Saturday, June 26, 2010

Ten Questions to Ask an Alien

Carl Sagan in The Demon-Haunted World:
It's a stimulating exercise to think of questions to which no human today knows the answers, but where a correct answer would immediately be recognized as such. It's even more challenging to formulate such questions in fields other than mathematics. Perhaps we should hold a contest and collect the best responses in "Ten Questions to Ask an Alien."
The connection to aliens stems from how one might test claims from individuals who say they have contact with extra-terrestrial visitors, who are presumably far more scientifically and technologically advanced than we are. The examples given are proof of Fermat's Last Theorem or Goldbach's conjecture, both mathematics problems (the former no longer being eligible, as it has since been solved).

I have no prize to offer for such a contest, but what are some other (preferably non-mathematics) questions we could include on such a list?


5 comments:

gawp said...

Assuming they have faster then light travel (or a much better knowledge of stellar evolution), the specific date and direction for a supernova or gamma ray burster would be rather convincing.

magicbluefairy said...

I saw an interesting documentary by Stephen Hawking which was all about aliens, and I'd like to know (provided they don't have any of the same parts that we do) how do they reproduce? Do they lay eggs? Is it more like pollination? Maybe the males are in charge of reproduction? Great questions! :]

Anonymous Coward said...

In mathematics maybe we could finally get an answer about the P vs NP problems, In physics we could ask what the mass of a Higgs boson is since it should be verified shortly, in cosmology we could ask to give us planet locations (with mass/size/distance) and we could verify those. In biology I'm afraid unless they've been studying us for a while there isn't much we could ask and verify outside of earth. Maybe they could explain the source of methane on mars and we could send a rover...

gawp said...

On a technology level, a room temperature superconductor recipe would be interesting. Or any technology that is achievable with our present tools but is not derivable from our current knowledge.

Any assertions about accessible elements of the solar system would be good evidence too. i.e. in this valley on Mars there is a good exposure of stromatolite fossils, the black patterns in the Venusian atmosphere are sulphur loving bacteria of with these properties, etc.

rob said...

Neal Stephenson's "Anathem", an awesome book, would suggest that communication would have to start with a simple geometry proof to establish a common perception of the universe. I realize that isn't the point of the question, I'm just saying that initial communication might be extremely problematic.