NASA has put out a free, fascinating e-book exploring the possibility of human/extraterrestrial communication. The 300-page book, which has chapters written by more than a dozen different scholars, looks to archaeology and anthropology for clues to decoding extraterrestrial messages, should they ever arrive. In his introduction to the volume, editor Douglas A. Vakoch explains, "Like archaeologists who reconstruct temporally distant civilizations from fragmentary evidence, SETI [Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence] researchers will be expected to reconstruct distant civilizations separated from us by vast expanses of space as well as time. And like anthropologists, who attempt to understand other cultures despite differences in language and social customs, as we attempt to decode and interpret extraterrestrial messages, we will be required to comprehend the mindset of a species that is radically Other."
Addressing a field that has been dominated by astronomers, physicists, engineers, and computer scientists, the contributors to this collection raise questions that may have been overlooked by physical scientists about the ease of establishing meaningful communication with an extraterrestrial intelligence. These scholars are grappling with some of the enormous challenges that will face humanity if an information-rich signal emanating from another world is detected. By drawing on issues at the core of contemporary archaeology and anthropology, we can be much better prepared for contact with an extraterrestrial civilization, should that day ever come.