‘If you wish to converse with me, define your terms.’ Voltaire
In 1820 the mathematician Carl Freidrich Gauss suggested communicating with other planets by creating a gigantic Pythagorean triangle in the Siberian forests; he assumed any extraterrestrial capable of building a telescope would know the theorem. Apparently the chance of making contact by sending a message in outer space is equivalent to putting a note in a bottle and throwing it into the ocean (I’ve tried this), except in this case the distance is inconceivably vaster. Scientist Carl Sagan made the first serious attempt to communicate with extraterrestrial intelligence on the 3 March 1972, when Pioneer 10 was launched by NASA to become the first man-made object to leave the Solar System. His message was etched on gold-anodized aluminum plaque and the information and artwork – drawn up by his wife – shows amongst the message, a representational male and female figure, obviously accepting that science has its limitations when it comes to describing human beings.
‘Language is a virus from outer space.’ William Burroughs
Do the limits of our language mean the limits of our world? Paradoxically, what is not said (allusion and implication) is as relevant as that which is. Someone once told me this joke: Two psychoanalysts meet on the street. When one says. ‘Good morning,’ the other immediately thinks, ‘I wonder what he means by that?’
Did you know that more than a thousand languages are spoken in Africa alone and a quarter of those in the Cameroon? Me either. Words, phrases, sentences…we move in a sea of sound.
‘A bird does not sing because it has an answer – it sings because it has a song.’ Maya Angelou