How to Make First Contact

If we find aliens, what do we do next? When discussing first contact, many are quick
to point out that historically, contact between culturally different civilizations has almost
always led to the destruction of one of those civilizations. Because of this, you could argue that we should
stick to ourselves, leave the aliens alone, but in almost every one of those historical
examples its the civilization that makes contact that destroys the civilization that receives
contact. So perhaps we should go on the offensive—find
the aliens before they find us. Of course, we’ve been trying for decades
to find extraterrestrial life. It’s one of humanity’s great questions—are
we alone? One way we might find aliens is by looking
at stars—or more specifically, the light level of stars. As the earth has developed, our energy consumption
has skyrocketed. That’s just the consequence of an increasingly
technologically advanced world. It’s suspected that this trend will continue
and it’s also suspected that with any alien civilization, they’ll also require more
and more energy as they advance. Eventually, any planetary civilization will
reach a point where the amount of energy on their planet is not enough to sustain their
advancing civilization. Theoretical Physicist Freeman Dyson speculated
that when a planetary civilization needs more energy than their planet can provide, they’ll
turn to the sun. Stars are the most abundant source of energy
in any planetary system so a super-advanced civilization can build a series of satellites
to orbit around their sun to collect energy. When sunlight travels through space, it looses
energy and so the amount of energy captured by a solar panel near the sun would be astronomical
higher than a solar panel on earth. With more energy a civilization could produce
more satellites and eventually there would be a swarm of satellites orbiting the sun. Freeman Dyson believes that this is the most
logical way that any civilization would harvest the energy they need so if we search for a
star with orbiting satellites, we might be able to find an alien civilization. No telescope is powerful enough to see the
individual satellites, but we can rather easily observe the light levels of stars. You see, once a faraway civilization builds
enough satellites, the swarm will start to block our view of their sun as the satellites
orbit. From our perspective, it will look like the
star is twinkling—something completely unnatural. So, by looking for stars with highly variable
light levels, we might be able to find an alien civilization harvesting the energy of
their sun. KIC 8462852, also known as Tabby’s star,
is a star in the Cygnus constellation of the Milky Way. Scientists observed the light level of this
star for years, and they regularly came across irregularities like this. Maybe there are comets or a debris field obstructing
our view of the star, but astronomers have doubted that either of these could dip the
light levels by this much. This has led some to suggest that an alien
civilization has built these orbiting satellites around their sun…but we may never know for
certain. Of course all of this is somewhat speculative
and its unlikely that we’d actually find a so-called Dyson sphere around a sun. It’s more of a thought-experiment—demonstrating
that we could find aliens through looking for their impact on the universe. Conversely, aliens might find us based on
our affect on the universe. That’s why we’ve very purposefully sent
out messages to our hypothetical cosmic neighbors. The Pioneer Plaques were designed and placed
on the two Pioneer spacecrafts which were the first to explore the far-reaches of the
solar system. Since these two are some of the farthest man-made
objects from earth, they were sent with a message in case extraterrestrials come across
the probes. This is what was sent—the Pioneer Plaque. It has a representation of hydrogen—the
most abundant element in the universe—; a picture of a man and women including a raised
hand—a gesture that most likely wouldn’t be understood but shows how our limbs move
and the existence of the opposable thumb; an image of the pioneer spacecraft behind
the humans so that extraterrestrials could figure out the rough size of humans; the location
of the sun relative to 14 nearby pulsar stars using hydrogen spin-flip transition frequency
as the unit—something far too complicated for me to explain; and lastly an image of
the solar system with the rough trajectory of the pioneer spacecraft; but there are issues
with this image. We have no idea how aliens gather information. Humans are a visual species since we have
relatively good vision so its natural for us to convey information through images. Aliens, on the other hand, could have poor
or no vision and therefore no conception of the idea of transferring information through
images or they could interpret the symbols vastly differently. Perhaps the most frequently criticized aspect
of the plaque is the arrow. Its believed that the arrow symbol is derived
from either the shape of arrows or the human hand pointing, or perhaps a combination of
both. Aliens would most likely have neither arrows
or hands and therefore no idea what this symbol means. They could also make the dangerous assumption
that the symbol depicts a weapon launching meaning that the spacecraft was sent to harm
them. Other sets of images have been sent with subsequent
space probes, but the chance of aliens finding these few tiny objects in the vastness of
space is miniscule. What’s far more likely is that aliens will
discover humanity off of something we’ve been sending out for over a hundred years—radio
signals. While most are too weak to reach far-away
galaxies, some do travel through space and could be picked up by extraterrestrial civilizations—especially
more advanced ones with better detection technology than us. It’s entirely possible that we’ve already
unintentionally sent the signal that will be our first message to an extraterrestrial
civilization. It’s also entirely possible that the first
sign we will have of extraterrestrial life is a radio message from another planet. The problem is then deciphering it. The first step is deciding what the message
even is. Is it binary, is it radiation, is it natural
language, what is it? We can figure this out. In the English language, the most common word,
“the,” accounts for about 7% of all word occurrences, the second most common word,
“be”, accounts for 3.5% of all words, then “and” is about 2.3% and so on and
