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On “First Contact” with Super Intelligent Beings
Kris Notaro   May 10, 2013   Ethical Technology  

In order to communicate with super intelligent beings (in this context, extraterrestrials that have figured out how travel many light years to reach our planet) we should first start with something we all share. A fundamental starting point – that is, pure consciousness.

Why consciousness? What can we learn from evolutionary biology?

There are many forces of nature that can act as selection pressure on evolving organisms. For example for the bat the main way of navigation is the use of sonar, high frequency wave lengths transmitted through the earths air. On the human level and many other species we can find the semicircular canals of the cochlea responsible for detecting gravity giving us balance, one of the four basic forces of the universe. Humans also use air, like the bat, not for navigation, but mostly for communicating with each other. The vocal cords give rise to vibrations in the air which can communicate written and subjective information from one mind to another.

A species from another planet through Darwinian evolution might have detected another force like that of radio waves in their galaxy which is used for communication. This would drastically reduce our capability of communicating with an extraterrestrial. Not only would they have to learn our language before communicating, they would have to transmit their information over radios.

We should not assume that a species that has the capability to travel millions of light years to reach us has the technology to decode and understand our languages at all. Understanding the universe and how it works is not the same as understanding social constructions of reality.

From evolution to technology back to simple evolution?

I propose a method of communication that first relies on the assumption that they have consciousness. Even if extraterrestrials cannot see us or talk with us, innately, they probably have created technology to detect vividly photons, and other forms of radiation and atmospheric and environmental density changes and wavelengths. A stone thrown into any dense atmospheric and environmental conditions will create waves. We should assume the same thing happens throughout the universe. Whales for example can communicate over miles through the density of water on our planet, and we must assume also that other planets have a gravitational pull similar to that of the earth, moon, or even Jupiter.

The starting point of life on other planets, as important as it is, is not the concern of this essay. This essay assumes that selection pressure, mutation and genetic drift, and other forms of natural selection have taken place on other planets outside our solar system.

Intelligent life, if they evolved into complex philosophical zombies, what yearning for exploration would they have? Intentionality of consciousness* is a major important factor in both our species and any extraterrestrial life with the yearning for exploration.

However, as stated above, we do not know what kind of communication they would utilize. We cannot assume that on other planets with atmospheres like ours that vocal cords would evolve the same way, the same with other sensory and communication organs.

This leads us back to how to deal with a first encounter. The assumption of a “first” encounter, in my view also leads to what we know first about ourselves. We first know our own consciousness.

Buddhists and phenomenologists as of 2013, have the best understanding of pure consciousness. Therefore I would like to explore different ways to communicate Buddhist meditation and phenomenological reduction. If we share with extraterrestrial life the starting point of consciousness, we must communicate with them that we are not zombies, and that we have the same ability to reduce down to the ultimate level of conscious experience.

Why go from intelligence to phenomenological reduction?

  1. On first contact, instead of being afraid, or weary of their existence, phenomenological reduction offers the “peacefulness” of Buddhist meditation.

  2. It would show that we share something fundamental in common

  3. Phenomenological reduction is an action that only a calm, collective, and peaceful individual or group can perform. The act of phenomenological reduction is very hard to do in times of extreme ciaos. (However we have all seen the image of the Buddhist Monk setting themselves on fire during protest, this image, as horrible and gruesome as it is, communicates a message to us of both action and the power of phenomenological reduction.)

  4. Phenomenological reduction, once reached in a peaceful manner, can then be slowly reversed.

The reversion of phenomenological reduction.

If we communicate with extraterrestrials that we have the capability of phenomenological reduction in a peaceful way, we can then move from pure consciousness to those aspects of the universe that phenomenologists refer to as “given” to our “consciousness.” First comes awareness, then comes awareness of body, then simple mathematical, societal, and scientific theories. We then move to more complex theories.

First contact should then be carried out by not only a person who understands phenomenological reduction, but also complex mathematical, societal, and scientific theories. Extraterrestrial life, would probably rather have a very peaceful, slowish process of communication to make sure we are on the “same page”.

This article is a rough draft about “first contact”. I am very interested in your opinion whether or not you think I may be on to something, given what we know about intelligence and evolution, from the starting point of pure consciousness up to complex theories of science.

