Totally Alone in the Universe

I saw this tonight, which highlights an insignificant something that has been bugging me for awhile:

While we wait to establish contact, one technique we can use back on Earth is an equation that American astronomer Frank Drake formulated in the 1960s to calculate the number of detectable extraterrestrial civilizations may exist in the Milky Way galaxy.

It is not a rigorous equation, offering a wide range of possible answers. Instead it is more a tool used to help understand how many worlds might be out there and how those estimates change as missions like Kepler, a telescope that is currently searching for Earth-like planets, begin to discover more about our universe.

Drake Equation infographic

This brought back to mind something I had written in my personal journal a few weeks ago:

On some podcast, someone said that in the case of an alien invasion, they would rather be killed by an alien rather than in the panic of people, because then they would know that humanity is not alone in the universe.

First of all, if there were alien life in the universe, I think the point most people miss is how fundamentally different their form of intelligence is likely to be. I doubt communication is even possible. Continue reading

Non-Linguistic Meaning

One of the things we discuss at times in the Media Studies program is the attempts to create knowledge through scholarly means using alternatives to text. In academia (and society in general) we’re locked into the need for type and written media, as a way to preserve large amounts of thought and meaning. Multi-modal scholarship is one of those things that’s working for acceptance (outside just adventurous humanities programs) as a legitimate option for presenting various ideas. If this sounds ambitious, it is, but if it sounds impossible, it’s not. Our whole civilization relies on language to keep things running, but every word is just an arbitrary form for mediated concepts, a symbol for a thought, a shadow for a “thing” without a shape. And sometimes, we come to rely too heavily on words to “say” what we mean. Good musicians are experts at getting their point across without words, as are other artists (here’s an interesting thesis from someone from the Media Arts program at MIT I just dug up on this, predictably in text).

Anyway,  this recent SMBC cartoon brought all that to mind, because it serves as a great example of how formless our thoughts really are. Words are really limiting at the moment, understandably so once you “read” the cartoon.

(The above cartoon is the work of Zach Weiner and Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal)