College Course Teaches Students to Commune with ET

It's all well and good to go looking for extraterrestrials, but what are we going to say once we find them? A workshop at the University of Wyoming, "Writing for an Extraterrestrial Audience," asks students how they would explain the human condition to interstellar visitors. More on the pedagogy of cross-species communications after the jump.

Jeffrey Lockwood, who teaches the course, plans to discuss the resulting works at this September's SETI conference, "Searching for Life Signatures." The students, some of whom are Wyoming natives, come from a variety of educational backgrounds, which have influenced their responses to the assignments:

Christine Ingoglia, a graduate student who entered the university's Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program in creative writing in the Fall of 2007, started with a basic description of our appearance: "We look like - two arms, two legs, head, torso, symmetrical." Similarly, fellow MFA student Meagan Ciesla's summary - "We need food, air, water, and think we're the most intelligent" - was reminiscent of a message transmitted from the Arecibo radio telescope in 1974, which described the chemical basis of life on Earth, and showed a picture of only one terrestrial species: Homo sapiens.

Other messages penned that first day of class in Laramie were more philosophical. "We are an adolescent species searching for our identity," wrote Ann Stebner, a senior English major completing a minor in Environmental Values. "We know our species' origins," wrote senior psychology major Dana Rinne, "but we fear individual deaths." Rinne, who plans to do graduate work in social psychology or cognitive psychology, described the course as an opportunity to contemplate the intersection of philosophy, science, and mind.

Plenty of schools offer courses in extraterrestrial life, and a few even have burgeoning futurology programs. But with xenocommunications entering the course catalog, can we expect more courses on how to engage the future? Could transhuman studies be next in the curriculum?

Writing for an Extraterrestrial Audience [LiveScience]