This book is the result of an interdisciplinary project at the Pufendorf Institute, Lund University. Twelve researchers from the same number of disciplines have been included in the project. The purpose has been to highlight the challenges that come with extraterrestrial, artificial and synthetic life. The interdisciplinary approach has given us the opportunity to highlight the questions from every conceivable angle, but also to find completely new combinations of methods and approaches.
Our hope is that the book will inspire new thoughts and discussions about life. The book addresses both those who are already interested and those who have not yet begun to ponder the challenges of extraterrestrial, artificial and synthetic life.
Life is a central concept in many areas of research, for example in biology, astrobiology, chemistry and medicine, as well as in law, theology and philosophy. Life is also a central theme of art. It is treated and pondered in numerous works of art, in poetry, novel and film. How we understand, value and protect life is extremely fundamental. In the future, these issues will become even more difficult and, if possible, even more important. Research groups from all over the world today work to create life in the laboratory, look for life in space and provide machines with properties that have previously only been living creatures, and development is fast. It is important that we at the same time consider the challenges that this entails. It will take time to find ways to live in a world where life exists in forms we can hardly imagine today and where the boundary between living beings and machines becomes increasingly blurred. The decisions we make today will also affect the development of society, research and development for a long time to come.
Super excited about being in Princeton and taking part in the Questing for Life: Emerging Scholar Workshops on the Societal Implications of Astrobiology at the Center of Theological Inquiry, CTI.
Supported by a grant from the NASA Astrobiology Program and the Templeton Foundation, the 2016/2017 Center’s Inquiry on the Societal Implications of Astrobiology aims to engage the humanities, social sciences, philosophy, and theology with current science exploring the origins and extent of life in the universe.
The workshop Questing for Life: Emerging Scholar Workshops on the Societal Implications of Astrobiology (June 13-16, 2017) focuses on the joint contributions of the sciences and humanities.
More information about the event was published in the Fresh Thinking Magazine: Issue 1 (2018)
About the workshop
Astrobiology is the quest to understand the potential of the universe to harbor life beyond Earth. Societal understanding of life on Earth has always developed in dialogue with scientific investigations of its origin and evolution. Today, the science of astrobiology extends these investigations to include the possibility of life in the universe. As astrobiology develops and its discoveries become more widely known, scholars in the humanities and social sciences will have new opportunities to interpret the significance of these discoveries and deepen our understanding of life itself. These research workshops offer one such opportunity. Questing for Life is for emerging scholars who are open to this new angle of vision on perennial questions. Sample topics include the use of narratives in understanding life in space; historical studies of first encounters with other cultures and natural life on Earth; how literature and the arts shape expectations of life; ethical, philosophical, and theological implications of the quest; conceptual questions in defining life; theoretical problems in identifying life; the legal, environmental, political, and commercial issues in planetary protection; and the impact of astrobiology on views of nature for indigenous and world religions. CTI aims to foster a community of discussion that crosses traditional boundaries.
The first poster entitled ‘Students’ Attitudes to Astrobiology. Attitudes towards scientific search for extraterrestrial life among Swedish high school and university students’ by Erik Persson, Klara Anna Capova, and Yuan will be presented later today at the AbSciCon 2017.
E-poster is available online: www.hou.usra.edu/meetings/abscicon2017/eposter/3156.pdf
STUDENTS ATTITUDES TO ASTROBIOLOGY. ATTITUDES TOWARDS SCIENTIFIC SEARCH FOR EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL LIFE AMONG SWEDISH HIGH SCHOOLS AND UNIVERSITY STUDENTS
Erik Persson1,2, Klara Anna Capova*3, and Yuan Li4,
1 Center of Theological Inquiry, Princeton, USA Email: email@example.com
2 The Pufendorf Institute for Advanced Studies, Lund University, Sweden
3 Department of Anthropology, Durham University, UK, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
4 Department of Biology, Lund University, Sweden
The paper presents results of a recent study looking into the attitudes towards the scientific search for extra-terrestrial life among high school and university students in Sweden. The analysis has revealed that (a) the great majority of students believe that extra-terrestrial life exists; (b) most students regard searching for extra-terrestrial life to be fairly important; (c) very few students think that searching for extra-terrestrial life is something we should actively avoid; (d) the most common motive for assigning a high priority to search for extra-terrestrial life, is that it is interesting; and the most common motive for assigning a low priority is the opinion that such knowledge would not be practically useful or that the money would be better spent elsewhere; (e) most students do not think they are very well informed regarding the search for extra-terrestrial life. At the same time, however, a higher percentage of the students who judge themselves to be well informed also believe that extra-terrestrial life exists. We have also found some differences between sub-groups (men/women, high school students/university students and different fields of study), but the differences are with few exceptions small in comparison to the overall trends, and typically matters of degree rather than direction.
Excited to be at the Astrobiology Conference AbSciCon 2017 in Mesa, Arizona and ready to present my recent work during the poster session. Many thanks to the Pufendorf Institute for Advanced Studies, Lund University for making this trip possible. A PDF of the AbSciCon Program is available online.
AbSciCon 2017 is the next in a series of conferences organized by the astrobiology community. The theme for AbSciCon 2017 is “Diverse Life and its Detection on Different Worlds.” Mars and icy worlds in our solar system are increasingly recognized as habitable, even as increasing numbers of exoplanets in their stars’ habitable zones have been discovered. The focus is shifting from identification of habitable worlds, to detection of life on them.
I am very pleased to accept the position of Visiting research fellow with the Pufendorf Institute for Advanced Studies at Lund University in Sweden. I am looking forward to joining ‘A Plurality of Lives’ research group in April and to working on societal aspects of astrobiology and current concepts of life beyond Earth.
Theme A Plurality of Lives
A few decades ago both the creation of new life and the discovery of extraterrestrial life would have been seen as science fiction. Today, the scientific community generally agrees that it is a question of when, not if, any of these endeavours will be successful. In spite of this, there are reasons to believe that we are ill-prepared for the challenges, as well as the opportunities, that the emergence of a plurality of lives – life with different origins – undoubtedly will create. Research groups around the world are currently busy trying to invent new life in the laboratory or looking for extraterrestrial life.
Further, medical science is moving in a direction of turning humans into what sometimes is described as post-humans. These areas have one thing in common, namely that they might, within our lifetime, provide us with a Second Origin of life. In the case of astrobiology, it might be a matter of life that is as old as earth life or older, but when discovered it would still be new to us. In the other cases, it would be a matter of inventing life that did not exist before. The emergence of a plurality of lives will have profound effects on a wide range of issues that all depend on how we look at life, from how to frame research questions in chemistry, biology and astrobiology via legal and political questions, to philosophical and theological perspectives.
Only a thoroughly interdisciplinary project can tackle the basic question behind all these challenges, that is, how will the emerging plurality of lives change how we conceive of and understand life? Please see the Plurality of Lives page on the Pufendorf Institute for Advanced Studies website.