When Neil deGrasse Tyson sat down with infamous whistle blower Edward Snowden, besides talk of Isaac Newton and the periodic table, the topic of alien encryption came into the mix. That’s right, aliens could be talking to us, but we can’t break (or even recognize) the code. Snowden purports that the perplexing question of why extraterrestrials have never reached out to us is really not a question at all — any and all attempts at contact would most likely be “indistinguishable from cosmic microwave background radiation” because all sentient societies naturally evolve to encrypt their communications.
(Interview starts at 1.24)
It’s an interesting and also difficult idea to prove. For a long time, aliens have been the holy grail of astrophysics and the popular culture that surrounds the field — everyone from H.G. Wells to Albert Einstein has been fascinated by the possibility of communicating with life beyond our planet. And while NASA has found several Earth-like planets, none are within communicable range.
There are a multitude of conspiracy theories surrounding the U.S. government’s supposed covering up of alien contact (most famously, Roswell, New Mexico), but NASA actually released a book last year detailing how we could attempt meaningful conversations with extraterrestrials. Instead of focusing on hard data or theoretical science, the book explores anthropological and archaeological perspectives into how we should approach interaction with foreign beings and their cultures.
Whether alien communication is possible or not, it’s refreshing to hear a perspective that considers our inability to listen to the universe with a more open mind. E.T. had to get creative to phone home — maybe we will have to be creative to call out.
Whether there are alien civilizations or not, that doesn’t change your relevance in the cosmos. Neil deGrasse Tyson explains.
Daphne Muller is a New York City-based writer who has written for Salon, Ms. Magazine, The Huffington Post, and reviewed books for ELLE and Publishers Weekly. Most recently, she completed a novel and screenplay. You can follow her on Instagram @daphonay and on Twitter @DaphneEMuller.
Image of very large array radio telescope courtesy of Images Etc Ltd / Getty Contributor