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Encountering Life in the Universe

Ethical Foundations and Social Implications of Astrobiology

Edited by Chris Impey, Anna H. Spitz, and William Stoeger

Publication Year: 2013

Are we alone in the universe? Are the planets our playground to treat as we will, or do we have a responsibility to other creatures who may inhabit or use them? Do we have a right to dump trash in space or leave vehicles on Mars or the moon?  How should we interact with other life forms?

Encountering Life in the Universe examines the intersection of scientific research and society to further explore the ethics of how to behave in a universe where much is unknown. Taking contributions from notable experts in several fields, the editors skillfully introduce and develop a broad look at the moral questions facing humans on Earth and beyond.

Major advances in biology, biotechnology, and medicine create an urgency to ethical considerations in those fields. Astrobiology goes on to debate how we might behave as we explore new worlds, or create new life in the laboratory, or interact with extraterrestrial life forms. Stimulated by new technologies for scientific exploration on and off the Earth, astrobiology is establishing itself as a distinct scientific endeavor.

In what way can established philosophies provide guidance for the new frontiers opened by astrobiology research? Can the foundations of ethics and moral philosophy help answer questions about modifying other planets? Or about how to conduct experiments to create life in the lab or about? How to interact with organisms we might discover on another world?

While we wait for the first echo that might indicate life beyond Earth, astobiologists, along with  philosophers, theologians, artists, and the general public, are exploring how we might behave—even before we know for sure they are there. Encountering Life in the Universe is a remarkable resource for such philosophical challenges.

Published by: University of Arizona Press

Cover

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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5

Table of Contents

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pp. v-7

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

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Preface - Jonathan I. Lunine and Anna H. Spitz

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pp. ix-x

Astrobiology is the study of life’s relationship to the rest of the cosmos. Its major themes include the origin of life and its precursor materials, the evolution of life on Earth, its future prospects on and off the Earth, and the occurrence of life elsewhere. Behind each of these themes is a multi-disciplinary set of questions involving physics, chemistry, biology, geology, ...

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-15

This book grew out of the workshop “Astrobiology: Expanding Our Views of Society and Self,” held at the Biosphere 2 Institute, University of Arizona (UA), ...

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1. Astrobiology, Ethics, and Philosophy - William R. Stoeger, Chris Impey, and Anna H. Spitz

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pp. 1-16

The philosophy that guides this volume, Encountering Life in the Universe: Ethical Foundations and Issues and Social Implications, is captured in the title of the conference that gave it birth: Astrobiology: Expanding Our Views of Society and Self. It is certainly about the ethical issues raised by astrobiology and by the possibility of life originating and evolving elsewhere ...

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2. Lessons from Earth: Toward an Ethics of Astrobiology - Carol E. Cleland and Elspeth M. Wilson

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pp. 17-55

What are our ethical responsibilities toward truly alien forms of life? This is an extremely diffi cult question to answer. In the absence of concrete examples of extraterrestrial life to reference and refl ect upon, how can ethicists even begin to consider how humans ought to act in relation to organisms that we know nothing about? Rather than setting out to resolve this quandary, the purpose of this chapter...

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3. Astrobiology and Beyond: From Science to Philosophy and Ethics - William R. Stoeger

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pp. 56-79

Astrobiology studies the characteristics and development of cosmic, galactic, stellar, and planetary environments, including those of Earth, insofar as they provide the conditions for the emergence and evolution of life. It also addresses questions about the constitution and possible varieties of life in those environments: What is the range and frequency of life— conscious life, rational, and societal....

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4. Beyond Horatio’s Philosophy: Biological Evolution and the “Plurality of Worlds” Concept - Martinez J. Hewlett

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pp. 80-93

The discourse in the Western world on the possibilities of life on other worlds is as ancient as the philosophical tradition itself. Even to the present day the latest missions to Mars, aimed at the discovery of water and molecular evidence for the possibilities of life, excite the popular imagination at the same time that they challenge our notion of self and our place within the cosmos. Hamlet’s words to Horatio, after his first encounter with the ghost of his dead father...

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5. The Wonder Called Cosmic Oneness: Toward Astroethics from Hindu and Buddhist Wisdom and Worldviews - Nishant Alphonse Irudayadason

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pp. 94-119

In this chapter I attempt to show how the Hindu and Buddhist worldviews affirm universal harmony and how this can be paradigmatic for evolving astroethics. We shall explore the possible connections between key insights and intuitions of Buddhist and Hindu thought and our rapidly expanding understanding of the Universe, including our knowledge of life and conscious life here...

