The Wall Street Journal published an essay by Arik Kershenbaum, a zoologist at the University of Cambridge, where he argues that, eventually, humans will be able to communicate with aliens.
The purpose of these news items about aliens this and aliens that is to warm people up to the idea that soon, aliens may “come” and we’ll be able to understand what they try to communicate, and that we’ll have to follow their instructions because, since they have the technology to come where we live and we don’t have the technology to go where they’re from, they’re alleged to be smarter than us.
An alien visitation could be faked as easily as the fake pandemic was faked.
Just like people who question SCIENCE are currently being dismissed as dumb conspiracy theorists, if the rulers ever hoax an alien visit, skeptics who question “the aliens” will be mocked for daring to defy the “superior intelligence” of our visitors.
Human contact with alien civilizations may be more likely than we think. A recent NASA study estimated that there should be at least four habitable planets (and probably more) within about 32 light years of Earth—a cosmic stone’s throw away. Those planets could just now be receiving (albeit faintly) our television broadcasts of the 1989 inauguration of President George H.W. Bush. But would aliens understand those broadcasts? Would we understand aliens? Could we ever interpret their languages?
The 2016 movie “Arrival” portrayed scientists frantically scrambling to decode an alien language. Although the on-screen aliens communicated—and even thought—in a completely different way from humans, the hero played by Amy Adams of course eventually succeeded. But off-screen, alien language may be so, well, alien that we could never understand anything about it. How do we approach dealing with something so completely unknown that it may also be completely different from anything we might expect?
In fact, questions about the nature of possible alien languages are tractable. Language remains the lone thing that appears to separate humans from other animals on Earth. The comparison of human language with animal communication can help, should we ever frantically need to decode an alien signal. After all, aliens will have evolved their language on a planet that is, like Earth, also full of non-linguistic species. But what really is the difference between language and non-language?
The most important of these seems to be this: Language should be as complex as it needs to be to convey the necessary information, but no more. An infinitely complex language would mean that aliens would need infinitely large brains to process it. Evolution values efficiency, and absurdly complex language is inefficient. This principle applies equally well to humpback whale song and to Michelangelo’s paintings: We can understand the meaning in a painting’s beauty because it is balanced, not because it is complex.
Such a principle should apply to an alien’s language too, and hence to their messages to the people of Earth. Even if an advanced civilization decides to restructure its language to be more regular, as humans have done with Esperanto, it is already too late. Our brains have been shaped by our language as much as the other way round, and Esperanto still carries with it the traits of its earlier, less well-structured predecessors.
Quantifying this evolutionary balance between complexity and simplicity turns out to be relatively easy, since there is a mathematical continuum that runs between randomness and regularity. Human language seems to be perched precisely between complexity and simplicity, but most animals are way off to the sides. Birdsong—beautiful though it is—is far too repetitive and stereotyped to be language. Listen to a bird, and you will hear the same phrases being sung over and over; humans rarely speak that way, unless they are hawking wares on street corners.
Must alien language obey that same balance? We can’t be sure. But if we know anything about aliens, it is that they will have evolved on their planet through evolution by natural selection, just like we humans did. The aliens’ distant ancestors surely howled and hooted, tweeted and snorted (or did the alien equivalents) almost meaninglessly, just like our own ancestors. So their languages may well have inherited that fundamental fingerprint, just like our own. This offers us an excellent starting place to begin the frantic scramble to decode alien messages—should we ever receive any.
Trying to explain human intelligence through the theory of evolution is absolutely nonsensical. Just imagine the absolute hubris of these people, who tell us that aliens would have evolved just like humans did but in other planets, without telling us why humans are one of a kind in a planet that has (and has had) countless other species.
If human-like intelligence can happen on other Earth-like planets, why hasn’t it happened on this planet more than once?
Evolution theorists cannot be taken seriously until they offer a logical explanation for why anime cat girls don’t exist on planet Earth.