11/19/2008 - Some Thoughts from an Anthropologist on Culture, Interstellar Communication, and the Construction of Interstellar Messages

 
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Professor John Traphagan, Departments of Religious Studies and Anthropology, University of Texas at Austin
“Culture” represents one of the most widely used, but often misunderstood, concepts when considering the nature of interactions and communications between different, and mutually alien, groups. Dr. Traphagan will discuss ways of conceptualizing culture from an anthropological perspective and apply his approach to thinking about both the process interstellar message creation and the interpretation of any transmission we might receive. He suggests that directions for future thinking on interstellar message construction should involve not only research on the explicit message intended, but direct consideration of the implicit information that is being conveyed along with the explicit message. Rather than only asking the questions, “What does ET mean in a message?” or “What information do we want to convey in a message from us to ET?” we should also be asking, “What are the implicit indicators and forms of information about ET and ourselves that are contained in any message sent or received?” In many respects, focus on how to interpret implicit information may be more important than how to interpret the explicit message, given the potential differences in culture and biology that might exist between ourselves and an extraterrestrial other, as well as the inevitable differences in personal intentions and interpretations that will be fundamental parts of contact on either side.

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