so forth. The distribution of words, it turns out, in
all languages follows a logarithmic scale. The second most common word occurs about half
a frequently as the most common, the third 1/3 as often, the fourth 1/4th as often, the
fifth 1/5th as often and so on and so forth. This is somehow true for all languages—even
ones with no common ancestral language—which means that, more than likely, an alien language
will follow the same distribution. It’s not entirely understood why languages
follow this distribution, but one possible explanation is that people are lazy. It’s called “the Principle of Least Effort.” People, animals, even machines will always
pick the path of least resistance—the easiest path—and in the case of language, the meaning
that needs to be most frequently conveyed will be attached to the most common word rather
than a number of other words since that is easiest. That keeps happening down to the least frequent
word therefore creating this distribution. With an extraterrestrial transmission, if
we rank the sounds by frequency and it follows this distribution, we can believe that its
most likely a language. But then we need to try to understand the
language. For this, we need to drop all assumptions. There are innate similarities across all human
languages, mostly related to grammar. For example, pretty much every language separates
description words—nouns—from action words—verbs. Grammatically, there are huge similarities
between all languages—even ones that developed separately. Some have suggested that this means that humans
have a genetic framework for language. Perhaps we are hardwired from birth to understand
what nouns and verbs and sentences are and learning a language is just the process of
filling in and understanding that framework. From everything we understand about the communication
systems that animals use, they do not have a universal grammar like humans. We therefore have to assume that an alien
language will be fundamentally different than ours. We don’t know how they’ll structure sentences. We don’t even know if they’ll have sentences. The problem is, if we just receive a natural
language transmission, there’s really nothing we can do. When deciphering ancient languages, linguists
figure out meaning using context and relations to other languages, but with an alien language
transmission there is no context and no other similar languages to compare it with. All this is assuming that aliens use a verbal
language, and that’s a huge assumption. Many if not most animals have no verbal communication
system. Cuttlefish and Chameleons alter their body
color to communicate while ants and honeybees use pheromones to talk to other members of
their species. Even if we understood their language, could
we understand what they’re saying? Take this sentence in French. Translating it literally word for word you
get “The palace Bourbon is the name commonly given to the building that houses the assembly
national french located on the quay of Orsay in the seventh borough of Paris of the square
of the Concorde.” Even if you clean it up to structure it like
an English sentence, how much meaning is conveyed to you? What exactly is the French National Assembly,
where is the Quay of Orsay, where is the seventh borough, where is Concorde Square? Someone familiar to Paris and France would
understand what these words mean but someone from the other side of the world would infer
little meaning from them. Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein famously wrote,
“If a lion could speak, we would not be able to understand him.” Language is all based on cultures and requires
a common frame of reference. If you said “I’m taking an Uber to get
some coffee at Starbucks” to an English speaking Lion, there’s no way it would understand
what you’re saying. You’d have to explain what Uber is, then
explain what a car is, what the internet is, what a phone is, an app, coffee, Starbucks,
stores, the monetary system—all stuff that is intuitive to modern humans. Translating the words of an extraterrestrial
civilization is just the first step, understanding what they’re saying is the more difficult
task. Centuries or millennia after detecting aliens,
we might reach a day when an extraterrestrial being comes to earth. If this happens, the alien civilization is
almost certainly more advanced than humans since it has accomplished interstellar travel
and perhaps even faster-than-light travel, but we want to show that us humans are intelligent
as well. Of course the E.T. would see everything the
humans have built, but they might interpret the structures of man-kind as natural phenomenons. We can’t assume that they’d think that
buildings and cars and artificial light are not part of the natural structure of earth. We therefore need to show them that we have
at least a basic understanding of the universe. Math, as far as we know, is universal. No matter where you go or who you ask, two
plus two is four and the ratio of a circle’s circumference to diameter is 3.141592 and
so on and so forth. Of course what you call two or four or pi
would be different, but the concepts are the same. Therefore, we could show the aliens our understanding
of math—put two then two then four; four then four then eight; keep this going until
they get the point. Although, perhaps the best mathematical principle
to demonstrate would be the pythagorean theorem. It’s complicated, but easy to show. The Pythagorean Theorem, of course, demonstrates
that in the case of a right triangle, the square of the side opposite to the right angle
is equal to the square of the other two sides combined. In an equation that reads a2 + b2=c2. Visually, we can demonstrate this by drawing
squares on the two shorter sides out of smaller squares and show how the amount of squares
on the two sides equals the amount of squares on the longer side. Showing this theorem cements that humans do
understand how the mathematical aspect of the universe works, even though we’re less
advanced than the aliens. So now that we’ve found the aliens, now
that we’ve met them, we can talk to them, someone needs to speak first. But let’s say it was you—let’s say you
were given the chance to ask the first question from humanity to an extraterrestrial being,
you became the first point of contact between humanity and the universe. What would you ask? I hope you enjoyed this Wendover Productions
video. These videos are hugely expensive to make,
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41 Responses

