21 January 2010

The Ephemeral Word

What a great thing words are. And how temporary!

I just finished “The World Without Us” in which Weisman describes the project to send into space a token “piece” of our civilization – in this case the Voyager spacecraft bearing a gold-plated copper analog disc. The challenge was, in 12 inches, to inscribe sound and images that would represent us to another civilization millions of years (and light-years) away. Since surely language would have developed differently in this far-off place, how do we make the recipient understand the message? Or even how to access it from the disc?

I would like to think that there is a universal language in the shape of a pure intelligence. Funny how we can know, across language barriers, about emotion, compassion, friendship. For those of us looking forward to something after this life, we are reassured that when the organization of symbols we call language disappears, we will all still know what is meant.

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