How to Make First Contact

Video Statistics and Information

Captions Word Cloud
If we find aliens, what do we do next? When discussing first contact, many are quick to point out that historically, contact between culturally different civilizations has almost always led to the destruction of one of those civilizations. Because of this, you could argue that we should stick to ourselves, leave the aliens alone, but in almost every one of those historical examples its the civilization that makes contact that destroys the civilization that receives contact. So perhaps we should go on the offensive—find the aliens before they find us. Of course, we’ve been trying for decades to find extraterrestrial life. It’s one of humanity’s great questions—are we alone? One way we might find aliens is by looking at stars—or more specifically, the light level of stars. As the earth has developed, our energy consumption has skyrocketed. That’s just the consequence of an increasingly technologically advanced world. It’s suspected that this trend will continue and it’s also suspected that with any alien civilization, they’ll also require more and more energy as they advance. Eventually, any planetary civilization will reach a point where the amount of energy on their planet is not enough to sustain their advancing civilization. Theoretical Physicist Freeman Dyson speculated that when a planetary civilization needs more energy than their planet can provide, they’ll turn to the sun. Stars are the most abundant source of energy in any planetary system so a super-advanced civilization can build a series of satellites to orbit around their sun to collect energy. When sunlight travels through space, it looses energy and so the amount of energy captured by a solar panel near the sun would be astronomical higher than a solar panel on earth. With more energy a civilization could produce more satellites and eventually there would be a swarm of satellites orbiting the sun. Freeman Dyson believes that this is the most logical way that any civilization would harvest the energy they need so if we search for a star with orbiting satellites, we might be able to find an alien civilization. No telescope is powerful enough to see the individual satellites, but we can rather easily observe the light levels of stars. You see, once a faraway civilization builds enough satellites, the swarm will start to block our view of their sun as the satellites orbit. From our perspective, it will look like the star is twinkling—something completely unnatural. So, by looking for stars with highly variable light levels, we might be able to find an alien civilization harvesting the energy of their sun. KIC 8462852, also known as Tabby’s star, is a star in the Cygnus constellation of the Milky Way. Scientists observed the light level of this star for years, and they regularly came across irregularities like this. Maybe there are comets or a debris field obstructing our view of the star, but astronomers have doubted that either of these could dip the light levels by this much. This has led some to suggest that an alien civilization has built these orbiting satellites around their sun…but we may never know for certain. Of course all of this is somewhat speculative and its unlikely that we’d actually find a so-called Dyson sphere around a sun. It’s more of a thought-experiment—demonstrating that we could find aliens through looking for their impact on the universe. Conversely, aliens might find us based on our affect on the universe. That’s why we’ve very purposefully sent out messages to our hypothetical cosmic neighbors. The Pioneer Plaques were designed and placed on the two Pioneer spacecrafts which were the first to explore the far-reaches of the solar system. Since these two are some of the farthest man-made objects from earth, they were sent with a message in case extraterrestrials come across the probes. This is what was sent—the Pioneer Plaque. It has a representation of hydrogen—the most abundant element in the universe—; a picture of a man and women including a raised hand—a gesture that most likely wouldn’t be understood but shows how our limbs move and the existence of the opposable thumb; an image of the pioneer spacecraft behind the humans so that extraterrestrials could figure out the rough size of humans; the location of the sun relative to 14 nearby pulsar stars using hydrogen spin-flip transition frequency as the unit—something far too complicated for me to explain; and lastly an image of the solar system with the rough trajectory of the pioneer spacecraft; but there are issues with this image. We have no idea how aliens gather information. Humans are a visual species since we have relatively good vision so its natural for us to convey information through images. Aliens, on the other hand, could have poor or no vision and therefore no conception of the idea of transferring information through images or they could interpret the symbols vastly differently. Perhaps the most frequently criticized aspect of the plaque is the arrow. Its believed that the arrow symbol is derived from either the shape of arrows or the human hand pointing, or perhaps a combination of both. Aliens would most likely have neither arrows or hands and therefore no idea what this symbol means. They could also make the dangerous assumption that the symbol depicts a weapon launching meaning that the spacecraft was sent to harm them. Other sets of images have been sent with subsequent space probes, but the chance of aliens finding these few tiny objects in the vastness of space is miniscule. What’s far more likely is that aliens will discover humanity off of something we’ve been sending out for over a hundred years—radio signals. While most are too weak to reach far-away galaxies, some do travel through space and could be picked up by extraterrestrial civilizations—especially more advanced ones with better detection technology than us. It’s entirely possible that we’ve already unintentionally sent the signal that will be our first message to an extraterrestrial civilization. It’s also entirely possible that the first sign we will have of extraterrestrial life is a radio message from another planet. The problem is then deciphering it. The first step is deciding what the message even is. Is it binary, is it radiation, is it natural language, what is it? We can figure this out. In the English language, the most common word, “the,” accounts for about 7% of all word occurrences, the second most common word, “be”, accounts for 3.5% of all words, then “and” is about 2.3% and so on and so forth. The distribution of words, it turns out, in all languages follows a logarithmic scale. The second most common word occurs about half a frequently as the most common, the third 1/3 as often, the fourth 1/4th as often, the fifth 1/5th as often and so on and so forth. This is somehow true for all languages—even ones with no common ancestral language—which means that, more than likely, an alien language will follow the same distribution. It’s not entirely understood why languages follow this distribution, but one possible explanation is that people are lazy. It’s called “the Principle of Least Effort.” People, animals, even machines will always pick the path of least resistance—the easiest path—and in the case of language, the meaning that needs to be most frequently conveyed