What Would You Say to ET?

This past semester at the University of Wyoming, students have been figuring out what humans, if they ever had the chance, should say to an extraterrestrial civilization. Professor Jeff Lockwood’s Interstellar Message Composition class is a creative writing class using the premise of interstellar communication to spur student’s imaginations about the current human condition, as well as the future. Funded in part by the NASA’s Wyoming Space Grant Consortium, the students compiled five questions they deemed as most important to ask another species. But this isn’t the first time communication with an alien species has been used to inspire students to think beyond themselves and their individual small worlds.

With a small group of people from the Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN area, I worked on a project from 1988-1992 called the World Timecapsule which prompted students to think about what they would convey to a distant civilization about humanity – the good, the bad, the wondrous, the beautiful and not-so-beautiful things about our world, our lives, and our history – in correlation to particular subjects they were studying in school. The World Timecapsule gathered submissions from over 5,000 students in five states before becoming part of SpaceArc, another similar educational program that ultimately launched student and public submissions on board a geosynchronous satellite in 1994. SpaceArc will orbit our planet for generations, where a passing alien ship might find it, or perhaps Earthlings could retrieve the satellite sometime in the future if we ever need to remember who we were back in the 1990’s.

Humans have always dreamed about communicating with extraterrestrials. This dream has prompted us to send radio signals out to space, to listen for those type of signals that another civilization might be sending, and to launch spacecraft to the outer reaches of the solar system along with information about ourselves – from music to personal greetings to images and representations of ourselves.

While the chances of talking with or actually meeting up with another species is considered infinitesimal, we still dream about it and hope that one day it will be possible.

The students in Wyoming came up with five questions for an interplanetary visitor:

If you have fear, what do you fear?
What is the ultimate purpose of your species’ life?
How can we extend the longevity of our civilization?
What makes you and your kind happy?
What should we know?

Not only did students compile these questions, but they had to answer them as well.

Professor Lockwood said in a Christian Science Monitor article that even the idea of communication with another civilization kept his class engaged, and even if his students’ work is never heard or understood by the intended recipients, they still learned something about the fundamental difficulties of interpersonal communication.

So, how would you answer the five questions posed by the students? And, revisiting my work with the World Timecapsule, here’s a chance for you to share what you would say to another civilization if you had the chance. Post your sincere sentiments below.

Original News Source: Christian Science Monitor

51 Replies to “What Would You Say to ET?”

  1. If you have fear, what do you fear?–Fear leads to anger and eventually to the Dark Side, so no, we don’t fear anything.

    What is the ultimate purpose of your species’ life?–To party all the time, party all the time!

    How can we extend the longevity of our civilization?–With Civagra

    What makes you and your kind happy?–Not getting stupid messages from a race that can’t even escape their own star system.

    What should we know?–That you’re dumb and ugly and your mothers dress you funny.

  2. Ok. Let’s get serious here people. We’re really talking about what we’ll put out for E.T.? Should any intelligent beings ever find our little record on Voyager as it rockets through space, do you honestly think that they’ll be able to decipher it as a means of communication? What I mean is, they could find it and think it’s nothing more than a brass disc with primative designs fixed to the side of a primative object. Even if they do understand what it is and where it came from, should they find us, it’ll be after oil destroys our societies and they’ll see incompetent dolts running around killing eachother for food. When they see that, they’ll realize they wasted their time and they’ll be on their way.

  3. “If you’re looking for a pair of broken glasses, please check my eBay listing instead of destroying the nearest city Getting an eBay account is fast and easy. Try it today!”

  4. Greetings, please exercise caution when coming into contact with human beings (bipedal animals with somewhat large brains) for in general, we have not yet grown into our potential completely. We possess the tools for consistently great actions but are hindered in our use of them by the remnants of our evolutionary past. Jealousy, lust, and reckless emotional reactions tend to challenge the majority of us. Humans also do not have a common goal, and our efforts are constantly in opposition to each other.
    Please tell us if there is a creator entity or being. If there is can you communicate with it? If you can please tell it thanks for me.
    If there isn’t please force that information on our entire race. Do you have free will? We do and it seems like a bit of a joke, tell the creator “good one” or tell me how to. thanks
    p.s. TAKE ME WITH YOU!

  5. Ok. Let’s get serious here people. We’re really talking about what we’ll put out for E.T.?

    I think simply the fact that we do/did exist and grappled in various peaceful and warlike ways to understand WHY we existed. I don’t think you can put it more simply than that.

    Personally, I’d like to know if alien worlds have their own UFO abduction stories, myth or no.

