Aside from whether alien life exists, I find it intriguing how we are so fixated on a certain imagery that we do not notice that we miss out on creating something completely different. These stories are a my inspiration and personal reminder to question and challenge narratives surrounding technology. I want to cleanse my visual and nonvisual palette, to ultimately contribute to a more diverse collective -visual- consciousness, a broader imagination.
Below you can read a number of highlights from ‘The Great Silence’, a short story written by Ted Chiang. The Great Silence” is another name for the Fermi Paradox, which consists of two contradictory truths: 1) the idea that we represent the only intelligence in the universe is preposterous and 2) despite the increasing range of our extraterrestrial search, we have found only silence.
The humans use Arecibo to look for extraterrestrial intelligence. Their desire to make a connection is so strong that they’ve created an ear capable of hearing across the universe.
But I and my fellow parrots are right here. Why aren’t they interested in listening to our voices? We’re a nonhuman species capable of communicating with them. Aren’t we exactly what humans are looking for?
“But parrots are more similar to humans than any extraterrestrial species ever will be, and humans can observe us up close; they can look us in the eye. How do they expect to recognize an alien intelligence if all they can do is eavesdrop from a hundred light-years away?”
Human activity has brought my kind to the brink of extinction, but I don’t blame them for it. They didn’t do it maliciously. They just weren’t paying attention. And humans create such beautiful myths; what imaginations they have. Perhaps that’s why their aspirations are so immense. Look at Arecibo. Any species who can build such a thing must have greatness within them.
My species probably won’t be here for much longer; it’s likely that we’ll die before our time and join the Great Silence. But before we go, we are sending a message to humanity. We just hope the telescope at Arecibo will enable them to hear it.
The message is this:
You be good.
I love you.
We read the story from the perspective of the endangered parrot that lives near the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. The parrot observes humans’ quest for extraterrestrial life and wonders why humanity spends so much time seeking intelligence elsewhere, when itself is intelligent and right next to us.
After reading ‘The Great Silence’, I felt the same wonder when I read Other Minds. In this book Peter Godfrey-Smith notes that studying cephalopods is “probably the closest we will come to meeting an intelligent alien”.
In our search for the other, we’ve already designed alien life. We look beyond the stars in order to find our depiction of alien life. This makes me wonder if we would even recognize an alien if it were right in front of us. If we met an alien whose intelligence derived through an entirely separate provenance from ours, would we recognize the sparkle in each other’s eyes? (1)
(1) Carl, Safina. “Thinking in the Deep: Inside the Mind of an Octopus.” New York Times, 2016, www.nytimes.com/2016/12/27/books/review/other-minds-peter-godfrey-smith.html.
Godfrey-Smith, Peter. Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness. Reprint, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017.
“The Great Silence Allora & Calzadilla (in Collaboration with Ted Chiang).” Sharjah Art Foundation, 2014, sharjahart.org/sharjah-art-foundation/projects/the-great-silence. Ted Chiang collaborated with visual artists Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla, who created a complementary video installation that juxtaposed the radio telescope at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico with the endangered parrots in the forests nearby.