Social Question

Amberlicious's avatar

Would aliens really understand our mathematics?

Asked by Amberlicious (35points) September 28th, 2010

My friend Chris and I had this debate the other day. He seems to think that somehow they would have the same way of expressing mathematics such as pi. I disagree, I believe they would most likely have an entirely different way to interpret math that would work on their particular planet, but not ours and vice versa. What are your thoughts? Link below to what started the debate.

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

18 Answers

lillycoyote's avatar

It just seems like something that would be difficult to determine with any degree of certainty. Does our mathematics actually describe the universe or only describe the universe as far as we have the knowledge, science and understanding to describe it. Ask me in another 5 or ten or 20,000 years, when humans have looked into the whole business a little bit more. Other than that, I will leave it to the scientists and mathematicians to give you a better and more accurate answer.

silky1's avatar

The real question here is would we understand theirs?

Deja_vu's avatar

Why wouldn’t they understand it? I do, and it’s completely alien to me :)

lillycoyote's avatar

I think @silky1 has gotten to the real question, to the heart of the matter here.

ETpro's avatar

They would almost certainly understand binary if introduced to it through simple addition and subtraction to establish what the 1 and 0 symbol mean. It’s possible other maths would be in a base other than 10 so they might need some explaining about the base we use. But otherwise, yes, they would be able to grasp our math and we could learn theirs.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

Maths is a system that is able to be generalised to any location and system in the universe. If they were intelligent enough to make their way to Earth, they would certainly be intelligent enough to understand our mathematics.

Deja_vu's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh Exactly! That is kind of the meaning behind my earlier point. If I can understand it, why wouldn’t they? Concidering the technology they would have to visit earth from time to time, they would obviously be quite advanced.

Amberlicious's avatar

I’m still not certain, it seems a bit egocentric to me that we would assume our laws would apply in any way shape or form to their world.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@Deja_vu Certainly. If they went through the same process as any maths student does to learn the meaning of each symbol, they would quickly see a resemblance in content to their own laws. For example, high school level calculus should be immediately apparent to them, since it is one of the basic tools required to describe projectile motion, which they would obviously know about if they knew how to build a rocket in the first place.

@Amberlicious The point is that they are not our laws. Mathematical laws are discovered, not invented. We know the laws (this is straying from maths into physics, but I think it is relevant) that govern the universe to a high degree of accuracy, so those laws would at least bear a large resemblance to theirs in content, if not in expression.

Cruiser's avatar

I say absolutely. Assuming they came here intentionally and got here under their own power they would possess a higher intelligence and then just through the simple act of observation they would see not only natural occurring mathematical elements such as fractals, spirals, symmetry, polyhedras and cones, they would then observe the simple and complex geometries that man has created and at least realize there were mathematical patterns and formulas at play and certainly be able to apply them to their own style of mathematical interpretations.

We apply these same mathematical analysis to our ancestors when sorting through archaeological explorations of our past.

tedd's avatar

Math is math, it is the same no matter where in the galaxy you are.

The only thing that would be different is the arbitrary names they have for their numbers as opposed to the arbitrary names we have for ours.

wundayatta's avatar

Math is a simplified way of describing certain attributes of things and expressing their relationships to each other. Anyone who tries to travel between the stars will need to be able to do this. We will be able to understand the way they express their math as soon as we figure out the symbols they use to express their math with.

However, if aliens can manage to travel through space from another solar system to this one, it is highly likely that they will have developed an understanding of some aspects of reality that we do not yet understand. It may also be the case that, even if they lay out the mathematical equations they used to develop their technology, we may not have sufficient math to understand it. I.e., they will be way beyond us, and we will need to understand a great deal more than we do before we can understand the math they present us.

El_Cadejo's avatar

While I think it would be vastly different in the expressions as to what they are familiar with, i would have to assume if they knew all the symbols and how we express it, then yes they could understand it. I would have to guess theyd be a civilization highly advanced in math if they were somehow able to travel to earth.

LuckyGuy's avatar

If they were able to reach our planet, they would most definitely understand our mathematics, as well as our physics and chemistry.
On the other hand, it would be very difficult for them to understand our religions and wars.
Very difficult indeed.

ETpro's avatar

@uberbatman We could get past the differences in symblogy by demonstrating concepts with physical objects, nust as we teach elementary school children what 1 + 1 = 2 means. We take one block, and another one block, then add them together and demonstrate that gives us two blocks. Highly intelligent aliens could rapidly understand that. While their high-level computer languages would almost certainly be deifferent thatn ours, and they would likely be using neural network supercomputers with self learning capability, they would quite likely understand our binary code in machine language, and be able to reverse engineer from that to our high level languages.

El_Cadejo's avatar

@ETpro I agree. im only saying it would be unfamiliar at first, but I have no doubt its something they could understand.

lillycoyote's avatar


_On the other hand, it would be very difficult for them to understand our religions and wars.
Very difficult indeed._

Perhaps not, perhaps they might have a barbaric history of their own that they have overcome and moved past.

mattbrowne's avatar

Most of it, yes. They would recognize a sequence of prime numbers for example.

Answer this question




to answer.
Your answer will be saved while you login or join.

Have a question? Ask Fluther!

What do you know more about?
Knowledge Networking @ Fluther