Will our spoken/written languages be of any use to us in communicating with these other worldly beings? Or will we have to relay certain aural or visual signals that we think will be common to life everywhere so as to inform them of the presence of intelligent life on Earth.

 

Since science started pushing the envelope of human knowledge, the possibility of extra-terrestrial life has to various degrees intrigued us. The landing of man on the moon in 1969 further amplified our belief that armed with the marvels of modern science, we could one day get in touch with intelligent beings from other parts of this vast and largely unexplored universe. NASA chief scientist Ellen Stofan recently claimed that “I think we’re going to have strong indications of life beyond Earth within a decade, and I think we’re going to have definitive evidence within 20 to 30 years.”

The question then is that if we were to receive some form of communication from the depths of space, how should we respond to it in a way that is comprehensible to the sender? Will our spoken/written languages be of any use to us in communicating with these other worldly beings? Or will we have to relay certain aural or visual signals that we think will be common to life everywhere so as to inform them of the presence of intelligent life on Earth.

Over the years, there have been innumerable efforts to communicate with aliens, ranging from the scientific to the fantastically bizarre. In the early 19th century, German mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss proposed mowing giant triangles or ellipses into the Siberian grasslands, in hopes that alien astronomers would spot them. The famed inventor Nikola Tesla wrote in his notes and letters to friends of a mysterious series of signals he had come across while studying the microscopic perturbations of electrical fields.  So concise and numbered were these perturbations that he was certain they were the residual effects of some form of mysterious communication taking place.

Recently, at the launch of the Breakthrough initiatives—a new effort to search for intelligent alien life; eminent physicist Stephen Hawking expressed fears that successful communication with an advanced alien civilization might lead to the destruction of humanity as superior aliens might destroy humanity the way we humans have unflinchingly destroyed less intelligent species for our benefits.

The Breakthrough project consists of two initiatives. Breakthrough Listen would only search for signs of intelligent life, not broadcast signals from Earth. Breakthrough Message will host a competition open to anyone in the world, to make suggestions for the content of messages to be sent from humans to other intelligent beings.

 

Varun Dhingra

Varun Dhingra

Varun Dhingra is a New Delhi based finance professional and writer.

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