“To Whom It May Concern” begins the classic message in a bottle, written on a slip of paper and cast adrift on the tides to…wherever. The discs NASA set into space aboard Voyagers 1 and 2 are much the same. In each case, the distance to be traversed — and the amount of serendipity required for success — would be as close to infinite as you’d want to get.
A message beamed out from an alien civilization would be just as unlikely to be picked up by our scientists or “listening” devices, says theoretical physicist, cosmologist, astrobiologist Paul Davies. Really, they odds would be even worse since you’d have to add considerations of time to the equation: The time between when a message was sent and when we received it, and the billions of years during which it might have transmitted, perhaps even passing by us before we were here. Maybe the answer to Fermi Paradox is simple: We haven’t come across evidence of intelligent life out there because it’s just so big, and it’s been that way for a very long time.
Davies says we’ve got to open our minds to other forms of evidence and other ways to look for it. And he’s got a startling suggestion for where an an intergalactic message could possibly be.
I see why Davies is fond of this idea. If math does turn out to be a means of communication, as has long been suggested by real scientists like Davies and Sci-Fi scientists, then DNA would be a great place to hide an equation that says “hi!” He’s half-joking — which of course means he’s also half serious — but, well, why not?
Certainly, while Davies doesn’t explicitly say so, his idea reflects that realization that our hunt so far has gone big, upward and large-scaled as we listen to the vast cosmos, and that we might just as well consider looking in the opposite direction: Down into the tininess of the microscopic, and even quantum, worlds. That bottle, if it exists, could be anywhere.