Saturday, September 13, 2008

Mars’ recurrent floods and key philosophical and theological issues raised by discussion of extrasolar evolution

Welcome! "Alien Life" tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. You may notice that this and future entries are shorter than usual; career, family and book deal commitments have forced me to cut back some of my projects. Now, here's today's news:
g Stars -The opening speaker at the 2008 Astrobiology Science Conference (AbSciCon), Lord Martin Rees of the University of Cambridge, said that our universe may just be one of many. Multiple universes could be stacked sideways like sheets of paper, separated by only a thin margin of space. We would never know they were there unless we could be awakened to the existence of that other dimension. See article.
g Abodes -A new study suggests that recurrent floods carved valley networks on Mars during a long period of time when the climate of Mars resembled arid regions on Earth.The study is an important step toward understanding the potential for past life on the Red Planet. See article.
g Message -After its long voyage from Earth across the vast stretches of interstellar space, the space ship finally lands on a planet with an environment compatible with human life. The human space voyagers descend from their ship and encounter a race of intelligent beings native to the planet. Communication is soon established between the two groups, human and alien, of intelligent beings. So might begin a story in the contemporary science fiction genre. Such stories might not seem to have much to do with the question of the nature of language, but there is one aspect of the story that merits our attention, namely, the fact that communication is established. That in itself is remarkable. In real life humans have never succeeded in establishing communication with any other species, at least not in establishing communication in the same way as they do with alien beings in many science fiction stories. In such stories it is often possible to communicate with the aliens as effectively as with a human group who speak another language. Are we to say, then, that these alien beings have language? See article.
g Learning -Could the legendary dragons of Pern from Anne McCaffrey’s famous science fiction novels actually exist? Welcome to the theoretical science of dracogenetics. See article.
g Imagining -Like stories about efforts to communicate with aliens? Then be sure to read Fred Hoyle’s "A for Andromeda" (1962). See article.
g Aftermath - The scientific discussion of the evolution of life in the universe raises some key philosophical and theological issues: Will life and intelligence be found throughout the universe, or will it turn out to be exceedingly rare? Will intelligent life be capable of both rationality and moral agency? Will evolutionary biology determine its moral content or will it merely bequeath intelligent life with moral capacity, leaving moral content to be determined independently of biology? If moral agency evolves, will these species inevitably exhibit moral failure, or is our generic human experience of moral failure strictly the result of our particular evolution, leaving us to expect there to be other civilizations that are entirely benign? The discussion of these issues, though largely hypothetical, can offer insight into the theological and cultural implications of the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence as well into a better understanding of the human condition. See article.

Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future

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