The 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 sender.

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.