Well with the post on communicating with space aliens, you might be thinking that I am having a mental health problem or I am channeling George Noory or Art Bell from Coast to Coast AM. The real reason is that I have recently completed Joseph Campbells audio book titled: Mythology and the Individual: Volume 1, and the lengthy discussion about how basic social archetypes influence learning and story telling. Educating students contains a large component of story telling, if the stories don’t map to the student’s culture, you will have to spend more time getting them to understand the metaphors used in describing the science, math and so forth. In physics and object-oriented programming the metaphors are difficult to understand if your culture doesn’t support them.
One-way the science of physics might be viewed by a seventh grader is that it is a structured mythology that can be confirmed by use of the scientific method. As an graduate electrical engineer, I don’t buy into the mythology part to odeeply, but what if I am a 7th grader struggling to figure out why my science section is making throwing a baseball such a complicated manner. What if the student was approached by a space alien and the alien who has never experienced gravity asks the 7th grader to explain why the ball falls to the ground.
After all the space alien has been traveling through space for it’s entire life, as well as generations before it, unlike the “Warp” drive of the Starship Enterprise, the space alien’s space ship could only travel at about 1/100th of the speed of light, a very fast speed, but pretty slow if you are traveling from even 4 light years away. The space alien would think that once the ball started traveling in one direction it would continue until it was stopped or another force applied, the space alien has never experienced a gravitional field. Our student, who likes to play baseball, but the struggle of applying simple arithmetic to their favorite game is causing the student to hate school. Our student starts to write out the equations of motion that he has learned in school, the alien, who is able to communicate verbally, and uses a different math symbology, unable to understand what our student is saying.
The school our student is studying at just got a few Tablet PCs, and the student found out about the Phyics Illustrator, he and the space alien draw pictures of forces to describe their different universal views: One with heavy gravity and one with free fall. The student begins to understand better about what the Newtonian laws of forces are all about, and the alien begins to understand what it means to fall down.
Why did we have to use the Physics Illustrator? The communication metaphors are different, the space alien has always experienced zero gravity, except for acceleratoin and de-acceleratoin (unlike the Star Trek universe where some sort of drive must be on for the shipe to move, in our universe once an object is in motion it tends to stay in motion). Our student lives in a world that is constantly accelerating and de-acceleration, and where free fall is rare.
In reality, how would we communicate? Let’s take a step back a little further, why would the aliens communicate with us, and with the cost of travel, why did they make the trip physically? How much energy does it take to leave the surface of the earth, how much does it take to exit a solar system? The easy answer is: A lot and it is expensive, plus the space alien has better things to do then sit in a spacecraft for 2 or 3 thousand years just to get to talk to you or me.
It is more likely the aliens sent out a series of what I call MoteAIs, tiny spacecraft that have the ability to slowly work into orbit around a planet using aerobraking and so forth. The MoteAIs would be programmed to not speak to other species, unless the species was able to set-up communications with the MoteAI. The space aliens would take that precaution because they were able to see the first Star Trek series and knew about the Prime Directive, or maybe other reasons, who knows, they are SPACE ALIENS! 🙂
Now how do we communicate with them? This is a very similar problem in writing software, the early work in artificial intelligence lead to the concept of object oriented programming. Inside of Windows, as well as other operating systems, there are hundreds of programs, many that have no idea what the metaphors of communications are in the other objects.
Like the metaphors in physics, mathematical descriptions, that are proven by both expensive research tools and inexpensive thought experiments, our programming objects have to figure out if the objects they are talking use similar metaphors. For our programming objects these are called interfaces. Our MoteAI spacecraft from the space aliens might use a similar approach. The humans, or students, would then have to use a similar concept to communicate with the space aliens.