First published here on Mariano’s Scifoo14 blog

In his short story The Gold at Starbow’s End (1972) Frederik Pohl describes a future “Science Foo Camp” hosted in a starship on a ten-year journey to Alpha Centauri. The rationale for organizing such a gathering is the desire to advance fundamental knowledge, backed by the theory that if you isolate a group of people working in diverse areas of science and technology, they will be forced to make new discoveries in fundamental sciences – especially if such thought process is not aimed at making specific discoveries. But participants are not informed about this: they think their purpose is to land on a planet called Alpha-Aleph orbiting Alpha Centauri. More damningly, a small circle of advisors know the truth about this one-way suicide mission, being aware that Alpha-Aleph does not exist!

Taught basic elements of mathematics and invited to enjoy the long voyage solving recreational puzzles, the participants start to develop an efficient way of coding up messages and use it to send back messages like 1973354 + 331852 + 172008 + 547 + 39606 + 288 minus 78.

The scientists on Earth face conclude that in a while the communication with Campers will become impossible for the increasing gap between their intelligence and the complexity of the issues discussed in the starship.

The story has a surprising evolution that I will spoil in this Godelized form – understandable only by the travellers to Alpha-Aleph:

23747 + 101279 minus 4643

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