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Ask Dr. SETI ®

Chapter 4: Psychology

Pattern Recognition

Dear Dr. SETI:
We have encountered a remarkable coincidence regarding the radio emissions captured by the Cassini spacecraft's Radio and Plasma Wave Science (RPWS) instruments at Saturn and our recent project which involves Rosslyn Chapel's 15th Century musical code system and cymatics.

The geometric figure at Saturn's North Pole caught our attention because there is a similar hexagonal pattern within the 13 geometric patterns on the chapel's ceiling, so we began to analyse the radio emission recordings. To our great surprise the 'eerie' sounds caught by the RWPS have exactly the same 7 opening notes/pitch as the music we discovered in Rosslyn Chapel.

The reason I am writing to you is to ask your opinion on this coincidence, as we are at a loss to explain it ourselves.

Stuart, Scotland

The Doctor Responds:
That hexagonal cloud pattern observed on Saturn is beautiful and breathtaking, but not particularly surprising. From the macro to the micro, we see that nature favors symmetry. There are a number of naturally occurring structures on Earth that assume a hexagonal shape, from quartz crystals to ice crystals to the carbon rings in our nucleotides, so it stands to reason that this shape predominates on other worlds as well.

As for the sounds, and their resemblance to music, I think you are entirely correct to characterize this as a coincidence (though a pleasant one). The human brain excels at pattern recognition, and in fact seeks patterns in any encountered random data. It is well established that piles of rocks on Mars resemble faces to our face-attuned brains, and that to a trained musician, natural astrophysical sounds resemble music. In fact, that portion of our brains which creates music is doubtless influenced by the same patterns of nature that create electromagnetic emissions from our neighboring planets. If the patterns we observe are a result of an intelligence, I posit that this intelligence most likely resides with the observer.

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