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6. Social and Ethical Implications of Creating Artificial Cells - Mark A. Bedau and Mark Triant

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pp. 120-140

The astrobiology search for extraterrestrial life and the prospect of someday actually encountering extraterrestrial life are making us rethink certain ethical and social issues. Many of those issues arise in part specifi cally because extraterrestrial (ET) life could be so different from any of the myriad forms of life we know about today. There is a second scientific context in which extremely...

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7. Space Exploration and Searches for Extraterrestrial Life: Decision Making and Societal Issues - Margaret S. Race

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pp. 141-157

For centuries people have wondered about life and our place in the Universe. Where did life come from and what is its meaning? Are we alone? What is the future of life? Much has been written about the changing historical views of life’s origin and the possible existence of extraterrestrial (ET) life (see, for example, Dick 1999, 2002). Today, as we continue to seek answers to these same questions...

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8. Astrobiology and Society: The Long View - Christopher P. McKay

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pp. 158-166

The current field of astrobiology includes a fundamentally new question. Whereas previous lines of inquiry focused on the origin and distribution of life in the Universe, astrobiology as defined by NASA explicitly includes the question: What is the future of life in the Universe? In the near term this third question of astrobiology relates to the possibility of survival of life from Earth in space, on Mars...

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9. Planetocentric Ethics: Principles for Exploring a Solar System That May Contain Extraterrestrial Microbial Life - Woodruff T. Sullivan III

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pp. 167-177

The heavens and the philosophy of ethics have been connected for a long time. But the Space Age has upped the ante with its many unprecedented ethical questions arising from the novelty of our actually being able to visit, not just observe, the extraterrestrial space environment. In this chapter I will discuss the ethical issues raised by exploration of planetary bodies and by the possible presence of extraterrestrial...

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10. Contact: Who Will Speak for Earth and Should They? - Jill Cornell Tarter

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pp. 178-199

For millennia humans have looked at the sky and wondered whether or not we are alone in this vast Universe. The modern tools of astronomy now give us the opportunity to try to find the answer to this old question; SETI, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, is a scientific exploration that might provide an answer in the near future, much farther in the future, or never. But if one...

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11. Astroethics: Engaging Extraterrestrial Intelligent Life-Forms - Ted Peters

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pp. 200-221

How might we frame ethical concerns that are likely to arise when we begin to engage interactively with extraterrestrial intelligence? Based upon terrestrial experience, can we export Earth ethics? To speak to such questions, we must speculate. Ethical deliberation in light of astrobiology will unavoidably extrapolate and imagine scenarios both in continuity and in discontinuity with what we are already...

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12. A Scientifically Minded Citizenry: The Ethical Responsibility of All Scientists - Erika Offerdahl

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pp. 222-235

How might we frame ethical concerns that are likely to arise when we begin to engage interactively with extraterrestrial intelligence? Based upon terrestrial experience, can we export Earth ethics? To speak to such questions, we must speculate. Ethical deliberation in light of astrobiology will unavoidably extrapolate and imagine scenarios both in continuity and in discontinuity with what we are already...

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13. Survival Ethics and Astrobiology - Neville J. Woolf

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pp. 236-246

Let us start by fantasizing that everything Western science now knows is adequate for understanding the “how” of the Universe. Reality seems so observer- dependent, but the standard Western scientific model is a starting point. There remains the ultimate question, why is there something rather than nothing?, and two associated subordinate questions: why is ours an anthropic Universe?...

Appendix: Astrobiological Risk: A Dialogue - Steven A. Benner and Neville J. Woolf

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pp. 247-256

Further Reading

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pp. 257-258

Contributors

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pp. 259-266

Index

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pp. 267-269


E-ISBN-13: 9780816599226
E-ISBN-10: 081659922X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816528707
Print-ISBN-10: 0816528705

Page Count: 283
Illustrations: 6 illustrations, 4 tables
Publication Year: 2013

Series Editor Byline: John Smith, Will Wordsworth

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • Exobiology -- Moral and ethical aspects.
  • Exobiology -- Social aspects.
  • Life on other planets -- Moral and ethical aspects.
  • Life on other planets -- Social aspects.
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