  6. Do you know the shape of the Universe?

    What is the oldest known starfaring race?

    Is it possilbe to travel and/or communicate faster than light?

    Does your race believe in an ultimate creator?

    What is the size, in terms of height, of the biggest starfaring race?

    Have you discovered immortality?

  7. “Ok. Let’s get serious here people. We’re really talking about what we’ll put out for E.T.?”

    I don’t think I’d be comfortable putting out for E.T. Have you seen that ugly bastard?

  8. Maybe merely asking is considered rude. Maybe the first thing that should be spoken is that stars are beautiful.

    BTW, asking in Japan is considered rude. As similar a Vulcan cannot ask a question. So, the focus may be to try to find a common ground before the hails of questions. Heck, they may considered it rude for asking a question they might think we already know.

  9. I’d ask them, “What do you want us to know about yourselves?” The answer would reveal much not only about those aspects of themselves they wanted us to know about, but those that they wanted to conceal. From that, we could deduce something about their intentions toward us, and whether they were likely to be friendly. The next question I’d ask would be: “What would you most like to pass on to your descendants? What would you most like to give them? And what are their obligations toward you?” If they said, “They are not obligated to us — we are obligated to them; they do not inherit our world/universe from us, rather, we only keep the world/universe in trust for them for a little while, to be passed on to them in good condition,” they just might be worth knowing. And if they said, “What we’d most like to pass on to our descendants is wisdom, and a world/universe practicing it on/in,” that would be another indication that they were worth knowing. The thing is, the answers might not turn out like that at all — and even if they did, there’s no guarantee that they’d like us, especially if they sensed or suspected that we really might not be all that concerned about our own children and the world those children will inherit.

  10. Which is better in your opinion, Mac or PC?

    But seriously, like Eric Near Bufallo said, if these aliens do find that Voyager disc, they’ll probably use it as a frisbee. You think a civilization more advanced than our own uses disks for communication/data storage? They’re probably on to hollograms by now.

    I think the best question to ask them would be: Do you speak English????

  11. “Which is better in your opinion, Mac or PC?”

    Macs are PC’s… they just run a better OS than the other PC’s, which try to imitate the Mac.

    Oh and Macs came first. 😉

  12. This question is posed in the event that we would have ET coming to us here as visitors: “How long have you been involved in exploring Earth? Have you “shepherded” us in any way? If so, for what purpose? Do you have photograph’s and video from our ancient past, historical sites and cities or individuals so we could better understand ourselves?

  13. “Personally, I’d like to know if alien worlds have their own UFO abduction stories, myth or no.”

    They do if they have UFO’s.

    Pulitzer Prize winner, Dr. John E. Mack, someone who actually studied this phenomenon, didn’t think it was a myth.

    Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove stated that Mack seemed “inclined to take these [abduction] reports at face value”.

    Mack replied by saying “Face value I wouldn’t say. I take them seriously. I don’t have a way to account for them.”

    Similarly, the BBC quoted Mack as saying, “I would never say, yes, there are aliens taking people. [But] I would say there is a compelling powerful phenomenon here that I can’t account for in any other way, that’s mysterious. Yet I can’t know what it is but it seems to me that it invites a deeper, further inquiry.”

    Something is going on, and has been for a long time. What it is, is the question, not if it is.

  14. I think a key question would be “What do you eat?” If the answer is humans, I’d back off!

  15. Up yours, obviously.

    What? We’re a rude, crude sort of species. Check out our current events!

    Perhaps a better, more serious suggestion would be Sagan’s “we who survived” encyclopedia galactica identification thing in Cosmos, but that’s still an open question…

  16. How are your decision makers chosen ?

    What electrical superconductors do you use ?

    What is your biology ?

    What is your theory of fundamental particles and forces ?

  17. 1. Who are you? Who, who? I really want to know. Who are you?

    2. I’m not aware of too many things. I know what I know if you know what I mean. (Da-do-do-yeah.) Philosophy is the talk on the cereal box…Shove me into shallow water before I get too deep.

    3. I want to know you, each and every day…Is this love, is this love, is this love that I’m feelin’?

    4. I met the Dali Lama…and he said that on my deathbed I would achieve total enlightenment. So I’ve got that going for me.

    5. It’s all ball bearings nowadays…

    6. I am Arthur, King of the Brittons…What’s a Britton?

  18. I would tell ET to phone home before the gas prices go any higher. he might not make it back home.

  19. Do you understand Gravity? Can you use it to travel faster than light? Is there anything I can teach you? Do you want my autograph? Do you have music? What’s that like? Is Earth a joke to the rest of the universe?

