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Brian Cox on communicating with extraterrestrials

Brian Cox on communicating with extraterrestrials

(2:57) Is mathematics the universal language to communicate with aliens?

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Guest: Isaac (388 days ago)

Maths is a human invention - a formal system with rules like chess - which is very good at describing the bits of the universe we are interested in. It's so good that many people think it is "true." But it is no more true than chess is. The universe does its own computation in its own way, which is not our way.

Given that we, with our reptilian-mammal-emotiona l brains find this particular set of rules satisfying, I would be suprised if an alien intelligence could make much sense of it. I would be suprised if we could use maths to communicate. And I would be surprised if we would have anything to communicate about, beyond the three fundamental questions of life: Can I eat it? Can it eat me? Can I have sex with it?

But, I would love to live long enough to find out!

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Original comment

Maths is a human invention - a formal system with rules like chess - which is very good at describing the bits of the universe we are interested in. It's so good that many people think it is "true." But it is no more true than chess is. The universe does its own computation in its own way, which is not our way.

Given that we, with our reptilian-mammal-emotiona l brains find this particular set of rules satisfying, I would be suprised if an alien intelligence could make much sense of it. I would be suprised if we could use maths to communicate. And I would be surprised if we would have anything to communicate about, beyond the three fundamental questions of life: Can I eat it? Can it eat me? Can I have sex with it?

But, I would love to live long enough to find out!

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Guest: (388 days ago)

Saturn has 60 moons. Then Jupiter gave Saturn two more moons. How many moons has Saturn got now?

The answer has got to be the same (and true) wheter you are human, alien or cosmos itself.

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Saturn has 60 moons. Then Jupiter gave Saturn two more moons. How many moons has Saturn got now?

The answer has got to be the same (and true) wheter you are human, alien or cosmos itself.

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Guest: Isaac (388 days ago)

You are assuming the alien would ask that question. Or indeed "ask" any "question," and expect a numerical reply.

But even if they did share our maths, where do we go from there? What can you talk about? We might be interested in a cure for cancer. What's the chance that a totally alien creature will have anything like our eukaryotic cell structure? We might be interested in whether Mondrian was a great artist. Translate that into maths, please.

"If a lion could speak, we couldn't understand him" -- Wittgenstein (which doesn't prove it true, just that it's worth discussing).

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Original comment

You are assuming the alien would ask that question. Or indeed "ask" any "question," and expect a numerical reply.

But even if they did share our maths, where do we go from there? What can you talk about? We might be interested in a cure for cancer. What's the chance that a totally alien creature will have anything like our eukaryotic cell structure? We might be interested in whether Mondrian was a great artist. Translate that into maths, please.

"If a lion could speak, we couldn't understand him" -- Wittgenstein (which doesn't prove it true, just that it's worth discussing).

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Guest: (387 days ago)

If we would be able to communicate, I am sure we would have heeps to talk about. Depending on our relative level of intelligence either our or their science communities would have a field day.

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If we would be able to communicate, I am sure we would have heeps to talk about. Depending on our relative level of intelligence either our or their science communities would have a field day.

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Guest: Isaac (387 days ago)
Latest comment:

You might be right. However, the history of science has been the steady demotion of humanity and the planet Earth. We started with a high opinion of ourselves: specially ceated by a god with a personal interest in, and a personal plan for, each of us, and living on the fixed centre of a universe which was created specifically to house us by the omnipotent creator of all things.

If we meet intelligent aliens, I suspect we might find that our outlook, our culture, our science and our much-vaunted maths, are not as special as we think.

However, this is all very speculative. Aliens might not be friendly. Goldilocks planets are not that plentiful. And humans may be delicious.

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Latest comment:

You might be right. However, the history of science has been the steady demotion of humanity and the planet Earth. We started with a high opinion of ourselves: specially ceated by a god with a personal interest in, and a personal plan for, each of us, and living on the fixed centre of a universe which was created specifically to house us by the omnipotent creator of all things.

If we meet intelligent aliens, I suspect we might find that our outlook, our culture, our science and our much-vaunted maths, are not as special as we think.

However, this is all very speculative. Aliens might not be friendly. Goldilocks planets are not that plentiful. And humans may be delicious.

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Guest: (387 days ago)

If we would be able to communicate, I am sure we would have heeps to talk about. Depending on our relative level of intelligence either our or their science communities would have a field day.

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If we would be able to communicate, I am sure we would have heeps to talk about. Depending on our relative level of intelligence either our or their science communities would have a field day.

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Guest: (388 days ago)

Oh ok

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Oh ok

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