Klara Anna Capova

Klara Anna Capova, Ph.D., is cultural anthropologist with specialization in anthropology of science and science & technology studies.

In the past, Dr. Capova has studied history of science, philosophy of science, and philosophical anthropology. Since 2006, she has been looking into anthropological aspects of interstellar messages and worked on content analysis of the Arecibo broadcast, Pioneer plaque and Voyager interstellar record. This comparative analysis further developed into her complex doctoral thesis in sociocultural anthropology dedicated to the three modes of search for extraterrestrial life: ‘messaging,’ ‘listening,’ and ‘exploring’. This thesis, entitled The Charming Science of the Other - The cultural analysis of the scientific search for life beyond earth, presents a comprehensive, historically-minded cultural study of the search for extraterrestrial life conducted over the past sixty years, and it introduces the sociocultural context of this scientific practice.

Dr. Capova's main research interests are in the cultural dimension, epistemology, and societal impact of science, especially of space sciences, space exploration, scientific entrepreneurship, and search for extraterrestrial life. Dr. Capova is currently a research associate at Durham University, Department of Anthropology, working on a project assessing the potential and adoption of novel technologies. Dr. Capova runs a Facebook page ET Life & Aliens in Popular Culture dedicated to imagined extraterrestrial life forms and aliens as they appear/are presented in popular culture, science fiction, and art.

Abstract

The Principles of Interstellar Messaging: An Anthropological Perspective

The paper presents a data set collected during recently completed doctoral research and portrays ‘messaging’ as a culturally delimited scientific practice with high societal impact. The aim of this paper is to display the material and radio messages in terms of the evolutionary lineage of the messaging phenomenon and to address their content. A brief introduction to the history of messaging is hence followed by commented visual ethnographic evidence. The paper gives an overview of both the scientific and recently emerged popular or commercial messages up to spring 2014.

Each of the messages can be viewed as a cultural or ‘culture-scientific’ archive precisely because it is a time capsule designed to communicate across space and time. To be able to unlock the archive we firstly need to understand how a message is done; this involves looking into key practices and principles of message construction. Of particular interest is then the ability to grasp the meaning of the message in terrestrial conditions – in other words, to question the comprehensibility of the potential terrestrial receiver, the ‘reader’, who should more readily than the extraterrestrial receiver be able to comprehend the symbolism of a message. With regard to the content analysis, the messaging is a conceptual common space where new meanings are produced but also where the ‘universal language’ of interstellar communication is revealed.

The wide variety of examples and evidence from science documents and visual culture will be presented in order to illustrate the conceptual cross-references, methodological biases, and sociocultural context of messaging as such.