Tip for Reading List: How to Communicate With Aliens

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Daniel Oberhaus has written Extraterrestrial Languages.

In an age when more and more attention is being given to the search for alien life, the obvious next question is: if we do come across aliens, how do we communicate with them? This is the subject Daniel Oberhaus explores in Extraterrestrial Languages.

“If we send a message into space, will extraterrestrial beings receive it? Will they understand? What languages will they (and we) speak? Is there not only a universal grammar (as Noam Chomsky has posited), but also a grammar of the universe?” publisher Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press writes in its description of the book.

Indeed, over the centuries, humans have made various attempts to reach out to aliens. Oberhaus describes a late-nineteenth-century idea to communicate with Martians via Morse code and mirrors. In the 20th century emerged SETI (the search for extraterrestrial intelligence), CETI (communication with extraterrestrial intelligence), and METI (messaging extraterrestrial intelligence). Oberhaus describes various media used in attempts at extraterrestrial communication, from microwave systems to plaques on spacecrafts to formal logic, and discusses attempts to formulate a language for Earthlings’ message.

Along the way, the book underlines something humans take for granted. Our communication with one another takes place in real time. On the other hand, messages sent out to space may take centuries to reach aliens, if at all. The messages, therefore, should be clear about that aspect too.

“Oberhaus delivers an engaging read, striking a good balance between ‘hard’ and ‘popular’ science. He reviews centuries of initiatives, combining science with anecdotes, and using linguistics, mathematics, astrophysics, cognition, and art as feedstock,” Science magazine writes in its review of the book.