And here I thought the biggest problem with NASA’s Voyager probes, launched for deep space exploration in 1977, was that they came with a handy map of how to get to Earth for whomever in the universe might be tempted to pop by and eat us. But a pair of scientists have taken a closer look at Voyager 1 and 2’s “Golden Records” — two duplicate plaques containing 115 images of life on our planet, natural and human-made sounds, as well as greetings in 55 languages. And what they hypothesize here is a failure to communicate.
Movies like Arrival epitomize recent trends in thinking about possible alien contact. There is no reason to expect humanoids with forehead ridges to show up; so who says that a civilization who might come across a Golden Record would have any reference point for what we’re trying to tell them?
Rebecca Orchard and Sheri Wells-Jensen of Ohio’s Bowling Green State University say that if aliens’ senses don’t include sight or hearing — let alone if they have a completely different way of organizing outside inputs — they will miss out on a good chunk of the shiny goodwill message from our humble planet.
“Orchard and Wells-Jensen went through the material on the record and considered what an alien civilization with a different suite of senses might make of it. The barrage of greetings ‘pile up in a way that could be construed as arguing’, said Orchard, in a language that has ‘no grammatical congruity’. That is, if they can hear.
The 12-inch gold-plated copper disc has audio on one side and images on the other, and this could lead to further misunderstandings, the researchers believe. If an alien civilization tried to match sounds to their objects, life on Earth can look very strange. ‘What if you pair the image of an open daffodil with the roar of a chainsaw?’ said Orchard.”
The Golden Record does take on darker shades when we think of accidentally confusing entities we might never begin to understand.
Perhaps our only hope is for one of the Voyagers to evolve itself into a more powerful, bionic being that can amplify and translate our peaceful message! Until then, you can find me preparing to greet our alien visitors by marinating myself in barbecue sauce.