Program for the 2020 Joint Meeting of
SSOCIA: THE SOCIETY FOR SOCIAL AND CONCEPTUAL ISSUES IN ASTROBIOLOGY
THE MISSISSIPPI PHILOSOPHICAL ASSOCIATION
The University of Mississippi
March 27-29, 2020
*sessions of the Mississippi Philosophical Association subprogram are designated “MPA”*
Friday, March 27th
(odd-numbered sessions are in room 323 A of the Student Union; even-numbered sessions are in room 323 B of the Student Union)
8:45-10:15 Sessions 1 and 2
Session 1 – METI I: Should We Communicate? (MPA)
The Morality of Interstellar Messaging (Julia DeMarines and Chelsea Haramia) – The author argues that the risks of interstellar messaging may hold far-reaching and potentially harmful consequences for future generations. Humans ought to form a global, collaborative, adaptable, and accountable body tasked with formulating and enforcing the appropriate rules and regulations for messaging and coordinating interstellar messaging activities.
Seeking Shared Values While Searching for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (Chelsea Haramia) – The author argues that we should be searching for extraterrestrial values (moral/ethical value systems of extraterrestrials), without also arguing that universal, shared, or objective values definitively exist. In fact, there is reason to be skeptical of the existence of such shared values. Yet such skepticism is not consistently applied, and the concerns one might have justifying the search for values mirror the concerns one should have justifying the search for intelligent life.
If an Alien Could Talk, We Wouldn’t be Able to Understand it (Emil Perron) – Following the later Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language, the author argues that we may never truly understand the form of life of aliens, and so their language might forever be, not totally indecipherable, but overall incomprehensible.
Session 2 – Evolutionary Dynamics
The Mode and Tempo of the Evolution of Life on Earth and Possibly Elsewhere (Nathalie Gontier) – Recent evolutionary research has brought to light the great variety that exists in the mode and tempo of life’s evolution on earth. The author reviews these major modes and tempos of evolution, and analyzes the lessons that can be drawn for how life possibly evolves elsewhere in the universe.
Beyond Metabolism and Genetics: Emergence of Chiral Asymmetry through the Transition from Non-life to Life (John Malloy, Hyunju Kim, and Sara I. Walker) – Arguing for the limitations of both “metabolism-first” and “genetics-first” approaches to life, the authors explore how the emergence of chiral asymmetry over the history of life can be a way of unifying these two approaches.
Evolution is More General than Physics (Carlos Mariscal) – The author argues that the principles of evolution are not reducible to actual physics, but are an application of an a priori logical schema. Thus we can infer what biology might be like in possible worlds with differing physics, and we can conclude that some features of biology are robust and general to a possibly greater degree than those of physics.
10:30-11:30 Sessions 3 and 4
Session 3 – The Value of Microbes (MPA)
Conceptualizing the Boundary of Life (Dana Burton) – How do we define life from a contamination standpoint? Addressing that question through a philosophical lens that includes feminist theory and postcolonial scholarship on boundary making, the author discusses how the contemporary conceptualization of life forces us to question who is allowed to define “life” and how positionality impacts those classifications.
On the Value of Extraterrestrial Microbial Life, Or How We Learned to Stop Worrying About Intrinsic Value and Love the Microbe (Troy Hall and Jonathan Trerise) – There are two long-standing positions in environmental ethics regarding the value of nature: anthropocentric and non-anthropocentric. Here the authors present a broadly pragmatist view of the value of exomicrobial life, and outline both the theoretical and practical consequences of this view.
Session 4 – Evolution of Intelligence and Culture
The Coincidence Number of a Universe and The Implications for Life Within It (Andrew Kennedy) – The “Coincidence Number” associated with a universe at a given point in time measures the dependency between life on the one hand and “lucky” contingencies at earlier stages in the universe’s history on the other. By examining the relationship between Coincidence Numbers and consciousness, our understanding of the likelihood of success for SETI, and the patterns of the spread of life in our universe, will improve.
Refining Search Priorities and Vetting Protocols for Intelligent Life Forms: New Perspectives from Neuroscience and Evolutionary Biology (Margaret Boone Rappaport and Christopher Corbally) – Evolutionary science and neuroscience support the ideat that “anatomy is morality.” In light of this, the presenters argue, the essential feature to identify in ETI is moral decision-making, rather than cultural or religious capacity. They offer modifications to search priorities and vetting protocols for SETI.
