How To Communicate With Aliens
by Richard L. Howey, Wyoming, USA
We’re not talking here about someone from another country nor bacteria from Mars, but rather sentient, intelligent beings from a planet other than Earth (although there are good reasons to wonder sometimes whether there are any truly sentient, intelligent beings on Earth itself). Humans have long been obsessed with finding evidence of other life forms in the universe and that desire is profoundly ambivalent. We are a lonely species. On the one hand, we would like to know that we are not alone in this vast universe of billions of galaxies in which the Milky Way is only a tiny speck. This is deeply disturbing, for it suggests that we are as insignificant as a Paramecium in a pond which can dry up in the summer or freeze over in the winter. As a consequence, we have created many deities and after-life myths to make our often painful sojourn on the planet tolerable and fantasize about an after-realm in which we will achieve and receive all the fine things which we were denied as mortals. Perhaps an alien culture could bring us the means to achieve an Edenesque immortality.
On the other hand, we have over the millennia revealed that we are a species capable of the most monstrous horrors against our own species and the other beings that share our planet. As a consequence of this uneasy, deeply disturbing recognition of our own destructive and hideous dark side, we are fearful that any aliens we encounter might be as terrible as we are or worse! This is a frequent theme in our science fiction literature and film.
One special egotistical terror is that of encountering alien beings who are demonstrably more intelligent that we are and no matter how benevolent they might be we could never forgive them the blow to our pride. Imagine being subservient to something that looks like a large upside-down green spring onion! Outrageous!!! The human psyche is a mass of contradictions and one of its most problematic characteristics is its demands for “superior-equality”. What this translates into is the fervent claim that nobody is better than anybody else–tell that to the Jews, the Palestinians, the Syrians the Rohingya, the black slaves in both America and Africa, etc., etc.,etc. However, what it really means is that “nobody is better than me, but I am actually better than everyone else.” The human ego is perhaps the most destructive force that there is on planet Earth. Thus, it is no great mystery why we fear encountering an intelligence that is possibly superior. They might decide, that we are too dangerous and destructive to be permitted to continue to exist at all or they might decide that we could be trained to do something helpful to them or, they might discover–as has happened in numerous sci-fi novels–that we are tasty morsels and decide to breed us as food. And their pronouncement on our rank as a food staple: “Not bad. They taste like chicken.”
We fear what we designate as a “super-intelligent” race, because we blithely assume that if they’re smart enough to design, engineer, and produce vehicles that permit them to achieve space travel and solve survival problems relative to harsh conditions and time problems for extraordinarily long journeys, then they must be super-intelligent in every respect. However, pause for a moment; think critically. Why should we assume that high-intelligence in certain areas means that a being is intelligent, rational, brilliant in all areas? Consider, that we might encounter a race of very long-lived, dazzling, brilliant, engineering nerds who are super twits when it comes to other aspects of life that we regard as important, namely, literature, music, art, the appreciation of autumn foliage, of sunsets, of the beauty of the creatures that surround us and of romantic love.
These aliens may be a species that breed with the dispassionate nature of killer wasps. Or even worse, we might discover that beyond their engineering brilliance that they are utterly stupid and boring and that their highest cultural achievement is each telling other interminable, mind-numbing, and pointless shaggy dog stories with an annual contest which awards the longest and most unintelligible such story.
Or even worse yet, we might encounter an exceptionally brilliant race with absolutely no sense of humor at all. It is utterly devastating to tell a profoundly witty joke and have it met with indifference and disdain. I suspect that some of this type of alien have already infiltrated our world and, and on an almost daily basis rob of us the tiny bits of joy that wit and humor provide.
Since the universe is filled with billions of possibles, we might encounter a race of “Valley Girls” or one of Cockney soccer thugs, or armadas of space ships filled with Ivy League types named “Biff” and “Bunny”–preppies and preppettes, posing and posturing. So, indeed we are entitled to be wary. Imagine what might happen if some orange-haired alien dolt infiltrated and became president of the United States and set about systematically destroying all the culture, intellectual, and political institutions on the planet Earth–No Way! Surreal Nonsense!!
