How Would You Talk To An Alien? Lessons in Communication

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Gigantic radio telescopes are used to pick up signals in deep space. The SETI radio telescopes are dedicated to systematically study all quadrants of the sky in hopes to find a transmission.

We have equipped interplanetary space probes with math, chemistry, drawings of the human bodies, pictures and music on the off-chance we make contact with an extraterrestrial being.

This need to communicate is something inherent not only in space exploration, but also in humanity.

Part of the fascination with space is the possibility of understanding Earth from a different perspective.

Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon remarked about his experience:

?It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.?

Similarly, part of why we create relationships is because it is a chance to see ourselves through the eyes of someone else.

What, then, can we learn from the attempts to communicate with aliens in terms of communicating with each other?

We Need A Common Language

First, the scientists are aware that the aliens may not speak our language. And, even if someone does speak the same language as you do, it does not always mean that they understand what you are saying. Each human being is an amalgam of their experiences.

If you grew up in a home where Mom and Dad did not express themselves openly or used yelling as a form of communication, you may not understand your significant other’s desire to openly discuss feelings. Establishing a common language is key to communicating effectively.

We Need To Provide Context

Scientists are aware that to understand the essence of a language, they need to include a context for the aliens in the form of pictures of humans, our varied music, and even an explanation of what it feels like to fall in love.

We often assume that the people in our lives know us. Your spouse may know that you hate mint and love coffee, but do they know that you hate skating specifically because of an experience you had in third grade? That memory may be a cute story but, it was also a significant event where you decided that trying new things was risky.

When developing healthy communication, sharing experiences is a way to establish a context to understand your partner.

We Need To Signal That We Are Open

Scientists placed a recording and plaque centered on the probe, thus communicating that we were open to be contacted. What signals do we emit saying we are open to communicate?

Are we saying that we are willing to communicate in a meaningful way with our nose in our phones or lack of eye contact? Do you need to drop the ?we need to talk? phrase and actively set up a tete-a-tete?

Healthy communication must be open and consistent.

It should be in a language that all understand, and it should be sensitive to the needs of the participants. It is respectful to the experience of the communicators both expressively and receptively.

If space exploration teaches us anything, it is that we need to be prepared for any eventuality, and be willing to be listen to whatever message that is sent back.

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