SANTA CLARA, Calif. ? If we ever make contact with aliens,they might be more interested in learning about Van Gogh and Bach than Einsteinor Newton, scientists said Saturday.
Art may attract aliens more than academics because any extraterrestrialcivilization that we are able to get in touch with is likely to be mucholder than us and more technically advanced, researchers said here at the SETIconconference on the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.
Humans would probably have little to teach them aboutscience and mathematics that they don't already know, the theory suggests.However, our art and music is singularly human, and could likely be fascinatingto an alien species.
"What would the other guys want to know about us? Whatin the world do we have to offer?" asked Douglas Vakoch, director of interstellarmessage composition at the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence)Institute in Mountain View, Calif. "If they're so advanced, we probablycan't teach them about science, but we can tell them what it's like to be atthis precarious point where we don?t know if we're going to continue as aspecies."
Advanced alien civilizations will probably have overcome theissues that threaten adolescent species like our own, such as how to livesustainably without degrading the planet, and how not to destroy ourselves withbiological or technical warfare, Vakoch said. Advanced extraterrestrials mighteven have forgotten what it's like to live as we do, with the future inquestion. And the best way to teach them about what it's like to be human maybe through art and music, Vakoch added.
However, aliens are likely to be so different from us thatit will be difficult for them to understand our art.
We may do best to present works based on the language and patternsof mathematics, which might be more universal, Vakoch said.
Pierre Schwob, author and creator of the classical musicrepository ClassicalArchives.com, suggested that a piece like Bach's "GoldbergVariations," which is built on mathematical patterns, might beparticularly accessible to extraterrestrials.
"If anything I would think, yes, any civilizationwhatsoever would gather that this is extraordinarily beautiful," Schwobsaid. "But we really don?t have any idea what would be appreciated by analien civilization." [10 AlienEncounters Debunked]
He said other works by Bach, Vivaldi, and other Baroquecomposers could be a good bet because they are fairly regular and harmonic.
"What about Lady Gaga?" a member of the audience asked,referring to the American pop singer.
"I won't even go there," Schwob replied.
As for visual art, comic book artist Paul Duffield suggestedshowing extraterrestrials examples of Pre-Raphaelite paintings.
"The richly three-dimensional, almost photographicrepresentation could be more easily interpretable," he said. "Andit's very expressive."
Likewise, learning about how aliens create art could be oneof the most interesting aspects of making contact.
"If we could ask only one question, I think maybe not'Do you have religion?' but, 'Do you have music?'" would be best, said SETIsenior astronomer Seth Shostak.
SETIcon is being held this year to celebrate the 50thanniversary of the first modern experiment aimed to search for intelligent lifebeyond Earth, called Project Ozma.
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Clara Moskowitz is a science and space writer who joined the Space.com team in 2008 and served as Assistant Managing Editor from 2011 to 2013. Clara has a bachelor's degree in astronomy and physics from Wesleyan University, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She covers everything from astronomy to human spaceflight and once aced a NASTAR suborbital spaceflight training program for space missions. Clara is currently Associate Editor of Scientific American. To see her latest project is, follow Clara on Twitter.