will be attached to the most common word rather than a number of other words since that is easiest. That keeps happening down to the least frequent word therefore creating this distribution. With an extraterrestrial transmission, if we rank the sounds by frequency and it follows this distribution, we can believe that its most likely a language. But then we need to try to understand the language. For this, we need to drop all assumptions. There are innate similarities across all human languages, mostly related to grammar. For example, pretty much every language separates description words—nouns—from action words—verbs. Grammatically, there are huge similarities between all languages—even ones that developed separately. Some have suggested that this means that humans have a genetic framework for language. Perhaps we are hardwired from birth to understand what nouns and verbs and sentences are and learning a language is just the process of filling in and understanding that framework. From everything we understand about the communication systems that animals use, they do not have a universal grammar like humans. We therefore have to assume that an alien language will be fundamentally different than ours. We don’t know how they’ll structure sentences. We don’t even know if they’ll have sentences. The problem is, if we just receive a natural language transmission, there’s really nothing we can do. When deciphering ancient languages, linguists figure out meaning using context and relations to other languages, but with an alien language transmission there is no context and no other similar languages to compare it with. All this is assuming that aliens use a verbal language, and that’s a huge assumption. Many if not most animals have no verbal communication system. Cuttlefish and Chameleons alter their body color to communicate while ants and honeybees use pheromones to talk to other members of their species. Even if we understood their language, could we understand what they’re saying? Take this sentence in French. Translating it literally word for word you get “The palace Bourbon is the name commonly given to the building that houses the assembly national french located on the quay of Orsay in the seventh borough of Paris of the square of the Concorde.” Even if you clean it up to structure it like an English sentence, how much meaning is conveyed to you? What exactly is the French National Assembly, where is the Quay of Orsay, where is the seventh borough, where is Concorde Square? Someone familiar to Paris and France would understand what these words mean but someone from the other side of the world would infer little meaning from them. Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein famously wrote, “If a lion could speak, we would not be able to understand him.” Language is all based on cultures and requires a common frame of reference. If you said “I’m taking an Uber to get some coffee at Starbucks” to an English speaking Lion, there’s no way it would understand what you’re saying. You’d have to explain what Uber is, then explain what a car is, what the internet is, what a phone is, an app, coffee, Starbucks, stores, the monetary system—all stuff that is intuitive to modern humans. Translating the words of an extraterrestrial civilization is just the first step, understanding what they’re saying is the more difficult task. Centuries or millennia after detecting aliens, we might reach a day when an extraterrestrial being comes to earth. If this happens, the alien civilization is almost certainly more advanced than humans since it has accomplished interstellar travel and perhaps even faster-than-light travel, but we want to show that us humans are intelligent as well. Of course the E.T. would see everything the humans have built, but they might interpret the structures of man-kind as natural phenomenons. We can’t assume that they’d think that buildings and cars and artificial light are not part of the natural structure of earth. We therefore need to show them that we have at least a basic understanding of the universe. Math, as far as we know, is universal. No matter where you go or who you ask, two plus two is four and the ratio of a circle’s circumference to diameter is 3.141592 and so on and so forth. Of course what you call two or four or pi would be different, but the concepts are the same. Therefore, we could show the aliens our understanding of math—put two then two then four; four then four then eight; keep this going until they get the point. Although, perhaps the best mathematical principle to demonstrate would be the pythagorean theorem. It’s complicated, but easy to show. The Pythagorean Theorem, of course, demonstrates that in the case of a right triangle, the square of the side opposite to the right angle is equal to the square of the other two sides combined. In an equation that reads a2 + b2 = c2. Visually, we can demonstrate this by drawing squares on the two shorter sides out of smaller squares and show how the amount of squares on the two sides equals the amount of squares on the longer side. Showing this theorem cements that humans do understand how the mathematical aspect of the universe works, even though we’re less advanced than the aliens. So now that we’ve found the aliens, now that we’ve met them, we can talk to them, someone needs to speak first. But let’s say it was you—let’s say you were given the chance to ask the first question from humanity to an extraterrestrial being, you became the first point of contact between humanity and the universe. What would you ask? I hope you enjoyed this Wendover Productions video. These videos are hugely expensive to make, and I can only do it thanks to the help of my Patreon supporters. I have to buy stock footage, buy music, hire a sound designer, pay for programs, pay for hardware, and that’s not even taking into account the time that I personally put into these videos. If you’d like to make sure that I can keep doing these videos and make them better and better, please consider supporting me on Patreon by clicking here. Every dollar contributed is spent directly on the channel—none of it goes to me—and I’m held to that by releasing expense reports at the end of each month. There are also some great rewards including early access to videos, stickers, hand-written letters, and most recently, t-shirts. You can also order a t-shirt by itself for only $20 through DFTBA. The link is here and also in the description. Other than that, please make sure to follow me on Twitter @WendoverPro, watch my last video on Why cities are where they are here, check out my fan-moderated subreddit here, and most of all, subscribe to this channel to receive all my future videos right when they come out. Thanks again for watching, and I’ll see you in two weeks for another Wendover Productions video.
Channel: Wendover Productions
Views: 2,580,305
Rating: 4.8717618 out of 5
Keywords: how, to, make, first, contact, alien, aliens, extraterrestrial, et, ets, life, space, astro, astronomy, talking, communicating, with, video, essay, interesting, learn, learning, educational, education, educate, voyager, pioneer, plaque, carl, sagan, earth, language, languages, linguistics, question, talk, wendover, productions, explain, explained, explainer
Channel Id: undefined
Length: 13min 30sec (810 seconds)
Published: Tue Jan 17 2017
Reddit Comments

