23 January 2000
Communicating with Aliens
the Psychological Dimension of Dialogue
- / -
Part I: Test challenges
for alien counter
Part II: Strategic
clues for alien communication
Part III: Distinguishing patterns
of assumption in dialogue with aliens
Part IV: Designing a team
for alien encounter
Most of the academic initiatives to reflect on the challenge of
communicating with extraterrestrials seem to focus on the technical problems
of receiving a signal from them, or sending a signal to them. These questions
are extensively explored in the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence)
literature and even in the lesser-known CETI variant, namely Communicating with
Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Such preoccupations then extend into the challenge
of teaching aliens a language through which communication can be developed.
This paper is concerned with the psycho-social issues of communicating
with extraterrestrials intelligently -- other than by making assumptions about
the universality of coding based on prime number theory and mathematics as exemplified
by the special language Lincos (developed by Hans Freudenthal in 1960) designed
for such communication. Almost no serious study seems to have been made of the
psychology of extraterrestrial communication -- presumably on the basis that
xenopsychology, xenoanthropology or xenolinguistics (terms seemingly used only
by science fiction enthusiasts and game designers) need some cases to work on
before anything useful can be written. Although it might be argued that the
theoretical challenges for communication are clear enough to commence such work.
The possibility that aliens may assess the value of communicating with humanity
more in terms of the integrative order which humanity has been able to give
to mathematics as a whole (rather than to a particular 'branch' concerned
with number theory) is tentatively explored in a separate paper (Judge,
Some of the interest in these topics on the Web tends to be confusingly
associated with other agendas relating to UFOs, abductions, and the paranormal
(including channelling), which are not the concern of what follows -- nor are
the claims of some to be in communication with them already. However, given
the American origins of the long-marginalized UFO preoccupation, it is ironic
that the locus may now have shifted to China -- both in terms of recorded sightings
and the main stream scientistis for whom they are a preoccupation (IHT,
12 January 2000). Just as the USSR was first into space, maybe China will be
the first to have official contact with aliens.
The concrete challenge however is that when extraterrestrials
are contacted (SETI), or land (UFOs), somebody is presumably going to be considered
as appropriately briefed to communicate with them. The media, and science fiction,
have explored many possible scenarios. The two most typical are:
- aliens are met by (or handed over to) some branch of military intelligence
for secret 'negotiations'
- aliens are met by John and Jane Doe who have only media scenarios, common
sense, and their prejudices to guide them
And how have such people been prepared for this encounter? Is
there a manual (on the Web) to assist in this process, or at least to indicate
the possible traps? Does this emergency website offer links to sources of guidance?
Does it offer interactive facilities -- like some health sites -- to enable
those faced with such a challenge to clarify their options in the light of any
information that emerges at different stages of the early interaction with the
aliens? It could be argued that the best exploration of communication scenarios
and options is that of science fiction. That is where most thinking on the matter
has been invested. Indeed, establishing an interactive database of possible
variants from that source might be a good place to start -- in the absence of
This paper explores a range of ways of thinking about communication
with 'aliens' that might be a basis for enhancing such a database
-- starting with the challenge of dealing with those 'aliens' readily
to hand on this planet. Specifically it addresses the concern that a common
language, according to the assumption made above, can in no way be assumed to
ensure the kinds of communication that may be vital to mutual comprehension.
In a global society torn by savagely violent regional conflicts
of various kinds, no one would dispute that the participants are especially
challenged by lack of a 'common language' in the sense implied above.
In a society in which there is continuing concern about 'alienation'
amongst those considered to be speaking the same language, notably urban youth,
the possibility of relationship building for 'sustainable community'
is clearly important -- as it would be with aliens. Unfortunately the approach
to building community tends to be little more than a radical revision of strategies
employed by religious groups anxious to promote fellowship and brotherhood.
Aided and abetted by facilitators with a variety of proprietary skills, these
are adapted to team-building in educational, corporate, sporting and military
situations where the dynamics of gender are avoided or stigmatized. But despite
their claims to the contrary, the ability of religions to engage in consequential
inter-faith dialogue is clearly somewhat suspect given the many ongoing religiously
inspired wars. Religion might even be said to be sustained by its opposition
to 'unbelievers' -- as it must necessarily define 'aliens'
when they are contacted.
As the escalating level of communal violence indicates, many have
already been radicalized into alienhood -- especially immigrant workers and
their families. The resources for befriending or bonding them back into community
are increasingly inadequate. The challenge of communicating with such 'aliens'
may be as dramatic as that of communicating with extraterrestrials -- as many
parents discover (and children too!). To use a theatrical metaphor, rather than
'extraterrestrials', many are becoming 'terrestrial extras'
through various processes of marginalization.
Maybe there is a case for recognizing the extent to which everyone is an alien.
Modern civilization, and globalization, may be an essentially alienating process
-- evoking alien ways of being to compensate for its dehumanizing effects. As
aliens, people need to discover other ways of inhabiting the same space-time
continuum -- and other ways of communicating.
It is ironic that the sense of alienation encourages many to think of 'escape'.
Where to, and how to, are a real challenge. To employ a space travel metaphor,
how is anyone to build up an adequate 'escape velocity'? The Web,
for example, offers a form of escape into a kind of 'orbit', unattached
to any particular physical location. It encourages other approaches to sustainable
community (through hyperlinks), more meaningful in practice to many than those
promoted in international or community building programs. Already those 'on
the Web' have disparaging terms for the unlinked -- those who are not linked
in this way. They are seen as the real 'aliens' (Remember that the
French word for hyperlink is hyperlien).
What follows in Part I
is therefore a kind of thought experiment to test dialogue assumptions and prepare
for situations in which we may be trapped by them. In Part
II some strategic clues to the possible need for enhanced dialogue are explored.
Part III is an exercise
in structuring patterns of enhanced dialogue in anticipation of the levels into
which it might become locked and the need to shift between them. In Part
IV the insights of the previous two parts are used to explore the challenges
of designing a flexible dialogue team for an encounter with aliens.
Next: Part I: Test challenges
|Extract from an overview from 16 years later
by Finn Brunton,
especially significant due its publication in extenso in
Le Monde Diplomatique (Aout 2016) as Petit guide de conversation avec les extraterrestres
| All these perspectives are characterized both by their creativity in physical terms and by their intellectual laziness ... Intellectually their weakness is obvious: they postulate a universe inhabited by people resembling ourselves more or less, and who, informed by us of our existence, would reciprocate in order to initiate a friendly exchange of views... Even if this schema proves to be correct, how to share things a little more sophisticated than phatic gestures -- an "I am here" -- by means of a tumulus, a woodshed or a right angle triangle? .... What could be the substance of communications and contacts with unknown strangers impossible to know? ... Most messages addressed to another world are humbly preoccupied with their own structure and its own decoding -- the only protection against revealing the overwhelming extent of our own ignorance. [extract translated from French, although an original version may exist in English]
|Subsequent consideration of this theme in: Sensing Epiterrestrial Intelligence (SETI): embedding of "extraterrestrials" in episystemic dynamics? (2013); Self-reflective Embodiment of Transdisciplinary Integration (SETI): the universal criterion of species maturity? (2008)