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SETI public: Public SETI: To kick things off...



There is a subject which is (a) close to my heart, and (b) the subject of 
1 hour documentary which I have just finished making. It is called 
"talking with Aliens" and it will be shown in the UK on 20th December on 
Channel Four, and early in the New Year on The Learning Channel in 
America. (Don't know yet about the rest of the world, sorry.) The show, 
in brief, suggests that we can learn a little tiny bit about what to 
expect from Contact with ETI by studying the closest thing we have to a 
non-human intelligence on Earth, the dolphin. (The older ones among you 
will be muttering stuff about John Lilly, but this is not the same.)

Question: take an animal which is pretty intelligent, butnowhere near 
human levels in most of the things *we* (not they) think matter. Look at 
its communication system - probably the most complex non-human system we 
have yet looked at. Look at its behaviour - likewise complex. Look at its 
biology - mammalian, but pretty strange for all that. Ad then...

Think about how a truly alien creature might think and communicate. What 
if they used sonar as their primary mode of perception? Any 2-d 
representation would meaningless to them - bang goes the Arecibo message, 
bang goes Encounter 2000. Think about their communication. We know 
dolphins have between 10 and 100 primary sound units - and by matching 
the sounds with tier behaviour, we have been able to decipher two of 
these - count them, *two* - and that's =with the live animal to observe.

So my question to you all is this. What makes us think we could ever, 
concewivably, unde4rstand the first thing ETI had to say to us? Even if 
they had done their best to make a message we were 'sure' to understand - 
like we did with Arecibo and Encounter 2000.

Surely there is a real chance we'll hear from ETI - and then never 
understand what they're saying at all?

Thoughts, anyone?

Richard