archive: Re: SETI Music to ETIs?

Re: SETI Music to ETIs?

Brian Wong ( (no email) )
Sun, 20 Dec 1998 01:18:13 -0800

IMHO, terrestrial music would be interpreted as noise by ETI. There is no
way convey what music is. Understanding requires context. As mentioned
before, there is no context and no way to convey context. If received, I
imagine that ETI would try to analyze terrestrial music by attempting to
extract information from it, but there isn't any, at least any they would
comprehend. So sending music to ETI, via transmission or physically
(Voyager), and expecting them to decode it and understand its meaning is an
exercise in absurdity. It is just for fun, in fact, it may confuse them to
no end.

Consider the converse, conveyed information can be also be interpreted as
music. To give you an idea how easy it is decode something but how hard it
is to acquire context, listen to the songs of the Whales. They possess high
level intelligence and convey information to each other. We can perform
FFTs and power spectrum and statistical pattern analysis of their sounds as
much as we want and try to map these patterns to behaviors but we still
don't know what they are talking about. The context is the ocean and since
we don't live in the ocean we can never really know what the Whales are
talking about. Apply this analogy to ETIs...

Anything exchanged between us and ETIs other than mathematical relationships
and universal constants is very likely wasted bandwidth. Even if "they" did
have ears, it would be nothing but noise.

As an aside, I find the Voyager gold record very amusing. I think it was
more for us than for "them". Suppose an ETI finds Voyager in the future.
They would look it over in great detail and find the shiny gold record
attached to the spacecraft with strange markings on it. Hmm... "Obviously a
sign of intelligence", they would say to themselves, "perhaps it is a
reflector for laser light, etc..." But clearly the good and important stuff
must be inside the box. So they open it up and see more strange markings.
So they would conclude: The important symbols of the terrestrial alien
civilization that made this probe are the symbols like: "TRW", "Rockwell",
"JPL", "In", "Out", "Volts", "Amps", and "Made in USA".... At least it
doesn't say "Intel Inside"! :-)


-----Original Message-----
From: Walt Williams <>
To: SETI-L Open List <>
Date: Saturday, December 19, 1998 12:44 AM
Subject: SETI Music to ETIs? & More

Hello Richard, and Ron,

In the early years of PC computing (pre-Apple/Radio
Shack/IBM) when I was manufacturing these machines and coding in
assembler, at times I would need to 'fix' other people's code. To do
this often required manually decompiling (reverse engineering) the
binary using sid or zsid (guess this means I am a hacker?) to
understand the code and then 'patch it' to fix the code.

Understanding machine process or code which was written by someone
else (another human for a human process) or even the product of a
higher coding language such as 'C' or Pascal/Forth (again for a
human process) which has been compiled to machine code seems to me to
be similar to trying to understand the communications process of
another specie. Machine code; It is non-intuitive, and an alien
language which humans do not directly process. A simple simile, not
really similar.

One may understand the encoding mechanism but not the code, i.e.,
its meaning. It may appear as endless one's and zeros (presuming it
is binary) in apparently infinite patterns until structure is
recognized. To understand the meaning of an apparently abstract
chunk of code, requires understanding the instruction set of the
processor as well as other items such as attendant peripherals and
sensors. People are not computers though this could be likened to
an exobiological entity which "has no ears". How would ET which did
not develop ears, and the requisite associative receptors understand
music? Humans do not process binary code and probably neither do ET.
One of the tests my friend Sy Wong (Ph.D. physics) has suggested for
simulating possible ET contact experiments, would be to assemble text
in some arbitrary simple code, and broadcast it to determine if
'other' colleagues can detect, decipher the coding scheme and the
meaning of the transmission. If it can not done, then something
simpler need be devised or perhaps more obvious. We are not talking
about exotic ciphers here. How many Ham operators trained in
International Morse code could do it? Take the information out of
the sensory/cognition environment in which it was developed and then
attempt to understand the information. Something like 'listening" to
music with an oscilloscope, or watching 22 wpm Morse code optically.

Should computers ever become sentient, as surely Earth's machines
will at some time in the future, perhaps they may develop
algorhythms of pleasure, but could humans ever understand the
meaning? First problem would be sense; how would human intellect
perceive our hypothetical sentient machine's pleasure sequences?
Would we need a parallel port --a possible simple equivalent for
machine 'ears'? But since we are not sentient binary processors
(again presuming some similarity to what we know), could we ever
infer the meaning of the data stream. Perhaps after much work, and
deciphering, testing hypothesis, we may eventually understand that
the stream is not necessary for operation but elective, and it may
never be recognized as pleasure. This all could be possibly be
remedied somewhat if the machines were to decide to help.

Since computers and their future kin, will probably(?) be some
hybrid of synchronous/asynchronous parallel architecture, there will
likely be rhythm beating within their tin-can nano-technology
'hearts'. Music is in part rhythm, but could one perceive a sentient
machine's rhythmic pleasure algorhythms as music if that were what it
were? :^{)

As David Wooley has often said in this list (SETI-L open list), ET
signals/messages may well appear as noise.

I find this description similar to the process of discovering an
abstract (out of context with originator) meaning of something which
humans do not inherently process, and agree with Richard Burke-Ward's
original statement. "If they only had ears".

Best to all this Holiday season, and desiring peace profound.

Walt Williams, FRC, 98.12.18

Woodland Hills, California, USA

------- Forwarded Message Follows -------
Reply-to: "RonBlue" <>
From: "RonBlue" <>
To: "SETI League" <>
Subject: Re: SETI Music to ETIs?
Date: Fri, 18 Dec 1998 13:34:17 -0500

-----Original Message-----
From: Richard Burke-Ward <>
>Only if they have ears!

It is possible that ETI could have less senses. For example we can
not see in the five systems of color that birds can. Our anscestors
were night creatures 65 million years ago. We can not see in
ultraviolet which some birds and incest can. We can not see in
infarred like snakes. We can not see in electrical fields like an
electric el. We can not feel radiation like a rat. We can not smell
as well as a dog or rat.

The key concept is that senses allow an organism to learn about its
environment. Psychological research suggest that a stimulus is a
stimulus regardless of source or type. This is true across species.
Remembering that there is no special position in the universe. Laws
and principles remain similar if not identical.

>I may have this wrong, but it seems likely that
>our whole neurobiuology is set up in precisely such a way to resonate
>with rhythmic sound - because speech is a primary function. Equally,
>chickens like music, monkeys do, perhaps all vocalising creatures do.

If I started speaking Chinese to you. Your brain would resonnate to
the sound. The modulations would be almost perfectly correlated. You
would however not likely know what I was saying.

>But it would be interesting to see what effect music had on
>non-vocalising but hearing creatures - say, snakes (vibration-sensing,
>strictly). Of course, music would have no effect on non-hearing

Some people see colors when listening to music. Some people see
colors when reading a document. Colors and music are similar.
You can use music to modulate light and create a light show.

>The broader question is surely, would aliens have an *equivalent* of
>music - a way of modulating signals received by one of their primary
>sense-organs to create non-symbolic structures? And if so, how would
>*that* 'sound' on radio?

Also would it sound slow or fast depending on how their nervous system
uses the information. Ron Blue

>Richard and Valerie Burke-Ward
>26 Edgarley Terrace, London, SW6 6QD, UK
>Home: (+44) 171-731 5496
>Valerie mobile: (+44) 705-020 4565
>Richard work: (+44) 171-736 7662 (Tel/Fax)