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Communication with Alien Intelligence

  1. Aug 18, 2011 #1
    I do not know if this discussion will be deemed too 'philosophical' for this forum, or if the same question has been asked before, however, it seems to me a topic worthy of deliberation.

    I recently came across the thoughts of Marvin Minsky espoused in his essay, 'Communication with Alien Intelligence' (http://web.media.mit.edu/~minsky/papers/AlienIntelligence.html) and I am intrigued to discover what others believe about his ideas.

    To précis his argument, he considers conscious thought processes, specifically formal systems, and in particular, mathematics from an 'evolutionary' perspective. His resounding conclusion is that it is highly likely that, should extraterrestrials exist, they have created symbolic systems markedly similar, if not identical, to our own.

    For the most part, I am tempted to agree with him, however, while I believe this argument holds for simple formal systems (binary arithmetic, Peano arithmetic, Euclidean Geometry etc.), the more abstract a formal system becomes and the less 'simplistic' the axioms are on which it is based, the further it could be said to be along this 'evolutionary' timeline and, hence, the less likely it is to be shared between alien creatures.

    Furthermore, he concedes, and I believe his thinking to be (justifiably) too narrow. Mathematics must be put in context, and therefore, it is necessary to apply the same 'evolutionary' thinking to the formal system-originating organ, the brain.

    The human brain is the most complex entity in the Universe we have yet found, meaning it too is a fair way along the 'evolutionary' scale, and has the potential to be distinct in both form and function from the information processing organs of extraterrestrials. A soon as we genuinely take the possibility into account that our thinking is noticeably divergent from that of alien cultures, the notion that our higher 'mathematics' would be shared becomes even more tenuous.

    I'm interested to hear the opinions of others on the matter,
    Thank you for your time,
  2. jcsd
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