Making SETI Chit-Chat

Humans have been playing galactic wall-flower, afraid to make first contact with our alien neighbors, but what happens when a neighborly little green alien sends us an interstellar text message, what will we type back?  Linguists aren’t even sure if interstellar communication is even possible, but let’s say we overcome the language barrier rather quickly.  What will we say?  Yeah, I know, all those pesky scientists will want to send boring mathematical messages to see if our brains are bigger than theirs, or heaven’s forbid, it’s the other way around.

No, let’s say we can get down to some intelligent species to intelligent species chit-chat, what would you want to ask our new space alien buddies?  I think the first question I’d ask is, “Do you guys know many people from around here?”  I think the first thing I’d tell them would be, “Man, it’s been very lonely in this neck of the galaxy.  Geez, I was afraid we were the only sentient beings in the universe.”

Would we have enough in common to carry on a long distant relationship?  Another question I’d be anxious to ask, “Hey, you guys got television?”  Can you imagine the The Alien Channel?  I wonder if they have a better Monday comedy lineup than “How I Met Your Mother,” “Two and a Half Men” and “The Big Bang Theory.”  And what would they think of the human race if they could see “True Blood,” “Big Love,” “Dexter” and “Wipeout.”

SETI gurus assume we’ll have mathematics in common, and that might be true, but what might two intelligent cultures, separated by light years, share?  Music might be a possibility.  But imagine if giant redwood trees were big brain thinkers, with IQs of 300, but only they live in a world of little activity, with long slow lives.  What would they think of us hummingbirds?

Like the geek boys in Sixteen Candles, when asked what kind of proof they would accept, I’d also have to answer:  Video!  Even if we couldn’t understand our B.E.M. friends’ Monday night TV lineup, it would be great to watch anyway, like watching nature documentaries without sound.  Can you imagine the alien porn channel – “Whoa, did ya see that egg depositor on that giant beetle babe with the gold bikini last night!”  And would aliens feel like African Americans watching old movies with racial stereotypes when watching our science fiction films?

That brings up censorship.  Should we try to put on an act and project some kind of high minded normal view of human behavior, or just let it all hang out.  And would alien cultures be as diverse, bizarre and brilliant we we are?  What if we could load up some super laser canon with petabytes per second bandwidth, and blast all the daily human culture into the sky, what would they make of us?

What if they were brilliant mathematical lizards, but mainly lazed around laying eggs and thinking big thoughts about reality, would we blow their minds?  What if our alien neighbors made us feel like a race of Mother Teresas?  What if their pop culture is so vibrant that all we can do is form a cargo cult?

We have thousands of years of far out history that our children find boring.  We have magnificent sciences and mathematics to study, but our kids prefer listening to Lady Gaga or playing Call of Duty.  Most of our pop-culture is about mating, which I doubt has much interest to other intelligent species.  Will we have much to say to each other?  I don’t speak any other languages and seldom read web pages that aren’t based in the United States.  What does that say?

Science fiction always show alien diversity, with humans boogieing with all kinds of strange looking creatures, going on adventures, smuggling cargo, and being all PC BFF.  Einstein’s speed laws will make such joy riding very unlikely, but even if we could get close, would we want to?  Homo sapiens have all kinds of bacteria and viruses living in, on and around us.  Would we want to chance Wookie cooties?  And what’s the likelihood of becoming chums with another sentient race that enjoys the same mixture of air, temperature, gravity and atmospheric pressure as we do?

Science fiction has always assumed everything would be easy, and if we weren’t trying to exterminate each other, aliens would make great friends.  But I don’t know.  That might just be overly anthropomorphic, like imagining bears will be like Winnie the Pooh.

I want to know that aliens exist.  I want to share science and mathematics.  Passing tech tips back and forth will be great too.  But how much chit-chatting can we really expect?


If we’re lucky, and I mean really lucky, like life on Earth lucky, we’ll one day detect an intelligent message coming from a not too distant star, hopefully within a few hundred light years.  At first only scientists will understand the signal, because it will probably take a great deal of abstract knowledge to understand the unnatural patterns in the signal from the rich existing energy patterns of our universe – and probably much of public will refuse to believe our eggheads. 

Slowly the science community will build their case that will convert the unbelieving.  It will take years, decades or even centuries to partly decipher the message, and when it’s revealed,  the communiqué probably won’t be all that exciting to the average woman and man, but just knowing we’re not alone will mean a lot philosophically.  Over vast periods, that span many lifetimes, we’ll slowly development interspecies communication.  And one day we might even get video, the real proof for the unbelievers.  Eventually, the excitement will die down, because it’s doubtful we’ll ever meet our new friends, and human life being what it is now, won’t make us that broad minded across light-years, because most of us are focused on the moment, the near and now.

We might be alone in the universe.  Then again, we might not.  But if we do discover other intelligent life, it won’t take away our existential loneliness.  Humans swarm over this planet by the billions, but most of them feel very lonely, because each of us is a singular soul, living as a solitary island castaway, tossing messages in bottles onto the sea, hoping for a little communication.  When the bottles must cross the distant shores trillions of miles away, it won’t feel any different.

Song of the Moment 

JWH – 7/28/9

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