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Lingua Extraterrestris

  • Science Practice

Abstract and Figures

With no hard evidence for the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI), communication with ETI (CETI) remains an academical exercise, though with potential for experimentation. The purpose of this paper is to search for implications that can be drawn from analysing practical and theoretical aspects of CETI, and which—from a designer’s viewpoint—inform our general understanding of communication. A personal methodology has been adopted to adhere to the dual nature of CETI development, progressed by scientific experimentation and research on one hand, and by science-fiction works on the other. This approach is based on two decisions: 1. to refer to both scientific and fictional examples of CETI—since none of the scientific CETI endeavours proved successful, its credibility in science fiction is assumed to be equal; 2. to customise a model for investigating CETI—because none of the existing models of communication reflects the full scope of CETI, a custom model is proposed, combining elements of the Shannon-Weaver and the Jakobson model of communication. As a result of this investigation, a possibility for elaborating on the Drake equation is identified, and adding a new factor C suggested.
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Lingua Extraterrestris
lessons in universal communication
or the designer’s understanding of CETI
in science and ction
written by: Marek Kultys
tutor: Ken Hollings
Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, London
MA Communication Design
Copyright © 2010-2011 Marek Kultys.
in memory of
Stanisław Lem
Table of contents:
Abstract ............................................................................................... 4
Introduction ....................................................................................... 5
Chapter one: CHANNEL .......................................................... 11
Chapter two: CONTACT .......................................................... 19
Chapter three: CONTEXT ........................................................... 26
Chapter four: CODE .................................................................... 34
Conclusions ........................................................................................ 43
Bibliography ....................................................................................... 48
List of images ..................................................................................... 54
ank you ........................................................................................... 55
Appendices ......................................................................................... 56
With no hard evidence for the existence of extraterrestrial intel-
ligence (ETI), communication with ETI (CETI) remains an aca-
demical exercise, though with potential for experimentation.
e purpose of this paper is to search for implications that can be
drawn from analysing practical and theoretical aspects of CETI,
and which—from a designer’s viewpoint—inform our general un-
derstanding of communication.
A personal methodology has been adopted to adhere to the dual
nature of CETI development, progressed by scientic experimenta-
tion and research on one hand, and by science-ction works on the
other. is approach is based on two decisions:
1. to refer to both scientific and fictional examples of CETI—
—since none of the scientic CETI endeavours proved suc-
cessful, its credibility in science ction is assumed to be equal;
2. to customise a model for investigating CETI—because
none of the existing models of communication reects the
full scope of CETI, a custom model is proposed, combining
elements of the Shannon-Weaver and the Jakobson model of
As a result of this investigation, a possibility for elaborating on the
Drake equation is identied, and adding a new factor C suggested.
ling ua franc a CETI working m odel science
and f iction Sta nisław Lem D rake e quation + X
Everything starts on Earth.
Ludwig L. Zamenhof was a Polish Jew born in Białystok, a multina-
tional city where “the inhabitants were divided into four distinct
elements: Russians, Poles, Germans and Jews; each of these spoke
their own language. 1 In 1887, in Warsaw, he published a book with
grammar for Esperanto—a language, that he designed himself.
Since then it has became one of the most popular constructed
international auxiliary languages in the world.
As a combination of the linguistic qualities of Slavic, Germanic and
Romance languages, Esperanto was intended to answer the need
for lingua franca in the 19th-Century Europe of multinational
countries. Now, it still serves the purpose of inter-human commu-
nication. Since the creation of the computer, programming lan-
guages have been developed to facilitate communication between
humans and machines, as well as machines themselves. Planka-
lkül was the rst high-level programming language, developed by
Konrad Zuse on the basis of the model he designed in the years
1943-19452, and responding to the new area of communication
that mankind had begun to be involved in. Simultaneously, other
domains of human-related communication became apparent. Aer
observing animals’ methods of signication (as in the case of the
“dances” of bees discovered by Karl von Frisch in the 1920’s)3 re-
1 Zamenhof, 1929
cited in
Matthias, 2002, p.23
2 Giloi, 1997, abstract
3 Cobley & Jansz,
2004, p. 122
searchers started to investigate “designative processes among the
speechless creatures,” 4 which led to establishing zoosemiotics—an
independent eld of study, parallel to anthroposemiotics. According
to omas A. Sebeok, Homo Sapiens and all other earthly creatures
play just a small part in the universe of sign sources. To complement
the terrestrial origins of semiosis, Sebeok also included the semiosis
of organic extraterrestrial provenance in his classication (Fig. 1.1),5
thus indirectly identifying yet another domain of communication
that humankind relates to: communication with extraterrestrial in-
telligence, commonly abbreviated to CETI.
is, however, is nothing new. With the boom in television broad-
casting in the middle of 20th Century, which came along with the
use of UHF and SHF radio communication with satellites and
spacecra, man-generated electromagnetic radiation penetrated
Earths layer of ionised atmosphere and progressed into space,
making our planet detectable in radio wavelengths6. Thereby,
humankind became the sender (information source) of the Shan-
non-Weaver model of communication7. From this point, in terms
of CETI, potential existence of of our broadcast’s receiver (destina-
tion) is just enough to consider communication possible—with
a dramatically low probability, but still not disproved.
is is the CETI that draws my attention.
In this paper I wish to focus on CETI as an opportunity to inves-
tigate the limits of communication. Because CETI, being an aca-
demic discourse, oers the most universal conditions for examining
communication as a process, I believe it can help addressing issues
that would not be that apparent, if considered in the terrestrial
context. By attaining deeper insight into CETI, I believe we can
better understand communication as a phenomenon.
4 Sebeok, 1994, p. 19
5 Cobley & Jansz,
2004, p. 128
6 Wedlake,
1973, pp. 199-206
7 Sebeok, 1994, p.120
F. 1.1—’        8
F. 1.2—-    9
F. 1.3— :     10
8 Cobley & Jansz,
2004, p. 128
9 Sebeok, 1994, p. 120
10 Jakobson,
1960, p. 353
For the purpose of this enquiry I assume that establishing con-
tact with ETI is possible, though the possibility is inestimable and
hence—its value irrelevant. My methodology of investigation will
consist in deconstructing existing models of communication. To
my mind, neither the Shannon-Weaver model of a general com-
munication system, nor the Jakobson model of language functions
is general enough to serve as a comprehensive tool for the analysis
of CETI. e Shannon-Weaver model focuses on technical aspects
of transmission (channel), omitting such important aspects of lan-
guage communication as e.g. context (Fig. 1.2).11 e Jakobson
model encompasses linguistic properties of verbal communication
(i.a. contact, context, code), though with no regard to the special
nature of telecommunication, e.g. the channel that would support
CETI or the inevitable lagging inherent to cosmic conversations
(Fig. 1.3).12 In order to comprehensively analyse CETI, I suggested
my own working model based on four domains deriving from the
Shannon-Weaver and Jakobson models, and reinterpreted for the
purposes of the CETI discourse: channel, contact, context and code.
With this framework for investigation and with the intention to
reect on the factual and imaginary potential of CETI, I shall
feed my working model with examples of CETI of varying prov-
enance, following the advice of John L. Casti in Paradigms Lost:
In matters of the imagination, in a search for alternatives we
have to leave the mainline scientic community behind and
turn to the science ction writers and philosophers for some
mind-bending, yet physically feasible, candidates.13
My selection will comprise historical ventures deployed by scien-
tists and radio-astronomers, but also ctitious scenarios invented
by science ction writers and lmmakers. ereby—as a designer
and a communicator—I hope to attain a better understanding of
what the process of communication is.
