Signal of Recognition:
When I speak of the signal of recognition
I mean to craft a new metaphor that refers to a successful gesture
of contact between two distinct intelligences, a gesture which by
its nature succeeds in founding a basis upon which to elaborate
this contact into synergistic learning, and which is neither motivated
toward nor prone to competition for dominance.
There is something similar at play when two young
animals meet, or when two human infants come to close proximity.
A signaling-game ensues, and the outcome tends to radically affect
all future relations, as well as how the game itself is played in
the moment at hand. This gesture is the precursor to assembling
a mutual identity.
Searching for Life on other worlds has been an unrewarding
task so far — the small set of filters with which we seek
to locate evidence of the existence of other intelligent life simply
haven’t paid off. Scanning the skies with batteries of radio-telescopes
will likely prove to have been the wrong way of looking —
but for the moment, it’s the primary mode we’re investing
effort in. If we did discover such a signal, we might get
our first glimpse at the mind of another complexly intelligent species
through their signaling choices and, if we could decipher it, the
content in their signals would probably lead us into an adventure
with entirely new ways of knowing and learning..
In case someone finds one of our later Voyager probes,
we included a plaque, with which we represent a physical version
of a ‘signal of recognition’ — a signal whereby
an intelligent lifeForm presents a coded demonstration of their
symbolic understandings such that they might be recognized by another
similar species or intelligence.
In the tracing of a man, his hand is raised in the
most common human version of the signal of recognition
— the raised open hand, palm facing the viewer. On our world,
this generally is known to mean something akin to ‘Greetings’.
For us, this gesture has a variety of subtexts, including: ‘I
am not holding a weapon’ which is sometimes translated as
‘I arrive with peaceful intention.’.
Our choices of what to include in our signal are confusing,
however, and starkly mechanistic. There is no sign for ‘tree’
or ‘animal’ on the plaque, and no symbol for ‘family
of life here’ or for ‘child’ — simply a
man, a woman, and a machine. The single most important thing in
the image, Sol — is barely larger than the man’s head
and thus has not been ‘properly glorified’ but instead
reduced to a counting-token.
One simple translation would be that we are either
the children of machines, or machines are our children. Either idea
would be terrifying to any complexly sentient being, and could be
interpreted as clear evidence that our minds are damaged to the
point where we can ‘only value machines’. On the plus
side, message says we know stuff about molecules, stars as objects,
and quasars — plus a teensy bit about making two-dimensional
greetingCards which function as maps allowing one to locate the
This last part is a bit problematical. Notice that
there aren’t many creatures in nature that send out signals
to everything around them. Most of them would die very rapidly if
they did, because on Earth, there are plenty of predators and almost
nothing like the opposite — only our species possesses the
relational complexity to act in this fashion, in general. Organisms
on Earth know that, essentially, you can ‘signal all you want’
— but all that is going to come are things with teeth, who
see you as a snack, rather than a learning-companion.
If there‘s one reality we can be certain of
here on Earth it is that in the physical dimension the local organismal
branches compete for terrain, often without any regard
to any sort of ethics or morality whatsoever other than those which
result in success.
If an alien culture inclined to conquest
were to come into possession of our little plaque, it would be like
a prey-species sending them a map of how to conquer them —
a blueprint of precisely how to effortlessly enslave or destroy
us. Merely by examining what we had included and excluded, and
where we placed the size-significance of the elements we selected,
a transterrestrial predator would accrue an elemental map of our
general cognition — including history and vulnerabilities.
Any significantly advanced species would craft ‘metaphors’
from these gleanings which would be combined into a cognitive weapon
of incredible efficacy. To their eyes our incessant broadcasting
would look like a universal advertisement of surrender to invaders,
an invitation like that would be difficult to ignore.
I do not mean to imply that malevolent extraterrestrials
exist, only that if they do our gesture of introduction lacks both
prudence and finesse — if they do not those who might have
found or may one day discover our message will find it incredibly
naive. After all, it would be a simple matter to craft a greeting
card that appeared threatening to predators and inviting to co-operants
— butterflies are a perfect example of this in our own environment.
In fact, this could be their test for intelligence
— whether or not a symbolic species included this awareness
in their communications, and to what degrees, and at what
costs to meaning-content.
One of the most incredible and overlooked aspects
of organismal relation is probably overlooked because it doesn’t
translate easily into abstract models. It’s a poetic process,
and traditionally, the forms of abstraction we empower abhor this
quality in their function and goals. For the sake of easy discussion,
I’m going to refer to this as the establishment and modulation
of relations according to a principle we’ll cal Guest &
Host (gH). Let us examine an example from the human world, first.
The other night I was consulting at a client’s
home, and we were at the kitchen table working. No one else was
in the home, and apparantly no one was expected. I heard the front
door open, and someone entered — and my client got a strange
look on his face as he went to investigate. There was a brief exchange
of tentative communications, and it was determined that a neighbor
who was not paying attention had inadvertently entered the home
next to his own. Though I witnessed none of the exchange, the music
and character of the spoken relations told the story more completely
than the words or what I might have seen had I been in the other
room where this was taking place.