podcasts

Ep 68: They’re Not Speaking English – Decoding a Message from ET – with guest Dr. Sheri Wells-Jensen

decoding a message from ET

What would happen if we found a message from a civilization on another planet? Chances are, they won’t be speaking English. We can’t talk to dolphins, dogs, or trees. What makes us think we ever would able to understand a message from not only another species, but from another planet? How would we go about decoding a message from ET?

In the movies, we’ve seen messages made primarily of mathematics, which is supposedly the universal language. We’ve gone about teaching aliens our languages, while learning theirs. Is any of that realistic?

Today, we’re talking to Dr. Sheri Wells-Jensen. Sheri is what’s called a xenolinguist – a person who makes it her business to wonder how we would actually decode a message from ET. By looking at the commonalities of the 7,000 or so human languages that have existed over time, she can come up with some generalizations that languages would have. But then she asks some questions that explore what is fundamental in a language in general. What if the aliens have a hive mind? What if they have no eyes? What if they have different genders, or no gender at all? All of these things, in some way or another, affect the language that they speak.

Sheri is also a member of METI – or Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence. You can think of METI as a twin of SETI – while SETI searches for extraterrestrial intelligences, METI thinks about how we can message them, or how we would start decoding a message from ET.

It’s a fascinating discussion – and a lot of fun. But more than that – by the end, we realize that even if we never find a message, or even if we never decode it, we learn a lot about who we are as humans.

Background music you hear are clips from Pumpkin Soup and reCreation by Airtone licensed under CC by 3.0, In Suspense at PodSummit licensed under CC0 1.0, Kalte Ohren by Dysfunction AL licensed under CC by 3.0, The Right Voice by Robbero licensed under CC by 3.0, Longing by gurdonark licensed under CC by 3.0, and 28 Aussens@iten by Stefan Kartenberg licensed under CC by 3.0.

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