11:30-2:00 Lunch (but note the conflict with Seth Shostak’s presentation)
12-1:30 Public Lecture, Grand Ballroom, the Student Union
**Please note that this is a student-oriented presentation sponsored by the Associated Student Bodies at the University of Mississippi. Students and the University of Mississippi community in general are the intended audience. You are welcome to attend (space permitting), but you are urged not to ask any questions during the Q&A period so long as student questioners remain. However, if you happen to be present during the reception afterwards, you are encouraged to identify yourself to students and engage them in conversation.**
Science Looks for the Aliens (Seth Shostak) – Are we alone in the universe? The scientific hunt for extraterrestrial life is now into its sixth decade, and we still haven’t discovered any cosmic company. Could all this mean that finding clever beings beyond Earth, even if they exist, is a project for the ages – one that might take centuries or longer? No. New approaches and new technology for whether anyone is out there suggest that there is good reason to expect that we could uncover evidence even of sophisticated civilizations – the type of aliens we see in the movies and on TV – within a few decades. But if we succeed, what would be the societal impact of learning that something, or someone, is out there?
This lecture is free and open to the public.
2:00-3:30 Sessions 5 and 6
Session 5 – METI II: How Should We Communicate?
From Monologue to Dialogue: Why Aren’t We Asking Aliens Questions? (William Alba) – The speaker addresses question-asking in METI in light of the importance of questions in diverse human activities such as language acquisition, foreign travel, humor, dating, and philosophizing. Since question-asking is pivotal in moving from being unknown to becoming friends, we must ask ourselves what questions we could include within our interstellar messages.
How to Talk to Aliens: The Assertive/Interrogative Divide in METI (Douglas Estes) – The speaker asks humanity’s reception of an intelligible communication from extraterrestrial life forms might differ depending upon whether the communication took the form of a statement (“We are here” or “3.141592653589793238”) or a question (“Is anyone out there?”). He then considers the anthropological divide between humans (who can ask questions) and other mammals such as primates (who cannot ask questions), and what this divide could mean for messages to extraterrestrial entities as well as first contact.
We Come in Peace(?): On the Ethics of Interstellar Diplomacy (Carlos Santana) – Should our opening move in interstellar diplomacy be a peaceful overture or a belligerent warning? The speaker argues for the latter. Humanity is better off portraying itself as a nest of angry wasps rather than as a tribe of curious quokkas.
Session 6 – Foundational Questions for Off world Settlements (MPA)
Some Epistemic and Ethical Aspects of the Colonialist Framework (Sandra Ramos Amezquita and Erik Persson) – When we talk about colonizing space, are we extrapolating problematic political views to outer space? Human colonization of other worlds presents epistemic as well as ethical challenges, so the authors analyze from an epistemological point of view the concept of space colonialism, its framework, and its methodology.
Space Colonization in the Face of Deep Discounting (Joseph Gottlieb) – Supported by historical evidence, the author contends that humans need to view the project of space colonization in the face our tendency towards “deep positive discounting” – our tendency to count future benefits of actions as worth far less than they really are. Absent unforeseen scenarios, our tendency to positively discount amounts to what is perhaps the most insoluble impediment to space colonization, and one that is psychological, rather than technological, in nature.
Life in Space Colonies: Can Ecocentrism Help? (Abhik Gupta) – Could an ecocentric orientation of the space settlers, and even the astronauts who would spend a long time in space, help in making them better equipped psychologically to live in a very different environment? Intensive sessions of ‘green reading’ and appreciation could perhaps be helpful. Gupta argues that humans’ inherent “biophilia” could be explored to make life in space more stable and enjoyable.
3:45-5:15 Plenary I: SETI and Society Panel Discussion
Kathryn Denning (organizer), Seth Shostak, and others (TBA)
5:15 Dinner [It is on your own, but we will have a signup sheet for tables at Snack Bar, Lenoras, City Grocery, and Grit. Each reservation is for 12 people at 6:00 p.m.)
Saturday, March 28th
(all Saturday and Sunday sessions will be in Bryant Hall; odd-numbered sessions are in 209 Bryant, even-numbered sessions are in 111 Bryant)
8:30 -10 Sessions 7 and 8
Session 7 – Planetary Protection I: Policy
Planetary Protection: An Idea Whose Time is Gone? (Linda Billings) – The speaker provides arguments for stringent planetary protection requirements – to preserve pristine extraterrestrial environments from astrobiological exploration – and arguments against. She comes down on the side of preserving pristine environments based on their scientific value and on environmental ethics.
