And the sign said, “The words of the ETs
Aren’t written on their Dyson balls
So give us some calls
And whisper in the sounds of silence”
If you cross Simon and Garfunkel with Enrico Fermi, you might get a theme song for a new project called the Library of the Great Silence, whose aim is to convince intelligent civilizations to end the Great Silence that is Fermi’s “Where are they?” paradox and send us messages sharing how they’ve managed to survive the challenges of living on their own space rock orbiting their own star – and we humans will store these messages in a library available to all intelligent civilizations in the universe. Really? Why should they believe us? Why should they trust us? Why should they break the Great Silence just because we’re such lonely Chatty Cathys? (Ask your grandma to explain.)
“Founded on the principle that knowledge about catastrophic risks and strategies of survival are of universal interest – and that all beings throughout the cosmos want to thrive for as long as possible – the Library of the Great Silence will invite beings throughout the universe to collaboratively research planetary futures.”
The Library is the brainchild of the SETI Institute and experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats – best known for his space art and large-scale thought experiments. It opened at the end of April at the Hat Creek Radio Observatory in Northern California, and the SETI website describes it as an archive of transformations, not books. What?
“Instead of texts, the library will collect objects associated with transformational moments, including natural disturbances (instantiated in materials such as lava and meteorites and fossils of extinct species), and human impact (instantiated in artifacts ranging from handaxes and money to trinitite and plastiglomerate).”
Ah, that explains the “strategies of survival” purpose. If these civilizations are like humans, they’ll probably have survived their own weapons of mass destruction. Which goes back to the question: why would they share that with the rest of the universe?
“The library will also provide an open space to explore relationships between collected items, enabling representation of phenomena ranging from chance to complexity to overreach. An open invitation to contribute information and ideas will be broadcast throughout the cosmos.”
OK, ETs visiting the Library of the Great Silence won’t be able to check anything out, but that won’t stop them from hanging out and taking secret photos with whatever their equivalent of a cellphone is. The website doesn’t say how it will send out an announcement of the grand opening to other civilizations, but it’s looking for funding. In the meantime, it seems to have a second noble cause of potentially helping us humans not destroy ourselves like other advanced civilizations may have already – hence their silence.
“Manipulating existentially significant objects without the use of words – and without the underlying assumptions of language or limitations on who participates in the conversation – may facilitate comprehension of human behaviors that has previously eluded us, or even directly encourage beneficial practices such as cooperation. And the collective effort of nominating and compiling materials for the Library of the Great Silence may inspire awareness of our precarious situation, inspiring greater responsibility.”
Inspire greater responsibility? In humans? Us? ETs watching us silently from afar (the Zoo Theory) are having a good but stifled laugh at that.
The Library of the Great Silence sounds like an interesting idea. Let’s hope we survive and live long enough to see the first non-Earth contribution.
And in the library light we saw
Ten thousand ETs, maybe more
ETs talking without speaking
ETs hearing without listening
ETs with survival strategies to share
You know where
At the Library of the Great Silence
(Apologies to Simon & Garfunkel)