Check out my review of Ken Wilber's latest book Finding Radical Wholeness

Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Giorgio Piacenza Giorgio Piacenza is a sociologist student in the Certificate program leading to a Master's degree in Integral Theory at JFK University.


NASA/Library of Congress Astrobiology Symposium

Nexus between Astrobiology and Integrative Thinking

A Philosophical Search Motivated by a Key Symposium at the Library of Congress

Giorgio Piacenza

Introductory remarks:

Giorgio Piacenza
Giorgio Piacenza

Between September 18 & 19, 2014, eminent natural and social scientists, philosophers, theologians, a few members of the press and the general public gathered in an important symposium to learn about the latest findings and to share ideas about the implications of discovering some form of extraterrestrial life. I took notes of most the ideas that felt relevant. In this general review I'll offer some of the highlights that caught my attention followed by personal observations attempting to promote a more integral approach bringing together several relevant issues. Since the discovery of extraterrestrial life would affect subsequent cultural development, the issues raised also need to be part of an informed “integral” academic discourse.

I want to point out that many of the ideas proposed and exchanged at the symposium can inform and be valuable for the development not only of public policy and cultural improvement but also inform a serious and responsible discussion about “exopolitics” in general.

The symposium and its deliberations about progress in astrobiology and its implications for social and cultural concerns was hosted by the John W. Kluge Center of the Library of Congress in Washington, DC in Collaboration with NASA.

The emerging field of astrobiology (formerly known as “exobiology”) mostly developed within conventional, socially accredited, academic institutions gave a degree of credibility and a scientific foundation to the symposium. It also limited the conversation to what is normally accept within academia.

As it stands now, I think that the field is still highly focused and informed by the methods, achievements and underlying assumptions & metaphysics pertaining to an orthodox, modern-materialist approach and through it academics and government liaisons are trying to accomplish that “legitimate” discovery of life beyond Earth. This ensures a conservative, step-by-step classical, empirical, collegial approach away from the complexity of wilder claims generated by individuals with a greater margin of freedom to speculate. However, serious and even objective evidence that doesn't fit the norm is also being left out.

As per its traditional natural science core, astrobiology is currently based on several important academically-sanctioned disciplines like astronomy, biochemistry, cosmology, planetary science, chemistry and physics, all of which beautifully contribute to discovering expressions of life beyond Earth within a classically structured and understood cosmos. The beauty and mystery of this level of research is also astounding with their practitioners proceeding in a conservative but also noble, careful and methodical manner we can assimilate as an example.

In the symposium I noticed that there is an important ongoing effort to connect academic astrobiology with other traditional social and political forces such as the legislature. This may be why research is being conducted at the Library of Congress and several hearing on the subject have also recently multiplied. I think that - on the whole - the effort is principled and sincere but that there also is an pointless cultural disconnect between this and other (even if outside the main academic circuits) credible and valid approaches to the discovery of extraterrestrial life and extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI), all of which should establish a serious dialogue under a more inclusive contextual understanding to adequately and safely inform the political process.

But what is “astrobiology?” Basically, astrobiology has been defined (as Dr. Mary Voytek stated during a 2013 hearing before the Committee on Science, Space and Technology in the House of Representatives, U.S. Congress) as “the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe.”

Since astrobiology is dealing with the subject of “life” I don't think that it can be adequately encapsulated, disclosed and interpreted only within an either-or, materialist fashion limited to an understanding of “modern” (usually mechanistic) science. The science, its methods and premises and how it connects with other fields must evolve. Furthermore, I believe that many astrobiologists are also feeling a natural call to recognize greater conceptual connections beyond the (partially valid) natural science approach as many are now also conceiving the field in an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary way.

In the symposium it was clear that many of astrobiology's main proponents are open to the fact that (also to generate policy) the field needs to interact with the social sciences and, furthermore, with ethics, metaphysics, other forms of philosophy and theology, rendering it “interdisciplinary” and “multidisciplinary” by relating to qualitative aspects of “life” beyond the premises of the physically empirical natural sciences. After my report on some of the “highlights” (based on note-taking) I'll attempt to develop the idea of “transdisciplinarity.”

