
"Would
an extraterrestrial civilization develop the same mathematics as ours?
If not, how could theirs possibly be different?"
In writing my next book, about maths, I have been led to ponder this
question by the fact that there are philosophers, and a few mathematicians,
who believe that it is conceivable that there could be intelligences
with a fully developed mathematics that does not, for example, recognize
the integers or the primes, let alone Fermat's Last Theorem or the Riemann
Hypothesis. And yet, whole numbers seem to us such a basic property
of "things", that unless there were intelligences that were
not embodied in any way (and/or couldn't "see" the discrete
stars, for example) they would be bound to come across number and all
that follows. But then, I suppose you could imagine intelligent beings
which consisted, say, of density differences in a gas but lacked boundaries
separating one from another. In any case, if such creatures do exist,
it rather pours cold water on the use by SETI of maths (e.g. prime x
prime pictorial grids) to communicate with them
Karl
Sabbagh is a writer and television producer and author
of A Rum Affair: A True Story of Botanical Fraud.