*Intentionality is the power of minds to be about, to represent, or to stand for, things, properties and states of affairs. The puzzles of intentionality lie at the interface between the philosophy of mind and the philosophy of language. The word itself, which is of medieval Scholastic origin, was rehabilitated by the philosopher Franz Brentano towards the end of the nineteenth century. ‘Intentionality’ is a philosopher's word. It derives from the Latin word intentio, which in turn derives from the verb intendere, which means being directed towards some goal or thing... Edmund Husserl (1900, 1913), who was both the founder of phenomenology and a student of Brentano's, the point of the phenomenological analysis has been to show that the essential property of intentionality of being directed onto something is not contingent upon whether some real physical target exists independently of the intentional act itself. To achieve this goal, two concepts have been central to Husserl's internalist interpretation of intentionality: the concept of a noema (plural noemata) and the concept of epoche (i.e., bracketing) or phenomenological reduction. By the word ‘noema,’ Husserl refers to the internal structure of mental acts. The phenomenological reduction is meant to help get at the essence of mental acts by suspending all naive presuppositions about the difference between real and fictitious entities (on these complex phenomenological concepts, see the papers by Føllesdal and others conveniently gathered in Dreyfus (1982). -

Note: Next I will look at the following scenarios:φ
A.  Extraterrestrials send supercomputer to earth, communication is thus between humans and an extraterrestrial computer.
B. Humans, 20 years from now or beyond decide that communication during first contact should be done by a supercomputer with living conscious extraterrestrials.
C. Human made supercomputers and extraterrestrial supercomputers are decided on for first contact if the first contact is with a supercomputer
D. Posthumans (humans that have merged with technology, our next evolutionary step) communicate during first contact. This may also assume that extraterrestrial life has also merged with their technology, etc.
φ: In all cases where a "supercomputer" is utilized the question of whether or not the computer has consciousness may be of major importance.

Kris Notaro served as Managing Director of the IEET from 2012 to 2015. He is currently an IEET Rights of the Person Program Director. He earned his BS in Philosophy from Charter Oak State College in Connecticut. He is currently the Bertrand Russell Society’s Vice-President for Website Technology. He has worked with the Bertrand Russell A/V Project at Central Connecticut State University, producing multimedia materials related to philosophy and ethics for classroom use. His major passions are in the technological advances in the areas of neuroscience, consciousness, brain, and mind.


A species advanced enough to have mastered interstellar travel is likely advanced enough to effectively perform correlational analysis of language as it relates to behavior, especially how much data they would likely be able to process, and how quickly. We’ve long been able to communicate with bushman tribes whose conceptions of the universe are quite foreign to our own, as well as on pure lexicographical analysis on stone tablets with whose speakers we cannot have any contact.

It’s unlikely that we would hae to demonstrate to them our own sapience, by phenomenological reduction or otherwise, as the self-evident fact of the extent and complexity of our technosphere demonstrates that we possess the cognitive apparatus required to understand the physical world, much as we would infer of them by mere dint of their technological sophistication.

The main problem with this, to my mind, is the concept you introduce - without explanation - of “pure consciousness”. I have no idea what this means. I do not believe there is any definition of consciousness that is stable enough to allow the attachment of “pure” and there are plenty of conceptions of consciousness where the idea of grading purity would be impossible or absurd. As to your uncritical assertion that buddhists and phenomenologists have the best understanding of “pure consciousness” - where does this come from? To my mind this whole argument is mired in social construction. If buddhists have the best understanding of X it is because X is a thing that they have fabricated so only they can be in the privileged position of “best understanding”.

Lastly, I would ask, why build this argument around super-intelligent beings? I suppose I can appreciate that this could work, to some extent, as a thought experiment, to free your argument from a lot of diversions. But are we not surrounded by non human consciousness? Or are all higher mammals mysteriously like blocks of stone? Why does your theory need to aim at testing itself against super-intelligent beings? Even supposing that primate consciousness (if you will allow it) is somehow inferior - if we’re not interested in testing your theory against “inferior” intelligence, what interest should we expect the super-intelligent to have in communicating with us? And this doesn’t even begin to question the grading system you ask us to take for granted in the phrase “super-intelligent”. Is an animal that does not use symbolic language but has a more sophisticated limbic system than a human not conscious, less conscious, or more conscious but less intelligent?



I agree, “proving” our sentience and intelligence might not be an issue. But didn’t anthropologists and other social scientists have to prove that 1. they were peaceful? 2. they started communication on a very extreme basic level? (and that is within our own species!)

Yes, but I don’t think that situation analogizes nicely to the alien one. A civilization capable of interstellar travel would likely have the prudence to observe us to such an extent that it deemed the probability of us rivaling their technology to the point of being able to appreciably harm them as negligible.

we have so many types of high powered nuclear weapons, any species from another planet might be afraid? We dont live in a movie where extraterrestrial life 100% have developed a method to resist a nuclear blast? Perhaps it is close to impossible to create a “shield” from a nuclear blast that would also save the environment you are in? The only thing I can think of to use as a “shield” would be a controllable black hole but how dangerous would that be for both extraterrestrials and us if they simply wanted to visit our planet?

