Alpha Beta: How 26 Letters Shaped the Western World by John Man PDF

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A line connects a Pioneer icon to the third planet. Sagan also included two odd-shaped patterns, which we see as a man and a woman, both naked. However different the aliens might be, they might perhaps deduce from the very oddity of the patterns that they represent biological objects, even if the extrusions and dangly bits remain inexplicable. A drawing of Pioneer provides a scale. But here we reach the limits. Information about the universe, coded mathematically, is all very well. Sagan’s plaque, like computer icons, may speak in a hyper- < previous page page_27 next page > < previous page page_28 next page > Page 28 language provided by the universe.

In July 1799, workmen extending the fortifications of el-Rashid – also known as Rosetta – found a 762kg stone with an inscription in three scripts, Greek, hieroglyphic, and a flowing one later recognized as demotic, a written form of hieroglyphic. The find was immediately recognized as a treasure, for it was a bi-lingual, and triscriptorial, version of the same text. A couple of weeks later, it reached the French scholars running the Egyptian Institute in Cairo. After England’s defeat of the French, the stone was reluctantly surren- < previous page page_50 next page > < previous page page_51 next page > Page 51 dered to the victors, who carried it to London, where it remains today as the centre-piece of the British Museum’s Egyptian collection.

The government was considering a number of short-term solutions, which included burying the waste hundreds of metres deep in remote desert areas. But this stuff would still be radioactive in 10,000 years. The members of the commission wanted to cover every contingency. Who could guess what the world would be like then? Perhaps it would be an age of technological wizardry, which had long since learned to de-activate uranium. Then again, perhaps not. In a thousand years, let alone ten, cultures fall, languages vanish and barbarians arise.

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