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The truth is out there.
In 1901, the Internet’s favorite inventor, Nikola Tesla, wrote an article titled “Talking With Planets.” In it, he stated that interplanetary communication wasn’t the stuff of science fiction, but rather a goal he felt humanity was close to achieving.
More than a century later, NASA has released a free ebook that approaches the idea of interstellar communication as a serious possibility for which humanity ought to be better prepared.
Well, we can’t argue with that.
The book, Archaeology, Anthropology, and Interstellar Communication, is a 300-page blueprint for researches and enthusiasts of SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). Its concern is how modern-day science might be able to successfully interpret any type of “information-rich data” that we receive from the beyond.
While it might be nice to think that Tesla’s vision of the “foundation of a universal brotherhood” might be established via a trail of Reese’s Pieces a la E.T., actual communication with alien life will in all probability be a one-way burst of communication received via radio waves. Complicating the issue is that by the time such communication reaches Earth, it will probably have traveled millions of years to get to us and be originating from a civilization that’s probably already extinct.
But that doesn’t mean the possibility of interpretation is hopeless. The book’s 15 chapters discuss everything from the possible evolutionary cycle that our chatty alien friends might undergo to the role of linguistics and our own cultural anthropology in helping to derive meaning from whatever data we might be able to grab from a passing radio wave. As Dr. Kathryn E. Denning writes in a chapter on the decipherability of potential communiques:
“If, as is commonly assumed in SETI circles, extraterrestrial civilizations turn out to be vastly older and more advanced than we are, then perhaps they will be kind enough to construct their messages in such a way that we can comprehend them (as in Carl Sagan’s book Contact), and perhaps they will have no difficulty comprehending whatever we say, however we say it.”
While this may seem a bit rosy, such optimism is built into SETI. The book includes a thorough history and background in the origins of SETI as a science, and it references numerous linguistic markers including the undeciphered Voynich Manuscript and the watershed Rosetta Stone. Alas, the book does not contain advice on how to decipher whether outer space communications are part of the alien reptilian conspiracy.
You can download the entire manuscript for free at NASA.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons
Aja Romano is a geek culture reporter and fandom expert. Their reporting at the Daily Dot covered everything from Harry Potter and anime to Tumblr and Gamergate. Romano joined Vox as a staff reporter in 2016.