Quill, Write Ups

Last Words

“The love that moves the Sun and other Stars….” is how Dante Alighieri ends his 100 canto epic, which has rekindled itself throughout history, again and again…and again. Mortality is a “cloud” for Dante, an obscure haze that prevents the truth from being fully seen. Little by little, the Divine Comedy’s events remove the cloud from his vision, preparing him for ever more direct insights into God.

Dante, in his ultimate canto, tries to convey that it is not achieving the impossible that finally matters, but attempting that harmony. He does discover the secret finally, of what is, and what isn’t, as he moves in harmony with God and with himself. He refers to one thing in particular, as the overarching fundamental and universal moral principle, the golden rule honored in all traditions.

The last line of the Divine Comedy, in which Dante is faced with the vision of God himself, is a belief that is still easily understandable by anyone familiar with modern Italian(unlike me). Dante concludes by writing that God is not merely a hovering, blinding vision of illuminating light, but that he is, most of all,

l’amour che move il sole e l’altre stelle… “

The love that moves the Sun and other Stars

This is Earth, as seen from Saturn:

The day the Earth smiled

“There. That pale blue dot. That’s us. That’s home….” is what Carl Sagan said in his famous “Pale Blue Dot” quote, with regard to this image. This image was taken by the Cassini spacecraft on July 19th, 2013 at 21:27 UTC. NASA gave the public an advanced notice of when it was taken, meaning this was the first picture taken from “outside” the Earth, for which people were posing. Cassini, as we all know, had its grand finale just recently, and has now bowed down to the gods of time. Even at its death horizon, Cassini’s pictographic last words will continue to help us for decades to come.

Perhaps its arrogance or vanity, but getting cosmic messages in a bottle, out there, before the end, diversifies our archive and gives a better chance for future alien visitors, or whatever is left of humanity, to find out that we were once here. To show what we learnt, maybe even to warn what we did, or what we didn’t prepare for. We have already sent some messages about humanity out there beyond the Earth, and if it is completely destroyed, somewhere in eternity, those messages will be all that’s left of us. They might as well be our last words.

How do you write something for the future? The distant future. Messages that might not be found for millions, or billions of years to come. They might be discovered by an audience that’s completely different, not only in language, but in senses. What if they can’t see or hear or feel or smell like we do, or at all? What if their bodies destroy the material we write our message on? What language do we even write our messages in? Math, and Physics are generally considered universal languages, and these are what we have made as a benchmark to write our cosmic messages.


ECHOSTAR XVII is a communication satellite launched into geo-stationery orbit, or a graveyard orbit in 2012. Aboard it is a silicon disc created by artist Trevor Paglen, containing 100 images of Earth and Earthlings. Echostar xvii will remain in Earth’s orbit for billions of years, free from whatever is happening on Earth. Satellites like these, containing information about, well, us, might act as the only form of information, when(and if) visitors come to us in the distant future.

But here’s the thing. What if our entire Solar System is lost, or what if life out there doesn’t decide to ever visit our system? In that case, we have sent interstellar messages. At this moment, there are 11 human made things on trajectories out of the Solar System. They are all related to 5 probes. Pioneer 10, Pioneer 11, Voyager 1, Voyager 2 and New Horizons. These objects are our most distant “hello’s.”

Current locations of the interstellar probes

Over the next 10,000, million or billion years, they’ll pass close enough to other star systems, even planets, to possibly be discovered by other intelligent life forms. We had the foresight to include special messages on these probes. Our last words.

Pioneer 11
Description of the plaque aboard the Pioneer spacecrafts

The Pioneer plaques are attached to Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11, which launched in the early 1970’s were the first man made objects to ever be sent on a trajectory to not just leave Earth, but to leave the Solar System entirely. If ever discovered, these plaques on the probes(designed by Frank Drake and Carl Sagan) could be our first chance to say: hello, we exist, or depending on how long humanity lasts, to say: hello, we existed. This is what we were.
Despite heading out first, the Pioneer plaques are not the first physical messages made by us to go interstellar. That title belongs to Voyager 1. Currently moving at 17 kms a second, it’s the most far out thing humans have ever made. In about 40 thousand years, both the Voyagers will pass within 2 light years of other stars. If aliens find them, a golden record is attached to both, that contains information about humanity. The record is made of Gold plated Copper with an Aluminum cover containing some radioactive Uranium-238. Given its half life, aliens can analyze how long the messages have been travelling.