Highlights - Day One – Saturday, September 18, 2014

Carolyn Brown: Director of scholarly Programs and of the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress gave us a warm welcome. We learned that this center was born from an idea by Nobel prize in Medicine Baruch S. Blumberg and from a generous endowment by John W. Kluge. Its purpose is to bring the finest scholars together with the nation's political leaders to exchange ideas.

The Honorable Lamar Smith: Representing Texas' 21st Congressional District and serving as chairman of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee with jurisdiction over programs at NASA, the National Science Foundation and other key institutions mentioned that recent explorations have shown the possibility of finding life outside Earth; that (according to a National Geographic poll) over 60% of Americans believe that life exists outside of Earth and that in April an exoplanet located at a distance where water can exist was found. He mentioned that it had been confirmed that Mars once had liquid water, that forms of life thriving in extreme conditions had been found and that new explorations into the Solar System are being scheduled. He said that the even discovery of microbes beyond Earth would be the most newsworthy scientific story in decades affecting the way we view ourselves in the universe. The Science, Space and Technology Committee has been holding more hearings than ever on astrobiology and had produced the NASA Authorization Act providing overall guidance for NASA including a provision to go to Europa launching by 2021 and a way to work with the National Academy of Sciences, coordinating long term astrobiology research. Also, coordination with radio telescope facilities as well as new and existing space and Earth-based telescopes and NASA is being undertaken.

Dr. Mary Voytek: Senior astrobiology scientist at NASA announced that in 2013 and for the first time the Curiosity Rover had conducted a geochronology test on Mars.

Dr. Steven J. Dick: Astronomer and former chief historian for NASA has been conducting research as the Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Chair in Astrobiology at the Library of Congress. He basically focused on the question of what would we actually do if we found life? What would the impact be for society either of finding microbial or intelligent life? I think that his focus is on policy-making.

Highlights: This symposium is greatly about the human and “mystic” aspect of astrobiology. He said that what it means to be human and other cherished ideas would be impacted. He said that the discovery of extraterrestrial life (even if microbial) would be one of the greatest discoveries in the history of science.

Dr. Dick mentioned that astrobiology has become a robust discipline, with thousands of exoplanets already discovered. He mentioned that the search for biosignatures was a rapidly growing field and that (the search for) “organics” on Mars, Titan, interstellar molecular clouds and oceans such as in Europa also importantly contributed to the field.

Dr. Dick mentioned that very important issues were at stake as astrobiology also connects with the human genome, nanotechnology and other areas of research that affect life. He recommended us to read the June 2012 issue of “Astrobiology Journal” dealing with interdisciplinarity.

Seth Shostak: Senior astronomer at SETI Institute spoke about how we are looking for life and what it would mean to find it.

Highlights: There are 1022 stars in the visible universe and most (78%) have planets; that would mean roughly one trillion planets in our Milky Way galaxy. At least 1/5 or 22% would have an earth-size, habitable planet or 1/5 of stars would have an earth analogue. Between 16% and 53% of red dwarf stars may have habitable planets and 74% of all stars are red dwarfs. Red dwarfs are long lasting and can be billions of years older than the Sun.

“If Earth were the only one it would be a miracle and miracles have a very low standing in science,” he remarked.

There are streaks on Mars that may be due to running water and may have life but there are six other interesting places to look into in the Solar System (like Titan). The James Webb Telescope will provide absorption pictures. We may find microbial life (jokingly called “stupid life”) nearby or afar or find life left by intelligence.

SETI cannot falsify that 'they' are not out there. Experiments and exploration can only prove that they are out there.

Some advanced civilizations may extract energy from their stars so that looking for signs of Dyson spheres (signs of wasted heat) may be useful.

To consider: The time scale between developing radio communications and thinking machines (strong AI) may be very short so we may not find biological intelligence but rather machine intelligence.

Regarding societal reaction: In 1977 SETI had what seems like an interesting signal and the word was sent out but nobody called or cared about it for many hours until a science writer from the Washington Times called. There is no policy of secrecy.

