• Question: If you got sucked into a back hole and survived, and somehow got out into a parallel universe where humans are much less evolved, what would be the first thing you would teach them?

    Asked by joshmabbs to Chris, Dave, David, Fiona, Jack on 24 Jun 2013.
    • Photo: David Freeborn

      David Freeborn answered on 24 Jun 2013:

      I guess it depends on how evolved the humans are.

      In 2007 we discovered the hyoid bone in Neanderthals, meaning that they were probably biologically capable of speech, and undoubtedly intelligent enough, but scientists think it is unlikely that they had modern speech in the way that humans do.

      Even some monkeys have “words” of a sort: particular sounds with a discrete meaning, for example certain sounds to refer to particular types of predator, and even sometimes “names” for particular known individual predators. But they don’t ever string these sounds together to make more complex sentences, so there’s a limit to how complex the meaning they can construct.

      The beauty of human language is the grammar: it’s what allows us to make ever more complex sentences to convey meaning and ideas!

      So, if the humans hadn’t yet developed complex language, that would be the first thing I teach them. That would be what’s needed to teach them everything else I want to teach!

      (By the way, one animal that might have language as complex as ours is, surprisingly enough, the Prairie Dog. They’re really cool. See here: http://animal.discovery.com/tv-shows/wild-kingdom/videos/prairie-dog-language.htm )

    • Photo: Fiona Coomer

      Fiona Coomer answered on 24 Jun 2013:

      I think I would teach them a form of writing / drawing. This would enable them to communicate ideas with others without having to meet them face to face – either leaving messages for future generations or communicating with people in different locations. This would also mean that anything else that they could be taught, would be spread much further around.

    • Photo: Dave Farmer

      Dave Farmer answered on 24 Jun 2013:

      Who says I’d teach them anything? Maybe I’d try to rule them as a god!

      David’s answers is a very good one, and not one I’d have thought about. Assuming, however, that they do have complex language, I think I’d try to teach them that everything is made of atoms. Richard Feynman was once asked a similar question, about what one sentence he would pass on to the new world is=f there was a cataclysm of scientific knowledge. He said:

      “All things are made of atoms — little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another. In that one sentence you will see an enormous amount of information about the world, if just a little imagination and thinking are applied.”

      If you want to rebuild scientific knowledge, it makes sense to me to do it from the bottom up.


    • Photo: Jack Miller

      Jack Miller answered on 24 Jun 2013:

      For me, I’d definitely try to teach them some form of communication, and also to be nice to each other! It sounds stupid, but without forming social colonies where everyone (mostly) plays nicely with everyone else, we wouldn’t have really done anything…

    • Photo: Chris Mansell

      Chris Mansell answered on 24 Jun 2013:

      I think that with teaching, the most important thing to do is find out what they already know and then build on that. If they knew addition, I might teach them subtraction. If they knew addition and subtraction, I might teach them mulitpication and division. Trying to teach someone who can’t count up to 100 (e.g. a very young child) how to do calculus would be silly.

      My answer might sound strange but I mention it because it is one of the things I like most about teaching: it’s interactive. You see what the person knows. Often you can do this just looking at what they are asking or, more subtley, the way they are asking it and you go from there. You may not be successful straight away but after more rounds of interaction, you can get pretty far (which I find quite cool).

      Jack’s answer of teaching them to be nice to each other is a very good one. I’d definitely try to teach them that if they weren’t already being nice to each other.