In Dreams Begin Responsibility – Environmental Assessment and Outer Space Actions (William R. Kramer) – While instruments such as the US’s National Environmental Policy Act provide legally tested regulatory models for environmental assessment, statutory frameworks may not work in the international environment of outer space. Kramer proposes industry-driven standards and an environmental code of conduct based, in part, on best management practices.
Developing a Framework for Guiding Human Exploration And Uses of the Moon and Mars: Identifying and Addressing the Policy Gaps Ahead (Margaret Race) – This talk will focus on how plans for future missions to the Moon are raising questions beyond exploration per se. Race considers appropriate guidelines and policies for activities like strip mining, telescope building, space tourism, ISRU, infrastructure development, waste handling and more.
Session 8 – What is Life? (MPA)
A Relational Definition of Life for Astrobiology (Astrid Modera) – The speaker argues that Robert Rosen’s relational biology is particularly well-suited as a theoretical framework for astrobiology. By using the theory of category to formalize living systems, relational biologists created a model that could embrace the diversity of terrestrial life and that might also embrace possible extraterrestrial forms of life, if we ever meet some.
Can Astrobiology Transcend Biology? (Lucas Mix) – In order for astrobiologists to understand the future of life in the universe, it will be necessary to address whether humans have, in some way, escaped from natural selection. The author argues that, in important ways, they have not, so predictions of future evolution should include evolutionary divergence and competition among human populations.
Re-imaging the Concept of Life: William James, Hans Driesch, and Swami Vivekananda (Christopher Zajner) – With the possibility of encountering future entities which challenge the modern framework of biology, having the imaginative capacity to creatively reconstitute our conception of life will be potentially very fruitful. There is no better way to do so than by building upon past thought, says the author. He does so by investigating the notion of “life” in multiple aspects through the work of the early 20th century philosophers William James, Hans Driesch, and Swami Vivekananda.
10:15 – 11:45 Sessions 9 and 10
Session 9 – Planetary Protection II: Conservation (MPA)
Finitude as the Lingua Cosmica of the Universe (Jason Howard) – Humans’ ability to build meaningful moral relationships with extraterrestrial lifeforms ultimately comes down to the extent to which these lifeforms experience the exigencies of time, says the author. This need not require that alien life look like us, live like us, think much like us, or share a similar evolutionary heritage, but that at a minimum the events of birth and death should make a difference to them.
Half-Earth, the One-Eighth Principle, and the Ethics of Collective Restraint (Alan Johnson) – What historical proposals for ecological altruism have in common is that they ask humanity as a whole to exercise restraint with respect to territory and resources that might otherwise be claimed and exploited. The speaker critically discusses the work of authors who argue for altruism on a massive scale for the sake of other species and/or future generations of humans.
Conservation Astrobiology Ethics for Spacefaring Civilization (Nick Nielsen) – Conservation astrobiology is examined from the perspectives of the Romantic-Transcendental Preservation Ethic, the Resource Conservation Ethic, and the Evolutionary-Ecological Land Ethic. The author examines the consequences of these frameworks for conservation at the biospheric level.
Session 10 – Education & Outreach
Using Aliens to Teach Evolution (David DeGraff) – The author teaches two General Education classes on biological evolution: “Life in the Universe,” which has a large section on the history of life on Earth, and “Science in Science Fiction,” which has a segment on aliens. Since he noticed less hostility in the room for discussing evolution on alien planets than for discussing the evolution of life on Earth, he adapted the “Build Your Own Alien” project from the second class for use in the first class to see if that made a difference. He reports the results of the experiment.
Lessons learned from Using Socratic Dialogue in Astrobiology Education (Erik Persson) – The Socratic Dialogue is a modern tool for analyzing and defining difficult concepts in groups. It is inspired by Socrates who involved people he met at the town square in advanced philosophical discussions. The method can be applied to all kinds of concepts by participants with a wide range of backgrounds. The speaker will explain how to use it and share his experiences from using it for astrobiology education and outreach.
Astrobiologists Should Write Like Journalists and Talk Like Cavemen (Ryan Fortenberry) -For the sake of public understanding of the science, astrobiologists need to catch up with journalists regarding how they present information. The speaker will give an overview of his book Professional Science Communication as applied to astrobiology. He will also provide a sample presentation regarding the detectability of the smallest molecules that eventually go on to make rocky planets.