I just watched Arrival last night so this was pretty cool to find today.

👍︎︎ 25 👤︎︎ u/Chuck_Morris_SE 📅︎︎ Jan 17 2017 🗫︎ replies

Hey, I just met you, And this is crazy, But I made this video, So ask me questions, maybe!

I'm so sorry

👍︎︎ 71 👤︎︎ u/WendoverProductions 📅︎︎ Jan 17 2017 🗫︎ replies

"Suh dude"

👍︎︎ 19 👤︎︎ u/Quazar_man 📅︎︎ Jan 17 2017 🗫︎ replies

Is Pi equal 3.14... if you use base 12 or 16 or whatever number fingers aliens have?

👍︎︎ 7 👤︎︎ u/Paroment 📅︎︎ Jan 17 2017 🗫︎ replies

Where did you get your hairstyle?

👍︎︎ 13 👤︎︎ u/TaytoCrisps 📅︎︎ Jan 17 2017 🗫︎ replies

I would ask: "Are we your first contact too?"

👍︎︎ 3 👤︎︎ u/Agamand 📅︎︎ Jan 17 2017 🗫︎ replies

Well aliens aren't stupid. If they discover us first they'll probably figure most of this out faster than we do.

👍︎︎ 4 👤︎︎ u/LGN99 📅︎︎ Jan 17 2017 🗫︎ replies

What he says at 10:30 doesn't really make sense to me. How could advanced aliens misinterpret cars and buildings as "natural structures of earth"?

👍︎︎ 3 👤︎︎ u/_Ivl_ 📅︎︎ Jan 17 2017 🗫︎ replies

Aliens have finally made contact. Their one and only message; "be quiet they'll hear you."

👍︎︎ 7 👤︎︎ u/kaysea112 📅︎︎ Jan 17 2017 🗫︎ replies
Related Videos
Please note that this website is currently a work in progress! Lots of interesting data and statistics to come.