Then again, they would likely have developed shielding for deep space radiation so that has to count for something.  Also, such advanced races would probably have a very deep understanding of quantum physics and that knowledge may enable such a “shield” among a whole host of other things.

“we have so many types of high powered nuclear weapons, any species from another planet might be afraid?”

Concerned, perhaps. But our ability to deliver them anywhere off-planet in any meaningful number is extremely limited. Merely standing off a thousand miles or so, would be an adequate buffer allowing time for defense and/or evasion…


Thank you for constructive criticism! You make very good points. If you do not know who the philosopher Edmund Husserl is and what he said about consciousness:

Edmund Gustav Albrecht Husserl (German: [ˈhʊsɐl]; April 8, 1859 – April 27, 1938[2]) was a philosopher and mathematician and the founder of the 20th century philosophical school of phenomenology. He broke with the positivist orientation of the science and philosophy of his day, yet he elaborated critiques of historicism and of psychologism in logic. Not limited to empiricism, but believing that experience is the source of all knowledge, he worked on a method of phenomenological reduction by which a subject may come to know directly an essence. -

Husserl on “pure consciousness”:
“The phenomenological reduction is at once a description and prescription of a technique that allows one to voluntarily sustain the awakening force of astonishment so that conceptual cognition can be carried throughout intentional analysis, thus bringing the “knowing” of astonishment into our everyday experience. It is by virtue of the “knowing” perspective generated by the proper performance of the phenomenological reduction that phenomenology claims to offer such a radical standpoint on the world phenomenon; indeed, it claims to offer a perspective that is so radical, it becomes the standard of rigor whereby every other perspective is judged and by which they are grounded. In what follows there will be close attention paid to correctly understanding the rigorous nature of the phenomenological reduction, the epistemological problem that spawned it, how that problem is solved by the phenomenological reduction, and the truly radical nature of the technique itself.”
“In other words, the phenomenological reduction is properly understood as a regimen designed to transform a philosopher into a phenomenologist by virtue of the attainment of a certain perspective on the world phenomenon. The path to the attainment of this perspective is a species of meditation, requiring rigorous, persistent effort and is no mere mental exercise. It is a species of meditation because, unlike ordinary meditation, which involves only the mind, this more radical form requires the participation of the entire individual and initially brings about a radical transformation of the individual performing it similar to a religious conversion. Husserl discovered the need for such a regimen once it became clear to him that the foundation upon which scientific inquiry rested was compromised by the very framework of science itself and the psychological assumptions of the scientist; the phenomenological reduction is the technique whereby the phenomenologist puts him or herself in a position to provide adequately rigorous grounds for scientific or any other kind of inquiry.”
“Husserl’s task is to get from those spheres into another “field” that is quite unlike them. It will be the sphere of absolute consciousness, consciousness when it isn’t going anywhere. As the title of chapter II-3 puts it, this will be “The Region of Pure Consciousness.” You can’t “go there” with consciousness; instead you have to let the worldly go away and then inhabit what’s left. This is the import of the infamous fantasy that opens paragraph 33: “(W)as kann als Sein noch setzbar sein, wenn das Weltall, das All der Realit‰t eingeklammert bleibt?” (In Kersten’s paraphrase: “What can remain, if the whole world, including ourselves with all our cogitare, is excluded?” [63])”  -

From my experience reading phenomenology, taking part in Existential therapy, talking with buddhists, and experiencing Buddhist meditation I have come to the conclusion that Phenomenological Reduction ( is indeed a kind of version of Buddhist meditation, and vice versa. Each have their methods, but really they are the same thing. When one does Phenomenological Reduction or Buddhist meditation one reaches a kind of empty state of consciousness where one is conscious of purely their own consciousness.

- Social Construct? Maybe, but I do not think so
- Can animals do it? probably not, but they are stuck in the world of experiencing consciousness…. However I wonder what falling a sleep and hibernation is like for animals? probably very similar to us?


Why do I use the phrase “super intelligent” without any explanation? Well as a transhumanist and someone who thinks the laws of physics remain constant throughout the universe, I then assume that any intelligent species takes control of their own evolution and thus amplifies their intelligence or integrates with their technology to amplify their intelligence (eg. Brain to computer interfaces of the future) But I think you may be right that even if some species on another planet had the same or close to the same intelligence as we humans, then they might have left their planet before going through the trans/post phase. In either case all three examples of intelligences must understand how the universe works enough to build something to leave their planet.

Also, we have to remember that scientific paradigms in the Kuhnian sense most likely did not develop like they did here on earth - therefore who knows where other species on other planets are at in understanding the universe….

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