X-Message-Number: 11935
From: Thomas Donaldson <>
Subject: for Mike Perry, on "universal languages"
Date: Fri, 11 Jun 1999 00:47:01 +1000 (EST)

Hi Mike!

A universal language in the sense of one which everyone uses is not the
same as a language designed especially to communicate with someone whose
language you do not share.

I will add, though, that at some point the latter kind of language simply
cannot use symbols but some kind of pointing. And I think the attempt at
such a language on the probe that has now wandered off into interstellar
space could easily fail --- though it was a noble attempt. We're already
aware of several different kinds of "intelligence" on the planet Earth;
if you have a pet (or a computer) you'll know what I mean. It's an
interesting question whether or not ANY other intelligence sufficiently
close to us that we can communicate with it exists even in this galaxy,
not to mention the Universe. If it isn't commensurable to our own, then
most forms of communication become very difficult --- and it is an 
EMPIRICAL QUESTION, not one to be settled by logic or argument, whether
or not our intelligence is the only kind which might (for instance)
develop a high technology. I can imagine others quite incommensurable.

As an illustration, consider all the different species of ants. Each
individual ant is "dumb", but ants have domesticated other insects 
and other plants, created castles for themselves protected by "tame"
plants, taken other ants as slaves, and done many other things which
we might think of as requiring our kind of intelligence. Now first
imagine a single species of ant which does ALL of these things ---
and then go on from there by adding 1 billion years more. Just what
might such ant descendants be capable of doing? And in why should the
nest or any individual ant have any more "intelligence" than present
ants do?

As for universal languages that everyone learns to speak, please see my
answer to Bob Ettinger in the previous CRYONET.

			Best and long long life,

				Thomas Donaldson

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