Daniel Oberhaus: Extraterrestrial Languages (w/ Samantha Cole)

Thursday October 17: 7:30PM 8:30PM

Buy a copy of Extraterrestrial Languages or a $15 gift card in-store to attend. The event will take place in the Art Department on the 2nd Floor, accessible through our main entrance at 828 Broadway.

Doors open 30 minutes before showtime.

If we send a message into space, will extraterrestrial beings receive it? Will they understand?

The endlessly fascinating question of whether we are alone in the universe has always been accompanied by another, more complicated one: if there is extraterrestrial life, how would we communicate with it? In this book, Daniel Oberhaus leads readers on a quest for extraterrestrial communication. Exploring Earthlings' various attempts to reach out to non-Earthlings over the centuries, he poses some not entirely answerable questions: If we send a message into space, will extraterrestrial beings receive it? Will they understand? What languages will they (and we) speak? Is there not merely a universal grammar (as Noam Chomsky has posited), but a grammar of the universe?

Oberhaus describes, among other things, a late-nineteenth-century idea to communicate with Martians via Morse code and mirrors; the emergence in the twentieth century of SETI (the search for extraterrestrial life), CETI (communication with extraterrestrial life), and finally METI (messaging extraterrestrial life); the one-way space voyage of Ella, an artificial intelligence agent that can play cards, tell fortunes, and recite poetry; and the launching of a theremin concert for aliens. He considers media used in attempts at extraterrestrial communication, from microwave systems to plaques on spacecrafts to formal logic, and discusses attempts to formulate a language for our message, including the Astraglossa and two generations of Lincos (lingua cosmica).

The chosen medium for interstellar communication reveals much about the technological sophistication of the civilization that sends it, Oberhaus observes, but even more interesting is the information embedded in the message itself. In Extraterrestrial Languages, he considers how philosophy, linguistics, mathematics, science, and art have informed the design or limited the effectiveness of our interstellar messaging.

Join us on the second floor as Daniel shares his book with Samantha Cole. 

Daniel Oberhaus is a staff writer at WIRED, covering new space, energy, and machine learning. He is the author of Extraterrestrial Languages (MIT Press, 2019) and was previously the news editor at Motherboard. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Samantha Cole is a senior writer at Motherboard/Vice.