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Forum game: Finding the Golden Record

  1. Nov 29, 2014 #1


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    Remember Voyagers? Travelling through the endless void of space, carrying the species-scale equivalent of teenage poetry etched onto what is called the Golden Record.
    Full of naive hope and good intentions, cute to think of, but increasingly embarrassing to look at, it was sent in an interstellar bottle on the off chance that before eons pass and alien species may come about it and learn about who we were.

    But could they really? It's relatively easy for us to get what we meant, but we grow up human, immersed in all the cultural, linguistic and biological quirks that we take for granted and never think about.

    Imagine you're a member of an alien race, who has recently found one of the Voyagers, and having decoded the message is trying to make sense of it. The aliens are on a similar level of general knowledge about fundamental sciences as we are, but are prone to bad judgement, prejudice myopia, ego- and species-centrism. Again, just as we are.

    In this game, you pick an item from those included on the Golden Record and do your best to misinterpret it in the most scientifically plausible way possible.

    The game is cooperative. There is no goal apart from crafting a fun to read, emergent "scientific consensus", and perhaps increasing awarness of the extent to which we use assumptions when interpreting nature.

    Example using the Pioneer plaque:
    "Earlier research took the "antagonistic species" hypothesis as their starting point, based largely on the preliminary biomechanical models showing that the limb positions of the two specimens can be suggestive of a fighting stance, each specimen positioned well to assault each other's superior bulge with either an extended upper(left) or lower(right) limb.

    Here, we present an altenative, "life cycle" interpretation of the message.

    Under this interpretation, both creatures are of a single species, wherein the one on the left represents a young specimen, while the one of the right a mature form nearing the end of its cycle.

    Our conjecture follows from the observation that the "youth" is still endowed with what appears to be a feeding proboscis protruding from the lower end of its trunk, while in the one of the right it is conspicuously absent - possibly shed upon reaching certain age.

    Furthermore, the youth appears to have been collecting nutrients and storing them in the upper body, while the "old" specimen looks to have consumed most of the stored nutrients. We presume the total depletion of nutrients with no obvious way of ingesting food leads to the death of the organism.
    Additional support for the hypothesis comes from the observation of what looks like waste product sacks on the superior bulges. In the young specimen the sack is significantly less pronounced than in the old one, which would agree well with the old one having to store ever more of its reprocessed body mass.

    The function of the dual protrusions on the old specimen's trunk is unclear. These might be another waste product retention organs, or simply a pair of unrelated organs (e.g., echolocation bulges) that retain volume throughout the life cycle, and look pronounced simply due to relative change in the volume of the nutrient-storing trunk in which they are embedded."

    Here's the list of contents of the Golden Record:

    The missing images can be found here:

    RulesGeneral guidelines:

    Pick one item from those included on the Golden Record.

    Link to or embed (if image) the item you're discussing.

    Be confused. When describing or interpreting a picture, don't make accurate guesses - we all know what the diagram of Solar System position or that of sex organs was meant to represent. Do a bad job by chasing a red herring, missing the point, completely misinterpreting the most obvious (to us, but not to aliens) assumptions.

    Use general descriptive, sciency-sounding language, and to an extent avoid human-specific words. For example, don't say "a hand", but something like "a flexible extremity" (and even here, how do you know it's flexible? Is it really a part of the creature and not an independent living being/an inanimate object?).
    Remember that using e.g., "a limb" means that the aliens have or are aware of the existence of the concept of limbs, which constrains any further lines of interpretation.

    Avoid made-up words. It's just too easy to say "the alien takes its phluba and gregflezor it up its bleoti".

    Keep in mind that the aliens needn't have the same set of senses as we do. We assume they can decode the analog information on the record, but whether they can hear sounds or see colours is not a given.

    Fail to understand or misinterpret symbols. Arabic numerals, latin alphabet, arrows and lines - they could mean anything! (but be consistent)

    Since we're on PF, make use of whatever is your area of expertise or interest to lend gravitas to your hypothesis. Biology, engineering, mathematics, chemistry, linguistics - put them to good misuse.

    If you don't feel like going full scientific on it, make a short tabloid-style post.
    Don't be afraid to even further misconstrue what has been said by scientists (i.e., previous posters), as tabloids do. Similarly, don't shy from "debunking" tabloid nonsense with your "scientific" hypothesis.

    Try and connect in some way to what the previous posters came up with, if possible. If giving an interpretation that contradicts a previous one, frame it as a new, alternate, or competing hypothesis.

    Finally, whenever refering to homo sapiens use "alien", "xenomorph", "extraterrestial" etc.; when refering to the aliens, use "humans", "people", "we" etc.

    Perhaps we can produce a comprehensive consensus of alien science on what homo sapiens as represented on the Golden Record is really like.
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2014
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 29, 2014 #2


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    Image is a link to the source.

    (feel free to replace "head" by a phantasy word - the thing would get some name, so I can use head as well as any other word)

    This image seems to show how the lower opening in the head can be used to inspect objects of the environment: by directly holding them into the opening (middle picture), pouring liquids into it (right picture) or using an extendable organ to touch it (left) if the object does not fit in. An alternative interpretation: the extendable organ might need some time to develop, so just the older creature can use it (see the previous work by Bandersnatch).
    It is unclear what happens with the liquid afterwards - the creature might rotate its head to let it flow out.

    This interpretation is also supported by the previous picture where large selections of unidentified objects are shown and something small gets inspected by the creature.

    I tried hard, but I could not misinterpret the mathematical plate or the physics plates. :(

    Well, one comment on physics:

    Apparently they use many different units per physical quantity, all with weird conversion factors. How great we have a unified system with our factors of 100*!

    *note: this is probably not a decimal number

    PS: The concept that the first image shows a young and an older creature is also supported by this image, showing the older creature creating offspring. The left creature seems to have an age of 20y (see the second about physical definitions) and it needs another 20y to reach the second stage.
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2014
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