Last night I came across some research work by Laurence Doyle related to the ‘information theory’ and I was actually impressed (by a SETI scientist for a change). We all are aware about the human efforts to communicate with the so called ‘aliens’. For more than 50 years we have been monitoring the universe chatter which includes the electromagnetic waves to detect or should I say overhear the communication which goes around the universe. Well, the implication of that being the existence of another civilization but let’s not get into the Hollywood stuff.
So, all we humans can hear is static not even some alien gibberish. There could be many reasons for that static. Firstly monitoring a single frequency might the silliest thing to do considering the fact the information is more efficient conveyed through broadband i.e. range of frequencies. And if you are planning to send some information across galaxies and millions of light years definitely you won’t use a single frequency unless, you are as optimist as a human being from planet called ‘earth’.
There can be another possibility too, what if the information is reaching and we not intelligent enough to make out what actually it is? There is also a chance that we don’t even know we got some information. Ok, lets over estimate human intelligence and think we actually know we have the pieces but how can you put them together and make sense out of it? We are still not able to learn the exact language of the non-human species from our very own planet, so me being cynical about alien language isn’t surprising at all. Humans communicate in about 7,000 different languages and all the languages can be translated to the other. WHY? They have one thing in common – The Human Brain. We don’t even know how the aliens might look like, forget about trying to figure out their how their brain is and you possibly can’t be serious if you think you can decode a language from a brain you know nothing about. BUT…..
There is a way to find out whether we have information or not. Understanding and making sense out of it is a different ball game but first you need to know what you should understand. That’s where the slope of information comes into picture. Information theory is built on the probability of occurrence of a given signal. How often does it occur, and how often does it have a relationship with other signals in that occurrence? If you plot the probability of the words occurring in a sentence or a paragraph which contains information (makes sense) to the words then you will a straight line with a slope of 45 degrees. On the other hand if you just use some random words and try to do the same you will a get a straight line with slope as infinite (i.e. a line parallel to the horizontal axis).
Here’s an example,
“Perseus best wishes tiger cow accepting printing ink hydro lories shovel in…”
This sentence is gibberish. I can add up how frequently each word occurs. What I am going to get from this random distribution of words is that each word occurs with about the same equal frequency. Now by plotting a chart of words against how often they are used gives us a straight line. That means there’s virtually no linguistic information being transmitted. It is a random distribution, and you can’t actually transmit knowledge this way.
On the other hand, consider this sentence
“No one would have believed in the last years of the 19th century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own”
This sentence has meaning and information and it shows an entirely different pattern. The most common words are ranked in descending order from left to right. And we get a 45 degree slope and this tells us whether there is any if there’s linguistic or knowledge content present.
Be it any language human, animal or even alien there are always a set of common and uncommon words. So we can actually tell whether a set of symbols is information or not without really knowing what the words really mean. This 45-degree slope appears for any message in any language, in any medium, be it a book in French, a phone call in Japanese or even a message from a totally different civilization.
OK that all sounds good but it’s a long shot. SETI itself is a long shot never really supported it but the work done by Astronomer Doyle on the information theory got me impressed. But all SETI is doing is wasting time and money on a hunch (waiting in vain for some alien to give them a message ‘Hey, We are here and we love Star wars’).
In 1903, Orville Wright guided the first powered flight in human history. He traveled just over 100 feet. Only 66 years later, three men flew a quarter of a million miles and landed on the Moon. The next quantum leap in travel may be close at hand. It would take us trillions of miles from Earth, and we could find the so called ‘aliens’ before they find us.
Go ‘ION ENGINE’