Given the speed of light not being fast enough for interstellar communication, if ETI sends messages they may send a whole package or everything they know at once so as not to wait for a response or they may send it in careful, tentative segments in case there are hostile ETI wanting to locate them. Thus, it may be an information rich signal or a simple “ping” saying “hey we are here” without sending more in case other civilizations are hostile.

A question is: What does all of this mean for Joe Sixpack?

Dr. Steven J. Dick (a second intervention):


We have to frame the impact of discovering ETI in context. In history there were at least 6 cases in which we thought life had been discovered. One of them was the 1885 “Moon hoax” in which “lunar animals” were spoken about. It was taken up by the New York sun in satire mode. We also had the 1938 Halloween Eve Orson Welles “War of the Worlds” event in which – in spite of the myth - there really wasn't any great social panic. Lessons learned: Myths and popular culture are very difficult to correct and the sensationalist role of the media plays into this.

One case in which even the White House became interested was regarding the 1996 discovery of Martian rocks with alleged nano fossils. Today we know that the Mars rocks were real but not the microbial life.

All genuine discoveries go through an extended process of weeks, years, perhaps decades: Detection – Interpretation – Understanding.

In the book “Discovery and Classification of Astronomy” regarding types of evidence there's type one. Here would be the direct discovery of UFOs which some people believe is evidence of extraterrestrial life, which I don't.

The use of analogy in cognition and in astrobiology is very important. There's the “microbe analogy” extended into astrobiology. Also the “culture contact” analogy as, for instance, the first contact analogy between American Indians and Europeans. First contact was not so bad but it soon devolved into warfare, conquest, disease. However, we also have the case of admiral of the fleet Zheng He from Ming China in which there was exploratory contact without destruction. Also, regarding the Neanderthals, culture contacts with modern man were not necessarily destructive. We carry Neanderthal genes. There's also the good case of Jesuit intervention ion America which was not destructive. Adequate early actions are important.

There's the analogy of decipherment/ transmission of knowledge in which some examples (to extrapolate on) are the transmission of Greek knowledge, the decipherment of Mayan glyphs and the Gutenberg Bible.

We also have the “world view” analogy and, for instance, speak about the Copernican, Darwinian, Hubble-Shapley worldviews.

Analogy should not be so general as to be meaningless or so specific as to be limiting restrictive. We must recognize that the lessons of history are ambiguous.

Clement Vidal: Philosopher with a background in logic and cognitive sciences and co-director of the “evo-devo Universe” community and initiator of the “starivore hypothesis.”


Let's think about the “silent impact” of discovering non-communicative extraterrestrials. According to the “principle of mediocrity” we should assume ourselves to be average-located in the universe. Perhaps communication is happening and we don't notice it. There is skepticism at its highest; scientific resistance. Scientific revolutions take time and perhaps it is a slow discovery like discovering agriculture but not like discovering America.

Perhaps evidence of communication already is in our data and we don't see it. There is something called “Genomic SETI” (messages encoded in our genome). There also is the “starivore hypothesis” in which advanced civilizations are actively feeding from their parent star to overcome entropy (as some observed binary stars seem to exhibit an irregular but controlled consumption).

Nine dimensions that would affect the (social) impact of discovering extraterrestrials: Distance from us, their degree of complexity, their size, living state (like their use of energy), influence on us, our knowledge of them, their knowledge of us, real intent, communicative intent.

Impact scenarios 1) Very low impact: For example finding an extinct primitive biosphere. 2) Very high impact: For example detecting viruses and the reality of panspermia. 3) Intermediate impact: For example finding starivores (far away).

The astrobiological worldview brings benefits for science, physics, biology, language, economics, eschatology, etc. We need to coordinate with astrobiology as a whole; as a planet. If we remain alone in the universe there's no academic danger. We need exploration.

“Silent ETs” could be microbial or advanced and remain undetected. “Silent news” could be when impact is diffused over many years. “Silent absorption” impact prepared for a wide range of scenarios.

Iris Fry: Ph.D. in the History and Philosophy of Science.


