Skip to main content
×
Home

Visions of human futures in space and SETI

  • Jason T. Wright (a1) (a2) (a3) and Michael P. Oman-Reagan (a4)
Abstract
Abstract

We discuss how visions for the futures of humanity in space and SETI are intertwined, and are shaped by prior work in the fields and by science fiction. This appears in the language used in the fields, and in the sometimes implicit assumptions made in discussions of them. We give examples from articulations of the so-called Fermi Paradox, discussions of the settlement of the Solar System (in the near future) and the Galaxy (in the far future), and METI. We argue that science fiction, especially the campy variety, is a significant contributor to the ‘giggle factor’ that hinders serious discussion and funding for SETI and Solar System settlement projects. We argue that humanity's long-term future in space will be shaped by our short-term visions for who goes there and how. Because of the way they entered the fields, we recommend avoiding the term ‘colony’ and its cognates when discussing the settlement of space, as well as other terms with similar pedigrees. We offer examples of science fiction and other writing that broaden and challenge our visions of human futures in space and SETI. In an appendix, we use an analogy with the well-funded and relatively uncontroversial searches for the dark matter particle to argue that SETI's lack of funding in the national science portfolio is primarily a problem of perception, not inherent merit.

Copyright
Corresponding author
e-mail: astrowright@gmail.com
References
Hide All
Abrams J.J. (2009). Star Trek. Paramount Pictures, Los Angeles, CA.
Achenbach J. (2003). Captured by Aliens: The Search for Life and Truth in a Very Large Universe. Kensington Publishing Corporation, New York, NY.
Anker P. (2005). The ecological colonization of space. Environ. Hist. 10, 239268.
Annis J. (1999). An astrophysical explanation for the ‘great silence’. J. Br. Interplanet. Soc. 52, 1922.
Arnold L.F.A. (2005). Transit light-curve signatures of artificial objects. Astrophys. J. 627, 534539.
Asimov I. (1981). Asimov on Science Fiction. Doubleday, New York, NY.
Baker G. (1988). Alien Nation. 20th Century Fox, Los Angeles, CA.
Barr M.S. (1992). Feminist Fabulation: Space/Postmodern Fiction. University of Iowa Press, Iowa City, IA.
Battaglia D. (ed.) (2006). E.T. Culture: Anthropology in Outerspaces. Duke University Press, Durham, NC.
Baum S.D., Haqq-Misra J.D. & Domagal-Goldman S.D. (2011). Would contact with extraterrestrials benefit or harm humanity? A scenario analysis. Acta Astronaut. 68, 21142129.
Berman R. (1995). Star Trek: Voyager. CBS Television Distribution, Santa Monica, CA.
Billings L. (2007). Overview: ideology, advocacy, and spaceflight – evolution of a cultural narrative. In Societal Impact of Spaceflight, ed. Dick S.J., NASA SP, ch. 25, pp. 483499. National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Blomkamp N. (2009). District 9. TriStar Pictures, Culver City, CA.
Burton L. (1993). ‘Second Chances’. Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 6, Episode 24, CBS Television Distribution.
Burton T. (1996). Mars Attacks! Warner Bros. Pictures, Burbank, CA.
Cabrol N.A. (2016). Alien mindscapes – a perspective on the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Astrobiology 16(9), 661676.
Capova K.A. (2013). The Charming Science of the Other: The Cultural Analysis of the Scientific Search for Life beyond Earth. Durham University, Durham, UK. PhD Thesis.
Chyba C.F. & Hand K.P. (2005). Astrobiology: the study of the living universe. Annu. Rev. Astron. Astrophys. 43, 3174.
Ćirković M.M. & Vukotić B. (2008). Astrobiological phase transition: towards resolution of Fermi's Paradox. Orig. Life Evol. Biosph. 38, 535547.
Clarke A. (1951). The Exploration of Space. Temple Press, Philadelphia, PA.
Clarke A. (1953). Childhood's End. Ballantine Books, New York, NY.
Clarke A. (1962). Profiles of the Future: An Inquiry into the Limits of the Possible. Bantam Science and Mathematics. Harper & Row, New York, NY.
Clarke A.C. (1981). The space elevator: ‘thought experiment,’ or key to the universe? Adv. Earth Orient. Appl. Space Technol. 1(1), 3948.
Cocconi G. & Morrison P. (1959). Searching for interstellar communications. Nature 184(4690), 844846.
Collins S.G. (2008). All Tomorrow's Cultures: Anthropological Engagements with the Future. Berghahn Books, New York, NY.
Crenshaw K. (1989). Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics. University of Chicago Legal Forum, p. 139.
Crenshaw K. (1991). Mapping the margins: intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color. Stanford Law Rev. 43(6), 12411299.
Dean J. (1998). Aliens in America: Conspiracy Cultures from Outerspace to Cyberspace. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY.