11 Shannon, 1948;
(see Appendix 2)
12 Jakobson,
1960, pp. 355–376
13 Casti, 1990, p. 394
Because of the methodology I have chosen for my investigation,
the selection of science-ction works is critical. A non-biased atti-
tude, scientic faithfulness and a comprehensive approach to the
problem of CETI are the most important characteristics I search
for. Ultimately, all these qualities can be found in the works of
Stanisław Lem. Besides Lem’s devotion to scientic accuracy in
terms of elaborating on tomorrow’s technology, his in-depth
philosophical reection is a unique feature when compared to
other science ction writers. In his work futuristic technology and
distant cosmic worlds serve as a mirror, in which Lem aims to nd
a portrait of the human psyche and analyse it. Moreover, contrary
to other science fiction authors, Lem gives an informed critique
of mankinds progress and space endeavours, inquiring about the
reasons and purpose of human presence outside Earth. Apart from
our vogue human curiosity and the fact that we are technically
capable of space travel, why do we need to explore Cosmos at all?
Why do we wish to nd alien life forms out there? Would it be
comforting for us to know that there are some other beings living
elsewhere in the Universe, that terrestrial life is not just a single case
of some random synthesis of organic components that randomly led
to the emergence of humankind? In one of his articles Lem claims:
From a scientical standpoint, we do not like such signicant
creatures as humans to come into existence by rare chance. For
there cannot be any science at all, where everything depends on
gamble. [translation MK]14
is also reects popular concerns that were raised aer the pub-
lication of Darwin’s e Origin of Species in 1859, when people
struggled to accept the fact that human is not an exceptional crea-
ture created by God, but an eect of millions of years of evolution.15
But if ETI was discovered—would this bring our sense of excep-
tionality into question yet again?
14 1978, p. 11;
(see Appendix 1.2)
15 Evans & Selina,
2005, pp. 3–5
Because of these aspects of Lem’s attitude towards science ction,
and the quality and richness of his work, I have decided to refer
to three of his novels: Solaris, His Master’s Voice and Fiasco, all of
which deal with CETI, and each one from a dierent point of view.
In the end, I wish to suggest certain modications that can be made
to the Drake equation, which estimates the number of detectable
ETI civilisations in the Galaxy.16 e proposed adjustment aims
at repositioning the equation, so it can answer not only the general
purposes of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence programme
(SETI), but also serve its more specialised spin-o, which focus lies
in communication: the CETI.
16 Drake, 2003
Rhinol ophus ferrumequinum — Sebeok — Voyage r 1
142 0 MHz Fi rst C ontact Solaris
Firstly, let us consider an example.
Rhinolophus ferromequinum (Greater horseshoe bat) is a species
of bat in the Rhinolophidae family living in central Europe. Like
most nocturnal predators, it relies on senses other than vision to
navigate and hunt. Rhinolophus ferromequinum uses echolocation,
i.e. emitting sonic signals and detecting their echo, and perceiving
the closest environment by analysing the delay and shape of the
reection. With some calls of more than 100 dB in sound intensity
(e.g. noctule bat), which is comparable to loudness of a compressed
air hammer,17 why is it that we cannot hear the bats’ cry?
e reason is very simple—the frequency range of human hearing.
Although both Homo Sapiens and Rhinolophus ferromequinum
send signals using acoustic properties of air, due to the dierence in
wavelength we fail to recognise bats’ calls. Rhinolophus ferromequi-
num generates signals between 77 and 83 kHz,18 while the human
hearing range reaches only up to 18 kHz (Fig. 2.1).19 is makes us
physically incapable of hearing Rhinolophus ferromequinum shrieks.
Similarly, due to such limitation we are unable to see electromag-
netic radiation of radio wavelengths, infrared light or hard X-rays
and gamma rays, as these are respectively below and above the vis-
ible light spectrum that is detectable to our vision apparatus.
17 Schober & Grimmberger,
1993, p. 41
18 ibid., p. 94
19 ibid., p. 38
us, in terms of communication, channel “is merely the medium
used to transmit the signal from transmitter to receiver,” 20 and
can be considered as an agency of certain characteristics, and
capable of carrying sings. omas A. Sebeok, in his classication of
channels, identied a vast number of dierent types of media and
their properties, which can be utilised for potentially any type of
signication.21 Alongside channels that are perceptible for humans
(e.g. visible light, audible acoustics or tactile contact), Sebeok also
distinguished other—naturally undetectable for Homo Sapiens.
Several of these listings (i.e. optical or thermal) are in fact just one
omnipresent physical phenomenon varying only in frequency:
electromagnetic radiation. erefore, as we can see, what consti-
tutes a communication channel may be regarded in terms of its es-
sence (energy? matter? if energy, then physical or chemical?) or in
terms of its intrinsic properties (e.g. frequency of an electromagnet-
ic wave). ese two factors determine whether a signal is detectable
to the receiver, or not.
e Golden Record sent onboard the Voyager 1 spacecra on Sep-
tember 5th 1977 represents the most obvious and straightforward
way of reaching a potential extraterrestrial interlocutor—actually
sending a physical object. In Voyager’s case this was a gold-plated
copper disk with: greetings spoken in 55 terrestrial languages,
ambient sounds of Earth, 115 analogue images and a 90-minute
long selection of music.22 The record was designed to be played
at the rate of 16–2/3 revolutions per minute, with diagrammatic
instructions on how to play it drawn on its cover (Fig. 2.2). With
all this content the Voyager record is a poetic and time-specic
portrait of humankinds culture and civilisation, addressed to the
human temptation of commemorating our existence and marking
our presence—to the very same extent, as it is a real attempt at
communicating with ETI. US president Jimmy Carter in his mes-
sage, featured on the Golden Record as the 116th image, declares:
20 Shannon,
1948, p. 381;
(see Appendix 2)
21 Cobley & Jansz,
2004, p. 128
22 JPL, 2010a
F. 2.1—’        23
F. 2.2—  :   24
F. 2.3—       25
23 Schober & Grimmberger,
1993, p. 38
24 JPL, 2010c;
(see Appendix 3)
1990, pp. 389-390
We cast this message into the cosmos. It is likely to survive a billion
years into our future, when our civilization is profoundly altered
and the surface of the Earth may be vastly changed [...] is is a
present from a small, distant world, a token of our sounds, our
science, our images, our music, our thoughts and our feelings.26
But suppose an extraterrestrial civilisation intercepted Voyager 1
—would they be able to read the Golden Record? What would they
understand out of the instructional graphics detectable as an image
only in visible light spectrum, if their vision organ received only
high frequency ultraviolet radiation? Would this still be an image?
Provided they had a device enabling them to switch from acous-
tic waves played from the record’s soundtrack to VHF radio waves
which they would normally hear with their VHF ears—would
such signals still convey something organised in a harmonious
fashion that we are used to calling music? e channel incompat-
ibility may become an insurmountable barrier in communication
in Voyager’s case, and even though the record was intended as
a message to extraterrestrial civilisations, it is more probable that
Voyager 1 remains mankind’s message in a bottle AD 1977, a token
of our presence amongst all universal creation.
Assuming that our civilisation started around 10,000 years ago
with the end of the Neolithic era, it would take 4 such civilisations
to fully develop and die consecutively before Voyager 1 nally reached
the sun’s nearest star—Proxima Centauri.27 During these 40 mil-
lennia Homo Sapiens might become extinct, change its attitude
towards extraterrestrials and decide not to seek any contact, or
just visit Proxima Centauri onboard an interstellar spaceship of the
future, long before Voyager would reach half of its distance. And
even if one day we do reach the level of technological development
necessary for propagating objects with the speed of 0.1 c (one-tenth
the speed of light, equivalent to almost 30,000 km/s), it would still
26 JPL, 2002
27 JPL, 2010b
take a lifetime to arrive at one of the stars in the sun's nearest
neighbourhood, shown in Figure 2.3.28 Waiting for an answer
would yet double this duration, resulting in something between
100-200 years needed for one return exchange of interstellar post.
And what about farther stars? Because of this, sending a message
onboard a spacecra cannot be regarded as a feasible or practical
channel to communicate with ETI.
