Oh, no! Not math again!
Among those who try to imagine alien first contact, many believe that mathematics will be the basis of initial communication. This is based on the perceived universality and inevitability of mathematics. They see math as so fundamental any intelligence must not only discover it, but must discover the same things we’ve discovered.
There is even a belief that math is more real than the physical universe, that it may be the actual basis of reality. The other end of that spectrum is a belief that mathematics is an invented game of symbol manipulation with no deep meaning.
So today: the idea that math is universal and inevitable.
In this post I’ll show how Set Theory allows us to define the natural numbers using sets. It’s admittedly a very abstract topic, but it’s about something very common in our experience: counting things. Seeing how numbers are defined also demonstrates (contrary to some false notions) that there is a huge difference between a number and how that number is “spelled” or represented.
Note: I am not a mathematician! This topic is right on the edge of my mathematical frontier. I wanted this addendum to the previous post, but be aware I may misstep. I welcome any feedback from Real Mathematicians!
But go on anyway… keep reading… I dare ya!
You probably have some idea of what infinity means. Something that is infinite goes on forever. But it might surprise you to know that there are different kinds of infinity, and some are bigger than others!
As a simple example, a small circle is infinite in the sense that you can loop around and around the circle forever. At the same time, your entire path along the circle is bounded in the small area of the circle. Compare that to the straight line that extends to infinity. If you travel that line, you follow a path that goes forever in some direction.
What if we draw a larger circle outside the small circle. If there are an infinite number of points on the small circle and an infinite number of points on the large circle, does the larger circle have the same number of points as the small one? [The answer is yes.]
To understand all this, we have to first talk a bit about numbers.