March 7, 2021

If we made contact with an alien intelligence, would we even be able to talk to them?

With all of the excitement surrounding the release of James Fox’s fascinating film The Phenomenon and the release of alleged photos of unidentified aerial phenomena, we’re once again imagining the possibility of finally and definitively answering the question of whether or not we’re alone in the universe. (We’ll skip past any conversations about the Galactic Federation for the moment.) These events have left me with a nagging question, however, though I’m hardly the first person to ponder this puzzle. Assume for the moment that the UAP we’ve been seeing actually were crafted by a non-human intelligence, perhaps from another world or even another galaxy. Let us further assume that we somehow come into contact with a representative of that species, be it biological or some form of artificial intelligence created elsewhere. Would we actually be able to communicate with it/them?

There seems to be a default assumption throughout much of the ufology community that if the aliens (for lack of a better term) are willing to talk to us – something I’ve seen no sign of yet – the conversation will be fascinating, perhaps launching us into a new era of technological advancement. But this assumption relies on the belief that we’ll even be able to start the conversation. I’m not so sure about that, and plenty of people who have studied the question, most far smarter than I, aren’t either.

Our tendency to anthropomorphize everything we encounter, or even hope to encounter, can often lead us astray. In our experience, limited to our understanding of the only technologically advanced civilization we have any experience with (that would be us), the ability to overcome language barriers is taken as a given. If you take a person from Denmark and suddenly drop her in the middle of a remote, uncontacted tribe in Acre, Brazil with no access to technology, she will soon begin speaking their language as a survival mechanism. (Assuming they don’t kill her, of course.)

But there’s a reason that virtually all human beings of even moderate intelligence can make such adjustments. Humans all share similar experiences at the most basic level. We walk. We eat. We labor. And all of our languages have words for those things. Dropped into a different culture, you just have to start working out which of their words replace the ones you are familiar with. We’re all playing from the same script at the most basic level.

It’s been long established by biologists that dolphins are highly intelligent creatures. They have brains that are actually larger than those of humans when measured in proportion to their total body mass.

But what about an intelligence that doesn’t share that history? We don’t have to be talking about aliens here as there are examples much closer to hand. It’s been long established by biologists that dolphins are highly intelligent creatures. They have brains that are actually larger than those of humans when measured in proportion to their total body mass. And they have a complex language composed of whistles, clicks, buzzing and pulsing sounds that they use to communicate with each other.

We’ve had scientists studying the language of the dolphins for decades on end. There are projects currently underway that are trying to throw advanced Artificial Intelligence at the problem. Guess what. We’re really not even an iota closer to being able to converse with them than we were a century ago. And we’re talking about another mammal that evolved alongside us on our own planet. How well are going to do with an intelligence that arose on another world under what were likely extremely different conditions?

I recently listened to an interview that Micah Hanks conducted with Samuel Zinner Ph.D., a multidisciplinary scholar of languages and history. (That’s a highly recommended show, by the way. A fascinating discussion.) They tackled some similar questions about the history of human language and the nature of consciousness. That discussion should provide some further insight into the questions we’re wrestling with here.

Now, some of you will point out that various “experiencers” (as we’ve come to call them) have reported incidents of direct contact with extraterrestrials and described communications that took place entirely through some form of telepathy. Others report having vast amounts of data “downloaded” directly into their minds. One example is Deep Prasad.

But even Deep’s experience didn’t come off without a hitch. Assuming you take his tale at face value, he saw a series of symbols and images being beamed into either his eyes or directly into his brain. But when it was over, he had no idea what any of them meant. Might this type of experience provide us with a clue as to what such a “first contact” attempt might be like? And yes, I know that other experiencers have have reported meetings with supposed aliens who speak fluent English. You can take those reports as you wish, and if that’s the reality of what’s been happening then this entire question may be moot.

I very much doubt that an intellectually inferior species can study an intellectually far superior species if the superior species chooses not to be studied.

Dr. Richard C. Henry

All of this remains in the world of the hypothetical for now, at least for the vast majority of us who haven’t run into ET yet. But this is definitely a question we should be prepared to address if the UAP mystery actually is close to being “solved” and our new friends (at least we should pray mightily that they are friendly) come calling.

I’ll close with the other unpleasant possibility that I’ve been pondering for several years now. What if the hypothetical occupants of those mysterious vehicles in our skies are perfectly capable of communicating with us but they simply have no interest in chatting with the local monkeys? As Johns Hopkins University Astronomer Dr. Richard C. Henry said back in 1977, “I very much doubt that an intellectually inferior species can study an intellectually far superior species if the superior species chooses not to be studied.

Food for thought.