Hitting books: The power of extroverted professions and human cultural bias

Mathematics can be considered a universal constant – and a surefire way to communicate with outsiders – but there is no guarantee that we will understand the way we approach the universe when we come in contact with any subsequent spacefaring civilization. We will explain our base 10 calculation method to an alien species that is probably never a compound addition? And what if we were faced with a race whose understanding of electromagnetic fields was as unique as our own innate ability to catch items thrown from the middle? How can we understand from them how radios work like us? The problem is that many of our scientific insights and predictions about ET are greatly influenced by our own cultural biases.

In his latest book, Zoologists’ Guide to the Galaxy, Professor of Zoology at the University of Cambridge. Eric Karshanbaum takes readers on an exciting genobiological journey through our planets and galaxies, examining not only the complexities and contradictions in how we classify life on Earth, but also how those ideas and assumptions may be applied after the first contact.

Penguin Book

From Zoologists’ Guide to the Galaxy Written by Arik Carsonbaum. Published in format with Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © Eric Carsonbaum, 2021.

We scientists assume that aliens will also be scientists and mathematicians; In fact, we are more advanced and efficient than we are. Otherwise, how could they build a spaceship to see us, or radio telescopes to send messages to us? Popular science fiction seems to agree, although often these alien scientists continue to experiment on helpless humans instead of gracefully sharing our wealth of knowledge with us. But I know philosophers who believe that aliens will be philosophers. Do electronics and plumbers think that foreign civilizations will depend on electrical and plumbing skills like ours?

It has a history of bias in search by science’s own methods and the cultural and social background of scientists. But whether aliens may or may not have indoor plumbing or central heating, the laws of science and mathematics are the same for them as they are for us. Both human and foreign scientists have made many similar discoveries, and alien mathematicians have created mathematical theorems similar to those of human mathematicians on Earth. If so, then surely we can use the most basic concepts of logic, mathematics and science to create a common communication channel between ourselves and the foreign species, even if we differ in all other ways?

Of course, such an idea has been proposed since scientists and philosophers began to seriously consider the possibility of extraterrestrial life. In the 1960s, astronomer Carl Sagan wrote about how alien civilizations could use mathematical principles to communicate with us, and he himself (along with his wife, Linda Sagan and Frank Drake) for the “father” of extraterrestrial intelligence. The famous Pioneer designed the blade, which began exploring two small spaces in the early 1970s for their mission outside the solar system. As well as visual representations of two human personalities, the plaque gives a mathematical representation of the unique rotation periods of fourteen prominent pulsar stars as well as the direction of each of those stars from the Sun. We should be able to identify the solar system using this ‘map’ of any civilization found in the plaque. So, perhaps mathematics can help us not only in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, but also in designing messages to propagate to outer space that we are also intelligent.

Pioneer blade


Since the 1960s, scientists have suggested that mathematics is a universal language, which is inevitably shared between us and every alien civilization. The laws of mathematics are, above all, truly universal. If we try to communicate using these laws, we are guaranteed at the very least not to talk nonsense. A triangle has both sides here and alpha centauri. We can choose our intelligence signals from others by declaring our understanding of basic mathematical constants such as: the ratio between the circumference and the diameter of a circle. After entering our written history we find out about this ratio ourselves; The ancient Babylonians and Egyptians were familiar with this concept if they did not have the right quality of concept. Or whether we live in liquid methane, whether we see human sizes, snow or planets, whether we see with vision or sound or electric fields – there is no doubt that these mathematical principles apply to all of us. So this math would instantly become signed by another species that has intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.

However, some philosophers have questioned the notion that mathematics is the ultimate universal lingua franc. As a matter of fact, our understanding of mathematics is bound up with the very physicality. We are so accustomed to the three-dimensional world that we rarely think about how alien mathematics will be in the two-dimensional world. Animals like ants living at the bottom of very small spheres made our math different from them. An ant can walk around its planet as if it were moving past a plane, although we have seen it actually fly over a three-dimensional ball. And in a world where you can only walk on the surface of a sphere (no aging is allowed!), 3. In fact, the familiar is not equal to 3.14159265. . . Consider the equatorial space of our imaginary ant planet and the circle passing through both the north and south poles. Our ants can walk along the ‘perimeter’ of its world to get back to the starting point with the North Pole and the South Pole. But for ants, the ‘diameter’ of the earth is the perpendicular to the polar path, the equatorial part being the farthest away from it. That line is half the circumference of the planet passing by the equator and so in this case π = 2!

As humans, our special intellect was developed in the plains of the African savanna, dealing with problems related to the African savanna. We can catch the tennis ball without solving Newton’s equations of motion because the throwing and catching comes to us in the lineage of spear throwers and animal trappers. But a blind sesame underground would discover the idea of ​​being caught completely unfamiliar and eventually realize that such an idea did not exist, unless a sesame mathematician capable of Einstein’s abstract insights worked out the equations of motion from the first principles. It is going to be difficult for us to discover ideas outside of our physical experience, and the physical experience of aliens is less likely to be like ours.

As well as being limited by our physical environment, the evolution of mathematical science on Earth has been driven by technological requirements: to build better temples (with walls in the right corner of the floor), aquatics (arched to support their weight), catapults (and ballistic trajectories of their boulders). , As well as aircraft and atomic bombs, which are backed by armies of scientists and engineers. The trajectory of our mathematical discoveries has been transformed by our desire to create structures and to throw them away with our propensity for war. A peaceful alien race can have no idea of ​​the ballistic technology and develop the technology to build the sometimes imposed temple without religion. Mathematical principles that seem fundamental and obvious to us may be of little importance to aliens who have reached a very different route in their intelligence kingdom.

But what is the number itself? For example, should all intelligent aliens be counted? Even without their fingers, or any such equivalent? How did mathematical skills develop even on Earth, and perhaps it has followed a similar evolutionary path to other planets?

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