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Thread: communication with aliens: thought experiment

  1. #1
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    Question communication with aliens: thought experiment

    Hi everyone.

    I have a kind of thought experiment that I've been considering for a while. Some of my friends have suggested possible answers, but it would be interesting to see what everyone here thinks.

    Imagine that humans have made contact with a distant alien civilization. For the sake of this post, imagine that the aliens communicate with us using some kind of faster-than-light technology that we don't understand at all (maybe we found the "trasmitter" buried underground or something). We are able to communicate with them fluently, thanks to translator technology contained within the unit.

    We've told them all about our planet and civilization, but the only thing we haven't been able to get across to this species is the concept of "left" and "right" as directions relative to an observer's position and orientation.

    Any suggestions for how this could be done?

    Additional constraints:

    We don't know where they are in our universe, and assume that they are too far away to detect by any means (no use of common reference points).

    We can send only audio and strings of numerical data.

    Any ideas?

  2. #2
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    I'm not sure a species with no concept of left and right would even be bilateral. Talking to one at all would be a challenge.

  3. #3
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    That's a good point - lets go with clockwise vs counterclockwise instead.

  4. #4
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    Assuming they have a technological civilization, and you can't transmit images for some reason, I guess you could do it by something like the right-hand rule.
    As above, so below

  5. #5
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    Three rights make a left.
    Et tu BAUT? Quantum mutatus ab illo.

  6. #6
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    Why not use math somehow? Surely they would understand a basic coordinate system, they would have to in order to develop technology.

  7. #7
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    Old question. IIRC, only one thing works. See Issac Asimov, "The Left Hand of the Electron", probably out of print.

    Regards, John M.
    I'm not a hardnosed mainstreamer; I just like the observations, theories, predictions, and results to match.

    "Mainstream isnít a faith system. It is a verified body of work that must be taken into account if you wish to add to that body of work, or if you want to change the conclusions of that body of work." - korjik

  8. #8
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    left and right is just a subjective perspective, which is perpendicular to the other equally subjective up-and-down ,and forwards-and-backwards.

  9. #9
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    Hi nadw88, welcome to BAUT.

    I moved your thread from Space Exploration to Life In Space, it seems a better fit.
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  10. #10
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    This very question was asked by Martin Gardner in his book The Ambidextrous Universe; he gave the same answer as Isaac Asimov, that it would be possible to communicate the difference between right and left, but only by using some pretty impressive sub-atomic physics.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Amb...eversed_Worlds

    All other methods don't work; you can't use the right-hand rule without knowing which direction is right in the first place, for instance.

  11. #11
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    Maybe parity violation in weak interactions could be of help. In the Wikipedia article it says:
    Only the left-handed components of particles and right-handed components of antiparticles participate in weak interactions in the Standard Model
    So assuming that the aliens also discovered the Standard Model or we are able to communicate the experimental setup to them it might just be possible to communicate the concept of left/right. But, what worries me a bit, is that the fact that we call the weak-interactions left-handed may depend on some conventional assignment that we made earlier in our physics.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by eburacum45 View Post
    All other methods don't work; you can't use the right-hand rule without knowing which direction is right in the first place, for instance.
    I was thinking that you can. We have established up and down, and forward and backward (because in the OP, it is stated that left and right are the only concepts we haven't communicated). So if we say,

    A needle is moving forward through a magnetic field coming from the surface of the planet below. Right is the direction that it will feel a force. Or something like that. I may have it backward or wrong, but that's the general idea. That if something is moving forward through a magnetic field coming from below, that something will happen that will be either right or left.
    As above, so below

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jens View Post
    I was thinking that you can. We have established up and down, and forward and backward (because in the OP, it is stated that left and right are the only concepts we haven't communicated). So if we say,

    A needle is moving forward through a magnetic field coming from the surface of the planet below. Right is the direction that it will feel a force. Or something like that. I may have it backward or wrong, but that's the general idea. That if something is moving forward through a magnetic field coming from below, that something will happen that will be either right or left.
    The tricky part is that the convention for which way a magnetic field points is arbitrary. So you can't unambiguously tell them the field points up without first establishing which convention you're using. And of course, to do that requires you to be able to talk about left and right, since you'll have to talk about which way different types of particles move.
    Conserve energy. Commute with the Hamiltonian.

  14. #14
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    I don't accept the premise that images can't be sent.
    If any information can be sent, it can encode an image.
    But that doesn't solve the problem of distinguishing
    left from right. I think it might solve the problem
    suggested by the original post, of aliens who do not
    have a concept of left and right at all.

    When the problem is to distinguish left from right, you
    also need to distinguish matter from antimatter. If the
    aliens you are communicating with discovered their
    communication device the same way we did, then they
    might be made of what we consider antimatter, and so
    would the communication device they found.

    -- Jeff, in Minneapolis
    http://www.FreeMars.org/jeff/

    "I find astronomy very interesting, but I wouldn't if I thought we
    were just going to sit here and look." -- "Van Rijn"

    "The other planets? Well, they just happen to be there, but the
    point of rockets is to explore them!" -- Kai Yeves

  15. #15
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    I think it was be as simple as "Look left. No, your other left."
    Et tu BAUT? Quantum mutatus ab illo.

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