As we can see now, it is the velocity at which a signal would be sent,
that is the decisive factor in choosing an appropriate channel for
interstellar communication. And since—as corroborated by Albert
Einstein in his special theory of relativity29—the speed of light is
the greatest possible speed that any physical entity can attain, then
electromagnetic radiation (which is also light) is currently most suit-
able for transmission over great cosmic distances.30
us, back to Rhinolophus ferromequinum and the problem of
matching the transmission frequency with the extraterrestrials
hearing range. With the electromagnetic spectrum spanning from
Gamma rays of wavelength smaller than a single Ångström, up to
Extremely Long Frequency radio waves almost as long as the Earth’s
radius, there is a great potential for channel diversication within
one medium, which is uctuations in the electromagnetic eld. In
1959, Giuseppe Cocconi and Philip Morrison published an article
in Nature, in which they calculated that it would be possible,
despite the colossal distances between stars, to exchange radio
signals, and thus communicate” with ETI31—provided that both
participants had comparable emitters and receivers, as well as su-
cient and similar radiating powers. Moreover, “from the whole vast
spectrum of possible wavelengths, they also recommended using
the 21-cm [1420 MHz] emission from hydrogen atoms.” 32 is
radio frequency (also known as UHF or the decimetre band) oers,
according to Cocconi and Maorrison, the best channel for inter-
28 Casti,
1990, pp. 389-390
29Schwartz & McGuinness,
2005, p. 106
30 Heidmann,
1997, p. 124
31 ibid., p. 112
32 ibid., p. 112
stellar radio transmission, due to the abundance of hydrogen in
the universe, and it “could serve as a universal standard for the
community of galactic civilizations. 33
As it has been hitherto shown, there are existing channels adequate
for interstellar communication. However, there is also need for
compatibility between the two ends of the “wire.” If we send
a message using radio waves, whereas our prospective interlocutor
detects only neutrinos beams,34 there can never be communication.
is however, is not an obstacle for science ction. In his popu-
lar novelette, meaningfully titled First Contact,35 Murray Leinster
describes an extraordinary case of a terrestrial spaceship meeting
an alien spacecra in the Crab Nebula. Upon contact, an object is
placed between the two ships by the extraterrestrials—later it turns
out to be a mechanical translator, which serves as a platform fa-
cilitating communication through two distinct channels: humans
rely on their air-propagated speech and hearing, while the aliens
use electro-magnetic radiation in microwave (EHF) band. Aer ex-
changing rst communication, Tommy Dort explains how strange
to human understanding alien forms of communication can really
“at means they have telepathy?”
“M-m-m. Yes, sir, […] Also it means that we have telepathy too,
as far as they are concerned. ey’re probably deaf. ey’ve cer-
tainly no idea of using sound waves in air for communication.
ey simply don’t use noises for any purpose.” 36
And even though Leinster lets his characters succeed in their rst
encounter with the extraterrestrials, an informed reader will not go
astray by putting translation from one channel to another side by
side with true communication. It is again the case of Rhinolophus
ferromequinum—we can tune its calls to our hearing range, but
33 Heidmann,
1997, p. 112
34 ibid., p. 125
35 Leinster, 1945
36 ibid., p. 147
that does not mean we can understand it. ere are still problems
posed by other elements of the working model of communication
devised for this paper: contact, context and code.
Leinster’s First Contact is in fact a very fast-paced adventure story,
focusing more on action than constructing a coherent, scienti-
cally viable world. Contrary to that, a very contemplative approach
characterises Solaris written by Stanisław Lem—the renowned
philosophical science-ction novel about the impossibility of com-
prehending an alien mind. Leinster is very optimistic about future
technology and humankind’s conquest of the universe. Also, his
envisaged picture of the aliens is extremely anthropocentric in terms
of how they behave, what they think and do. Lem on the other
hand gives an account of a place in the space that is very dierent to
Earth—the planet Solaris, covered with a mysterious sentient being
called “the ocean.” ere is little known about it, apart from the
fact that it interacts with scientists based on a space station orbit-
ing Solaris. Everything starts aer radiating Solaris with hard X-
rays—“Perhaps the ocean reacted to the irradiation with a counter-
irradiation, perhaps it probed our brains and penetrated to some
kind of psychic tumour. 37 Nonetheless, Solaris begins to read the
crews mental images and memories, and projects them back in
form of the visitors—unexplained phenomena, which on one hand
could be supercially perceived as humans (e.g. Rheya, Kelvin’s
late wife), on the other hand however, they are objectively nothing
more than just a vague conglomerate of neutrinos. ey lack any
memories prior to their arrival on the space station and are seem-
ingly indestructible (self-repairing?). Is this what communication
with ETI may possibly look like? If so, then what is the channel
used by Solaris? Can we even consider these phenomena to be pro-
jected through a channel at all? Evidently, everything that happens
on Solaris is far beyond human understanding. And this should
not really be a surprise—this is ETI, denitely not from our world,
37 Lem, 2003, p. 77
free of any anthropocentric expectations and dierent in every
possible aspect. Such is also the channel through which Solaris
actually addresses/examines/assaults the cosmonauts’ minds. Having
determined neither the nature, nor the features of the channel, the
crew cannot answer Solaris. Hence, communication—something
essentially bilateral—is hampered.
As it was discussed, the rst step in establishing communication
with ETI should begin with nding one channel (alternatively,
several compatible channels) to facilitate the transmission. From
all imaginable media that can carry meaningful signals into space,
humankind has learned to utilise only one suitable medium so far,
which is radio. ere are certainly many more prospective channels
to be discovered with the development of science and technology,
as it was also the case in the past. But even now, due to numerous
physical and civilisational conditions, we can utilise just a small
fraction of all possible radio wavelengths. Regardless of which fre-
quency one might decide to use, once the common channel has
been negotiated the next element of the working model can be
discussed: contact.
Holy Gra il — Um-hum! LGM 1 — Fiasco — CE3K
1. No one knows where it is.
2. No one knows what it looks like.
3. ere is even no certainty, whether it existed at all.
4. All attempts to nd it were unsuccessful.
5. Steven Spielberg directed a popular lm about the search for it.
What is this?
is is the SETI programme (search for ETI), an important part
of which is CETI. But whoever thought of the Holy Grail was also
right. In fact, SETI can be somehow considered as today’s search
for the Holy Grail. Being a hunt for evidence of our civilisation’s
contemporary beliefs and paradigms, both the Holy Grail and
SETI remain an almost supernatural promise for reassurance: the
Grail is a Christian relic and in the medieval ages was considered
a tangible proof of Jesus Christ’s life and divinity; the existence
of ETI would validate Darwin’s theory of evolution and natural
selection, and also support the notion that our own existence on
Earth is not just a matter of blind chance.
is analogy (the rst three points in the above list in particular)
stresses yet another aspect of communication with ETI, which is
also the second element in the working model developed for the
purposes of this investigation—recognising the contact. In terms of
communication, contact is the stage when all sides consciously
agree to participate in an exchange of signals. Roman Jakobson
describes contact with regard to its phatic (term coined by Bronisław
Malinowski) function of communication, which is:
Primarily serving to establish, to prolong, or to discontinue
communication, to check whether the channel works (“Hello,
do you hear me?”), to attract the attention of the interlocutor
or to conrm his continued attention (“Are you listening?” or in
Shakespearean diction, “Lend me your ears!”—and on the other
end of the wire “Um-hum!”).38
is stage of setting up the grounds for communication needs to
take place in parallel with establishing the rst fundament, which
means properly dening the channel—any emission can be called
transmission only aer an answer signal to the initial channel-
-opening calls has been received. is is also exactly what all babies
do while still unfamiliar with their command over the speech
channel—“they are prone to communicate before being able to
send or receive informative communication.” 39 us, establishing
contact should be seen as a process of exercising the channel: simul-
taneous filling the aether with calls and scanning for detectable
signals, and venturing communication whenever an interlocutor
is recognised.
Also, in the context of SETI, contact has always been idealised and
glamourised, envisaged as an event that raises no doubts about its
special nature, or any ambivalence towards the origins of the extra-
terrestrials. It was usually fantasised as a surprising discovery of an
alien call, indicated by a sharp spike on an oscilloscope or a regular
hum played in loudspeakers. is is a matrix scenario for many
human–alien telecommunication encounters in numerous science-
-ction works, e.g.: Contact, directed by R. Zemeckis and based on
the novel by C. Sagan; S. Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the ird
38 Jakobson,
1960, p. 355
39 ibid., p. 356
Kind; or D. Twohy’s Arrival. However, the practical explorations
of SETI raise much more confusion and uncertainty about the
nature of signals than it has ever been anticipated in most of
ctional work.
