THE LIGHTHOUSE PROJECT : RETROSPECTION
THE PROJECT / RESEARCH
The Lighthouse Theory is a temporary name for this Voyager update project. In a nutshell we want to mark our territory. This post is sort of the social connotations and implications of this effort. Before I get into the specifics of the social contextualization, I want to first iterate why this idea of marking our territory is so compelling for us.
Curiosity & Humility
In thinking about why we want to communicate with an alien life form we realized that there is no way to really come up with anything practical. The alien could be in the spectrum of our imagination, but most likely is something outside of that limited bandwidth of the imaginary alien. This forces us to look within at our own Earth and Solar System.
Aside from us not being able to imagine or comprehend what we could be communicating with. There are some humane implications that our group felt were worth considering. The first being that any sort of artifact blasted into space, particularly with contents from our earth (a la KEO and Voyager), could render whatever life form overwhelmed.
A literary example would be Ice-Nine in Kurt Vonneguts's Cat's Cradle.
A commonplace example would be the episode of the Simpsons where the Simpsons go to Australia. The last scene in the episode finds a Koala Bear on the plane that carries the Simpsons back to the United States. Subsequently the United States becomes overcome with Koala's.
The inclusion of these examples is to bring up the notion of colonialism. This overwhelming of an element or some other artifact from Earth could damage and possibly hurt the recipient of our message. This is something we do not want as we desire a friendly or at the very least platonic relationship with these aliens. The result is to look within and make our own planet the message.
So, we're not looking to pillage like Western Europe has for the few hundred years. Well not yet at least. However, this message isn't intended to be so egotistical that we get stuck and stare at the pond like Narcissus. The contents of the message is still up in the air, and for the message itself is not as important as making some kind of connection. That is why the driving force behind our idea is curiosity. This is not like the 60's where we were in hot pursuit of the moon to be better than Russia, this is an age of Web 2.0. This collective knowledge is a powerful symbol of humanity and the curiosity that drives this is what our group wants to harness for this project.
So what exactly is it that we're doing? Well we're marking our territory. More specifically, we want to create a lighthouse for the rest of the universe. A beacon stemming from our planet or solar system. We see this in many forms from a dog peeing on a fire hydrant, to pheromones, to the yellow stickers German Jews were forced to wear in Nazi Germany.
The Lighthouse of Alexandria
This lighthouse describes our marking system the best. Not for its physical qualities, but for the social qualities it happened to exude. The wikipedia article goes into further depth, but here are the main reasons for choosing this marking system.
It was a navigational beacon.
It was a resource silo.
It notified other nations, specifically the Chinese in the 13th century AD, that these lands have been accounted for.
Finally, it was a monument of spectacle.
This is just our first iteration, so the marking system will undoubtedly change. We are currently talking about the feasibility of cosmic background radiation as the practical means of communication. But, figuratively this is the intent of the group.
Cosmic Background Radiation: The Medium
Cosmic Background Radiation is essentially a left over from the cooling of the universe. It originated 400,000 years after the big bang. This was the time of last scattering, which is when the universe had cooled enough that there wasn't enough energy to keep electrons and protons apart. So the universe went from being a plasma to consisting of helium and hydrogen and the areas the were more dense with these kept attracting more and more matter around them and formed the galaxies.
Our instrument of detecting CBR:
The CMB photons scatter off free charges such as electrons that are not bound in atoms. In an ionized universe, such electrons have been liberated from neutral atoms by ionizing (ultraviolet) radiation. Today these free charges are at sufficiently low density in most of the volume of the Universe that they do not measurably affect the CMB. However, if the IGM was ionized at very early times when the universe was still denser, then there are two main effects on the CMB:
1. Small scale anisotropies are erased (just as when looking at an object through fog, details of the object appear fuzzy).
2. The physics of how photons scatter off free electrons (Thomson scattering) induces polarization anisotropies on large angular scales. This large angle polarization is correlated with the large angle temperature perturbation.
So if we can ionize (removing charged particles such as electrons) parts of the CBR around us it will change the ripples (small scale anisotropies) in the areas around our galaxies
There have already been machines built that have been able to do massive scale ionization on earth. This was done in the hopes of being able to control the weather and is called atmospheric ionization.
As one of the only projects to address the literal meaning of alien from the prompt I feel that we’ve placed our project in a very interesting situation. The project is a sort of median between a realistic scientific project and the next Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica. The fascinating fork in the road that our project has arrived at is one of dichotomy. It reminds me of the advertising campaign for Transformers this past summer. It is an epic separation of humanity between skepticism and optimism.
