Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Alien Dreamers

Imagine an Earth-like planet one thousand light years from Earth. Because I have a touch of mawkish poetry in my soul, I'll give it the name Dream. Intelligent beings have evolved on Dream and to nobody’s surprise they are called Dreamers.

Now it just so happens that Dreamers understand Euclidian geometry so the angles of a Dream triangle add up to two right angles. However Dreamers choose to measure angles, the three angles of their triangles must add up to two right angles. 

What's the alternative? It seems to me that the alternative is one where Dreamers do not understand the properties of triangles because geometry is a human invention unique to Earth. Let us be daring and dismiss this as anthropocentric simply because it is anthropocentric.

Imagine a Dreamer named Veracity. One day Veracity travels to her favourite spot to be alone for a while. This favourite spot is a lake near to her home - a body of water much like ours with Dream fish in it and Dream insects flitting across the surface. The sun sets slowly in the East as Veracity sits by her lake and for some reason begins to reflect on the properties of triangles - and yes I know how unlikely that is. 

Language aside, Veracity’s thoughts should have something in common with ours when she considers the three interior angles of her triangle. Veracity should know the angles add up to two right angles and may be able to prove it. As she sits by the lake, the logic in her thoughts must have the same logical form as our thoughts because the logic of triangles is the same for Veracity as it is for us. It is not possible for the properties of a triangle differ between Earth and Dream because if they did, then the universe would be unintelligible.

In my view, this thought experiment suggests that human minds and Dreamer minds cannot form theories which are all unique to Earth and Dream. The natural ability to theorise about reality cannot arise in complete isolation on Earth and Dream. Our theories cannot be entirely shaped by unique locally-based evolutionary pressures. 

In other words, John Prescott notwithstanding, understanding must to some extent be moulded by what is understood. 

It is tempting to assume that intelligent aliens will be entirely different to human beings because this seems to presuppose nothing and feels much less anthropocentric. But although intelligent aliens may be physically different to human beings with entirely different senses, at least some of their true theories must reflect the logical form of natural law as ours do. 

Our ability to theorise is a natural ability – as natural as the way gravity makes water flow downhill and caused the mythical apple to fall on Newton’s head. Our theories must reflect the reality of what is possible and not possible, what makes sense and does not make sense, what is necessary and what is not.

So tell me - how did Nick Clegg evolve?


rogerh said...

Mother Nature is a gorgeous mistress, she always tells the truth (if you ask the right question) and will bite you hard if you play fast and loose with her affections. Dream up a theory, try an experiment, chuck the failure down the sink, dream up another theory - simples because Mother Nature's yardstick is invariable (well mostly) and experiments are fairly cheap.

Cleggy and Cameron's trade is quite different, no fixed yardstick, long time lags, expensive experiments. Hard to know what politics and economics really is and what the rules are - or whether there are any rules or rhyme or reason to it at all. Right now we are in a quiet patch and I doubt very much whether Cleggy, Cameron or anyone else has much idea what to do. As for Clegg, he has the role of lab rat and can only look forward to the scalpel.

David Duff said...

via a wet Dream?

Demetrius said...

Answer to your question, "with difficulty". However, it seems that there is a large bubble of fresh water in the Western Arctic region. What price the Atlantic Conveyor standing still? Make sure the woollies are free of moths.

Demetrius said...

BTW have you seen this?

A K Haart said...

rogerh - a blunt scalpel I hope.

DD - hell no - Veracity has tentacles and a big yellow beak!

D - I'm stocking up with wood too. I haven't seen the Chomsky link. I don't rate him I'm afraid. I think instead of climbing on a bandwagon he made his own, but it isn't convincing - at least I don't find it so.