  1. T_Nation says:

    When he started talking about humans needing to demonstrate their intelligence, I was expecting an ad for Brilliant.

  2. j D says:

    Do you know jesus christ as your savior

  3. Stormboxer says:


    Alien officer: SHOOT IT DOWN!!

  4. Stormboxer says:

    Alien: Holds pioneer plaque upside down
    Alien: “Damn these guys are ugly”

  5. LOL? says:

    How do we distinguish new physics from an alien observation?

  6. Klandalf The White says:

    Surely if we projected a message into the middle of bum fuck nowhere space, the receiving alien would at least infer that we had figured out Pythagoras at the very least

  7. Victor Chavez says:

    Wendover pro, can you do me a favor and remove the static logo of your channel from your videos? I have an AMOLED screen and don't want burn in on it. That is if you want us to continue watching your videos.

  8. Ahmed Elrasheed says:

    An alien civilisation probably meet another alien civilisation. Then they either worked together or fought each other. I'm genuinely curious of what others think. Which one of these do you happened?

  9. Daniel Mohl says:

    The first question is actually quite easy. It's so easy because we ask that almost every day, every time we meet someone, or when we hear, see, smell, taste or touch anything for the first time. It's the question that our brain asks constantly:

    "Are you a threat?"

    Every signal we get from our senses first passes through the region in our brain who's sole purpose is to determine if we are in danger. Even when we great each other, we say universally use a common phrase that is familiar to everyone around us to indicate that we are not hostile, so this is a logical first question.

  10. Mark Davison says:

    You accidentally proved your own point quay is pronounced key!

  11. GamerbyDesign says:

    I think the first question should be about their propulsion system.

