Neha Patil

Encountering Life in the Universe

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Pages  288
Preceded by  How It Began
Page count  288
Subject  Astronomy
ISBN  978-0816528707
Originally published  1 January 2013
Genre  Non-fiction
Editor  Chris Impey
Encountering Life in the Universe t0gstaticcomimagesqtbnANd9GcQpUOcoJxWPoCWdJ
Authors  Chris Impey, Bill Stoeger, and Anna Spitz
Publication date  October 17, 2013 (hardcover)
Media type  Print (hardcover) and electronic (e-book)
Publisher  University of Arizona Press
Similar  International Symposium on Astrop, Frontiers of Astrobiology, Talking About Life, International Symposium on Astrop, Shadow World

Encountering life in the universe ethical foundations and social implications of astrobiology


Encountering Life in the Universe: Ethical Foundations and Social Implications of Astrobiology is a non-fiction book edited by the astronomers Chris Impey and Bill Stoeger, S.J., and scientist and science communicator Anna Spitz that explores the consequences of humanity encountering biology beyond the Earth from a variety of scholarly perspectives. Earth is the only planet known to host life, but the surge in discovery of exoplanets, including many that are in principle habitable, motivates consideration of the implications of discovering life elsewhere. The chapters derive from a conference held at the Biosphere 2 Institute of the University of Arizona in 2008. The book was published as a hardcover by the University of Arizona Press in 2013.

Contents

Encountering life in the universe ethical foundations and social implications of astrobiology


Summary

The book consists of articles on the subject of astrobiology.

The book begins with chapters that provide background on the fundamental philosophical and religious traditions to create a foundation for discussion of ethics and astrobiology. Cleland and Wilson provide a careful, detailed, and profound philosophical and scientific examination of the definition of life. They also consider the roots of our ethical and moral obligations towards nonhuman organisms. Stoeger's chapter explores the various approaches to the foundations of ethical reasoning with deep roots in Western philosophy. Hewlett explores astrobiological questions through a sketch of the philosophical and theological speculation and controversies about other worlds populated by living conscious beings. Irudayadason complements the previous astroethical explorations with his discussion of based in an Eastern philosophical and religious perspective. He brings key Buddhist and Hindu insights to bear on dependent co-arising, the idea that everything originates from a variety of causes which are mutually dependent.

The chapters then move from framing issues to more concrete applications. Bedau and Triant examine the social and ethical issues arising in the work being done to create artificial cells. They consider all the various principles, which have been suggested for making decisions in the creation of artificial life, and by extension to astrobiological exploration. Race outlines various policy agreements relating to astrobiology, including, for instance, planetary protection policy, and how these are being revised and subjected to further revision in light of a whole range of societal issues. McKay proposes an ethical stance which privileges life as the most important source of value. This would demand not only that we promote and protect the richness and diversity of life on Earth, but also that we expand life from Earth to other planets. In contrast, Sullivan suggests a set of ethical principles based on environmental ethics, such as those put forward by the early American conservationist Aldo Leopold. All five contributors strongly support the intrinsic value of extraterrestrial life and non-terrestrial environments.

Tarter expands on Race’s discussion of interactions with extraterrestrials with an in-depth look at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). Peters expands the discussion to consider how we could ethically engage extraterrestrial intelligent life itself. His discussion provides a mirror within which we can look at ourselves self-critically and see how we deal with one another here on Earth, in particular how we treat the other.” Hruby’s paper is a reflection on how ethical principles are or are not being carried out in the more familiar context of our use of pharmaceuticals and other drugs. He suggests parallels between the ethical issues arising from our use of mind-altering pharmaceuticals and those which undoubtedly will emerge in engaging with extraterrestrial life and extraterrestrial intelligent life.

Moving to educational issues, Offerdahl emphasizes the importance for us to relate our scientific understanding and perspectives to our philosophical and spiritual identities, which include social, cultural, ethical, and religious components. Next, Woolf argues that life’s highest priority is in retaining all the achievements and features that make survival possible, not just basic survival, but the flourishing and enhancement of human co-operation and understanding at their highest levels. Finally, the Appendix is a dialog about the topics central to the theme of the book. The astrophysicist Woolf and the biologist Benner provide a glimpse into the assessment of risks and benefits involved in the search for life beyond Earth and the ongoing quest to make artificial life in the laboratory.

References

Encountering Life in the Universe Wikipedia


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