Denning K. (2011). Ten thousand revolutions: conjectures about civilizations. Acta Astronaut. 68(3), 381388.
Denning K. (2013). Impossible predictions of the unprecedented: Analogy, history, and the work of prognostication. In Astrobiology, History, and Society, Advances in Astrobiology and Biogeophysics, ed. Vakoch D.A., pp. 301312. Springer, Berlin Heidelberg.
Dick S.J. (2006). Anthropology and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence: an historical view. Anthropol. Today 22(2), 37.
Dillon G.L. (2012). Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction. University of Arizona Press, Tucson.
Drake F. (1980). N is neither very small nor very large. In Strategies for the Search for Life in the Universe: A Joint Session of Commissions 16, 40, and 44, Held in Montreal, Canada, During the IAU General Assembly, 15 and 16 August, 1979, ed. Papagiannis M.D. D. Reidel Pub. Co., Dordrecht, Holland; Boston: sold and distributed in the U.S.A. and Canada by Kluwer Boston, c1980. p. 27.
Drake F.D. (1961). Project OZMA. Phys. Today 14, 4046.
Dyson F.J. (1960). Search for artificial stellar sources of infrared radiation. Science 131, 16671668.
Emmerich R. (1996). Independence Day. 20th Century Fox.
Finney B. & Bentley J. (2014). A tale of two analogues: learning at a distance from the ancient Greeks and Maya and the problem of Deciphering Extraterrestrial Radio Transmissions. In Archaeology, Anthropology, and Interstellar Communication, ed. Vakoch D.A., pp. 6578. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Office of Communications, History Program Office, Washington, DC.
Garber S.J. (1999). Searching for good science – the cancellation of NASA's SETI program. J. Br. Interplanet. Soc. 52, 312.
Genovese T.R. (2017). The New Right Stuff: Social Imaginaries of Outer Space and the Capitalist Accumulation of the Cosmos. Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ. MA thesis.
Gertz J. (2016). Reviewing METI: a critical analysis of the arguments. arXiv:1605.05663.
Gertz J. (2017). Post-detection SETI protocols & METI: the time has come to regulate them both. arXiv:1701.08422.
Gilman C.I. (2015). Dark Orbit. Tor, New York.
Gorman A. (2009). Cultural landscape of space. In Handbook of Space Engineering, Archaeology, and Heritage, eds Darrin A.G. & O'Leary B.L., pp. 335346. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL.
Gott J.R. III (1993). Implications of the Copernican principle for our future prospects. Nature 363, 315319.
Graeber D. (2015). The utopia of rules: on technology, stupidity, and the secret joys of bureaucracy. Melville House. OCLC: 908261537.
Gray R.H. (2015). The Fermi paradox is neither Fermi's nor a paradox. Astrobiology 15, 195199.
Grewell G. (2001). Colonizing the Universe: Science Fictions then, now, and in the (imagined) Future. Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature, pp. 2547.
Haqq-Misra J. (2016). The transformative value of liberating mars. New Space 4, 6467.
Haraway D.J. (2013). SF: science fiction, speculative fabulation, string figures, so far. Ada: J. Gend. New Media Technol., No. 3. doi: 10.7264/N3KH0K81, http://adanewmedia.org/2013/11/issue3-haraway/.
Harrison A., Billingham J., Dick S.J., Finney B., Michaud M.A., Tarter D.E. & Vakoch D.A. (2000). The role of the social sciences in SETI. In When SETI Succeeds: The Impact of High-Information Contact, ed. Tough A., vol. 1, pp. 7185. Foundation for the Future, Bellevue, Wash.
Harrison A.A. (2005). Overcoming the image of little green men: astrosociology and SETI. California Sociological Association Conf.
Hart M.H. (1975). Explanation for the absence of extraterrestrials on Earth. Q. J. R. Astron. Soc. 16, 128.
Heinlein R. (1965). Farnham's Freehold. Signet Books. New American Library, New York, NY.
Herzing D.L. (2014). Profiling nonhuman intelligence: an exercise in developing unbiased tools for describing other ‘types’ of intelligence on earth. Acta Astronaut. 94(2), 676680.
Imarisha W. & Brown A.M. (eds) (2015). Octavia's Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements. A K Press, Oakland.
Irvine J.T. & Gal S. (2000). Language ideology and linguistic differentiation. In Regimes of Language: Ideologies, Polities, and Identities, ed. Kroskrity P. School of American Research Press, Santa Fe. p. 3583.
Lambourne R., Shallis M. & Shortland M. (1990). Close Encounters?: Science and Science Fiction. Taylor & Francis, Abington, UK.
Le Guin U.K. (1974). The Dispossessed. HarperCollins, New York.
Le Guin U.K. (2004). The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination. Shambhala; Distributed in the United States by Random House. OCLC: 52418183.
Lem S. (1970). Solaris. Harcourt, San Diego.