In 1967, two English researchers (S. Jocelyn Bell Burnell and her
thesis supervisor, A. Hewish) registered a regular electromagnetic
signal from a distant source. ey cautiously decided to investigate
the discovery before announcing it to the public. Because of a very
regular pattern of the emission, the object perfectly matched the
criteria used by SETI researchers to distinguish potential signals
produced articially by extraterrestrial civilisations from natural
phenomena. “Among themselves, they called the source ‘Little Green
Men 1’ (LGM1); then they discovered LGM2, and later LGM3.” 40
Eventually, the mysterious source of signals turned out to be a rapidly
rotating neutron star—a pulsar—which “emits two powerful beams
of radio waves that sweep a whole region of space at every rotation.” 41
Whenever this beam points towards Earth, we register it as a strong
short pulse of radiation—hence the name “pulsar”, derived from the
full term: pulsating stellar object. Pulsars stand out to such extent,
that astronomers use them as cosmic lighthouses to navigate across
stars. Yet, regardless of how important to someone a lighthouse signal
might be, it would do no more than mark a particular point in
space. Moreover, because dispatching a meaningful content always
involves some sort of modulation altering either amplitude, or fre-
quency, or any other property of the signal, and this, according to
our current scientic knowledge, exceeds the capabilities of a neu-
tron star—hence, pulsar-generated impulses do not carry any mes-
sage, but are capable only of taking hold of one’s attention, us, al-
though pulsars made SETI researchers redene their criteria when
searching for regularities in the cosmic randomness, each regularity
still needs to be closely investigated and interpreted individually.
40 Heidmann,
1997, p. 150
41 ibid., p. 169
Under closer scrutiny, establishing contact appears to be a combi-
nation of more factors than just being in the right place at the right
time. Being privileged to put the products of ones imagination on
a par with the scientic hard facts, science-ction authors can en-
visage possible human encounters with extraterrestrials and freely
elaborate on their nature. Such an explicit case is closely investi-
gated by Stanisław Lem in his novel Fiasco. Everything necessary
to make contact seems to be in place: the earthling representatives
CETI mission arrives in the Zeta system of the newly discovered
Harpyiae constellation exactly at the same time when the Quintan
civilisation is supposed to have entered the “window of contact.”
is is a stage in the civilisation evolutionary model when, according
to Ortega, Nilssen and Tomic, a civilisation is at the peak of its
communicative capabilities.42 But despite all the calculations and
predictions, contact should never be taken for granted. Torn by
a conict between two major antagonists, the Quintans are not
interested in contacting human ambassadors. Moreover—whether
against themselves or to repulse possible visitors—they build
an orbital coating made from countless satellites surrounding the
planet, in order to block access to Quinta. ey also emit a full
spectrum white noise to jam all electromagnetic-based communi-
cation on and around the planet. Each and every attempt to contact
the Quintans proves unsuccessful—it is replied either with silence,
or physical retaliation. Aer a number of futile ventures, human
ambition and desperation leeds to a critical point, in which the
earthlings decide to enforce contact. Harrach, the rst pilot, suggests
a rather brutal ultimatum: “We will tell them, ‘If you do not answer
our signals, we will destroy your moon, and this will be the rst
warning. We are determined: we want contact.’” 4 3 is is later
issued to Quinta. Nevertheless, the planet remains silent, even
though confronted by drastic measures: its moon and ice ring are
destroyed and the debris from the exploded satellites bombard the
surface of the planet. Eventually, the Quintans allow the human
42 Lem, 1987b, p. 92
43 ibid., p. 221
ambassador scout to land, but ultimately because of his fatal negli-
gence Quinta is obliterated by the CETI mission. e compulsion
to contact the extraterrestrials brings a result opposite to the peaceful
contact of intelligences that was initially intended—“the founders
of the SETI Project did not have in mind contact with an intel-
ligence upon a battleeld littered with the corpses of the host.” 44
Consequently, an attempt to establish contact turns into the asco
because of humans’ blind persistence and aliens’ reluctance. us,
not only the purely technical feasibility of initiating contact, but
also human and ETI inclination towards communication with al-
ien species, are the issues that need to be addressed prior to plan-
ning an interstellar intercourse.
Steven Spielberg investigates a dierent case of communicating
with ETI in his lm Close Encounters of the ird Kind,45 which
also refers to the problem of channel. Contact here is shown as
something exclusive, addressed only to a few humans and commu-
nities targeted by the aliens. One of the contactees is Roy Neary
who experiences a close encounter during which he receives a trans-
mission. ere is no reference in the lm to any particular nature of
the message, apart from the fact that it is some sort of an irresistible
mental image. Roy describes it as following:
Weird. I know this sounds crazy, but ever since yesterday on the
road. I’ve been seeing this shape. In shaving cream and pillows...
Damn it, I know this. I know what this is. is means some-
thing. is is important.46
He tries to visualise this by modelling it with clay, potato mash,
pieces scavenged from the garden, but still it remains beyond his
comprehension for the longer part of the film. Ultimately, he
realises that what has been communicated to him is a meeting
point. Simultaneously, scientists intercept a radio transmission
44 Lem, 1987b, p. 232
45 Close Encounters of The
Third Kind, 2001
46 Close Encounters of The
Third Kind, 2001,
40:54–41:40 min.
47 Close Encounters of The
Third Kind, 2001
F. 3.1—          47
marking the same place—the Devils Tower in Wyoming—and a
local community in Dharamsala receives a ve-tone message used
as a communication code, which later in the lm is transcribed into a
sign language (originally designed by Zlotán Kodály to teach music
to deaf children). Here the attempt to contact humans is a multi-
channel enterprise addressed to various individuals, involving
appropriate tactics and enough patience—until humans can actually
comprehend, admit and accept that this is a close encounter with
Contact can be established either by chance, or on purpose, or even
subconsciously. However, as presented above, contact is always a
bipolar condition: it always involves at least two parties and denes
one’s awareness of another’s communication. In this way, contact is
a state of awareness, when one becomes a receiver of a transmission
(as specied by the Shannon-Weaver model of communication)
or an addressee of a message (according to the Jakobson model).
An absolute prerequisite for establishing contact is to nd a shared
channel. Aer that, consciousness of communication can arise on
both sides of the “wire”: we may become aware of the intelligent
and purposeful character of ETI’s broadcasting, but simultaneously,
we may as well become apparent to ETI as such source of signals.
In either case, this is contact—and the only indisputable proof for
establishing it is receiving an answer.
Hol lywood anthrop omor phic chauvinism speaking
lion Strzemiński Pioneer 10 Sta rship Troopers
Hollywood is right!
At rst it may seem ridiculous to see an alien who comes from
a dierent planet, and who closely resembles human physicality in
terms of its body layout, limbs functions or even physiology. Yet, this
is exactly the case in many popular lms, such as Close Encounters of
the ird Kind, Star Wars, Star Trek or even Transformers. In some
movies, e.g. e Day the Earth Stood Still (both 1951 and 2008 ver-
sions), aliens even adopt human body. Interestingly enough, in all
these Hollywood productions the appearance of the extraterrestrials
adheres to the way they communicate, i.e. with speech and hearing
(acoustic properties of air in wavelengths detectable for humans),
and employing familiar codes such as body language, semaphore
or even English. is builds a coherent picture of a human-like
creature speaking human languages. On one hand, if a “hollywood”
alien wants peoples’ acceptance and empathy, it must not be too
unearthly and dierent from us. On the other hand, it is an alien,
so it should not resemble humans too much, but still retain some
obvious traits of its unearthly provenance. If aliens are to commu-
nicate with humans, they need to look like them.
Surprisingly, this show-business play with conventions reects a
serious scientic and philosophical debate on anthropomorphism.
