Letters in the Sky with Dialogue

Steve Hsu is at it again with an interesting paper, this time with Anthoy Zee (UCSB). And this one has to be read to be believed: physics/0510102:

Message in the Sky

Authors: S. Hsu, A. Zee
Comments: 3 pages, revtex
Subj-class: Popular Physics

We argue that the cosmic microwave background (CMB) provides a stupendous opportunity for the Creator of our universe (assuming one exists) to have sent a message to its occupants, using known physics. The medium for the message is unique. We elaborate on this observation, noting that it requires only careful adjustment of the fundamental Lagrangian, but no direct intervention in the subsequent evolution of the universe.

I especially like the last paragraph:

In conclusion, we believe that we have raised an intriguing possibility: a universal message might be encoded in the cosmic background. When more accurate CMB data becomes available, we urge that it be analyzed carefully for possible patterns. This may be even more fun than SETI.

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9 Responses to Letters in the Sky with Dialogue

  1. Cosma says:

    Stanislaw Lem had basically this idea in 1968. I am shocked and appalled to see that they do not cite His Master’s Voice.

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  2. steve says:


    Sorry, were unaware of that story by Lem. Would you mind summarizing what he wrote?

    It seems like it would have to be a bit different from our example, since

    (1) we use inflation to get the message into what (at later times, e.g., decoupling) appear to be causally disconnected regions of the universe, and it wasn’t invented until the 80’s

    (2) we suggest using Cartan matrices to communicate the gauge group structure of fundamental physics, and the importance of gauge theories wasn’t appreciated in 1968 😉



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  3. Wolfgang says:

    It seems to me that the universe is the message 😎

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  4. R.R.Tucci says:

    Steve, Paleolithic humans beat you to it. They found that God encoded messages at the beginning of the universe, in the star constellations. Here is the message they found, as read by one of them: “grunt , gaa, puhh, puhh, peepee, garr”

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  5. R.R.Tucci says:

    (footnote)The Greeks and Romans, having better mathematical tools than Paleo man, were able to improve on his findings. They read: “doggie, quack, horsie, hunter, belt, arrow, Mmm, donuts”

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  6. Dave Bacon says:

    IIRC in His Master’s Voice the message is in the form of a neutrino transimission…but I don’t remember the CMB playing a role. But it was a long time ago when I read His Master’s Voice. As Steve points out the interesting point here is the mechanism which is used to convey the message, not the idea of the signal itself.

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  7. Let’s be pragmatists about the truth. If the current members of the US House and Senate were told that a message from God might be in the cosmic background radiation, wouldn’t that be likely to increase funding for radioastronomy? Remember the testimony about the SuperConducting SuperCollider.

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  8. Cosma says:

    I regret not including a smiley at the end of my comment! In His Master’s Voice, Lem’s signal is indeed coming through neutrinos. But one of the twists towards the end is the discovery that it might just be a product of the big bang, like the CMB, and not an actual signal from an intelligent source at all. Like a lot of the novel, it trades on the fact that optimally compressed signals are statistically indistinguishable from noise. There’s also an impressive account of multi-part codes (where the first part describes the coding scheme, and the second the actual message).

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  9. R.R.Tucci says:

    I just remembered that there were no humans in the Paleolithic. I should have said Neolithic.

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