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Sending a Message to Extraterrestrial Civilizations

David Langness | Nov 29, 2016

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the authoritative views of the Baha'i Faith.

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David Langness | Nov 29, 2016

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the authoritative views of the Baha'i Faith.

Let’s envision something out of this world for a moment. Consider this: if you could send a message to another civilization beyond Earth, what would it say?

That’s one of the missions of the hundred-million-dollar Breakthrough Initiatives (BI), founded in 2015 by the physicist Stephen Hawking and a Russian physicist, venture capitalist and entrepreneur named Yuri Milner. BI searches for extraterrestrial intelligence through three separate but linked projects:

  • Breakthrough Listen, which will search more than a million stars for radio or laser signals;
  • Breakthrough Starshot, which will send a swarm of small probes toward Alpha Centauri;
  • And Breakthrough Message, a $1 million annual prize for digital messages that represent Earth and all of humanity, and which could potentially be understood by another civilization.

The Breakthrough Initiatives project almost doubles the amount national governments have been spending on the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI—so scientists who search for other intelligent life in the universe anticipate that it could produce some progress. Here’s BI’s description of their Breakthrough Message initiative (

If we or others succeed in discovering another civilization, what – if anything – should we say to them?

Breakthrough Message aims to encourage debate about how and what to communicate with possible intelligent beings beyond earth. It takes the form of an international competition to create messages that could be read by an advanced civilization. The message must be in digital format, and should be representative of humanity and planet Earth.

The pool of prizes for the best messages totals $1,000,000. The competition is open to everyone.

Hmmm. This challenge definitely requires some deep thought. The BI website says “Developing a message that could both speak for us and be understood by alien intelligences is a hard problem. It may require insight in fields from mathematics and physics to linguistics, psychology and art.”

A hard problem, indeed—maybe one of the hardest we’ve ever faced. One of the first things to think about, it seems, is whether the inhabitants of another intelligent civilization might have the combination of intellectual, emotional and spiritual qualities that humans have, and a similar state of consciousness which that combination produces. The Baha’i teachings offer us some insights:

The one true God hath everlastingly existed, and will everlastingly continue to exist. His creation, likewise, hath had no beginning, and will have no end… Know thou that every fixed star hath its own planets, and every planet its own creatures, whose number no man can compute. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 162.

The earth has its inhabitants, the water and the air contain many living beings and all the elements have their nature spirits, then how is it possible to conceive that these stupendous stellar bodies are not inhabited? Verily, they are peopled, but let it be known that the dwellers accord with the elements of their respective spheres. These living beings do not have states of consciousness like unto those who live on the surface of this globe: the power of adaptation and environment moulds their bodies and states of consciousness, just as our bodies and minds are suited to our planet… Beings who inhabit those distant luminous bodies are attuned to the elements that have gone into the composition of their respective spheres. – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, pp. 114-115.

As you rightly state, Baha’u’llah affirms that every fixed star has its planets, and every planet its own creatures. The House of Justice states however, that it has not discovered anything in the Baha’i Writings which would indicate the degree of progress such creatures may have attained. Obviously, as creatures of earth have managed to construct space probes and send them into outer space, it can be believed that creatures on other planets may have succeeded in doing likewise. – From an 11 January 1982 letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual Baha’i.

The Baha’i teachings, as you can see, certainly don’t rule out the existence of extraterrestrial beings—but they do suggest that “the power of adaptation and environment” has an effect on the “bodies and states of consciousness” of any potential life forms on other worlds. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

So how would we go about communicating with such creatures?

Here’s my personal supposition: it stands to reason—and our earthly science has found it to be true—that the more advanced the intelligence in any lifeform, the more capable it usually is of feeling. We know that the higher primates, for example, have well-developed emotional lives, just like dogs and dolphins do. We also know that higher primates can learn to communicate with humans (check out, for instance the artificial “Yerkish” lexigram language that primates have learned), so we already have some cross-species methods of communication.

First, though, before any higher primates ever learned how to communicate with us humans, the people who taught them built peaceful and friendly relationships with those bonobos, chimpanzees and great apes. The animals felt, with their hearts, that their trainers were friends. That caring, kindness and love allowed the primates to open their hearts and minds and not only learn to communicate—but want to. So we might want to contemplate using some of the lessons we’ve learned from those well-developed artificial languages—and from the universal language of the heart—to send a spiritual message of love and kindness out into the universe:

Briefly, it is not only their fellow human beings that the beloved of God must treat with mercy and compassion, rather must they show forth the utmost loving-kindness to every living creature. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 158.

…see ye no strangers; rather see all men as friends, for love and unity come hard when ye fix your gaze on otherness. And in this new and wondrous age, the Holy Writings say that we must be at one with every people; that we must see neither harshness nor injustice, neither malevolence, nor hostility, nor hate, but rather turn our eyes toward the heaven of ancient glory. For each of the creatures is a sign of God, and it was by the grace of the Lord and His power that each did step into the world; therefore they are not strangers, but in the family; not aliens, but friends, and to be treated as such. – Ibid., p. 24.

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  • Sheila Guttman
    Dec 1, 2016
    Those were wonderful quotes. The one from AbdulBaha from Divine Philosophy i had never read before. Thank you for this terrific format of learning i am enjoying it everyday.
    Sheila G
  • Hooshang S. Afshar
    Nov 30, 2016
    David, as you wrote in a previous essay you saw an UFO when you were eight years old. Based on this I suggest they avoid us at present time, and I don't blame them.
  • Nov 29, 2016
    Steven Hawking has said that we should try to find extraterrestrials but not communicate with them because they might be dangerous. Personally, I suspect that any extraterrestrials that have survived to become more advanced than us will have developed ethics and won't harm us. They will be able to find us and communicate with us more easily than we can find them. We should concentrate on building a spiritual society so they won't have a reason to destroy us.
  • Patricia Allen
    Nov 29, 2016
    Thank you for this powerful message. Connections clearly made to ALL our relations, throughout the Universe, and here, this globe.
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