What are the chances that an alien civilization will understand what the heck these mean? Is it possible that it will fly completely over their heads, even assuming human like levels of inteligence?
EDIT: I mean there are several waveforms on the cover and a typically educated human would understand that these are waveforms, even if he doesn’t know of what exactly. But what if the alien civilization never developed an oscilloscope? Maybe they are using exclusively fourier transforms or some other representation totaly alien to us.
The audience for whom the records were intended can understand them perfectly. The chance of any alien ever finding the spacecraft (at least, as their first contact with humans) is so low as to be completely negligible, even assuming the most optimistic values for all of the factors in the Drake equation. The real purpose of the plaques and records was not to greet aliens, but to inspire Earthlings.
Even if an alien civilization somehow found Voyager, there is no way to know if they would recognize what anything in the entire spacecraft was, let alone how to play the golden record. The history of their civilization could be so different that it would look to them merely like a piece of random junk, none of which resembled anything that they had ever used. Voyager as an attempt to contact an alien civilization is an incredibly unlikely long shot. Even the people who created the golden record, like Carl Sagan, understood that what they were building was almost entirely a public relations effort to persuade people on Earth to attempt to work together and communicate with aliens.
We could theoretically test it against some primitive uncontacted tribe in the jungle, but they to wouldn’t represent a scientifically educated society. We could raise a group of children from infancy through hard science PhD’s, being careful to teach them “alternate” styles/notations to model the universe (e.g. teach them to draw a wave another way), and make sure that they don’t ever learn of the Golden Records until we present them to them as a “challenge”, but then it would seem an impossible challenge to purge our curriculum sufficiently to eliminate all bias. The truth is that we simply cannot test this right now.
Arthur C. Clarke wrote a short story called “History Lesson” where
A civilization is confused by what appears to be a thin strip of clear plastic that they found on a barren, frozen Earth, until they hypothesize that not all life forms necessarily see the same wavelengths as a visual spectrum. They do a frequency mapping to their own visual wavelengths, and it is revealed that they are looking at
The duality of between representations is a fundamental part of Fourier theory. If they understand one, they will understand the other.
Given the record and a playing cartridge, the ETs would probably deduce the basic idea of the encoding on the record by inspecting the design of the cartridge - without recourse to the diagram. Working out that the signal in the record was rasterised 2D images would not be hard - the circle allows calibration of that. After that it is all downhill. Many of the images are just plain silly, and will be little more than meaningless blobs. It may be possible that the ETs could work out where we are, and that we are DNA based - if they are too. So we have at least sent the directions and the menu.
Any alien culture capable of space travel will also be capable of abstract thought and problem-solving (which is the same thing as puzzle-solving). They’ll treat the whole probe as a puzzle to be decrypted, disk included. What data they’ll manage to gather from it, I have no idea.
Which suggests something related to the Drake Equation…what are the odds that aliens can see and hear in the frequency range anywhere close to ours at all? Is there anything about inter-galaxy evolution that suggests an answer?
Personally, I think we can only speculate and philosophize, but it would be interesting if there is any science that could be applied.
Given lots of time and curiousity, I think that an alien civilization can figure out an awful lot of it. The fact that it’s obscure at first viewing to an individual doesn’t mean anything. It’s meant to be packed dense with significance, and there’s plenty of time to work it out. Plus, it has its own Rosetta Stone, in a way. It’s not meant to b a random bit of Earth script – it’s meant to be comprehensible using clues at their disposal.
Arguably, the most obscure thing will be what appears most naturally to humans – the drawings of the human beings. I think any hypothetical aliens will eventually dope ouut that the weird thing on the giant planet are rings. But what are they to make of our bodily features? Eill it be obvious that those paired things in the head are eyes? I suspect the penis-and-scrotum on the male might look like a weird loop. With no referents, it’s problematical how they will interpret those two-dimensional perspective drawings, so unlike the schematics elsewhere on the plaque.