Smart aliens soon there will be a place here on Earth where they can tell how they survived their technological adolescence.
Of course, we have not yet heard of any such creatures. Some researchers consider it “Great silence“puzzling, considering how old the universe is and how long potentially habitable worlds dot its vast expanses.
One possible explanation is that civilizations seek to destroy themselves when they become “advanced” enough to meaningfully explore space. In theory, such a force is difficult to control, and it can burn you to the ground much easier than fueling a push outward.
Fermi paradox: where are all the aliens?
Indeed, it is unclear whether humanity will overcome this obstacle to development; after all, we had a close relationship with nuclear armageddon during the Cold War, and we may be in the process of destroying ourselves (and many other species) right now through anthropogenic climate change…
So we could probably take some advice from other creatures who managed to overcome the hump – and a new art project aims to facilitate such a cosmic cultural exchange. Experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats develops the “Library of the Great Silence”, which will be based at the Hut Creek radio observatory in Northern California.
Keats wants the library to be publicly available, and we cannot assume that creatures from all over the universe will understand any languages spoken here on Earth. Thus, the facility will not store books, but artifacts of the transition – such things as axes, fossils of extinct species and fragments trinititis, a greenish glass forged by the intense heat of the first ever atomic bomb explosion in Trinity New Mexico in July 1945.
If all goes according to plan, the collection will eventually become an interstellar research center, incorporating ideas sent by beings from outer space.
“Although interstellar exchange may take time, the material archive of transformations will have immediate global significance, which may be sufficient to prolong the life of human civilization in the interim,” the message says. project descriptionwhich is the result of a collaboration with the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California. (Keats currently lives there as an artist, and Hut Creek is the site of the Allen Telescope, which SETI researchers use to scan the sky for possible signals from aliens.)
“Manipulating existentially meaningful objects without the use of words – and without underlying linguistic assumptions or constraints on who participates in the conversation – can facilitate understanding of human behavior that has previously eluded us, or even directly stimulate beneficial practices such as collaboration,” the description adds.
Hat Creek may not be the only repository for such artifacts.
“We are starting to look at existing libraries to see if they will potentially contain branches,” Keats told Space.com. “And at the same time we are actually looking from the planet and we start looking at what it takes to, for example, have a branch on the moon.”
You can read more about the Great Silence Library. here… And this afternoon (April 29), the project gets its kind of formal kick-off in a conversation between Keats and his chief adviser on the project, SETI Senior Astronomer Seth Shostak. The 30-minute discussion starts at 5:00 pm ET (9:00 pm GMT) and you can watch it live…
20 Years of Otherworldly Thought Experiments: Q&A with Artist Jonathon Keats
Our failure to make contact with aliens may actually reflect the Great Deafness, not the Great Silence, given how brief and sketchy the searches have been to date, Shostak told Space.com. But he sees real value in Keats’ library project and in such artistic endeavors in general.
“At first it may seem strange that an organization like the SETI Institute, which is mainly engaged in research, has an artist in residence and, in fact, a whole group of artists in residence. What is so good about it?” – said Shostak.
“I think it’s because it gives you a different perspective,” he said. “Artists give you a different view of the world – they see the world in a completely different way than scientists.”
This is certainly true of Keats, whose projects – many of which are space-themed – usually inspire us to rethink our view of the universe and our place in it. The new library follows this pattern, looking for an instructive perspective shift.
“The Library of the Great Silence is one of those cases where there are so many questions that we don’t seem to be able to answer – and that we don’t really ask, I don’t think how we need to ask – could potentially be asked by introducing, how can you ask them if we weren’t the only ones in the conversation, “Keats said.
Mike Wall is the author of “There“(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Carl Tate), a book on the quest for alien life. Follow it on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.