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First Contact Scenarios: How to Reply

From: UFO UpDates - Toronto <ufoupdates.nul>
Date: Sat, 17 May 2008 12:57:00 -0400
Archived: Sat, 17 May 2008 12:57:00 -0400
Subject: First Contact Scenarios: How to Reply




Source: Paul Gilster's Centauri Dreams Blog
http://www.centauri-dreams.org/

May 16th, 2008


First Contact Scenarios: How to Reply
by Paul Gilster
gilster.nul-dreams.org

I was anticipating a particular punch-line in Michelle Nijhuis=92
interesting article on communicating with extraterrestrials
(Christian Science Monitor, May 15), and sure enough, it came
where it should have, at the very end. Nijhuis quotes Jeffrey
Lockwood (University of Wyoming): =93In a sense, all writing is
writing for extraterrestrials.=94 Lockwood, who teaches creative
writing at the University of Wyoming, understands a deep truth.
Communication between two people of the same species can be
profoundly mysterious and often filled with misconceptions. How,
then, would we ever communicate with an extraterrestrial
culture?

Assume we receive, at long last, a signal from the stars that is
unmistakably an attempt to communicate. After long debate, we
decide to respond, describing who we are as a species. Which of
these statements, drawn from a class Lockwood teaches on the
subject, offers the best ten-word summary of the human
condition?


"We are an adolescent species searching for our identity."

"Two arms, two legs, head, torso, symmetrical."

I rather like the first one. It offers up a measured view of who
we are without the usual self-flagellation about our abundant
failures. But the second message is clearly more valuable in
conveying the basics, at least in terms of our physical natures.
Lockwood=92s class, funded by a NASA grant, questions how we make
such a response, and the above answers came from an exercise in
which he asked his students to reduce the human condition first
to 250 words, then to fifty, then ten. But maybe fiction should
be included in any response, or poetry, attempting to dig deeper
not just into our biology but our philosophy, the view from
inside the human head. Except how do we encode that view?

Douglas Vakoch, who ponders these matters for the SETI
Institute, notes that the question of a human response could be
triggered literally any day, if and when SETI delivers. Those of
us who doubt this will happen, at least in our lifetimes, could
find ourselves flat-footed if we don=92t start pondering the range
of possible answers, assuming we decide that sending an answer
is indeed wise (that debate should be interesting). Vakoch has a
hand in Lockwood=92s class, having visited it and continuing to
act as an advisor. He notes that =93=85it makes sense to start with
writers. These are people who are really trying to express the
human condition.=94

This is one class I wish I could sit in on. When dealing with
issues involving extraterrestrial contact, we need as broad a
pool of opinion as possible. Lockwood=92s students include not
just writers but an accountant and a buffalo rancher, along with
psychology majors and journalism students. The intellectual
exercises they=92re doing are useful even without any SETI
contact, for in essence, the subject is how much we know about
who we are, and how much of that we are willing to share. These
are issues that go back to the dawn of history, but every human
being looks at them anew, though seldom in a context so charged
and enigmatic as first contact with another civilization.


[Lead from Stuart Miller @ http://www.alienworldsmag.com]


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