A New Model for Interstellar Communication

Communication between great distances is nearly instantaneous and is becoming faster every day. But when discussing communication with beings outside of our solar system, emails and text messages are still not fast enough to span the light-years of distance in one person’s lifetime. Civilizations Beyond Earth: Extraterrestrial Life and Society (The collection was edited by SETI Institute's Douglas A. Vakoch and Albert Harrison.) contributor Carl L. DeVito proposes that perhaps communication to the far reaches of space is about leaving a mark or a legacy, much like great civilizations of yore left for modern-day humans.

The laws of physics and the discoveries of astronomy place serious restrictions on interstellar communication.

Stars are light-years apart, and the special theory of relativity tells us that there are restrictions on the speed at which information can be exchanged. The times involved in sending and receiving messages, which may exceed many generations, rule out a dialogue.

There is another way of looking at this kind of communication, another perhaps more realistic “model.” Think of the ancient societies of Earth. They have, with the help of historians and archaeologists, passed on to us an understanding of their people’s lives, their societies, their art and philosophies. This knowledge enriches us, and to some extent, these societies live on in us. A similar model for interstellar communication is possible, and given the realities of physics and astronomy, it may be all that is possible.

In my chapter we explore ways in which the human race can pass on to the other intelligent races in the galaxy something about our astronomical environment, our biosphere, and perhaps our humanity.

In this model, the humanistic sciences—especially cross-cultural anthropology—play a key role.

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