Originally posted on livescience.
Intelligent aliens will soon have a space here on Earth where they can share how they made it through their technological adolescence.
We haven’t yet heard from any such beings, of course. Some researchers find this “Great Silence” puzzling, given how old the universe is and how many potentially habitable worlds dot its vast expanse.
One possible explanation is that civilizations tend to destroy themselves once they become “advanced” enough to explore the cosmos in a meaningful way. Such power is inherently hard to control and can burn you to the ground more easily than it can fuel an outward push, the idea goes.
Indeed, it’s unclear if humanity will make it over this developmental hurdle; we had some close calls with nuclear armageddon during the Cold War, after all, and we may be in the process of offing ourselves (and many other species) right now via anthropogenic climate change.
So we could probably use some advice from other creatures who managed to get over the hump — and a new art project aims to foster such cosmic cultural exchange. Experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats is developing a “Library of the Great Silence,” which will be based at the Hat Creek Radio Observatory in Northern California.
Keats wants the library to be universally accessible, and we can’t assume that beings from across the universe will understand any languages spoken here on Earth. So the facility will house not books but artifacts of transition — stuff like handaxes, fossils of extinct species and shards of trinitite, the greenish glass forged by the intense heat of the first-ever atomic bomb blast, at New Mexico’s Trinity Site in July 1945.
If all goes according to plan, the collection will eventually become an interstellar research center, incorporating ideas sent in by creatures across the cosmos.
“Although interstellar exchange could take time, a material archive of transformations will have immediate global value that may be sufficient to extend the lifespan of human civilization in the interim,” reads a description of the project, which is a collaboration with the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California. (Keats is currently an artist in residence there, and Hat Creek is the site of the Allen Telescope Array, which SETI Institute researchers use to scan the skies for possible signals from ET.)
“Manipulating existentially significant objects without the use of words — and without the underlying assumptions of language or limitations on who participates in the conversation — may facilitate comprehension of human behaviors that has previously eluded us, or even directly encourage beneficial practices such as cooperation,” the description adds.
Hat Creek may not be the only repository of such artifacts, either.
“We’re starting to reach out to libraries that already exist about whether they would host, potentially, branches,” Keats told Space.com. “And, simultaneously, we’re actually looking off the planet and starting to look at what it would take to have a branch on the moon, for instance.”