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How would the world change if we found extraterrestrial life?

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Author Topic: How would the world change if we found extraterrestrial life?  (Read 38 times)
Stacy Dohm
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« on: February 01, 2015, 08:17:21 pm »

In his year at the Library of Congress, Dick spent time searching for historical examples (as well as historical analogies) of how humanity might deal with first contact with an extraterrestrial civilization. History shows that contact with new cultures can go in vastly different directions.

Hernan Cortes' treatment of the Aztecs is often cited as an example of how wrong first contact can go. But there were other efforts that were a little more mutually beneficial, although the outcomes were never perfect. Fur traders in Canada in the 1800s worked closely with Native Americans, for example, and the Chinese treasure fleet of the 15th Century successfully brought its home culture far beyond its borders, perhaps even to East Africa.

Even when both sides were trying hard to make communication work, there were barriers, noted Dick.

"The Jesuits had contact with Native Americans," he pointed out. "Certain concepts were difficult, like when they tried to get across the ideas of the soul and immortality."

Indirect contact by way of radio communications through the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), also illustrates the challenges of transmitting information across cultures. There is historical precedence for this, such as when Greek knowledge passed west through Arab in the 12th Century. This shows that it is possible for ideas to be revived, even from dead cultures, he said.

It's also quite possible that the language we receive across these indirect communications would be foreign to us. Even though mathematics is often cited as a universal language, Dick said there are actually two schools of thought. One theory is that there is, indeed, one kind of mathematics that is based on a Platonic idea, and the other theory is that mathematics is a construction of the culture that you are in.

"There will be a decipherment process. It might be more like the Mayan decipherments," Dick said.
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