Golden Record: no brains?

2008/05/03

The Golden Record is a pair of golden phonograph disks traveling at 17 km/s away from the Solar System onboard the two Voyager spacecraft launched in 1977. On the cover are graphical instructions explaining how to playback our terrestrial 19th-century audio technology. If an extraterrestrial sentient being is intelligent enough to assemble an IKEA table, she should be able to read these, or so figured the NASA creators of the Golden Record.

Recorded on the other side are sounds and images that describe, in a nutshell, well, life on Earth as we knew it in 1977.

Here are the entire contents of the record: www.goldenrecord.org – 116 images and some three dozen soundtracks, mostly musical, from around the planet.

I am particularly impressed with the one-page explanation of our number system (It takes us a few years to learn this in school):

Equally impressive is the explanation of the DNA code, summary of evolution, and sexual reproduction. Surprisingly absent is any information about our nervous system: wouldn’t the substrate of intelligence be at least equally important to mechanisms of reproduction?

The color photos are apparently intended for our primate trichromatic visual system. Let’s hope that makes sense.

Conspicuously absent are any hints of religion, war, myths, the paranormal, and death. I guess we did not wish to confuse or disappoint. ET could be misled.

Thirty years later, what would we add to CliffsNotes for Earth? I would suggest the neuron, neural networks, and recordings of trains of action potentials. The Internet?

In the age of Web 2.0, wouldn’t it be a great collaborative wiki-style project to compile and vote on Earth’s most essential information to fit on a single record: 116 pages of graphics and 90 minutes of audio in the most basic form?

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