Search for Meaning
Space Exploration and Spirituality
Spirituality addresses the physical distress of human existence. It adds missing aspects to our lives. And it shares a common thread with space exploration.
THE MOST FRUSTRATING FACT OF LIFE is that we are short lived. Spirituality attempts to supplement our fragile nature by adding the notion of something permanent beyond us.
Interestingly, the same premise is also offered by the vastness of the cosmos. Launching self-learning machines into space in the form of astronauts with artificial intelligence (AI), would facilitate long-lived monuments that may carry the flame of human consciousness for billions of years, long after the Sun will die along with all forms of life on Earth. Extending longevity is a common thread that runs between interstellar exploration and spirituality. Both offer strategies for moderating the pain associated with the shortness of our lives.
Lately, there has been great interest among entrepreneurs in cultivating space tourism for commercial benefits. In the near future, most space tourists will hover slightly above Earth and some might venture to the Moon or Mars. But there is no business plan imagined for getting out of the Solar system. This could only be done for spiritual reasons. The ultimate frontier of space exploration is deeply rooted in spirituality.
As our AI astronauts reach distant habitable planets, they could plant the seeds of life in those foreign soils. Recently, I received a special gift in the form of a plant of a red oak tree from a young girl named Isla, whose parents were inspired by my book Extraterrestrial. Together we planted the small tree in the backyard of my home. Subsequently, I developed the routine of watering the plant every day before my morning jog. I invited Isla to come back and watch how the tree blossoms as she grows up. Our AI astronauts can do the same on farther destinations. And in reverse, Earth might be visited sporadically by extraterrestrial AI astronauts.
The second frustrating fact is that our environmental circumstances were not arranged by us, in much the same way that a theater stage is often not set by the actors playing on it. In astrophysical terms, our stage includes abundant liquid water with life-bearing nutrients on the surface of a rocky planet like the Earth which is suitably warmed by a star like the Sun. Where did these circumstances come from? The first chapter of Genesis relates them to God, an entity capable of creating the Universe and life in it.
But a sufficiently advanced scientific civilization could develop abilities that bring it close to this spiritual notion of God. Our science and technology are already on the threshold of creating synthetic life in the near future and could potentially also create a baby universe in our laboratories in the more distant future. As our scientific knowledge base advances, we get closer to the ultimate limit of an all-capable entity.
And if we can envision such a future for ourselves, other civilizations which predated us by billions of years may have experienced it by now. The way to find out if they did, is to search space for the equipment they may have produced. Once again, spirituality and space exploration come together.
Searching space for evidence of extraterrestrial technological equipment is the scientific research goal of the Galileo Project. In a recent Galileo team meeting, Michael Shermer expressed statistical skepticism on an extraterrestrial technological explanation for known unusual objects near Earth. The Galileo research team aims to get high-quality data that will reveal the nature of such objects. With good enough data there would be no need for statistical arguments. For example, a high-resolution image of the type obtained by the OSIRIS-REx mission to the asteroid Bennu, could unambiguously inform us whether an interstellar object like `Oumuamua is natural or artificial.
At the end of the Galileo team meeting, Michael admitted that if the Galileo Project’s data would appear entirely convincing, he would be glad to report about it in his magazine, Skeptic. I did not find this gesture sufficient and responded: “if we find evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, I ask you to change the name of your magazine from Skeptic to Believer.”
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