archive: Re: SETI Music to ETIs?

Re: SETI Music to ETIs?

Richard Burke-Ward ( )
Mon, 21 Dec 98 15:26:06 +0000

Matthew Cheung wrote:
>It seems to me that conveying the idea of pleasure and other emotions
>should not be that much of a problem. We evolved with primitive emotions
>to help us deal with certain situations
>Should we assume that if other
>species evolve to form complex civilizations like ours that they would
>not have complex emotions?

You are probably right that they will have their analogue of emotions -
or had them at one stage. There is no guarantee that an advanced race
would wish to retain them (if humanity were all Buddhists, for example,
we would collectively believe that emotions were an unnecessary
distraction and would seek to eliminate them, perhaps by technological
means if necessary).

By the same token, music in many countries around the world is not
remotely designed to evoke an emotional response - more like an aesthetic
one. Of course, emotional and aesthetic cues would be equally

>P.S. It is true that music would be distinguished from noise because in
>a song there are usually themes repeated [...snip...]

Music, natural language and computer code share the property of having
some oder (i.e. sub-100% entropy), but not total order (i.e., not just
111111111111...). In the case of language, the base units which repeat
are phonemes (or written letters), in computers it would be bytes, in
music it is strings of notes and particular 'voices' (instruments). The
repeat-patterns of the basic units are the key. In the cases of language
and code, they indicate that the medium carries 'meaning' (or
instructions). In the case of music, they express a meaning-free

Interestingly, various software analysis tools which search for
characteristic patterns of repeats of different string-lengths and
various othr indicators have recently shown the promise of distinguishing
between language and music and noise. It is not clear that ETI 'music'
would follow the same rules, and therefore be differentiable from coded
information. And what would we make of a song or a poem, both of which
combine music and meaning?

So the question is: if ETI transmitted music, would we *know* it was
music - or if they transmitted information, would be able to identify it
as anything other than a meaning-free musical architecture?

(All of which assumes that ETI has (a) a language in our sense, (b) music
in our sense, and (c) a transmission system which allows us to demodulate
the briadcast into some apprehensible form!)


Richard and Valerie Burke-Ward
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