College Course Teaches Students to Commune with ET

Illustration for article titled College Course Teaches Students to Commune with ET

It's all well and good to go looking for extraterrestrials, but what are we going to say once we find them? A workshop at the University of Wyoming, "Writing for an Extraterrestrial Audience," asks students how they would explain the human condition to interstellar visitors. More on the pedagogy of cross-species communications after the jump.


Jeffrey Lockwood, who teaches the course, plans to discuss the resulting works at this September's SETI conference, "Searching for Life Signatures." The students, some of whom are Wyoming natives, come from a variety of educational backgrounds, which have influenced their responses to the assignments:

Christine Ingoglia, a graduate student who entered the university's Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program in creative writing in the Fall of 2007, started with a basic description of our appearance: "We look like - two arms, two legs, head, torso, symmetrical." Similarly, fellow MFA student Meagan Ciesla's summary - "We need food, air, water, and think we're the most intelligent" - was reminiscent of a message transmitted from the Arecibo radio telescope in 1974, which described the chemical basis of life on Earth, and showed a picture of only one terrestrial species: Homo sapiens.

Other messages penned that first day of class in Laramie were more philosophical. "We are an adolescent species searching for our identity," wrote Ann Stebner, a senior English major completing a minor in Environmental Values. "We know our species' origins," wrote senior psychology major Dana Rinne, "but we fear individual deaths." Rinne, who plans to do graduate work in social psychology or cognitive psychology, described the course as an opportunity to contemplate the intersection of philosophy, science, and mind.

Plenty of schools offer courses in extraterrestrial life, and a few even have burgeoning futurology programs. But with xenocommunications entering the course catalog, can we expect more courses on how to engage the future? Could transhuman studies be next in the curriculum?

Writing for an Extraterrestrial Audience [LiveScience]



It sounds like a fun exercise, but it's unlikely that any of them will come up with something as good as Craig Raine's poem "The Martian Sends a Postcard Home" (1979)

Caxtons are mechanical birds with many wings

and some are treasured for their markings—

they cause the eyes to melt

or the body to shriek without pain.

I have never seen one fly, but

sometimes they perch on the hand.

Mist is when the sky is tired of flight

and rests its soft machine on the ground:

then the world is dim and bookish

like engravings under tissue paper.

Rain is when the earth is television.

It has the properties of making colours darker.

Model T is a room with the lock inside —

a key is turned to free the world

for movement, so quick there is a film

to watch for anything missed.

But time is tied to the wrist

or kept in a box, ticking with impatience.

In homes, a haunted apparatus sleeps,

that snores when you pick it up.

If the ghost cries, they carry it

to their lips and soothe it to sleep

with sounds. And yet, they wake it up

deliberately, by tickling with a finger.

Only the young are allowed to suffer

openly. Adults go to a punishment room

with water but nothing to eat.

They lock the door and suffer the noises

alone. No one is exempt

and everyone's pain has a different smell.

At night, when all the colours die,

they hide in pairs

and read about themselves —

in colour, with their eyelids shut.