ETI enthusiasts believe that there exists a certain set of challenges
that need to be overcome during the progression of life from the
primitive to the intelligent. According to them, regardless of where
life evolves, it faces the problems that once had been solved on
Earth. Consequently, these evolutionary traits are believed to be
universal enough, to produce similar results in any advantageous
place in the space. Jonh L. Casti gives a following list:
e usual argument is the following anthropomorphic chain:
1. Common problems constrain common solutions.
2. ETI civilizations have in common with us the problem of
cognitive accommodation to a shared world.
3. Natural science as we know it is our solution to this problem.
4. erefore, natural science is likely to be ETI’s solution, too.48
is anthropomorphic bias is criticised by philosopher Nicholas
Rescher, who claims that even if extraterrestrials did exist, we
would have hardly anything in common with them, because of the
unimaginable dierences between our world and the alien world.
Rescher’s polemic focuses on the fact that there is no such thing as
a universal blueprint for intelligent life. Dierent habitats mean
dierent challenges, as well as dierent solutions to the problems
presented to life, even though each environment can be subject to
common laws of nature. Rescher illustrates this with an example:
Admittedly there is only one universe, and its laws, as best we
can tell, are everywhere the same. We share the universe with
all life forms. However radically we dier in other respects (in
particular those relating to environment, to forms of life, and
its mode of civilization) we have a common background of cos-
mic evolution and a common heritage of natural laws. And so if
intelligent aliens investigate nature at all, they will investigate
the same nature we ourselves do. But the sameness of the object
of contemplation does nothing to guarantee the sameness of the
48 Casti, 1990, p. 405
ideas about it. It is all too familiar a fact that even where
human (and thus homogeneous) observers are at issue, dierent
constructions are oen placed upon “the same” occurrences.
Primitive peoples thought the sun a god, and the most sophisti-
cated among the ancient thought it a large mass of re. We think
of it as a large thermonuclear reactor, and heaven only knows
how our successors will think of it in 3000 A.D. As the course
of human history clearly shows, there need be little uniformity
in the conceptions held about one selfsame object by dierent
groups of thinkers.49
us, there is no reason why it should be assumed, that there could
be any common basis for communication with intelligent extrater-
restrials. Nothing allows us to believe, that we can share any sort of
alien context—the general background of a life form, encompass-
ing its natural, physical and mental qualities. Particularly when
it comes to culture. Roman Jakobson characterises context as the
referential function of communication,50 but does not elaborate
on this much. To dene what is context in the working model, we
need to refer to Ludwig Wittgensteins remark about a talking lion:
If a lion could talk, then we could not understand him. [...] us
if he shouted “Hi, folks!” at feeding time at the zoo, we would
not know how to take his remark, although it is correct English,
as we do not share his form of life.51
Not sharing the same form of life is an impediment which, accord-
ing to Wittgenstein, disqualies inter-species communication.
Consequently, supposing an “Alienish” speaking human wished to
explain the whole concept of sexual reproduction to an alien, e.g.
a homogenous sentient ocean—Lem’s Solaris—would there be any
chance for the human to become understood? Sharing the same
context is essential for comprehension—in this particular case,
49 Rescher, 1982, p. 90
50 1960, p. 353
51 Heaton & Groes,
2009, p. 165
knowing the structure of multicellular beings is a prerequisite for
understanding the purpose and role of sexual reproduction of life
on Earth. erefore, expecting the sentient ocean to grasp the
reason why humans must not mate with any of one’s close relatives
(which is fundamental for understanding terrestrial cultures, reli-
gions and taboos) without explaining the context of sexual repro-
duction is bound to fail.
But context is also a social construct, changing dynamically and
dened collectively. Polish avant-garde artist and art theoretician,
Władysław Strzemiński, coined the term “consciousness of seeing,”
by which he referred to the mental abilities of recognising objects,
depicted in various ways, and subject to certain features promoted
by economic and social circumstances throughout the history of
human civilisation.52 Strzemiński uses the term “realistic,” which
in his denition describes the level of coherency between the cur-
rent socio-economical order and the contemporariness of the style
of an image. To dene and illustrate this concept, he cites Plato,
who lived—as Strzemiński proves—between two distinct epochs:
“Is not the bed, that is nearer of further, of the same size? en
should this bed not be drawn in the same size as well? Is drawing
of a bed—standing far away—as smaller not just an illusion?
Are the painters who draw according to this perspective not just
producing illusion, hence lying” (Approximate quotation.) [sic!]
[translation MK].53
Strzemiński claims that Plato represented the old “silhouette-style”
seeing, which was then replaced by the new “solid-style”, hence he
argued against the new seeing. He considered linear perspective—
—a then avant-garde invention of “solid-style” enthusiasts—as false,
unnatural and contradictory to his understanding of realism. Plato’s
context in this respect was still based in the old “silhouette-style
52 1958
53 ibid., pp. 80-81
F. 4.1—- :      54
F. 4.2—- :   55
F. 4.3—  :      10 56
54 Strzemiński,
1958, p. 24
55 ibid., p. 79
56 Sagan, Sagan & Drake,
ca. 1972
method of depicting depth in the image, constructed by the order of
planes. erefore, he could not read and comprehend contemporary
images, in which the illusion of space was built with scaling and
positioning of objects. us, context is also a time-specic property.
Nowadays, we can comprehend medieval paintings and their role
because we know the historical context of the Middle Ages. is
is not the case with palaeolithic art, which is still subject to many
contradictory interpretations. If we received a message sent from
a hypothetical human settlement 10.000 light-years away from
Earth, we would probably not understand neither its purpose,
iconography nor meaning, just like we cannot fathom the paintings
in Lascaux or Altamira. Consequently, intelligent extraterrestrials
should not be able to read and comprehend images and diagrams
engraved on the metal plaques sent onboard the Pioneer 10 space-
cra in 1972?57e plaque is drawn according to a certain conven-
tion in art and design, which the extraterrestrials might not neces-
sarily be acquainted with. Linear drawings of a male and a female
Homo Sapiens58 are legible to contemporary humans, but provided
that the interceptors of Pioneer 10 would prevail on the level of early
cave drawings apprehension (Strzemiński’s “outline-style” seeing),
they could well assume that we are made of several separate body
parts (i.e. faces, hair and man’s chest drawn as a separate closed
shape) and our body surface is home for long worm-like beings
(single lines dening knees, abdomens or collarbones). On the
other hand—provided that the extraterrestrials have just recently
acquired “solid-style” seeing, against which Plato raised so much
criticism—they could as well conclude that humans on the plaque
are shown in a dramatic foreshortening, standing actually far ahead
of Pioneer’s outline in the back, and therefore Homo Sapiens must
certainly be not more than 50 cm tall. is is because Pioneer’s
drawing of humans standing before the spacecra follows a con-
vention of representing objects in horizontal projection, which has
58 Sagan, Sagan & Drake,
ca. 1972
been developed by terrestrial technicians as a tool for size compari-
son. e context of the sender and the receiver is therefore key to
deciphering, comprehending and also, importantly, interpreting
a message.
But context can be manifested in a more straightforward way, and
even more dramatically, just as in case of the extraterrestrials shown
in Paul Verhoevens lm Starship Troopers.59 In a form of quasi-
-newsreel, it tells the story of interplanetary war fought between
humans and Bugs—large arachnoid creatures colonising Cosmos.
Whereas the main plot focuses on war experiences of a group of
college friends, the subplot deals with an uneasy comparison of
human and alien intelligence. “By human standards they are relatively
stupid,” observes the college science teacher, “...but their evolution
stretches over millions of years. And now they can colonize plan-
ets... by hurling their spore into space. 6 0 From the beginning of the
conict there is no intention for communication whatsoever—the
Bugs’ only interest lays in the uncompromising expansion of their
own species. Alas, human unawareness of the nature of the Bugs
leads to heavy losses during the rst oensive. “To ght the Bug...
we must understand the Bug,” 61 admits Sky Marshal Tahat Meru,
and human attitude towards the hostile arachnoid intelligence
radically shis. Military intelligence ocer Carl Jenkins investi-
gates into the bug mental and behavioural patterns, which eventu-
ally leads to discovering the existence of Brain Bugs—rare immov-
able worms living deep inside caves that plan strategies for warrior
Bugs, facilitate communication with them and control the swarm’s
behaviour. Finding and subsequently capturing a Brain Bug turns
the tide of the war. Humans are later able to learn that the Bugs are
the species exhibiting a handbook example of swarm intelligence—
—a decentralised and self-organising collective, behaviourally
similar to the types thriving naturally in large caste populations,
e.g. bees or termites. ese revelations are the rst step to know-
59 Starship Troopers, 1999
60 ibid.,
side A, 7:20–7:35 min.
