Blog

Feb 6 2018 - 3:23pm

John W. Traphagan, Ph.D.

University of Texas at Austin

During the spring 2018 term at the University of Texas at Austin, I am teaching a course called Extraterrestrial Intelligence: Culture, Religion, and Imagination. The aim of the class is to explore how humans have addressed questions about whether or not we are alone in the universe and to consider recent developments in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.  Focusing primarily on the 20th and 21st Centuries, the course considers how ideas about extraterrestrial intelligence have intersected with other aspects of society, such as religious ideas, and approaches SETI as a cultural phenomenon related to how scientists and others imagine the nature of intelligence, both human and non-human. 

Feb 3 2018 - 1:10am

Author:  Sheri Wells-Jensen. 

Dr. Wells-Jensen is an Associate Professor and Co-Director of the ESOL Program at Bowling Green State University. She also coordinates BGSU's Minor in Linguistics. Her teaching and research interests include phonetics, applied phonology, psycholinguistics, speech production (especially slips of the tongue), language preservation, braille and xenolinguistics.

Here comes the zillion-dollar question:

If humans encounter one, would we be able to learn an alien language?

OK, because I can't actually answer that question, I'm going to try to distract you with some other clarifying questions and link to a bunch of additional reading material so that, by the time you get to the end of this, you won't feel too bad that I had nothing definitive to say.

What do you mean by “encounter”?...

Jan 26 2018 - 11:13pm

Author:  Sheri Wells-Jensen. 

Dr. Wells-Jensen is an Associate Professor and Co-Director of the ESOL Program at Bowling Green State University. She also coordinates BGSU's Minor in Linguistics. Her teaching and research interests include phonetics, applied phonology, psycholinguistics, speech production (especially slips of the tongue), language preservation, braille and xenolinguistics.

Here's a little linguistics game for you. Can you match the word for "fish" with the language it comes from? The words here are written in faux-phonetic transcription—kind of what you might do if you hear a word but don't know how to spell it (i.e. they are not all spelled the way a literate speaker of the language would spell them).

balik, i’a, machli, pes, riba, sakana, yu

Chinese, Hawaiian, Hindi, Japanese,

Russian, Spanish, Turkish

Answers below; if you get 4 out of 7 right, feel pleased with yourself.

Jan 19 2018 - 1:37am

Author:  Sheri Wells-Jensen. 

Dr. Wells-Jensen is an Associate Professor and Co-Director of the ESOL Program at Bowling Green State University. She also coordinates BGSU's Minor in LinguisticsHer teaching and research interests include phonetics, applied phonology, psycholinguistics, speech production (especially slips of the tongue), language preservation, braille and xenolinguistics.

For the next time you are on a long trip, I recommend this linguist's "car game".  Go through the alphabet, giving the name of a language for each letter: Arabic, Bulgarian, Chinese, Dutch, English, French, German, Hawaiian, Icelandic, ... When you get to the end, start over. No repeats allowed.

Given that there are around 7,000 languages spoken on Earth today, you could theoretically go around several times before you run out.

I offer you this to give some perspective on this question, which I get asked every time I say that I have taught a course in Xenolinguistics:

“If there are intelligent beings on other planets, would we be able to learn their language?”

Nov 12 2017 - 4:25pm

By Abhik Gupta, METI Trustee.

We almost always imagine human – ET encounters in which the ETI, being highly advanced in science and technology, come to  the earth either as marauding invaders spelling doom for humankind or as benign benefactors solving our problems and guiding us to a better future. Even when we create an ETI that is in distress, we usually imagine him/her to be retaining his/her extraordinary powers to be able to command the situation as a superior being (Spielberg's ET, for example).

Aug 31 2017 - 8:10pm

Carl L. DeVito

We are told that we separated from the other animals in the Garden of Eden. By partaking of the fruit of knowledge we came to know good and evil. At that point we lost our innocence and parted from our simpler brethren, and we can never return to our once idyllic state. We went from living in harmony with nature and the other animals to a position of separation. A separation that some have interpreted as giving us dominance over all creation. This perceived dominance has led to our hunting animals virtually at will, putting them into zoos, and making them amuse us as part of circus acts. We destroy their habitats to make room for our cities and roads and we accord them no “inalienable rights”. We may, as current developments seem to indicate, pay dearly for this. The biosphere seems to be unraveling as species disappear at an alarming rate and, as much as we try to distance ourselves from the other animals, we are a part of that biosphere. But dominance is the role we have assigned ourselves and we must live with the consequences.

Aug 5 2017 - 4:50pm

Marlin (Ben) Schuetz, Director of Boquete Optical SETI Observatory

Development work at the Boquete Observatory has always been a high priority.  It is the principal activity during the rainy season when good observing nights are few in number. When gains have been made the efforts always began with a broadened viewpoint.   During the past year or so, and in close collaboration with Bruce Howard (Owl Observatory in Michigan), our two observatories have made significant improvements in methods and practices for SETI searches.

Aug 1 2017 - 5:14pm

By Morris Jones

SETI astronomers sometimes pick up strange signals. They don’t look like the regular type of radio transmissions we get from stars and other natural things in space. When this happens, they pay attention. These signals could be transmissions from extraterrestrials. 

Jun 26 2017 - 1:53pm

By Ted Peters, METI International Advisory Council

METI scientists need to defend their message-sending to possible new neighbors on planets elsewhere in the Milky Way metropolis. Fearing that hostile aliens will receive these messages and order their armies to conquer and colonize Earth, METI critics such as Stephen Hawking raise a challenging ethical question. How might we connect this question with a dozen other astroethical questions formulated to deal with space exploration within our solar ghetto? (1) does planetary protection require protection of off-Earth ecospheres? (2) do extraterrestrial microbial life and of off-Earth ecosystems have intrinsic value? (3) should space scientists invoke the Precautionary Principle? (4) should earthlings clean up space junk? (5) what should we do about satellite surveillance? (6) should we weaponize space?  (7) how should we adjudicate the competition between scientific research and economic interests, including space tourism? (8) should we terraform Mars? (9) should we colonize Mars? (10) how can we protect Earth from extraterrestrial threats such as solar flares, asteroid collisions, and gamma bursts? (11) does astroethics require a single planetary community of moral deliberation? (12) should we stretch the common good into a cosmic commons? Can we stretch these existing ethical issues drawn from within our immediate solar ghetto to include the entire Milky Way metropolis, including our first encounter with exoplanetary civilizations?

Jun 5 2017 - 1:45pm

By Morris Jones
We haven’t found extraterrestrial intelligence yet, but that hasn’t stopped us from wondering what they would be like. Science fiction has plenty of answers, with just about anything you could imagine meeting up with the crew of the USS Enterprise at some point. But there’s one overwhelming trend in sci-fi. Aliens look humanoid. That’s understandable for some reasons. It’s much easier to dress up an actor in a rubber suit or put green make-up on his face than construct an animatronic fifty-legged giant insectoid with five heads. Sci-fi shows make extraterrestrials not too different from us for economic reasons. But they could be on to something more realistic than they know. Extraterrestrials will almost certainly look different from humans, but they will probably not be as wildly different as some fantasy writers expect.