In recent times, 1984, (Eric Blair, a.k.a George Orwell would have appreciated the timing), the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) was established. However, the projects of SETI were far from being the first attempts. In 1896, Nicola Tesla tried some experiments, followed in the early 20th Century by Marconi using radio transmissions and he thought he might have gotten indications of signals from Mars, the mysterious planet which would because of its proximity be a prime candidate for investigation. It is relatively close, indeed mysterious, for little was known about it, and even today, it still presents us with innumerable challenges and puzzles. As the 20th Century progressed, we tried more and more sophisticated techniques, among them microwaves and radio telescopes.
The Golden Record:
For the Voyager 1 and 2 spaces probes, a gold-plated copper disk was included containing sounds and images from planet Earth.
What’s on the record? The Jet Propulsion Laboratory of the California Institute of Technology tells us:
“The contents of the record were selected for NASA by a committee chaired by Carl Sagan of Cornell University, et. al. Dr. Sagan and his associates assembled 115 images and a variety of natural sounds, such as those made by surf, wind and thunder, birds, whales, and other animals. To this they added musical selections from different cultures and eras, and spoken greetings from Earth-people, and printed messages from President Carter and U.N. Secretary General Waldheim.”
This was an amazing endeavor and the images are extraordinarily impressive. The account adds:
“Each record is encased in a protective aluminum jacket, together with a cartridge and a needle. Instructions, in symbolic language, explain the origin of the spacecraft and indicated how the record is to be played. The 115 images are encoded in analog form.”
However, there might be a small problem or two here. Hominids have been around Earth for about 5.8 million years, but with “civilized” societies and cultures, for only about 10,000 years. As was noted in the account:
“Once the Voyager spacecraft leaves the solar system (by 1990), both will be beyond the orbit of Pluto), they will find themselves in empty space. It will be forty thousand years before they make a close approach to any other planetary system.”
This entire project is endearingly and nostalgically touching in its naivety and unbridled optimism. However, imagine what a warrior race like the Klingons would make of it! “What a bunch of KZRZTCHRVK!!!”
On the other hand, we have scientists and engineers who are trying to find ways to present the very best of the human species. On the other foot, other scientists and engineers (much more generously funded) have been devotedly developing weapons of mass, horrific destruction. We are a species of terrible oppositions within our own cultures. I am afraid that our first encounter with an alien intelligence would be ruled by the mantra: “Shoot first, ask questions later.” We are emotional and psychological cripples and as has often been said ironically, the most convincing proof of the existence of other intelligent life forms is that none of them have ever tried to contact us.
So, we’re back where we started, a dilemma or actually a trilemma: 1) We are completely and utterly alone in the universe, 2) Many other intelligent life forms exist, but we just haven’t crossed paths yet, 3) Other intelligent beings are aware of us, but are either scrupulously avoiding us or cautiously observing us.
However, I would like to go back for few minutes to the consideration of waiting 40,000 years for a close approach to another possible planetary system with, of course, no guarantee of even microbial, let alone, intelligent life. (Just think, however, of that possibility–intelligent microbial life forms! Now, that’s scary!) The odds are that any encounter is millions of years away and by then, we, as a species, might very well no longer be around. If we are, we might have had wars that left the survivors in the primitive conditions of pre-civilization. Alternatively, we might have developed super-technologies which would encompass space travel, remarkable longevity, devastating weapons, warp drives, etc. But all of this is fantasy; we have no way of looking so far into the future, let alone, even in the short term, to try to guess what our future might be under the direction of an orange-haired psychopath. Perhaps the best we can hope for in any future encounter with an intelligent race is that they are more profoundly human and humane than we are.
All comments to the author Richard Howey are welcomed.
Editor's note: Visit Richard Howey's new website at http://rhowey.googlepages.com/home where he plans to share aspects of his wide interests.
Published in the June 2019 edition of Micscape Magazine.
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