On the one side there are the optimists, us, who believe that we may in fact contact cosmic neighbors. This contact and construction of the project will result in a convergence of humanity. The other side of this spectrum is that the aliens will come and they will destroy all of humanity. What Rene Daalder pointed out in the critique, which was quite interesting, is that while these are two different types of reactions both are ultimately optimistic. The notion behind this is that while we may be destroyed, that leap of faith in conjunction with the actual re-ionization of Cosmic Background semi-permanently places a beacon around the earth. Even if Earth were to be destroyed the CBR would remain and intelligent life forms would be able to see a strange uniformity in a specific area.
Another topic of critique that interested me was the idea of materiality. Now this I found really interesting because while other groups had particular messages our message was the material itself. This while being inherently neutral is also completely universal. As Professor Bratton said it is, “the most concrete of messages.” Initially, when we wanted the message to be absent it was the idea of passive communication. This inherently marks our vein, narcissistic nature, as well as avoiding the question of imperialism and colonialism which is inherent in any active itinerary. Because we had nothing to base our conjectures off of we referenced the past, which I don’t think seemed to be communicated that well in the presentation. The reference is based entirely on notions of new world in antiquity and the frontiers of the west. As a result I feel that our researching was lacking in how and why exactly the Lighthouse of Alexandria was created. We found out the implications of the construction, however, we never knew the intent of the builder. The issue inevitably came up in critiques of well how can you really sell someone on the idea of building a beacon in space and inevitably our answer was,, “Well it’s happened numerous times in the past, here are a few that actually have been constructed.” Our explanation could never go further than that. In history the Lighthouse of Alexandria had surprisingly positive results for its culture, however I feel we had trouble conveying that and we really couldn’t justify it beyond the fact that’s what happened so we can only trust that the Lighthouse Project will be the same. That was one of the biggest issues. This issue was directly tied to who was going to sponsor this and how were we going to tie this into some kind of narrative for the planet Earth and its dwellers.
This leads to one of the next ideas that drove the project but never really came to fruition in the end of the project. The concept of curiosity was backed by references of scientific inventions as well as the inception of Internet web 2.0 and creative commons and was the idea of acting on the sake of curiosity. This idea drove the group for most of the quarter, but unfortunately was not really incorporated in the final presentation.
Other concepts that I believe really pushed the idea of the project and motivated us that didn’t receive treatment in the presentation were: Deleuze, Collapse of Time/Space, Intergalactic Hub, rejuvenation. These issues were hot topics of debate in our group and while they didn’t get into the final pitch they are nonetheless worthy of note.
Deleuzian ideas of affect were something that drove a foundation into our project. The basis to which the separation between space and the re-ionization of cosmic background radiation and Earth was unclear. How exactly do you connect the dwellers of earth to a beacon that really only relays earth itself, not the contents of earth? The connection was Deleuze. This was a key jump in realizing what kind of reaction we wanted people to feel and the route that we needed to take to realize that reaction. Along with this idea Teaching Assistant Zach Blas in conversing about the project brought about another idea that we were fond of, but weren’t aware of, the idea of collapsing space and time. This idea came about in describing what kind of feeling a person was to feel when they knew about this project going on and it was transcending a person into a planetary level. Often times it is difficult to fathom the ideas of light years, black holes, and galaxies because of their large unit measurement. This project was to realize a human as an earthling, to see themselves the same as any other object on earth and that these collections of contents make up Earth. It was supposed to give the feeling a cell phone does today, how a person can be thousands of miles away and feel like their within distance of you. The result of this feeling is inevitably comfort because the idea of remote is lessened. The next item, the intergalactic hub, was an interesting concept brought in the beginning of the class but was neglected because it made all the group members think of the cantina seen from Star Wars where Han Solo and Chewbacca, not cool. Finally, the concept of rejuvenation really stuck with Professor Mendez in the idea of starting with a fresh palette, the same way the big bang started the universe off with a fresh palette. This was because when we researched re-ionization the only thing that was happening to create difference in the cosmic background radiation was a reorienting of polarization in hydrogen plasma in space. This then went into the discussion of how everything is fucked up in the world today and that this project both physically and meta-physically had the capacity to rejuvenate everything. Make people get back to the basics. The problem with this is that it had too close of a tie with the Big Bang and we didn’t want people think that the universe was going to implode on itself or anything.
In conclusion I feel that our group took thorough and accurate measures in achieving a literal answer to the very first question in class in communicating with aliens. Finally, I would like to note how discouraging this project has been at the same time. This is because we emailed about 20 or so professors from around the country concerning CBR and re-ionization and never got an answer. Aside from this the class was a great experience in group work and problem solving.