Ever wonder how simple we’d have to make things if we met a truly alien civilization?
After all, nothing would serve as a common reference. The whole concept of “subject” or even “study” could be foreign to them.
So, if I had to tell a truly alien culture about our own, how would I divide up all the crazy areas of study that are in the course guides of colleges?
I’d do it like this.
There are three great areas that humans enjoy learning about.
The first deals with thinking about “Things.” Things can be anything, like rocks, planets, stars, minerals, chemicals, frogs. Anything that is a thing all gets put into one great bucket of study. We typically call the king of these types of studies, Physics. But frogs and other living things present a problem, so I’ll accept Biology as a special subset of Physics.
Then there are entire areas of learning in which humans think about “Not Things.” It sounds a bit counter-intuitive, but the greatest of all Not-Things is the study of Math. Mathematics is a form of incredible rigorous thinking that is the best of all ways to describe the universe of Things. It has many subsets, but Math is certainly the grandest of them all. Other areas like linguistics and anthropology could be in there as well.
As promised, there is one final area of learning that concerns humans. It’s not very rigorous in any way, so much of the work in this area is confusing to everyone, especially the experts. It’s thinking about Thinking. Yes, it’s the one and only self-referential area of study, and the king of this type of study is called Philosophy.
Anyone who tries to impress you (or the aliens) with fancy philosophy names or terms is missing the point of this entire area of study. If it’s a real area, something that is legitimate, then famous people or crazy definitions aren’t necessary. Much like saying gravity is everywhere, or 1 + 1 can become 2, we should be able to state fundamental elements of Philosophy. We’re not quite there yet.
My fear is that when we do meet those aliens, and we do tell them what we study, they are going to laugh and go back to where they came from.
After all, if the entire universe can be boiled down into three basic areas of study, and we only have a partial hold on two of them, how can we be ready to join the galactic neighborhood?
We should think about that.