61 ibid.,
side B, 9:06–9:11 min.
ing the enemy, its goals and context. In the nal scenes of the lm
Jenkins actually reads the Brain Bug’s mind, eventually proving that
comprehension is possible. Interestingly enough, just a scene earlier,
we can see hundreds of troopers run disorderly to their Brain Bug
POW, call themselves, gather around the conned Bug and behave
exactly like a Bug swarm. us, direct analogies between human
and arachnoid civilisation patterns can be observed: militant and
hierarchical organisation of society, little regard to the interests of
individuals, supercially chaotic swarm behaviour, irresistible need
to conquer and colonise the space. Even though all these striking
similarities can help understand the mechanics of an alien race,
the human and the arachnoid civilisations are unable to coexist,
because both their raison d’être is constant expansion. e TV cor-
respondent summarises it in his very last words: “It’s an ugly planet,
a Bug planet... a planet hostile to life as we—— Aaaah! Help me!” 62
So again, Hollywood is right!
In contrast to the case of channel and contact, nding a common
context is impossible. is is simply because it cannot be modied
or changed, as it is inherent to our current place in the cosmos.
Nevertheless, in the absence of any tangible evidence showing that
developing a platform which mediates dierent contexts is impos-
sible, it should be regarded conceivable to manage communication
between two alien civilisations despite even the most profound
dierences. e more similar ETI’s shape and environment would
be to ours, the more accessible it could be to human understanding
and vice versa.
62 Starship Troopers, 1999,
side B, 6:56–7:08 min.
Rose t ta Stone natural laws Lincos Arecibo
Me ssage HMV Ind ependent Thinkers
And the decree should be written on a stela of hard stone, in sacred
writing, document writing, and Greek writing, and it should be
set up in the rst-class temples, the second-class temples and the
third-class temples, next to the statue of the King, living forever.63
is is the nal sentence of the hieroglyphic inscription on the
Rosetta Stone, found in 1799 by Napoleons army in the Egyptian
town of el-Rashid. Until this discovery and a series of ensuing
examinations of the Rosetta Stone inscriptions, ancient Egyptian
hieroglyphic writing was an unintelligible riddle for the researchers.
First, it was approached by omas Young, an English physicist,
who realised that some hieroglyphs decode the sounds of the royal
name of Ptolemy. ereaer, it was deciphered by a French schol-
ar, Jean-François Champollion, who proved that in fact all hiero-
glyphs represent sounds of the ancient Egyptian language. us, it
is largely owing to the Rosetta Stone and the three dierent writing
systems in which the edict had been engraved, i.e.: hieroglyphic
(suitable for a priestly decree), demotic (the native script used for
daily purposes), and Greek (the language of the administration),” 64
that the Egyptian hieroglyphs could be compared to other ancient
languages and hence—eventually decoded. Interestingly enough,
it has been deciphered despite some dierences in context, as the
code-breakers shared neither the same language with the hieroglyph
writers, nor their position in social hierarchy, nor their religion.
63 Simpson,
1996, pp. 258-271
cited in
The British Museum
n.d. a
64 The British Museum,
n.d. b
Nevertheless, they could refer to the very basic and everlasting as-
pects of human life on Earth, such as subsequence of night and day,
rhythm of vegetation or local topography.
Code is an integrate part of language and any form of communica-
tion. Historically, most of human languages have been developed
naturally, many of them being abandoned or forgotten, with their
elements and rules becoming obscure throughout hundreds of years.
Investigation into the true meaning of Egyptian hieroglyphs was an
investigation into the meaning of code and therefore, it revealed
what Roman Jakobson later described as a metalingual layer of
language, in his model of communication functions: “Whenever
the addresser and/or the addressee need to check up whether they
use the same code, speech is focused on the CODE: it performs
a METALINGUAL (i.e., glossing) function. 65 Although Jakob-
son refers mainly to spoken language in his work, the model that
he proposes can relate to all forms of communication in general.
us, CETI should also be regarded in terms of code—its compat-
ibility on both ends of the line, and the metalingual domain of the
message. Code—aer channel, contact and context—is the last
impediment in establishing a working communication, not only
with ETI, but with anyone.
Let us presume, for the purposes of this paper, that we did inter-
cept a message from an extraterrestrial civilisation addressed to the
intelligent inhabitants of Earth. In such a situation we would face
a much bigger challenge than in the case of Egyptian hieroglyphs,
starting with almost no contextual data at all. Young and Cham-
pollion—unlike the presumed receivers of an alien signal—were
familiar with the environment and most basic facts of ancient
Egyptian existence, to which the Rosetta Stone text frequently
referred: levels of human kinship, status in social hierarchy, the
value of crops, the concept of currency, etc.66 Contrary to that, in
65 1960, p. 356
66 Simpson,
1996, pp. 258-271
cited in
The British Museum,
n.d. a
an interplanetary discourse humankind would be destitute of the
knowledge of the extraterrestrial extra-linguistic context, while
at the same time facing potentially anything: either a human-like
civilisation described in First Contact67 or a rapacious intelligent
swarm depicted in Starship Troopers,68 or a planet-size monocultural
entity from Solaris.69 e inability to share context with an extra-
terrestrial interlocutor would seriously decrease the chances for
developing a bilaterally understandable code. Hence, the idea of
utilising the universal background common to all creatures living in
our galaxy— —natural laws e.g. of physics, mathematics and logic.
And because, as mentioned before:
1. Common problems constrain common solutions.
2. ETI civilizations have in common with us the problem of
cognitive accommodation to a shared world.
3. Natural science as we know it is our solution to this problem.
4. erefore, natural science is likely to be ETI’s solution, too.70
it could have been assumed that such a pan-cosmic background
exists. But human language of describing potentialy universal
phenomena proved to be not so universal aer all...
Lincos—Lingua cosmica designed by Professor Hans Freudenthal
and published in 1960—is one such attempt. It is a constructed
language based on mathematics and basic logic. Set on foundations
that are supposed to be natural and universal, Lincos is aimed at
facilitating communication free of any dependance on local refer-
ence, as a semiotically autonomous code.
In the ET case we can rely neither on a known language nor on
an extra-linguistic context. All we can do is to speak pure Lincos.
e language is to be taught through the language itself, used
one-way in an absolutely pure fashion.71
67 Leinster, 1945
68 Starship Troopers, 1999
69 Lem, 1974
70 Casti, 1990, p. 405
71 Bassi, 1992
Ha Inq Hb ?x 4x=10 Ha says to Hb: What is the x such that 4x=10?
Hb Inq Ha 10/4 Hb says to Ha: 10/4.
Ha Inq Hb Mal Ha says to Hb: Bad.
Hb Inq Ha 1/4 Hb says to Ha: 1/4.
Ha Inq Hb Mal Ha says to Hb: Bad.
Hb Inq Ha 5/2 Hb says to Ha: 5/2.
Ha Inq Hb Ben Ha says to Hb: Good.
72 Bassi, 1992
73 University of Utah, n.d.
F. 5.1—:     (.  ) 72
F. 5.2— :     73
Lincos is supposed to somehow self-organise itself in the receiver’s
mind by dint of countless repetition. Freudenthal designed a pro-
gramme intended to gradually educate the receiver of a Lincos mes-
sage on Lincos language: rst by explaining binary numbers and
algebra, then by subsequently introducing more sophisticated
concepts, such as punctuation and time, human behaviour or
the principles of mechanics. Although Lincos has a written form
(consisting of binary numerals and mathematic symbols adapted
mainly for human reference) it is predominantly a spoken language,
expressed in radio signals of varying wavelength and duration.
