IF ALIENS LANDED TOMORROW, HOW WOULD WE UNDERSTAND EACH OTHER?
As scary as it may seem for some, the prospect of an extraterrestrial civilization making contact with us on our home turf is something mankind needs to consider. Because even if the aliens’ intentions are good, we’re still going to have some problems.
The scientific world is divided. Some dismiss the existence of aliens until irrefutable evidence is presented. The others are again divided into two groups: those who believe contact with an extraterrestrial race will occur soon and the others, who surmise the alien connection will only happen in the far future.
It’s obvious mankind could really use some contingency plans just in case aliens decide to drop by. Those plans are certain to exist but civilian access to them is forbidden. So let us construct our own hypotheses and debate what would happen—in terms of communication—if a great big UFO landed where we could all see it.
For the sake of our argument, let’s assume the alien species would communicate in a manner we could comprehend, either through vocalizations or imagery. If their language consisted of a series of harmonic emissions of ionized gasses, we might not have the organs to detect their ‘spoken words.’ So the first prerequisite for a chat with aliens would be that they developed a form of comprehensible language that could be translated into concepts we could understand. American linguist Noam Chomsky believes it could be possible, although it most certainly wouldn’t be easy:
“The same structures that make it possible to learn a human language make it impossible for us to learn a language that violates the principles of universal grammar,” Chomsky told NY Times reporter John Gliedman. “If a Martian landed from outer space and spoke a language that violated universal grammar, we simply would not be able to learn that language the way that we learn a human language like English or Swahili.”
He is convinced the endeavor would require a different plan of attack, one that would require more brains than an army of hungry sapiosexual zombies.
“We should have to approach the alien’s language slowly and laboriously — the way that scientists study physics, where it takes generation after generation of labor to gain new understanding and to make significant progress. We’re designed by nature for English, Chinese, and every other possible human language. But we’re not designed to learn perfectly usable languages that violate universal grammar. These languages would simply not be within the range of our abilities.”
The second condition for any meaningful communication to arise would be the existence of reference points both parties would understand. In reality, this wouldn’t be that hard. A civilization that has traveled the vast distances of outer space would most likely share some common grounds with humanity. We’ve heard it time and again: mathematics is the universal language and this holds true, especially when considering the hurdles a space-faring species would have had to overcome. Without an understanding of physics and natural phenomena, they wouldn’t have survived their own stone age, let alone land on an alien (to them) planet.
A species that successfully manipulates the matter around itself would definitely make use of concepts like size, time, similarity and difference, dead or alive. Even though they would be different from us, we could find some common grounds.
But then again, there are multiple instances in the history of mankind where communication channels simply couldn’t be opened. In their conquest for land and riches, humanity’s explorers mercilessly slaughtered entire tribes because of the language barrier. You don’t even have to look back in history to see examples of humans not being able to get a hold of each other.
In the Indian Ocean’s Bay of Bengal lays one of the most isolated places on Earth: North Sentinel Island. The size of Manhattan, this undisturbed island is home to a tribe that has never been contacted by modern man. Although technically in the Stone Age, the Sentinelese tribe inhabiting the island ferociously guard it against any trespassers, even if it means attacking helicopters with wooden spears. So, even among members of the same species, communication can prove impossible if an area of agreement is not clearly demarcated.
A similar thing could happen to us if advanced extraterrestrials decided to make a public appearance. Although you and I and all the rest of the well-meant world would probably militate for a friendly handshake, we are still the minority. Don’t believe me? Watch the reactions of the witnesses of a recent UFO sighting. Although it wasn’t determined the flying lights were indeed extraterrestrial and, even if they were, they exhibited no dangerous intentions, but the crowd still wanted to resort to violence. No matter the issue, mob mentality frequently and quickly makes use of the tar and feather argument.
But in the case of an alien visitation that the populace would mistake for an invasion, we can only hope the aliens themselves are wise and quick enough to quell the masses’ fears. They could only do so if they spoke out loud and clear for everyone to hear. They alone could mitigate the situation they created. The world governments, much like the Sentinelese, would indubitably brandish nukes and other WMDs, even though, in the eyes of advanced aliens, they would look just like stone spears and wooden arrows.
So, if the aliens do come, they better come prepared, because we sure as hell aren’t.
Photo Credits 20th Century Fox/aryundomiel/stevegoad/DeviantArt