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In regards to extraterrestrial life, I wonder about their "rate of life". I mean, could what we call a second be a year for their species. So, a message from us like "Hello" would be a year- long "HHHHHHHHHH...eeeeeeeeee...lllllllllllllllll lll...oooooooooo." If our thought processes are at two very different rates, then communication would seem impossible. OR, is there one rate of life in all the universe? It seems that this would have to be the case for any contact to occur since the probability of another species' "rate of life" being close to ours appears to be zero. Do you think our rate of life is connected to the speed of light. So, for example, an alien species with a rate of life one hundred times ours would see light travelling one hundred times slower? (or faster?)
Question Date: 2000-01-31
Answer 1:

That's a good question. the "rate of life" is very difficult to assess. For starters, elephants and mice have hugely different metabolic rates, and it is hard to ascertain if their "internal clocks" are different because of it. Scientists earlier this century noticed that mice and elephants have roughly the same number of heartbeats throughout their life, but elephants live much longer than mice (the rate of beating is different, the total number of beats is about the same). Thus, they conjured that every organism has a fixed number of heartbeats, and that mice live "faster" than elephants. Still, there is no direct meaurement of what "faster" is. Furthermore, they both live on the same planet, where day length is not governed by their heartrates.

Anyway, back to your question. The signals we transmit (and receive) are typically radio waves, although other boradcasts and transmissions (such as microwaves) do make it into space. One key aspect to listening and transmitting is that you need to find some way to insure that your recipient can differentiate your signal from the background. That's why sending prime numbers (or pulse modulated signals in a particular pattern) is so important. If you send prime numbers as pulses, for example, no matter how fast they are received they are still prime numbers.

A good website to check out is SETI (the search for extraterrestrial life). http://setiathome.berkeley.edu/othersites.html#seti

This should help you in your search for answers. Good luck!

Answer 2:

I think the issue here is the means of energy consumption of the life and its physical size. Given chemical energy sources and similar environments (i.e. gravity, insolation, temperature etc.) simple tasks such as locomotion create limits on the cognition speed of sophonts. In the fastest limit, (small organisms with speed of light communications) cognitions speed could indeed be millions of times faster than us -- but probably only hundreds of times slower. However, no life on earth has come anywhere close to these speeds, as again practical energy consumption rates for locomotion seem to determine the operating speed of most animal brains. Given my own anthropomorphic bias, I can't see why an animal would need to develop such fast cognition abilities from anevolution standpoint -- but the fact I can't figure it is pretty meaningless. Something, somewhere might indeed need it... If they did, they would perceive speed of light delays much as we note sound delays....

On the other hand, our own communication systems are rapidly evolving into spread spectrum digital encoded constructs -- which would be undetectable noise even to us 30 years ago... What will we be transmitting in 100 years? (i.e. after we have some time to polish the media a bit???) Most SETI searches are looking for pure tones, modulated at relatively low rates -- but it is not clear this is any simpler from an alien viewpoint than something we haven't thought of-- A world-wide spread spectrum broadcast would be undetectable even within the same planetary ssytem unless one knew the sequences......

Answer 3:

I think this is a very interesting question. I think it is possible that other life forms could have other metabolic rates. I would guess that it depends on the structure of the life form and the type of energy and speed of chemical processes used for nourishment.
This is another reason why trying to contact an unknown intelligence is such a difficult thing to do.

In any case, according to Einstein's theory of Special Relativity the speed of light should be the same for all observers. So whether you are traveling 60 or 6000 MPH (or even close to the speed of light), you will see that light is still moving at the same speed. It is very difficult to understand why this is the case, but all the experiments that have been done to test this theory have supported it.

Answer 4:

The way I see it, by "rate of life", you are referring to the interaction between time (which is fixed) and life span, which varies a great deal for different organisms. An adult insect, which lives for only two hours, would experience a one-second message as 0.01% of it's lifetime, which is comparable to 5 days in an animal that lives to be 100 years old. So, assuming your message was equally understandable to both animals, the shorter-lived animal would have to have a relatively longer attention span to absorb the message. However, this makes a lot of assumptions, such as the fact that attention spans vary with life span and that one message would be equally audible and understandable to all organisms (very small organisms usually don't have sensory capabilities that are well developed enough to distinguish sounds, at least as far as we are aware, and tend to use chemical communication). By choosing to send your message as sound, you are automatically selecting for those organisms that can process and decode sound frequencies in the same range you broadcasted, which to me would have more of an effect on deciding who heard your message than the actual length of the message.

The speed of light is fixed and is so fast that it would probably be impossible for any organism to observe the propagation of a light wave, to literally "see" the speed of light. This would require that the organism be able to see packages of individual photons as distinct and separate and be able to distinguish between events that occur in only nanoseconds. This ability would not be related to life span but to the speed of nerve conduction and information processing, and to light sensitivity. In my opinion, because information packages in a light wave (photons) travel at a fixed and furious rate, information transmitted by light would appear to be instant in all organisms, no matter how long or short their consciousness. Someone else may have a different interpretation.

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