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Consider this:

A fallen spaceship is approached by a person of very high intelligence. Think of someone really really smart, like top 50 in the world.

How long would take for such a person to grasp another culture´s language and how their technology works? Would it even be possible?

What are your answers to this?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Wibbs, Wesley Obenshain, Joshua Aslan Smith, Miniman, DuckTapeAl Dec 15 '14 at 21:39

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This question appears to be off-topic because it is about worldbuilding. Consider posting it to worldbuilding.stackexchange.com when it becomes publicly available. \$\endgroup\$ – Wesley Obenshain Dec 15 '14 at 21:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ This could possibly be answered, if you have a particular RPG system in mind. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Dec 15 '14 at 21:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ @WesleyObenshain Worldbuilding.SE has been publicly available for a while now. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Dec 15 '14 at 21:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ That's not really what this SE is for. Worldbuilding.SE is a little bit more open in what it accepts given its heavily theoretical nature, but neither site is a forum. \$\endgroup\$ – Wesley Obenshain Dec 16 '14 at 19:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, we really don't do speculative stuff here. If you want to answer this in terms of a practical scenario you're developing, we can help with that (if we know what game you're playing). But if it's just "I wonder, let's ask the make-believe experts", then we don't accept such questions. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Dec 16 '14 at 21:08
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How long do you want it to take?

Any answer, including that it's simply not possible, is reasonable under the right circumstances. Consider the two extremes:

If you want it to be easy: A craft capable of space travel would almost certainly need something comparable to a computer, capable of storing and processing large amounts of information. A sufficiently advanced computer might be designed to teach an intelligent but ignorant 'user' the basics of its creators language, technology, and culture. There are certain concepts and patterns that are universal. The prime numbers and the chemical elements are frequently-cited examples. A very smart human and a very sophisticated computer could work together using these first principles (and a certain amount of 'hold up an object, say its name') to establish communication. The amount of time needed would then depend only on the level of understanding desired. Simple concepts might take only hours or days to grasp, but a full understanding of human culture is already the study of a lifetime, and an alien one would be no less extensive.

If you want it to be impossible: Consider Linear A, a written language of the Minoan civilization. To this day, we have no idea how this language works, despite centuries of scholars, linguists and even cryptographers studying it. We just don't have a large enough sample of the language, and it seems to be completely unrelated to other languages of the time, meaning we have no basis for comparison. It's likely we'll never be able to read it. Without a readable language, anything we might say about an alien culture is at best an educated guess. And per Clarke's Law, alien technology might be effectively magical to us, making use of properties of physics that we don't even know about yet. At best we would be able to describe such things in general terms - 'this probably stores information', 'this is an engine, I think', 'this is some kind of power source'. A human would be unable to replicate or repair such technology, and might or might not be able to operate it, if it were already functional.

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This would probably require years, if even possible to one person on its own. The complexity of the task depends of:

  1. the quantity of foreign data available
  2. the possibility to convert this data to understandable information

The most decisive is probably 2, but as a dictionary or Rosetta Stone is unlikely to be available, you will have to rely upon deductions of some kind :

  • active : testing spacecraft equipments, trying to deduce what action triggers what reaction. This sounds really complex (imagine yourself facing a computer and having to deduce how a CPU works based upon its feedback) and dangerous (imagine playing with the computer of a nuclear reactor or a space rocket).
  • passive : trying to understand labels, text, symbols based upon the context. Unfortunately this require a cultural background that may be out of reach (compare to how red/light is used for stoplight on the road, and for port/starboard on the sea).

Personally, I suppose that an alien culture will be out of understanding for everybody, even with a specie trying to facilitate the contact.

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