Unfortunately, Freudenthal did not dene Lincos phonetics.
Another form of coding, intended as self-organising and depending
on mathematics, was used to create the Arecibo Message, developed
by Frank Drake and his team, and sent from the Arecibo radio tel-
escope in Puerto Rico on 16th November 1974.74 e Arecibo Mes-
sage was a sequence of 1679 binary pulses. A receiver in the globular
cluster M13, towards which the message was sent, was supposed to
reorganise the signal from a string into a matrix of 23 columns and
73 rows, which thereby would reveal a pictorial message composed
of inactive (0) and active (1) cells. Because 23 and 73 are prime
numbers, there are only two possible ways to rearrange 1679 cells in
a complete rectangle, and only one layout would produce a meaning-
ful, i.e. symbolic, output.75 us, provided that the extraterrestrials
knew the binary system and the properties of prime numbers, and
that they adhered to human ideals of completeness and symmetry,
they should be able to correctly decode the Arecibo radioglyph.
Both coding techniques—Lincos and the Arecibo Message—are
based on mathematics and the binary numeral system in particular.
is feature is noteworthy. Binary notation is the most basic of the
comprehensive numeral systems, as it employs only two values.
It also supports a straightforward interpretation of quantised data,
74 Cornell University, 1999
75 University of Utah, n.d.
and oers a reasonable resistance to noise and data loss. On the
other hand, the binary system—like any other numeral system—is
a constructed concept, a product of human culture developed over
centuries—it is not a natural phenomena. erefore, is this not too
far-fetched to assume binary notation to be as easily apprehensible
to the extraterrestrials, as it is to humans?
e distinction between culture-dependant and natural codes is
a central theme in Stanisław Lem’s His Master’s Voice philosophical
science-ction novel. Dr Hogarth, who also narrates, explains:
ere exist, speaking in the most general way, two kinds of
language known to us. ere are ordinary languages, which man
makes use of—and the languages not made by man. In such
a language organisms speak to organisms. I have in mind the
so-called genetic code.76
He refers to a genuine characteristic of all “acultural” codes, which
contrary to the natural or constructed human languages are dened
by the universe’s intrinsic properties. A presumed example of such
a code is the Master’s Voice—a mysterious neutrino emission reg-
istered at the Mount Palomar observatory, later believed to being
produced by ETI. Hogarth gives his account of a series of attempts
to decode the signal, none of which give satisfactory results. Not
until exposing samples of various substances to the Master’s Voice
amplied neutrino emission, did the scientists prove its “acultural”
nature. “An ‘acultural language’ is something more or less like
Kant’s ‘thing-in-itself.’ One can fully grasp neither the code nor the
thing,” continues Dr Hogarth,77 stressing that human languages
used for describing natural phenomena (e.g. the atomic models of
deoxyribonucleic acids) can never be as universal, as the “acultural”
codes they interpret, because human codes refer to the concepts
existing in human culture, and therefore are not semantically
76 Lem,
1999, pp. 142-143
77 ibid., p. 143
autonomous. Hogarth recapitulates:
A state of complete “acultural” purity in principle cannot be
achieved. The idea that, in sending to another civilization an
envelope containing models of atoms, it would be possible to
eradicate from such a letter all traces of culture—that idea
is based on an illusion. e trace can be greatly reduced, but no
one, not in the entire Cosmos, is or ever will be able to reduce it
to zero.78
In the light of the distinction between the two kinds of codes out-
lined in Lem’s His Master’s Voice, neither Lincos nor the Arecibo
Message can be regarded as an “acultural” code. e use of a con-
structed binary numeral system stands contrary to the idea of em-
ploying natural laws as a common context necessary for interpret-
ing code. Hence, Lincos and Arecibo Message remain dependant
on human context and cannot be expected to be accessible for ETI.
Lincos and the Arecibo Message have yet another thing in com-
mon: both these endeavours export languages forged by humans,
i.e. codes bearing reference to the earthling culture. Normally,
if one goes to Berlin, one does not teach Berliners to speak one’s
language—on the contrary, one acquires German beforehand,
alternatively relies on the current lingua franca (nowadays English).
Why should this practice not be followed in the case of interplane-
tary intercourse? Freudenthal designed Lincos (Lingua cosmica) as
a universal language, yet still expected extraterrestrials to learn the
terrestrial context. But what if the case was opposite—if humans
could learn cosmic languages and thereby help establish interstellar
Esperanto? Sir Patrick Moore addresses this idea in his interviews
with individuals, to whom he refer as Independent inkers. One of
them was Mr Bernard Byron of Romford, England, who claimed to
know three cosmic languages: Venusian, Plutonian and Krügerian,
78 Lem, 1999, p. 144
F. 5.3—      79
F. 5.4—  :  ’    80
79 One Pair of Eyes:
Patrick Moore, 1969?
80 Moore, 1976, p. 149
which had been “transmitted to him by rays, which means, in eect,
by telepathy. 81 Samples of these languages were given by him both
in speech and writing, and Moore concluded that Byron “moves
in a realm of unknown, which [...] makes it very dicult for us
to disprove him.” 82 Moore also mentions two other Independent
inkers: Cedric Allingham, who avowed that he had a close en-
counter with the extraterrestrials, during which he communicated
with them in semaphore, because they did not speak English; and
George Adamski, who claimed to have met aliens several times,
during which they initially used semaphore, but on a later occa-
sion they decided to employ English.83 Inspired by these accounts,
Moore ponders the question of what language could be employed
in the future, when humankind could become involved in an inter-
planetary intercourse with many intelligent species. It will unlikely
be Byron’s Krügerian, because Krügerians have two independent
lungs and “Krügerian words tend to be strung together, and the
result sounds like a stream of running water. 84 On the other hand,
Moore accepts a possibility that one day Venusians may become
more frequent visitors to Earth, and Venusian language becomes as
widely taught in terrestrial schools, as French is today. Eventually,
he concludes that “if ever we have a cosmical Common Market […]
we should retain good, old-fashioned English. 85
Regardless of whether English language is a feasible candidate for
cosmic lingua franca, it is certain that aer establishing contact via
one channel and nding a way to accord with ETI’s context, one
of the sides of the prospective dialogue would need to face the
problem of breaking the code. Provided that we nd the CETI
“Rosetta Stone” to decipher ETI’s transmission, humankind would
be able to get involved in a real cosmic communication. Conse-
quently, those ETIs, which would use a code that is not decipher-
able and understood, would be excluded from any meaningful
81 Moore, 1976, p. 148
82 One Pair of Eyes:
Patrick Moore, 1969?
83 Moore, 1976, pp. 86-87
84 ibid., p.149
85 ibid., p. 149
Fermi Paradox — Drake equation — N > 1 vs. N = 1
— Ch Ct Cx Cd — C for CETI
Utilising the same channel, sharing the awareness of contact, coex-
isting in one common context and employing the same code are the
necessary elements for communication to take place in general. is
is also the case with communication with ETI. However, CETI’s
main concern ever since its conception has been connected with a
much more general issue—the factual absence of the interlocutor.
e lack of any hard evidence for the existence of extraterrestrial
civilisations is in direct contradiction to the abundance of the pos-
sibilities for life to emerge across the universe. Formulation of this
dilemma is credited to Enrico Fermi, aer whom it is called the
Fermi Paradox.86
One of the early experiments, which aimed at resolving the doubts
expressed in the Paradox, was Frank Drake’s Project Ozma, con-
ducted on April 11, 1960. Drake listened to Tau Ceti and Epsilon
Eridani radio emissions at 1420 Mhz waveband, suggested earlier
by Morrison and Cocconi. e project, excluding a false alarm,
resulted in detecting no extraterrestrial signals. However, it encour-
aged Drake to encapsulate the credo of SETI in a simple reduction-
istic formula, which estimates “A number N, which is the number
of detectable civilizations in our galaxy.” 87 It has become known as
the Drake equation and marked the start of the scientic discourse
on humankind’s chances for detecting ETI.
