- Constants of Art and Nature:The Rainbow Project
Interstellar message construction would seem to be less of a mechanical issue than a philosophical one, because it raises questions about the larger aspects of life that force us as human beings to assess our own reality. Message construction provides a distillation of our society, necessarily encoded in a comprehensible format that is truly universal. Rather than inventing a contrived language based on symbolic logic, we should look to Nature itself to provide this universal language. If the laboratory of Earth can represent the [End Page 35] universe as a whole, then the quest is to discover a natural phenomenon that already exists and apply it as language.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
There is a fundamental correlation between specific numerical constants and the design of the universe. The number e is one of a handful of Nature's primary numbers. Its power lies in the fact that it defines a self-similar form that describes phenomena as disparate as the rates of change in both banking and population growth, while also representing the aesthetic element of the logarithmic or "Golden" spiral (see Fig. 2). This naturally occurring spiral shape is observed in many forms on Earth, such as sunflowers and the nautilus shell, and also in outer space in the form of spiral galaxies. Humanity's fascination with the measurement of pleasing shapes has led to the idea of ø, or the "Golden Section," whose ratio is approximately 1 to 1.618. This proportion has been used in art, music and architectural statements from the Parthenon to Le Corbusier. Thus, e and its partner ø provide insight into how Nature is organized and imitated.
The Rainbow Project (2002) developed from the notion that there could exist a universal frequency, another constant of Nature such as e, which could be recognized by an extraterrestrial intelligence. Such a constant would be used to encode a message that could be poetic, yet based on scientific principles. Indeed, the image of a rainbow—representing hope, peace and diversity in various cultures—can also be described through optics. When a single ray of sunlight enters a water drop and is refracted within, upon exiting it provides the physical basis for colors, each one having a specific frequency and location in the electromagnetic spectrum.
A "picture" of a rainbow could be transmitted across interstellar space over the course of 7 days. The message would be generated by using the broadcast frequency as the reference for the rest of the message, essentially using frequency to describe itself. This standard would provide the baseline for translating each color, creating a rainbow pattern. The frequency used would have to be universally accessible and recognizable as an essential unit of Nature, such as the signature of cold interstellar hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe, equal to approximately 1420.405 MHz. The result would be a stack of frequencies corresponding to the colors of the rainbow. The metaphor of rainbow-as-bridge would become the aesthetic component of a scientific statement, serving to convey these two aspects at once, as we attempt to communicate with another species in a message of peace.