There is an astrobiology philosophy because we have presuppositions like there being natural causes and natural laws. Epistemological distinct claims underlie science. They cannot be tested but give direction to theoretical and experimental study. Two astrobiological presuppositions are the Copernican assumption and the Darwinian assumption.

We have no answers yet of ET life exists and no answer as to the origin of life on Earth.

Crucially, the scientific study depended on overcoming traditional teleological – theological reasoning. Copernicanism was a necessary but not sufficient condition for the future scientific study of ET life. Both pluralism and anti-pluralism were prompted by theological reasons; the latter was prompted both by anthropocentrism and theological reasons.

Even some scientists like Alfred R. Wallace postulated that life & mind were produced only on Earth by a superior intelligence. Then there's “rare earth hypothesis” by D. Brownlee (2000) even if this hypothesis assumes the Copernican-Darwinian worldviews. There's also the “privileged Planet Hypothesis” of Guillermo Gonzales & J. Richards based on “Intelligent Design.”

There is still some skepticism against the scientific status of astrobiology sometimes called “a discipline without a substance.”   But in the history of science many unknowns became knowns.

Philosophical assumptions making universal claims cannot be tested. Also, supernatural claims present a scientific dead-end.

Astrobiology has an important role of enlightening the public as a common “we” on the planet. Also, science is not a body of definitive statements.

Then a conversation ensued. Shostak: There's no national or international organization dealing with astrobiology. Maybe a small office at the UN should be set; otherwise what are we doing here? Dick: Early actions are important. Shostak: The government would not provide funds for an organization like this. With SETI there's no problem; the problem is to find support for the societal implications. If biota is found on Mars, should we colonize it? There's no organization to decide upon that. Interesting audience comment: How could astrobiology lead in relation to our own contact with earth animals? We also share life with other consciousnesses. What is we find an “animal” or beings without radio telescopes (advanced technology) on other planets? I see a big gap on how our framework focuses so much on microbes & human-like intelligences only.

Second audience comment: Astrobiology basically is about microbes and SETI about finding intelligent life; let's not conflate them. Third audience comment: Regarding the discoveries of extremophiles on Earth and astrobiology, how many people care about these discoveries? Fourth audience comment: Is there a body looking at the definition of “life” or at the definition of “intelligence?” Fifth audience comment: Let's study how to communicate with animals like dolphins to try to communicate with aliens during first contact. Dick: I agree. Sixth audience comment: Maybe intelligent life is hiding from us and we are in a quarantine. Shostak: We still study ants that engage in wars with each other; also we don't really know. So, how may we be viewed by intelligent life? Dick: There's a former State Department person (Michael A.G. Michaud) who wrote a book on extraterrestrial contact policy. Reading it is recommended.

Dirk Schulze- Makuch: Professor in the School for the Environment at Washington State University. He was awarded by the Humboldt Foundation for achievements in theoretical biology.


In the “landscape of life” there's a range of temperatures and pressures and radiation grays (absorbed radiation doses) for different earth organisms, for instance tardigrades can live from -273 centigrade to + 151 centigrade and from no pressure up to 6,000 bar of pressure living under cryptobiosis and anhydrobiosis. Some microbes can take up to 10,000 grays (absorbed radiation levels).

Can some organisms use hydrogen peroxide or perchlorates to adapt in Mars? These substances have a lower freezing point. The horny devil - a desert animal - has hygroscopic grooves.

In Europa in the absence of a light source there could be salinity gradients as energy sources and there could be osmotrophs. In Titan there could be catalytic hydrogenation of acetylene. Perhaps the large amount of methane in Titan is due to this. In Titan membranes could use silane as building blocks. Polysilanes are solid.

Thermal synthesis may be a precursor to photosynthesis even on Earth.

Life on planets around neutron stars might have alternative genetic codes based on alignments of magnetic moments in variable directions. In some exoplanets there could be a community genetic organism such as bacteria in Australia forming sponge-like structures. There could be a type of “swarm” intelligence with collective decisions that imitate neurons.

In conclusion, biology can also be much more diverse that normally thought.

Lori Marino: Neuroscientist and expert on animal behavior and intelligence.


