Communicating Across the Cosmos: Summary of a Workshop on Interstellar Message Design


Wednesday, November 12 2014 - 12:00 pm, PST
Klara Anna Capova, David Duner, John Traphagan, Doug Vakoch
Durham University, Lund University, University of Texas at Austin, SETI Institute

For over a half century, astronomers involved in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) have scanned the skies for signals from distant civilizations. Would humans be able to decode information-rich signals from another planet? Could we create a “universal language” that would be meaningful to an independently evolved civilization? To help answer these questions, on November 10-11 the SETI Institute will convene a multidisciplinary, international workshop at its headquarters in Mountain View, California. Speakers from six countries will draw on disciplines ranging from astronomy and mathematics, to anthropology and linguistics, as they debate the best ways to create meaningful messages. While the two-day workshop is closed to the public, all talks will later be posted on the SETI Institute’s Youtube channel.  On the day following the workshop, several of the speakers will summarize the key ideas discussed as part of the SETI Institute’s public weekly colloquium series, held on November 12, at 12:00 noon.

Colloquium panelists:

Klara A. Capova, Ph.D., is cultural anthropologist with specialization in anthropology of science and science & technology studies. Since 2006, she has been looking into anthropological aspects of interstellar messages and worked on content analysis of the Arecibo broadcast, Pioneer plaque and Voyager interstellar record. Dr. Capova is currently a research associate at Durham University, Department of Anthropology, where she runs a Facebook page ET Life & Aliens in Popular Culture dedicated to imagined extraterrestrial life forms and aliens as they appear in popular culture, science fiction, and art.

David Dunér, Ph.D., is Professor of History of Science and Ideas at Lund University, Sweden and researcher at the Centre for Cognitive Semiotics, Lund University. His research concerns the development of science, medicine, mathematics, and technology during the scientific revolution and onwards. His latest book is The Natural Philosophy of Emanuel Swedenborg: A Study in the Conceptual Metaphors of the Mechanistic World-View. Dr. Dunér’s work on the semiotic and cognitive foundations of interstellar communication appeared in the volume Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence.

John W. Traphagan, Ph.D., is Professor of Religious Studies and a faculty affiliate of the Population Research Center at the University of Texas, Austin, where he also serves as Centennial Commission in the Liberal Arts Fellow. His research interests revolve around three primary areas: religion and society in Japan, medical ethics and medical anthropology, and anthropological approaches to religion. He is the author of Rethinking Autonomy: A Critique of Principlism in Biomedical Ethics (2013), Taming Oblivion: Aging Bodies and the Fear of Senility in Japan (2000), and The Practice of Concern: Ritual, Well-Being, and Aging in Rural Japan (2004). In 2010 he was elected Secretary General of the Japan Anthropology Workshop.

Douglas A. Vakoch, Ph.D., is Director of Interstellar Message Composition at the SETI Institute, and he served as chair of the workshop “Communicating Across the Cosmos.” His books include Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence (2011), Astrobiology, History, and Society: Life Beyond Earth and the Impact of Discovery (2013), Extraterrestrial Altruism: Evolution and Ethics in the Cosmos (2013), and Archaeology, Anthropology, and Interstellar Communication (2014).

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