Alfred Kracher, Ph.D., is a retired Staff Scientist at Ames Laboratory, Iowa State University, and Affiliate Scientist of the Arkansas Center for Space and Planetary Sciences at the University of Arkansas. He studied the chemistry of meteorites and lunar rocks, first at the Museum of Natural History in his native Vienna, later at UCLA and the University of New Mexico.
At Iowa State University he also worked on the analysis of advanced materials. Aside from cosmochemistry and materials science, his interests include philosophical questions pertaining to religion and natural science. In this field he has contributed chapters to Investigating the Biological Foundations of Human Morality, Creation’s Diversity, and Is Religion Natural? He is on the editorial board of the European Journal of Science and Theology.
Our conception of intelligent extraterrestrials is unavoidably anthropomorphic. When we think about what is worth communicating, we start by considering what would be of most interest to ourselves, but we must also ask whether our curiosity is likely to be shared by other intelligent beings. The demarcation of domains like science, art, religion, etc., is a liability when it comes to presenting ourselves to an alien other whose experience may be holistic--or fragmented into different domains.
Images are a promising way of communicating, but like all forms of communication they rely on a context for understanding. As a basis for discussing the likely success (or failure) of communicating cultural concepts to extraterrestrials, we can first look at some examples how this has been done across cultures here on Earth. We can then address particular questions about using this approach in interstellar messages. Among humans the minimal context of communication is our shared evolutionary history, which is not the case with ETs.
How much terrestrial experience can help depends on how human-like the recipients of our messages are thought to be. Since we are addressing ourselves at beings who possess the means to receive our transmission, we are assuming some evolutionary convergence on “technological intelligence” (the same is true for listening to ET signals). Still, it is important to ask whether such cosmic convergent evolution should be expected. If evolution leads to a wider range of mental complexity than we can currently imagine, ETs that we can actually communicate with may be few and (literally) far between.