All Astronautical Evolution posts in 2022:
All Astronautical Evolution posts in 2021:
Black Arrow and Prospero Fifty Years On (October)
All Astronautical Evolution posts in 2020:
Stellar Engines (August)
Cruising in Space (March)
All Astronautical Evolution posts in 2019:
The Holy Grail of Space (October)
Return to the Moon, 50 Years On (August)
SpaceX Dragon 2 Success (April)
Killing the Doomsday Fallacy (Feb.)
All Astronautical Evolution posts in 2018:
The Atheism Question (Oct.)
The Religion Question (Sept.)
I, Starship (June)
All Astronautical Evolution posts in 2017:
Comments by Alex Tolley (Oct.)
Elon Musk’s “Great Martian” (Oct.)
What is a Supercivilisation? (Aug.)
Back to 2016:
New in 2020:
2022: What’s to do on Mars?…
2021: New space company Planetopolis…
2020: Cruising in Space…
2019: The Doomsday Fallacy, SpaceX successes…
2018: I, Starship, atheism versus religion, the Copernican principle…
2017: Mars, Supercivilisations, METI…
2016: Stragegic goal for manned spaceflight…
2015: The Pluto Controversy, Mars, SETI…
2014: Skylon, the Great Space Debate, exponential growth, the Fermi “paradox”…
2013: Manned spaceflight, sustainability, the Singularity, Voyager 1, philosophy, ET…
2012: Bulgakov vs. Clarke, starships, the Doomsday Argument…
2011: Manned spaceflight, evolution, worldships, battle for the future…
2010: Views on progress, the Great Sociology Dust-Up…
Index to essays – including:
The Great Sociology Debate (2011)
Building Selenopolis (2008)
Stephen Ashworth, Oxford, UK
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Astronautical Evolution is my term for a focus on human society based on the following statements:
(1) Most of the material and energy resources of the Universe which could support life do not in fact do so.
(2) The evolution of life from simple (prokaryotic) to complex (metazoan) forms depends upon a particular combination of sunlight, air, water, rocks and carbon compounds which is relatively rare, existing only on Earth in our own Solar System.
(3) The resources of the other planets and asteroids, and the full power of the Sun and stars, can in principle be used to create extraterrestrial living-space for multicellular life-forms such as ourselves, but only through the use of technology to access and digest these resources.
(4) If a technological species were to evolve, it would have to go through an intermediate semi-technological phase closely resembling present-day human society.
(5) We may expect, therefore, that the colonisation of space is one possible outcome of the present-day rapid growth of human society, providing that the technical and economic problems of adapting to space can be overcome.
(6) This is an evolutionary process resembling the emergence of our lung fish ancestors onto the land during the Devonian period some 400 million years ago. We today are amphibians in the sense that the solutions we are finding to immediate problems of life on Earth are fortuitously at the same time equipping us for occupation of a new ecological niche away from Earth. Being an evolutionary process, it is not controlled by any goal-oriented entity (such as a government, a deity or a mystical force), and therefore its outcome is not predictable in advance.
(7) How did this situation arise? The universe embodies a creative power which cannot be reduced to simpler elements, whether it is called God, or the Universal Mind, or the Theory of Everything, or the Multiverse, or anything else. This power is quite different from human intelligence. It began as no more than an abstract design space of future possibilities, which could only be realised over the course of billions of years and in a space containing enough matter for billions of galaxies. It proceeded through an uncountable myriad of haphazard interactions between particles driven by random chance and mathematical necessity. These interactions have produced a hierarchy of creative activity: stars forged light elements into heavy ones; planetary systems formed; life spontaneously appeared and evolved through its own hierarchy of simple forms to complex ones; finally (so far) a tool-augmented intelligence appeared (Homo sapiens). This is not Newton’s clockwork universe, but rather something more like a growing life-form, for which the world-tree Yggdrasil of Norse mythology is a more apt metaphor.
(8) The most advanced phenomenon in the universe at present is human rational intelligence. It is advanced in the sense that it currently comes at the top of a hierarchy of processes in which each level is dependent upon the preceding one, and in the sense that it introduces entirely new intellectual capabilities into the universe. These capabilities include: feelings of pleasure and pain, regulation of behaviour through moral judgements, a sense of value, abstract ideas, understanding, imagination, foresight. These capabilities open up pathways into a new creative space of deliberately designed artefacts which amplify the impact of intelligence on the universe, thus enabling the technologies referred to in point (3) above.
(9) Everything that any person knows comes to them as part of a mental simulation of the universe. This creates the paradox of existence: the mind of any observer only exists by being contained within the known universe and subject to its physical laws, while the known universe only exists by being contained within the mind of the observer and subject to its mental perceptions. It is within such an existential or containment paradox that each person must find their own meaning.
(10) If a mind were to evolve which could resolve the existential paradox, it would have to go through an intermediate semi-enlightened phase closely resembling present-day human consciousness.
(11) We may expect, therefore, that enlightenment is one possible outcome of present-day scientific, philosophical and theological debates. This suggests the possibility of future levels of creative organisation higher than our own current state, to whose appearance we may contribute in the fullness of time.
(12) Material growth and intellectual growth need to proceed hand in hand. As we grow wealthier, we face ever more complex problems to solve, and gain ever greater understanding of the human situation. These theoretical considerations are now of practical interest, since the growth of modern industrial civilisation is beginning to run up against ecological limits imposed by Earth’s biosphere. The question as to where growth is leading us is one of the most critical intellectual, social, economic and political issues of the current century.
See next: Options for Growth and Sustainability
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