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Fig. 1.10 The Tower of Babel (1563) by Pieter Bruegel. Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Vienna.
(Copyright free, image is in the public domain)
immense structure occupying almost the entire picture, with microscopic figures,
rendered in perfect detail. The top floors of the tower are in bright red, whereas
the rest of the brickwork has already started to weather. Maurits Cornelis Escher
(1898-1972) was also intrigued by the story. In his painting in 1928, people were
building the tower when they started to experience the confusion and frustration of
the communication breakdown caused by the language barrier (See Fig. 1.11 ).
Messages to the Deep Space
The moral of the Tower of Babel story in this topic is the vital role of our language.
Consider the following examples and examine the basis of our communication that
we have been taking for granted. Space probes Pioneer and Voyager are travelling
into deep space with messages designed to reach some intelligent forms in a few
million years. If aliens do exist and eventually find the messages on the spacecraft,
will they be able to understand? What are the assumptions we make when we
communicate our ideas to others?
Pioneers 10 and 11 both carried small metal plaques identifying their time and
place of origin for whatever intelligent forms might find them in the distant future.
NASA placed a more ambitious message aboard Voyager 1 and 2 - a kind of time
capsule - to communicate a story of our world to extraterrestrial.
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