Re: seti@home IS WORKING

Eugene Leitl (
Tue, 13 Jul 1999 00:48:27 -0700 (PDT)

Michael S. Lorrey writes:

> You don't know enough about math for your opinion to count. No insult
> intended. Math is math, and is the same math everywhere in the universe.

Whoa, Mike, hold your horses. Math per se does not exist but in the minds/machines of its practicioners (though zealots may argue otherwise). There might be other self-consistent formal systems in use Out There, or maybe no formal systems at all -- just idiot savant-like "knowing". Or something else entirely, something we have yet no idea of.

> We have even created maths that describe sytesm that have no possible
> hope of existing in this universe (see elliptical equations(no, not
> ellipses, thats something else)). Additionally, humans have used a
> number of different number bases, including base 2 (binary), base 5
> (Roman/Latin), 10 (decimal), 12 (celtic/aryan, as I recall), 16
> (hexadecimal), 24 (Mayan, as I recall), and 60 (ancient Sumerian). We

All very interesting, but what if the aliens don't at all have the concept of numbers? Or equations?

This is no more abstruse than your assertion that they indeed do have all these properties.

> can use a base of e (the natural log), or we can use pi as a base
> (making all other numbers irrational). For geometry, we have not only
> the Platonic Euclidian geometry based on a commonly accepted set of
> axioms, but at least two types of non-euclidian geometries which deal
> with variations of the parallel theorem. The only possible math areas we
> may not know are those used in other space-time continua which use
> dimensional systems which have not been deeply explored by current day
> graduate students, but every day there is new progress.
> Any species more advanced than us is going to KNOW any math that we
> know. They will know other maths, but if they are interested in
> communicating with primitve species, they will use maths that are common
> among primitive societies.

All apparently plausible assumptions -- alas, extrapolated on the basis of exactly one instance -- us. Sorry, not convinced.

> If the ancient maya or egyptians had had radio telescopes, they could be
> communicated with quite easily by an advanced intelligence via math.

We know Mayans and Egyptians, or, at least, we know our images of them. They are all people, temporally not terribly distant from us. Comparing them to postsingularitarian supercivilisations (because that's the only kind of civilisations with high enough temporal depth for us-current to bump into them with any probability) is terribly oversimplistic.

> Communicating via math does not require that we learn their maths, but
> that they will communicate via simply understandable maths, much like EO
> Wilson playing with pheromones to talk to ants.

So far, nobody seems to have seen us/want to communicate. Our problem is to find the aliens by their metabolism signatures they cannot avoid, by grand-scale artefacts they cannot possibly conceal. Whether they are there or not -- both possibilities are very intriguing. Either the visible universe is ours to claim -- which will require much better tech than we currently have, or, we will soon face the task of communicating with extremely advanced extraterrestrials -- which will very probably require us to be postsingularitarian/one of them. No sense people talking to nematodes.