  20. “Do you talk? Hmm..can you understand me?”

    “How did you get here?”

    “Have you been here before?”

    “Are you the male of the your species? Do you have females? How do they look?”

  21. “How exactly do we explain an emotion like happiness or fear to an alien culture?”

    We have many non human creatures here that share those emotions. So probably no explaining would be necessary.

  22. Hey! Everyone hold it a minute. Does anyone seriously think that an advanced civilization capable of deep-space travel would waste their time on us after venturing close enough to monitor our telecasts. I would think they would decide not scientifically interfere in our development, but rather just observe us. We arrogantly assume another intelligence would want to communicate with us. Keep in mind the human species has only been around in just a “blink of an eye” on the cosmological time scale. I sense it is logical to assume there must be several space faring intelligences with millions of years of development far in advance of humans that might accidently stumble upon planet earth. And wht would there aliens find? I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but the current human occupation of our beautiful planet might appear to space travelers that we are a virile bacterium consuming a living cell. I suppose they (alien visitors) would be interested in communicating with us not unlike our interest to communicate with gorillas or dolphins. Hmm . . . maybe we could get a few questions answered.

  23. Regrets for the grammatrical errors of a few moments ago. I’m running late this morning.

  24. DON’T SHOOT!!!! I think that any aliens that actually land on our planet are much more likely to be akin to those in “War of the Worlds” or “Independence Day” than “ET”. Look at it this way. All these UFO aliens that just keep buzzing us must be the shy, benevolent ones who wish us no harm. Any that actually land, therefore, must be the aggressive kind that seek only to dominate us and exploit our resources. No doubt when the Indians first saw European technology they must have thought that whoever created such wonders must have overcome their baser instincts and are here to help us. Yeah, right! Keep this in mind – “To Serve Man” turned out to be a cookbook!

  25. Tim’s “Do you understand Gravity? Can you use it to travel faster than light?” was the most intriguing. Rather than travel faster than light, ask ET how he overcomes the travel difficulty imposed by enormous distances. As an answer, ET tells us that intense artificial gravity rolls back time for the traveler as referenced by the rest of the universe. Switching off the gravity then returns him to normal space-time at his destination before he left. ET then uses near-light-speed travel to arrive when it is convenient for him.

  26. Lukas has the best question. After wating this long for evidence of intelligence in the Universe, I still want to know if even the two of us are rare flukes. So yeah, the first thing I want to know is, who else (if anyone) have you met, and where are they?

    Asking if they arrived by any FTL means is a close second. Even if they don’t tell us how, just knowing it’s possible is half the battle and would put physicists in high gear.

    For those looking for hints on prolonging our civilization, be prepared for possible disappointment. Our problems may be, well, so ‘alien’ to them, that they may have no suggestions. Or they may have survived by becoming a (hopefully benign) Borg-ish group mind. As humans generally prefer their individuality, that may not be a viable alternative here…

  27. 1. For the first one if they are a long living civilization then the chances are they don’t know fear or at least not anymore, because they have lost that feeling along the way.
    2. Ok this question is just stupid because they could just turn around and say what the hell is the purpose of yours? plus i don’t think any civilization knows what is there reason for being here?
    3. This one is somewhat obvious because the only way to extend are life is to stop fighting, stop pollution long enough to the point where we can space travel and go to other galaxies.
    4. What makes any species happy? Love, Peace, Intelligence… more then likely every species has gone through tough trials that made them face more then hard times.
    5. Well we should know that we cant be fighting any longer or polluting the air other wise the species will be wiped of this earth before we can say “I wish we did it deferentially” Other wise what the hell did we just spend those thousands of years doing?

  28. Answers to the Five Questions.

    If you have fear, what do you fear?
    Finite Knowledge, Information.

    What is the ultimate purpose of your species’ life?
    To procreate.

    How can we extend the longevity of our civilization?
    Spreadout throught space.

    What makes you and your kind happy?
    Life.

    What should we know?
    That you should learn for yourself.

    What I would ask?
    Greetings, would you like chill out and have a beer or a nice cup of tea.

  29. I’m with lionel and Andy. I first wanna know if they want to hurt us and what weapons they have. Then if they are neighborly, then we can sit down and talk. Otherwise, it is time to retarget the ICBM’s.

    But we want to be sure. One of the first scifi films I ever saw was “The Day the Earth Stood Still”. It displayed the sad results of a hair trigger reaction.

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