Could We Communicate with Aliens Through the “Universal Language” of Mathematics?

Sunday, 10 July 2016 - 2:56PM
Astrobiology
Alien Life
Sunday, 10 July 2016 - 2:56PM
Could We Communicate with Aliens Through the “Universal Language” of Mathematics?

There are many, many unanswered questions about potentially contacting intelligent extraterrestrials. First, there's the little problem of whether they exist to begin with, and then where they are, whether we can detect him, whether they can find us first-or why they haven't already. But even when/if we find advanced aliens, they presumably won't speak any language that we would understand (no matter what shows like Stargate would have you believe). So if we manage to find them, will we even be able to communicate with them?

There's no way to answer this question, since it'll be a moot point until we find them, but scientists have a few promising theories. At the Escape Velocity science convention in Washington D.C. last weekend, David Grinspoon, astrobiologist and senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, was confident that we would be able to find a way to communicate with any extraterrestrial intelligence, should the opportunity arise.

Opening quote
"I'm pretty confident that we'll be able to communicate with them," he said at the First Contact: Improbable Dream or Worst Nightmare panel. "If they're advanced enough to build an interstellar spacecraft, there will be something."
Closing quote

He went on to explain that there would likely be some common intellectual ground that we could use to converse with them. There's a possibility we could communicate by color, but there's no guarantee that they would be able to perceive color (or they could perceive many more colors than us), so it would more likely be through physics and math. Especially if they found us by building a starship, then they would need both of those subjects to come across us to begin with.

Opening quote
"Maybe our physics and math are just illusions that we have," Grinspoon said. "I believe that there's something about math that is universal... But that's a belief I can't really test."
Closing quote

However, even if we did find a way to communicate with them, there's also no guarantee that they would have any interest in speaking with us. It's possible that, as Neil DeGrasse Tyson has famously said, we're just too stupid for such advanced beings to talk to.

Opening quote
"One of my main criticisms of the [SETI] field is that we tend to think of [extraterrestrials] as sort of on our level, and maybe we can't help it. But they would be so far beyond us, that them talking to us would be like [us] trying to have a philosophical discussion with a frog. They'd be like, 'Oh, it's cute that they're trying to communicate with us.'"
Closing quote

But that being said, if we were able to communicate with them, it could be a huge boon to humanity. Although there are some theoretically plausible nightmare scenarios, according to Grinspoon, it's "not unlikely" that finding extraterrestrial intelligence would bring us into a sort of "techno-rapture":

Opening quote
"If a species makes contact, it will be highly evolved. We could view it as a potential next step. If they're more evolved, they would know a lot. They might know the answers to some of our deepest problems right now, like how does a global species not destroy itself with technological advances?"
Closing quote

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