Lempert W. (2014). Decolonizing encounters of the third kind: alternative futuring in native science fiction film. Vis. Anthropol. Rev. 30(2), 164176.
Lingam M. & Loeb A. (2017). Fast radio bursts from extragalactic light sails. Astrophys. J. 837, L23.
Lockhart E.A. (2015). Nerd/Geek Masculinity: Technocracy, Rationality, and Gender in Nerd Culture's Countermasculine Hegemony. Texas A&M University, College Station, TX. PhD Thesis.
Lowe E.V. (1996). Homeboys in Outer Space. CBS, Santa Monica, CA.
Marrodán Undagoitia T. & Rauch L. (2016). Dark matter direct-detection experiments. J. Phys. G: Nucl. Phys. 43(1), 013001.
McCray P. (2012). The Visioneers: How a Group of Elite Scientists Pursued Space Colonies, Nanotechnologies, and a Limitless Future. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.
Messeri L. (2017). Resonant worlds: cultivating proximal encounters in planetary science. Am. Ethnol. 44(1), 131142.
Milburn C. (2010). Modifiable futures: science fiction at the bench. j-ISIS 101(3), 560569.
Morgan A. (2014). The rise of the Geek: exploring masculine identity in The Big Bang Theory.
Nama A. (2008). Black Space: Imagining Race in Science Fiction Film. University of Texas Press.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (2015). NASA Astrobiology Strategy 2015. NASA.
Olson V.A. (2010). American Extreme: An Ethnography of Astronautical Visions and Ecologies. Rice University, Houston, TX. PhD Thesis.
Oman-Reagan M.P. (2015a). The social lives of plants, in space. Astrosociol. Insights 4(2), 48.
Oman-Reagan M.P. (2015b). Unfolding the space between stars: anthropology of the interstellar. In 114th Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association. American Anthropological Association.
O'Neill G.K. (1974). The colonization of space. Phys. Today 27(9), 3240.
Redfield P. (2002). The half-life of empire in outer space. Soc. Stud. Sci. 32(5), 791825.
Robinson K. (1993). Red Mars. Bantam Spectra science fiction. Bantam Books, New York, NY.
Roddenberry G. (1966). Star Trek. CBS Television Distribution.
Saberhagen F. (1967). Berserker. Ballantine, New York, NY, USA.
Sagan C. (1985a). Contact: A Novel. Simon and Schuster, New York, NY.
Sagan C. (1985b). Cosmos. Cognitive systems monographs. Ballantine Books.
Sagan C. & Druyan A. (1994). Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. Random House Publishing Group, New York, NY.
Shostak S. (2011). L: How long do they last? In Searching for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, The Frontiers Collection. ed. Shuch H.P. Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg. p. 451. ISBN 978-3-642-13195-0.
Sontag S. (1966). Against Interpretation: And Other Essays. Delta Book, Picador, New York, NY.
Spielberg S. (1977). Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Columbia Pictures, Culver City, CA.
Swain C. & Nieli R. (2003). Contemporary Voices of White Nationalism in America. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.
Tarter J. (2001). The search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). Annu. Rev. Astron. Astrophys. 39, 511548.
Thomas S.R. (2000). Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African diaspora. Warner Books, New York, NY.
Tipler F.J. (1980). Extraterrestrial intelligent beings do not exist. Q. J. R. Astron. Soc. 21, 267281.
Tsing A.L. (2014). Strathern beyond the human: testimony of a spore. Theory Cult. Soc. 31(2), 221241.
Vakoch D.A. (1998). The dialogic model: representing human diversity in messages to extraterrestrials. Acta Astronaut. 42, 705710.
Valentine D. (2012). Exit strategy: profit, cosmology, and the future of humans in space. Anthropol. Q. 85(4), 10451067.
Watts P. (2006). Blindsight. Tor, New York.
Wells H. (1898). The War of the Worlds. Dover Publications, Mineola, NY.
Wright J.T. (2017). Prior indigenous technological species. arXiv:1704.0763; Int. J. Astrobiol. in production.
Wright J.T., Mullan B., Sigurdsson S. & Povich M.S. (2014). The Ĝ infrared search for extraterrestrial civilizations with large energy supplies. I. Background and justification. Astrophys. J. 792, 26.
Yurtsever U. & Wilkinson S. (2015). Limits and signatures of relativistic spaceflight. arXiv:1503.05845.
Zuckerman B. & Hart M. (1995). Extraterrestrials: Where Are They? Cambridge University Press.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

International Journal of Astrobiology
  • ISSN: 1473-5504
  • EISSN: 1475-3006
  • URL: /core/journals/international-journal-of-astrobiology
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Keywords:

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 4
Total number of PDF views: 35 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 859 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 15th August 2017 - 14th December 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.