  12. Fastlane 69 says:

    If it was me to ask them I would say:
    Hl3, when?

  13. Tricky Subject says:

    Great, but can you put a fruit pastille in your mouth without chewing it? 😏

  14. joe mamans says:

    our predecessor would be the most questioned by a higher species, !who is our leader and why?!
    from there, the arising question of origin will most likely proceed, come to find out they are what we used to be.
    we are at peace!

  15. Nagytika says:

    Yo, how it's going?

  16. John Wallace says:

    If we made something to send out today, how many genders would AOC include?

  17. 司此雷 says:

    1:55 btw , that satellite system which collect energy, is called a "Dyson sphere" Watch further more in kurzgesagt in a nut shell.

  18. Handsoff says:

    Call Donald Trump

  19. Ozymandias3505 says:

    Suck its peen

  20. Gungrave says:

    Or maybe… we all live in a dark forest.

  21. Shayne Sangster says:

    How did you do progress to your current technological level without self-destructing your population?

  22. persimmon says:

    Off in the distant future, an alien finds the probe and opens it.
    Alien: wtf is this shit??

  23. Joe Pickford says:

    First question to an extraterrestrial being:
    Do you guys want BOFA?

  24. Callum Smith says:

    If you believe bob lazar than we already have! i guess the better question is how do you inform the public

  25. niccatipay says:

    Humans: Send N.O.D.S.
    Alien: da pack

  26. walterk1874 says:

    If you harvest the sunlight from your sun do you not put a dimmer switch on your planet.

  27. James Deacon Wiśniewski says:

    What do you ask?

    Do u even lift, bro?

  28. Paweł C. says:

    They dont want us to contact cause they are aware of our nasty nature

  29. artsandrules says:

    I'm sure someone already said this here, somewhere, but regarding language and meaning I think of "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra" (Star Trek:The Next Generation) and much more recently, Arrival.

  30. Sedat Mehmed says:

    I think "the civilization that makes the contact destroys the other one" is very wrong conclusion. Why? Because the technological advancement is the determining factor, not who first made contact. Europeans indeed made the first contact but they were clearly superior in science and technology, which gave them the advantage. Situation wouldn't be much different if Columbus have received a letter in a bottle from Native Americans, they still would have been crushed

  31. mafenza says:

    maybe they found us, think of all the plagues and diseases that continually pose a threat to human existence…so going on the offensive ain't such a workable solution

  32. Sheeporama says:

    Wendover productions: we need to go on the offensive. Shows areas 1 rocket, a very dangerous rocket

  33. vinzent1992 says:

    We can't assume that they will know that buildings and artificial lighting are not natural occurrences on earth? Bullshit! if they are intelligent enough to have achieved interstellar travel then they are also intelligent enough to realize that if nature builds something out of bricks it doesn't use rectangular ones as that is not an efficient shape, and they would also realize that nature doesn't stack semiconductor materials inside a tiny plastic package and then put 100s of them on a plate of fiber glass reinforced epoxy just to create light (leds on an fr4 pcb). In other words; We humans do not build things the way nature does, and any intelligent species would recognize that.

  34. Duarte Coelho says:

    First message: “Minecraft is better than Fortnite”

  35. infinitecanadian says:

    How could you know that aliens wouldn't have hands? How could they operate a spacecraft without hands?

  36. Faded_specter says:

    Him:What is the first question you’d ask?
    Me: what’s up bro?

  37. Pierre Poirier says:

    What if aliens communicate by farting, then what?

  38. shaipur bakhtiar says:

    i will ask………….how do you fuck?

  39. Ian8lisle says:

    "How to Make First Contact" easy, just go to area 51 September 20th!

  40. Du Duu says:

    what a load of BS,

  41. JWPemperor says:

    If a civilisation build solar panels above their sun, who says they would be turning as on the vid. 1:49 – 2:23
    Maybe they would be steady at one place

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