventually things settled back to more sustainable levels of stupid and crazy.
Modern spacefaring Cyloform civilization carries the remnants of their spiritual cosmo-genesis origins, and there are still radical sects here and there doing batshit nonsense in the name of imagining the universe so it doesn’t blink out existence or do something with robot snakes. But on the whole they’ve learned to use the abstract, unknowable aspects of loop-instantiated self-imagining cosmo-genesis as a loose spiritual inspiration and ignore assholes who say do this because I imagined the universe said so.
Though their brand of cosmo-genesis had its own equivalent expressions of terribleness, Cyloform beliefs avoided the usual pitfalls of afterlife myths. The acceptance of non-sequential imaginative dependence didn’t really inspire a question of what happens ‘after life’. It was assumed that your life might be being imagined by something that lived after you anyway. So even after your life, your life might still be being imaged. This seemed to satisfy their mortal curiosity to the extent they didn’t really bother with afterlife questions other species might consider philosophically irresistible.
Plenty of other alien species to get into afterlife myths though. There’s one that’s sort of like the Cyloforms where they think their life is a dream they dream in death, so they have some outrageous preservation rituals and amenities. But a lot of that is economic and nobody really believes it. Anyway I’ll do a more afterlife focused one in volume 2 maybe.