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The Impact of Discovering Life Beyond Earth

  • Addresses a popular theme in astronomy from a different perspective, dealing with humanistic aspects of the discovery of life
  • Includes contributions from philosophers, theologians, anthropologists, historians and scientists, who each treat the subject from their respective fields
  • Offers the first systematic view of the impact of discovering life beyond Earth, laying out the issues methodically through section introductions by Steven J. Dick

By: Steven J Dick(Editor)

356 pages, 25 b/w illustrations, 7 tables

Cambridge University Press

Paperback | Oct 2015 | #223808 | ISBN-13: 9781107109988
Availability: Usually dispatched within 48 hours
NHBS Price: £19.99 $26/€22 approx

About this book

The search for life in the Universe, once the domain of science fiction, is now a robust research program with a well-defined roadmap, from studying the extremes of life on Earth to exploring the possible niches for life in the Solar System and discovering thousands of planets far beyond it. In addition to constituting a major scientific endeavor, astrobiology is one of the most popular topics in astronomy, and is of growing interest to a broad community of thinkers from across the academic spectrum. In The Impact of Discovering Life Beyond Earth, distinguished philosophers, theologians, anthropologists, historians and scientists discuss the big questions about how the discovery of extraterrestrial life, whether intelligent or microbial, would impact society. Their remarkable and often surprising findings challenge our foundational concepts of what the discovery of alien life may hold for humankind. Written in easily accessible language, this thought-provoking collection engages a wide audience of readers from all backgrounds.

"Are we alone in the cosmos? If yes, we can never be sure. If no, we might well have an answer within the decade. The 22 authors of these fascinating and informative essays say no, we are not alone, despite the fact that so far not a shred of evidence has been found for the existence of life elsewhere in the universe. But just in case they are right, we need to start thinking about the possibility that we are not alone, and here is a good place to start."
– Owen Gingerich, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and author of God's Planet

"[...] this is a very worthwhile text, presenting a number of fascinating, novel possibilities on how the days after 'first contact' might look."
– John Rowlands, Astronomy Now


Introduction: astrobiology and society Steven J. Dick

Part I. Motivations and Approaches. How Do We Frame the Problems of Discovery and Impact?: Introduction
1. Current approaches to finding life beyond earth, and what happens if we do Seth Shostak
2. The philosophy of astrobiology: the Copernican and Darwinian presuppositions Iris Fry
3. History, discovery, analogy: three approaches to the impact of discovering life beyond earth Steven J. Dick
4. Silent impact: why the discovery of extraterrestrial life should be silent Clément Vidal

Part II. Transcending Anthropocentrism. How Do We Move beyond our Own Preconceptions of Life, Intelligence and Culture?: Introduction
5. The landscape of life Dirk Schulze-Makuch
6. The landscape of intelligence Lori Marino
7. Universal biology: assessing universality from a single example Carlos Mariscal
8. Equating culture, civilization, and moral development in imagining extraterrestrial intelligence: anthropocentric assumptions? John Traphagan
9. Communicating with the other: infinity, geometry, and universal math and science Douglas Vakoch

Part III. Philosophical, Theological, and Moral Impact. How Do We Comprehend the Cultural Challenges Raised by Discovery?: Introduction
10. Life, intelligence and the pursuit of value in cosmic evolution Mark Lupisella
11. 'Klaatu barada nikto' – or, do they really think like us? Michael Ruse
12. Alien minds Susan Schneider
13. The moral subject of astrobiology: guideposts for exploring our ethical and political responsibilities towards extraterrestrial life Elspeth Wilson and Carol Cleland
14. Astrobiology and theology Robin Lovin
15. Would you baptize an extraterrestrial? Guy Consolmagno, SJ

Part IV. Practical Considerations: How Should Society Prepare for Discovery – and Non-Discovery?: Introduction
16. Is there anything new about astrobiology and society? Jane Maienschein
17. Evaluating preparedness for the discovery of extraterrestrial life: considering potential risks, impacts and plans Margaret Race
18. Searching for extraterrestrial intelligence: preparing for an expected paradigm break Michael A. G. Michaud
19. SETI in non-western perspective John Traphagan and Julian W. Traphagan
20. The allure of alien life: public and media framings of extraterrestrial life Linda Billings
21. Internalizing null extraterrestrial 'signals': an astrobiological app for a technological society Eric Chaisson


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Steven J. Dick held the 2014 Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology at the John W. Kluge Center of the Library of Congress. In 2013 he testified before Congress on the subject of astrobiology. He served as the Charles A. Lindbergh Chair in Aerospace History at the National Air and Space Museum (2011–2012), and as the NASA Chief Historian and Director of the NASA History Office (2003–2009). He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the NASA Exceptional Service Medal and the Navy Meritorious Civilian Service Medal, and is author or editor of twenty books, including The Biological Universe (1996). He was awarded the 2006 LeRoy E. Doggett Prize for Historical Astronomy of the American Astronomical Society. In 2009, the International Astronomical Union designated minor planet 6544 stevendick in his honor.

- Steven J. Dick
- Seth Shostak
- Iris Fry
- Clément Vidal
- Dirk Schulze-Makuch
- Lori Marino
- Carlos Mariscal
- John Traphagan
- Douglas Vakoch
- Mark Lupisella
- Michael Ruse
- Susan Schneider
- Elspeth Wilson
- Carol Cleland
- Robin Lovin
- Guy Consolmagno
- SJ
- Jane Maienschein
- Margaret Race
- Michael A. G. Michaud
- Julian W. Traphagan
- Linda Billings
- Eric Chaisson

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