The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote in the middle of the 20th century: “If a lion could speak, we could not understand it.” The language of the lion would be completely alien to us, but not only because the lion is a lion and not a human, but because it exists in a completely different life world.
Consequently, even his language, which is always context-dependent for Wittgenstein, must be fundamentally different, even if it matches the grammar and vocabulary of ours. Some humanities scholars accused Wittgenstein of drawing lions on account of such aphorisms. But if the forms of communication of the animals, with whom we nevertheless share a planet, confront us with such almost insoluble problems, how should communication be possible with beings that really come from another world, from another planet?
He is sure that the sounds he has heard can not come from Earth
1899: It’s night in Colorado Springs. The Serbian-American physicist and inventor Nicola Tesla is alone in his laboratory. The room is filled with batteries, lightning conductors and a variety of small and large wire coils. The roof can be opened and reveals the view of a nearly eight-meter high steel structure, which protrudes like a lonely transmission line from the wooden hut. Tesla does not want too much of his experiments going outside. Here, far from his rival Guillermo Marconi and the hustle and bustle of New York, he wants to work on his projects in peace. These are ambitious: Tesla is working on wireless transporting both messages and energy over long distances.
The unsafe experiments are promising. Tesla discovers that the earth is surrounded by so-called standing electromagnetic waves, which he wants to use for his wireless energy and data transmission. He sets the measuring instruments as sensitively as possible: he wants to make every electromagnetic unevenness perceptible. For the tinkerer has simply connected to the devices a telephone receiver, which renders every rash as a faint beeping.
Many would probably not have noticed the signals that excited Tesla in that lonely night in the lab – they did not realize the lion was talking to them to stay in Wittgenstein’s picture. Through the telephone receiver, Tesla listens to a repetitive sequence of one, then two, and finally three beeps. Later he spoke of the feeling of the “weird, not to say supernatural,” which he felt in the face of the mathematical precision of this signal.
Natural explanations such as the sun, northern lights or earth currents he soon rejects. But only back in New York is Tesla sure that the sounds he heard on the lonely summer night can not come from Earth, and that in their uniformity they must be of artificial origin. “More and more, the feeling that I was the first to hear the greetings of one planet to another,” writes Tesla in 1901. To establish communication with an intelligence that does not come from the earth, he considers the great challenge of
In fact, his rival Marconi will claim, years later, to catch signals that can only come from Mars. In 1924, even the US Army and the Navy will instruct their radio stations in a unique experiment to watch out for strange signals. Since the 1960s, the private organization Seti has been listening to space – previously unsuccessful. The fascination for the ability to communicate with other intelligent beings seems to have only grown since Tesla’s discovery more than a hundred years ago.
There were early theories circulating that tried to explain without little green males what Tesla had heard at night. The historian W. Bernard Carlson describes in his biography Tesla the thesis of the brothers Kenneth and James Corum, according to which the uniform signals actually came from space, but not from an alien civilization, but from the Jovian moon Io. The axis of rotation at which Io moves around Jupiter and the magnet axis of the planet are shifted by ten degrees. For this reason, the Moon only moves through the Jupiter’s magnetic field at one point in its orbit, producing electromagnetic waves that can be perceived on Earth as a uniform series of pulses. In 1996, the Corum brothers succeeded in confirming their thesis in an experiment. The sparking Martians were finally refuted.
But Tesla might have objected that our idea of the aliens is too earthly. That we want to understand the language of the lion with that of man. “Because it’s easy to understand