Sunday, 30 June 2013

Hear Inaudible Darmok!

It's funny to think that 5 or 6 years ago, I couldn't even have begun to imagine giving a decent talk to a crowd of strangers. I could eventually stand up in front of my class of familiar peers, but even that always made me feel awkward. Today, after the fiery forge of teaching, I couldn't give a shit about audience size, type or demeanour. Once you've stared down 60 bored teenagers with whom you don't share a mother tongue, in the last lesson on a Friday afternoon, trying to convey the mostly-unobvious reasons that atoms behave the way they do, there is no more challenging public speaking task left in life.

So it's perhaps appropriate that my first public talk to mostly-adults will be about the challenges of communication. Of course, since I'm speaking officially as an officer of the USS Dauntless, at Science Fiction and Fantasy South Africa's Star Trek MiniCon, I won't be looking at conventional  terrestrial human communication. Instead, I want to look at how talking to aliens might go, once we realise that they're unlikely to have much in common with us either physically or psychologically. And rather than just making shit up out of thin air, I'd like to look at what we've learned about communication with non-human animals here on Earth, as a rough, general analogue for extraterrestrial communication. This has some important limits, which I will address, but I think the basic idea should be good as a crash intro to how much we take for granted about humans-only language and interaction.

So, use your human eyes to detect the squiggly absences of EM radiation in the part of the spectrum you're accustomed to detecting visually from the monitor ahead of you, and take note of the brain-sounds these squiggles denote within your shared social context, to interpret the space-time coordinates of this talk of mine, and the MiniCon in general:

The Star Trek MiniCon (which will also feature a talk by the Dauntless's dauntless leader, Owen Swart, plus lots of other fun stuff; see links above) will be from 09:00 11:00 onwards, on Saturday the 20th of July, at the Marie Curie Theatre (digression here for the awesomeness of Marie Curie), Wits Medical School. I believe I'm scheduled to start my particular waffle, titled "Inaudible Darmok," at 12:25.

I don't see it spelled out clearly anywhere yet, but I'm pretty sure entry to the con is pretty cheap too.  Entry for the whole day is R70. So that's nice, right?