A new e-book from NASA discusses whether it might be simpler than expected to communicate with aliens, should they ever make contact.
According to Douglas Vakoch, director of interstellar message composition at the SETI institute and editor of a book called Archaeology, Anthropology, and Interstellar Communications compared the struggle to communicate to the breakthroughs in understanding ancient languages.
‘For a couple thousand years, we had no idea what the hieroglyphs said. We had this idea of them as this abstract, exotic language, this super language that had some higher meaning,’ he told Motherboard.
‘Ultimately, that’s not what they are,’ he said. ‘They are like other languages, and we just had to free ourselves of an assumption that held everyone captive. We had to see them in a new light and assume they were just like every language.’
Assuming aliens attempt to communicate via radio signal or some kind of electronic pulse, that means they would have a similar understanding of math and science. That would provide a common ground to crack their code.
However, unlike the Rosetta Stone, Vakoch agreed that ‘we aren’t going to get something that is written in English and Klingo’ to make the translation easier, there are other avenues we can use.
‘We can think, do we have an analog to the Rosetta Stone?’ he asked. ‘You can look at things like math and science. If you can build a radio telescope, then you must know some basic math, and you can look at those as potential Rosetta stones.’
Unlike most of the astrophysicists contributing to NASA’s book. Vakoch is a social scientist.
‘Even my background is in psychology, where we’re attuned to understanding people who think like us,’ he said. ‘Well, anthropologists and archaeologists are used to making contact and connections with completely foreign things. They have this mindset of encountering the ‘radically other,’ so most of them [were] very receptive to contributing to this book.’
He also conceded that the wait for such contact ‘requires tremendous patience.’
Motherboard noted that the joint news of NASA publishing the book along with the House of Representatives Science Committee holding a hearing about SETI shows that the government is serious about looking for intelligent alien life.
‘It’s very easy to make fun of this, just like it also would have been funny to make fun of Magellan before he sailed around the world,’ said Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer with SETI. ‘We looked in particular directions at a few thousand star systems—the fact we haven’t found anything means nothing. This is like asking Christopher Columbus two weeks out of Cadiz if he’d found any new continents yet. We have to look at a few million star systems to have a reasonable chance.’
Source: Daily Mail