When it comes to first contact with intelligent aliens, mathematics just might be a shared language that humans and said aliens could use to communicate with each other, according to some researchers.
Establishing common ground to communicate with an intelligent extraterrestrial species may prove to be rather difficult, but some researchers, like the University of Arizona in Tucson Mathematics Department emeritus faculty member Carl DeVito, insist that mathematics is likely the only common set of concepts that will be understood by both humans and members of an alien civilization. In fact, DeVito outlined a proposed language based on, as Space reported, “plausibly universal scientific concepts” at an Astrobiology Science Conference 2017 back in late April in Mesa, Arizona.
DeVito noted that to establish communications, one had to first get the attention of another intelligent species. Designing a way to signal other intelligences would “clearly” be a sign of intelligence in itself, he posited. DeVito detailed his ideas in his 2014 book, Science, SETI, and Mathematics.
“The concept of first attracting attention and then displaying meaning is, perhaps, the best way to solve the problem,” DeVito told Space. “Maybe extraterrestrial intelligence will have similar ideas and thereby make themselves known to us.”
But afterward, ground rules to effect a conveyance of ideas would have to be established. That, he said, would likely first be done through sharing a system of measurements (such as the the gram, the calorie, the degree (Kelvin), and units of pressure). The measurements and their import would be shared only if four basic assumptions exist between the two civilizations: an understanding of basic arithmetic, a knowledge of chemical elements and the periodic table, an understanding of the states of matter, and a basic knowledge of chemistry and the ability to perform chemical calculations. It is only then, after the two civilizations have established a mutual understanding of measurements, that they will be able to exchange precise, scientific information.
DeVito teamed up with linguist R. T. Oehrle to compose a language where two civilizations alien to each other and from different star systems could message each other scientific data, such as the masses of their planets and the chemical composition of their atmospheres.
One of the foreseeable problems, however, is the possibility that an alien civilization will have a different geometry than humans. If so, its laws of motion would be relegated to following the laws with which its geometry was formulated, making those laws very different from ours.
“The mathematics of motion is differential calculus. Can we assume that an alien race shares this with us? Differential and integral calculus are so fundamental in so many areas of science that it is hard to imagine a science without them,” DeVito explained. “But this is, perhaps, a human bias.”
Another potential problem would be if the alien civilization used a non-Euclidean geometry.
“We, of course, can’t know, but we must be aware that the physics of an alien race, even in a fundamental area like mechanics, might differ in subtle but important ways from our own.”
The most difficult problem, DeVito suggests, will be transitioning from mathematical concepts to a discussion of other aspects of human civilization and, at the same time, the alien civilization. He said that a cross-cultural researcher must play an integral role in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.
Regardless, humans will want to put their best face forward when achieving first contact with an alien civilization.
At present, there are several programs ongoing in the search for alien intelligence, including the passive listening being done by the decades-old SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute and Breakthrough Listen (and others) and the more proactive signaling being devised by METI (Messaging to Extraterrestrial Intelligence) International and the Alpha Centauri probes proposed by Breakthrough Starshot.
To date, there has been no definitive communication received by an alien civilization, although the “Wow!” Signal detected in 1977 is often considered by some as a possible alien message. However, although it cannot be ruled out that the signal is alien in origin (per The Inquisitr) the signal has never been repeated and cannot be confirmed as artificial.
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