11:45-2:00 Lunch (on your own)
2:00-3:30 Plenary II: Simon Conway Morris (MPA)
3:45-4:45 Plenary III: Planetary Protection Panel Discussion (MPA)
Kathryn Denning (organizer), Linda Billings, Dana Burton, William Kramer, Pauli Laine, Margaret Race, Jim Schwartz, and remote participants including John Rummel
5:00-5:30 Business meetings (SSoCIA and MPA) – [PLEASE ATTEND!]
5:30-7:00 Catered wine reception and poster symposium
Paleontologica Mexicana: New Section on the History and Sociology of Paleontology (Sandra Ramos Amezquita and Joseph Bedmar)
Astrobiology and Society in Europe Today – The White Paper on the Societal Implications of Astrobiology Research in the European Context (Erik Persson, Klara Capova, and David Duner)
Communicating with Extraterrestrial Intelligence: An Evolutionary Epistemological Perspective (Marta Facoetti)
Biological Soil Crusts: Microbial Prospects for Terraforming? (Erik Hom and Alexandra Penn)
Sunday, March 29th
8:30-10:00 Sessions 11 and 12
Session 11 – Ethics of Offworld Settlement
The Pros and Cons of Human Mars Exploration vs Planetary Protection Issues (Pauli Laine) – Mars is of increasing interest for scientific exploration, human exploration, and even colonization and terraforming, yet it is also considered as possible location of extinct biosignatures, or even extant life (e.g. deep underground). The author investigates how these two interests – human exploration and the search for extraterrestrial life – fit into the more general issues of Mars exploration and planetary protection.
The Accessible Universe: Against Human Enhancement as a Default for Space Societies (James S.J. Schwartz) – Humanity should not attempt to establish space societies that would not be open to “baseline” humans (e.g., those with species-typical oxygen or radiation protection needs). The author provides two arguments for this conclusion. The first is via analogy with disability and accessibility; the second is that the requirement of enhancement would pervert the vision of the human expansion into space.
Rethinking the “Right Stuff”: Why Humans with Disabilities Will Colonize Space (Sheri Wells-Jensen) – Many of those who begin space expeditions with the classic “right stuff” will become disabled over the course of their time in space. This is a reality we must plan for or we will betray their trust and imperil their success. The author examines what kinds of disabilities will occur as humans move further into space, and discusses the equipment, training, and cultural adaptations necessary for the accommodation of these disabled astronauts and colonists.
Session 12 – Big Theoretical Questions
Interstellar Anthropology: Astrobiology and the Search for Life in the Universe (Flora Dutra) – What is the potential and impact of astrobiological research on cultures, societies and peoples? The author examines the effect of advances in astrobiology on core social issues, including: discoveries about the origin, evolution, and future of life, and the impact of these discoveries on cultures and societies; how research in astrobiology relates to questions about the meaning of life; and the relationship of humans with other possible worlds beyond Earth from the perspective of scientific anthropology.
Directionality, Contingency and the Debate about the Likelihood of Extra-Terrestrial Life (Tomislav Janovic) – Some have attempted to measure the likelihood of the occurrence of the set of events necessary for the emergence of life. The author probes these estimates through the philosophical notion of contingency, understood in two senses: unpredictability and dependency.
Pragmatism and Ethics: Exploring the Implications of Ethical Naturalism for Issues in Astrobiology and Space Exploration (Daniel Wueste) – Focusing on the work of John Dewey – in particular, his books Human Nature and Conduct and Reconstruction in Philosophy – the author explores the implications for ethical issues in astrobiology and space exploration of the rejection of Dewey’s ideas.
10:15-11:15 Session 13
Session 13 – Mission Musings
Projected Interstellar Mission Capacity over the Next Millennium Constrained by Fusion Fuel Resource Base in our Solar System (Robert G. Kennedy III) – If a self-propelled ship is going to get to another star in less than many millennia, based on known physics, humanity will need vast quantities of highly energetic fusion fuels. However, all five of the light fusion reactions the human race knows about have major drawbacks. The speaker proposes to bound the value of this constraint in order to inform the general discussion in interstellar mission capacity.
Predicting the Effects of the Outer Space Treaty on Lunar Mining Through No Man’s Sky (Robert Lodder) – The author describes the results of games in which players are given a moon to explore in No Man’s Sky, and a copy of the Outer Space Treaty to honor (or violate if they so desire). In this way, we may begin to understand the possible outcomes of the new Space
Race to the Moon.
11:30-2:30 Brunch at Ravine, with animated discussion of lessons learned and future directions