The record contains 116 images, as well as audio and video recordings of humans, animals, songs, and greetings in 55 languages. It even has a message from the then President of The United States, JIMMY CARTER.

There is something vulnerable about the message: it is delivered to an unknown recipient, just like when someone in a horror movies asks into the darkness “Is anyone there? Hello?” This is what it says:

The message from Jimmy Carter on board both the Voyagers.

So, can we send everything we have? All that is there on earth? There is a project on this. It’s called The LIBRARY OF BABEL( https://libraryofbabel.info/ ). It is a website built by Jonathan Basile that currently offers everything that has been or could be written. Divided in pages, it is built to locate and produce any 3200 character combination. They are all organised and encrypted in hexagonal shaped rooms. Everything’s arranged in a random fashion.

Every possible description of your death, any joke, any poem ,any lie, any possible description of what could be, can be found in this library. All you need to do is search for your text and it will de-crypt and show you in what book the text is. For example, let me think of a sentence right now, a sentence that isn’t even logically correct: Cats can fly faster than dogs, just like humans lose their skin every winter. I just made this up. Let me see if I can find this random text in some book in the library.

This line of text which I JUST thought of, is already there, already written in a book.
This thing really blurs the line between invention and discovery. Did you really invent a thing if its description already exists? There are only 10^80 atoms in the observable universe,and there are 10^500 sentences in the Library Of Babel.
But deep down we feel that there’s a difference between a program permuting something, and a person saying something because they wanted to. Just because it can’t be made doesn’t mean it has been said. That is the power we have.

Perhaps you and I were born too late to explore this world, and too early in history to discover the stars, but we were born in just the right time, to explore language. Exploring what can be said. What should be said. What that can’t be said, will you be the first to say?

Last words are powerful. They are the final statements a person’s entire life has been leading to. One last chance to go on the record before eternal silence.Last words are of huge importance, but what will be our first words? The first words from Earth which Extra Terrestrials might hear from us. Our cosmic first words.
The earliest signal robust enough to be picked up light years away, might have come from Hitler. His 1936 broadcast of the Olympics might be our first words. We have although, progressed since then, and there are more chances that signals other than those of Hitler’s might have a better chance of reaching others, if they do truly exist.

So far, Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” has traveled the furthest on the diagram. By now, our first words on the moon have just passed the Mu Arae system, which has four known planets. Speaking of first words, our first words on moon were, well, technically, spoken not by Neil Armstrong, but Buzz Aldrin, who on feeling at least one of the landing pads softly settle onto the lunar soil, spoke this immortal description: “Contact Light”.

But here’s something humbling: even while growing at the speed of light, Earth’s radio sphere is puny. This is our galaxy The Milky Way. Comparatively,the distance our radio signals, our voice, has traveled, is this big:

The universe is huge. How the heck are you supposed to be remembered in it; utter last words that stick around after you die? Banksy says, people die twice, once when you stop breathing, and once when someone says your name for the last time… But somehow your anonymous influence continues long after that. People may stop saying your name, for instance if you have kids, and they have kids, and so on… you continue on, in a way, genetically, maybe not by name. In a feedback system like Earth and life, cause and effect are complicated and never ending. A small change in the initial positions can lead an enormously different outcome.
So, are we here just by coincidence, or is there a bigger ending to this saga after all: The Grand Finale?
Your name and your last words might eventually be forgotten, but your status as an initial condition for the universe’s future is already happening.
Bach died before he could complete The art of Fugue. It’s unfinished. The piece ends abruptly during contrapunctus xiv, so composers continue reconstructing it, and for that reason it is uniquely alive, speaking new last words all the time, as new people meet it and finish it in their own way.

Likewise no matter how cool or lame and small you feel, you will continue and your impact will be remembered, mathematics guarantees that, even if, like Bach, you leave things unfinis

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