86 Casti,
1990, pp. 340-341
87 Drake, 2003
e Drake equation comprises 8 variables, which dene the astro-
nomical, physical and social terms for emergence and detection of
ETI at any given time:
N = RfpneflfifcL 88
[] [] []
Not all of the terms of the equation can be estimated with the same
accuracy. For instance, R (the number of stars formed annually in
our galaxy ) or fp (the fraction of these stars that are of solar type)
are currently best scientically understood and calculated. Others,
such as fi (the fraction of all lifeforms in our galaxy that develop
intelligence) or L (the amount of time emergent civilisations exist
and continue being detectable), are still nothing more than an
astronomer’s lucky guess. As a result, including at least one of the
uncertain terms into the equation makes the whole undetermined.
Being a manifesto, rather than a real tool designed to provide us
with scientically viable answers, the Drake equation has triggered
a holistic discourse on the number of ETIs in our galaxy. It is out-
lined by John L. Casti in his Paradigms Lost,89 where he confronts
the viewpoint of the ETI enthusiasts with the viewpoint of the
ETI sceptics. e supporters (Carl Sagan, Philip Morrison, Frank
Drake, et al.) believe there are more communicating civilisations
in our galaxy than just the one that emerged on the planet Earth.
According to them, the resolution to the Drake equation is beyond
any doubt—N > 1. Hence, it is important to persist in our search for
alien civilisations. On the other hand, ETI antagonists (Nicholas
Rescher, Frank Tipler et al.) claim that chances for the emergence
of ETI are too small, almost negligible. And even if intelligent life
is somewhere out there, beyond our galaxy, it could be so far away,
that communication would be pointless or even impossible. us,
humankind is practically alone in the universe—N = 1.
88 Drake, 2003
89 Casti,
1990, p. 387-413
At this stage it is important to dene what N precisely stands for,
and what the term “detectable civilizations” indicates, eectively.
N relates only to the civilisations we can detect by the means pro-
vided by our sensory and mental capabilities, and the technology
we develop. erefore, the search for ETI became inevitably biased
towards e.g. radio communication, which we had learned to use.
If there was a civilisation trying to make contact by utilising
a medium not yet “detectable” for human science, we would not
include it in the N number. Furthermore, if there was another
civilisation, which emission we would “detect,” but fail to recognise
its intelligent and purposeful origin—this would not increase the
N number either. From this point of view, the equation should
be regarded only in terms of the anthropocentric bias, which it
directly stems from.
ereby, the Drake equation is a useful theoretical concept that
oers a framework for organising activities surrounding the SETI
programme. Its signicance lies in identifying and acknowledging
the importance of the factors responsible for the emergence of
communicating civilisations in our galaxy, rather than being the
encouragement for the research into exact values of the equations
terms, and the N number in particular. But what is the importance
of the Drake equation for CETI, which is the main issue here?
Although communication stays not in the centre of the equations
focus, Drake takes it seriously into account as genuine evidence
for both intelligence and technology. If we detect an organised and
modulated radio broadcast (so far we can rely only on this particular
part of the electromagnetic spectrum), it should mean beyond any
doubt that a communicating civilisation emerged in that particular
place in space. However, the Drake equation is insucient for
the purposes which are of interest for CETI researchers. In order
to shed new light on the specic aspects of the communicative
intercourse with ETI, I suggest to extend the formula by a new
factor C, which is a fraction of those communicating ETI, with
whom we could actually start an understandable conversation.
C itself is a product of four sub-variables: Ch , Ct , Cx and Cd.
us, the revised formula would look like this:
N = RfpneflfifcL C ,
C = ChCtCxCd
All four factors have been discussed before in separate chapters.
Ch stands for channel and describes a fraction of those communi-
cating ETI, who utilise the same channel of the same characteris-
tics as we do. Ct denotes contact—it indicates those of the channel-
-sharing ETIs, who are fully aware of our radio broadcasting into
space or/and become apparent to us as communicating ETI. Cx is
context and is dened by a fraction of those consciously transmit-
ting ETI addressers/addressees, whose context would be under-
standable for the interlocutor. Finally, Cd denotes code and is a
proxy for a fraction of those contextually accessible ETIs, whose
code could be decoded and interpreted.
Estimating the value of these four factors is a completely separate
challenge. Here, the main purpose is to suggest possible tools,
that can prove useful for the CETI exploration and discussion. In
a fashion similar to the one, in which the original Drake equation
accelerated and structured the discourse on SETI, the suggested
model may be of benet to the CETI community. At this point,
trying to nd the closest guess either for the C variable, or any of the
C sub-factors appears purposeless—simply because too many fac-
tors of the original Drake equation still cannot be calculated within
the satisfactory scope. Hence, the C factor can be regarded as an
intellectual tool for academical reection or critical analysis, rather
than a scientic formula designed to yield a reliant value output.
Despite all this, one thing is certain—including the suggested C
factor into the Drake equation would even more reduce the ul-
timate value of the N number. It would also bring us even closer
to a conclusion, that even though we might not be the only in-
telligent species in the universe, we are indeed living in solitude.
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Figure 1.2 Shannon-Weaver general communication system.
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Figure 1.3 Jakobson model: functions of verbal communication.
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ank you
Ken Hollings,
for the enlightened direction and the encouragment to write;
Jessika Strataki,
for the tireless help to structure my thoughts;
Dotty Kultys,
for the perfectionistic proof-reading;
Mela Yerka,
for everything, including patient support and constant inspiration.
Marek Kultys
Appendix 1.1
Lem, S., 1978.
Czy jesteśmy sami w kosmosie? (Are We Alone in Space?).
itd — Tygodnik Studencki, 944-945 (52-53), p. 10.
Appendix 1.2
Lem, S., 1978.
Czy jesteśmy sami w kosmosie? (Are We Alone in Space?).
itd — Tygodnik Studencki, 944-945 (52-53), p. 11.
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Shannon, C.E., 1948.
A Mathematical Theory of Communication.
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Voyager – Golden Record: Explanation of Recording Coer Diagram.
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ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Part I. The Bioastronomical Project: 1. The cosmic stage; 2. The organic stage; 3. The prebiotic stage; 4. The primitive biological stage; Part II. Extreterrestrials: 5. Intelligence; 6. The SETI pioneers; 7. Why use radio waves?; 8. NASA takes up the challenge; 9. False alarms; 10. The expansion of SETI; 11. Habitable zones in the universe; 12. The day we make contact; Epilogue.
Konrad Zuse was the first person in history to build a working digital computer, a fact that is still not generally acknowledged. Even less known is that in the years 1943-1945, Zuse developed a high-level programming model and, based on it, an algorithmic programming language called Plankalkül (Plan Calculus). The Plankalkül features binary data structure types, thus supporting a loop-free programming style for logical or relational problems. As a language for numerical applications, Plankalkül already had the essential features of a “von Neumann language”, though at the level of an operator language. Consequently, the Plankalkül is in some aspects equivalent and in others more powerful than the von Neumann programming model that came to dominate programming for a long time. To find language concepts similar to those of the Plankalkül, one has to look at “non-von Neumann languages” such as APL or the relational algebra. This paper conveys the syntactic and semantic flavor of the Plankalkül, without presenting all its syntactic idiosyncrasies. Rather, it points out that the Plankalkül was not only the first high-level programming language but in some aspects conceptually ahead of the high-level languages that evolved a decade later
Were it Perfect, Would it Work Better? Survey of a Language for Cosmic Intercourse. Versus: Quaderni di studi semiotici
  • B Bassi
Bassi, B., 1992. Were it Perfect, Would it Work Better? Survey of a Language for Cosmic Intercourse. Versus: Quaderni di studi semiotici, [Online] Vol. 61-62-63, pp. 261-272. Available at: [Accessed 21 July 2010].
  • D Evans
  • H Selina
Evans, D. & Selina, H., 2005. Introducing: Evolution.