First off, decoding any messages from the stars will be difficult. Just think about what aliens would have to figure out if they received Morse Code from us? First, there’s the code, and then there’s the language behind the code. Any kind of pattern recognition program would figure out the code quickly enough, and even discover the alphabet behind the code, but then what? They might number our alphabet 1-26. So they end up with a word like 7-18-5-5-14. Of course, they don’t know that A=1, so the sequence 7-18-5-5-14 could be 26 different words if they knew the order of our alphabet without the starting point, and a whole lot more if they don’t the order at all. But isn’t alphabetical order even an illusion for us? Words are far more than letters. Writing itself is a code, and language is hardwired in our brains. Could we ever communicate with a differently evolved life form?
Would it be any easier if they got a radio signal with our voices without any kind of coding? If they heard us say “green” would that be any use to them? Okay, let’s go to video and have someone point to a color chart and say green. Now we’re getting somewhere, we need video to have a visual Rosetta Stone.
Now imagine we get TV from the stars, what can aliens tell us that we don’t know?
Unless our bug eyed friends tell us about a God that’s just like one of ours, we’re going to think anything they say about religion to be just another one. But what if they smugly inform us they rejected religion 100,000 years ago? Or they draw a complete blank when we ask about their gods? After thousands of years, we’re discovering that religion is make-believe, so any religion we hear about from the stars will probably be just as make believed. But what if they try to convert us to some big-ass wild and wooly story about a creator that looks like living 1955 Buick?
If you want to read about alien religions there’s plenty you can hear about from anthropologists. But if birdmen from Arcturus emphatically state that metaphysical realms don’t exist, and neither do metaphysical beings, will the people of Earth believe them?
Ultimately, there are only so many outcomes to expect in this area, here are a quick handful of replies we might get over our SETI TV.
- There is no God
- There is a God, but our God is better than your God
- Our God is much like your God
- Our God says you should serve us or be destroyed
- Hello God, you finally answered our call
- Who do you think you’re talking to, we are God
- What the heck are you guys talking about, we don’t comprehend
Like religion, philosophy is on the decline in our world, so why would we value the works of an alien Plato? Would we embrace highly developed alien works of rhetoric, logic and ethics? Wouldn’t it be bizarre if our new friends have a philosophical tradition that went through similar phases as our philosophers?
What if our new alien buddies give us something to think about that we’ve never thought about before? Is that even possible? What if their philosophy only works in the context of their biological framework and environment? Has anything imagined on Star Trek for alien ways of thinking ever been new? Earth people have thought of some crazy shit over the centuries.
And how many philosophical practices and disciplines do you follow now? How often do you read Northrup Frye, Michel Foucault or Ludwig Wittgenstein? Compared to what you know now, to what you could know if you studied, you could make many quantum leaps in your knowledge without SETI.
This is one area that scientists expect us to be in full agreement. Will we become depressed if we find all the answers to the mathematical puzzles we hoped to solve ourselves for the next thousand years on an interstellar web site? What if they give us the answer to the grand unified theory of the universe, and we can’t understand it, ever!
Again, is any BEM math we could get from SETI any less far out than all the math you ignore now?
Shouldn’t their science just correlate our science and vice versa? The whole idea of science is it should be reproducible anywhere. To the average citizen of the Earth that pays no attention to science now, will it matter that our science will be validated by alien science?
If our new friends have been around millions of years longer than we have, should we expect them to have science that makes us feel like dinosaurs?
Alien technology is what we want. Movies like Contact (1997) and This Island Earth (1955) imagine getting a signal from another star with blueprints that tell us how to build super-science gadgets that will help us travel to the stars. Would our far away friends trade the specs for a spaceship for the design for the iPad? We want the tech to hotrod it out of the solar system. Will we be disappointed if we don’t get it, either because it doesn’t exist or because their Federation bars them from giving it to us?
Will the creatures from afar care about Monet or Breaking Bad? Will they want to groove to Lady Gaga and Arcade Fire? Will we want to read their version of Anna Karenina? How many Japanese pop hits do you play while reading Vietnamese novels?
Does it Matter?
I think it will matter greatly when we discover we’re not alone in this universe, but beyond that, I tend to think we concentrate on very immediate surroundings and ignore the far away, so will stuff that’s very far away really matter that much? Most Americans pay little attention to illegal aliens from Mexico, so why care about creatures from Epsilon Eridani? Think about it, we have excellent science for global warming and evolution but most Americans reject those ideas for some stories they heard as kids at Sunday school.
Our world is full of alien concepts we’ve never explored, far out science and math we’ve never learned, mind blowing technology that’s beyond our current comprehension. What do we do with this cornucopia of knowledge now? Yeah, I thought so. We spend most of our time figuring out how to rub genitals or some other physical impulse programmed into our DNA, so do we really expect to be uplifted by video from the stars by super beings?
And if we do find SETI pen pals, what will they make of our science fiction? Our dreams are so much bigger than our beings. If intelligent life on nearby planets pick up this video on their SETI dishes, what will they think? What if they don’t know it’s fiction. What if the SETI signals we receive are their science fiction?
What if the most exciting stuff we get from the stars will be alien Sci-Fi?
JWH – 4/10/12
4 thoughts on “SETI: What Can Aliens Tell Us That We Don’t Know?”
The Avengers trailer made me think about aliens in comicbooks. I remember there was one alien invasion that was prevented by the heroes’ quick thinking. He showed them science fiction monsters and said they were real and the aliens ran home scared. In another story, aliens abduct Bruce Banner and start preforming tests on him to learn about humans. When he becomes the Hulk and starts destroying the ship the aliens think that all humans can become invincible green monsters and so they call off their invasion and go home too.
That’s funny and exactly what I imagined. If aliens get our TV signals they are going to be very confused by us.
It’s maybe not strictly related to topic. But have you read Stanislaw Lem [i]Solaris[i] ? – It’s a novel about ‘aliens’ (non-humans) and humans that will never be unable to communicate, because impassable differences between us in intelectuall, biological, language etc plane. I you haven’t give it a try in free time.