We are all familiar with the SETI (Welcome to the SETI Institute) project. This endeavor attempts to contact intelligent life on other worlds. This is done through direct contact by sending out radio signals or through listening for signals from alien worlds.
The SETI project mostly consists of analyzing radio signals coming from outer space and discerning patterns in the signals, and then determining if those signals are being generated naturally by things like pulsars or if they are being generated artificially by intelligent life. If you would like to assist in this work, you can download software that will analyze a set of radio signals and return the results to SETI (SETI@Home).
If a candidate signal is discovered, it will most likely be through the pattern written into the signal. It is the job of SETI to find the patterns. Then CETI comes in. CETI stands for Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence. This branch of SETI is responsible for developing/deciphering communication with alien life, if and when it is found. A lot of what CETI hopes to use in dealing with alien communication involves mathematics, which is good because mathematics are a universal constant and it will be through universal physical norms that we will find a method of communication (Communication with extraterrestrial intelligence).
The biological and planetary differences between our races will make what we think of as communication impossible. Alien social norms will probably be incomprehensible to us. Our communications on earth are based upon emotion. What if the alien species does not use emotion for communication or even have what we would recognize as emotions.
Even if we were not light years apart, we would have difficulties. On earth, we can begin to communicate with each other by pointing at objects and vocalizing our words for the objects. What if the alien race communicates through touch or telepathy? Pointing gets us nowhere.
Given that alien races will not communicate the way we do and the chances of our first communication being next to each other being very remote, pictures and pointing will not work. Communication across the 4.7 light years that separate us from the closest candidate planet will not be though spoken words. It will be through symbols. That is where mathematics comes in.
Even an alien race will understand that two rocks coupled with two rocks equals four rocks, no matter how it conceptualizes what a rock is. We cannot assume that an alien race has any eyesight or can see using the same part of the light spectrum that we consider visible.
In conclusion, mathematics is the norms of the universe and it is through these norms, these constants that communication will begin. Science and math will link together to exchange messages. For more information on how alien communication and mathematics work together check out my Wikipedia citation (Communication with extraterrestrial intelligence).
(n.d.). Retrieved from SETI@Home: http://setiathome.berkeley.edu/
Communication with extraterrestrial intelligence. (n.d.).
Retrieved from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communication_with_extraterrestrial_intelligence
Welcome to the SETI Institute. (n.d.). Retrieved from SETI Institute: http://www.seti.org/