Astrobiology has missed a component: Intelligence considerations. What is intelligence? Intelligence is a fuzzy concept. There's no consensus. It requires description. How an individual uses information. Why is the evolution of intelligence missing in astrobiology? In the formula to calculate the number of civilizations we use as standard for intelligence human intelligence and think that it is superior to other types; that it is qualitatively different.

Darwin showed that a value of 1 for intelligence (i) on Earth is a scientific impossibility. The concept of “scala naturae” in which human is superior also leads to a cycle of circular thinking. Shall we use it to deal with ETI?

All nervous systems require cell membranes which are key to detect and analyze input and to have  adaptive behavior responses. Membranes use ways to process cation influx through sodium-dependent channels. All neurons look the same and characteristic of vertebrate brains are bilateralization, centralization and cephalization.

Similarities come from genes in previous organisms. Evolution is highly conservative. Only some animals display “mirror self-cognition”: Some birds, magpies, chimpanzees, dogs, dolphins and other primates. Tool-making also occurs in the animal kingdom: Birds, octopus, bonobos, monkeys but on the same spectrum, there's a biological continuity that allows humans to build spaceships.

Thus, the human brain doesn't have to be a unique case as all central nervous systems adhere to the same basic plan unchanged for 600 million years. Intelligence is an inherent characteristic of life on Earth.

Carlos Mariscal: Post-doctoral fellow at the Centre for Comparative Genomics & Evolutionary Bioinformatics.


All life on Earth is related to other life on Earth so how can we relate it to life outside of Earth? Even if we tried to create synthetic life it still is in the same epistemic situation.  There's a limited sample size to consider it universal. There's biological provincialism.

People often jump from skepticism about certain claims to denial.

We need to know more because explanations are more important if backed by universal principles. We can justify universal claims a priori, independent from observation like in logic, geometry, probability theory or by natural necessity, necessitated by the laws of physics or chemistry applied to biology everywhere.

We need to consider the importance of initial set-up states or of the historical contingency of more recent states in a system. A universal biology pertains to evolutionary generalizations whose justification doesn't assume contingent facts about Earth's history. For example, will all life use the same genetic code? No, it would be a historical contingent claim.

We've seen (on Earth) that hereditary information is digital, not analogue but could it be the same for all cases outside Earth? So what candidates for biological generalizations do we have?

Conclusion: Skepticism about claims for a universal biology is justified but biological provincialism is not.

John W. Traphagan: Anthropologist and Professor in the Dept. of Religious Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.


We work with simplistic models about civilization and culture. How do notions of “progress” affect the scientific imagination? Earth is our only example. So what do we really mean by “ETI” and “civilization?” Anthropologist Arjun Appadurai states that the imaginative activity is an organized field of social practices.

Science is embedded in culture, values, technologies, paradigms. It limits what an ET civilization might be like. When Italian astronomer observed Mars he mentioned “canali” which could have been interpreted as 'channels' not necessarily implying artificially built 'canals' but in the socio-cultural milieu there was an interest in mapping and then Lowell sold a vision of a civilization on Mars.

The idea of “cultural evolution” found in Louis Henry Morgan (and also on Weber and Durkheim) was also a product of its era. Morgan in particular used value-laden words like “savagery” moving into “barbarism” and finally into “civilization.” The SETI imaginary is also shaped by the idea of cultural evolution.

Change is real but moral evolution is doubtful. How do you define moral values? They are inventions of cultures.

Are societies with diffuse power less civilized? Is there less hatred today than in the past? Gangs can still be seen as tribal organizations and school team logos as totems.

We also project social Darwinism on “them” (ETI): From an imagined human civilization to an imagined ET civilization based on ethnocentric human values about progress and time which is a Western construct like the eternal post-mortem state & eschatology as utopia or punishment. But Buddhist philosophy doesn't think like that: It's cyclical; only change. To get out is to get out of the cycle.

There's also the idea of ETI in Western imaginary tendency as an altruistic, progressive, unitary civilization. It is an Euro-American construct.

During a Q & A session I basically asked why didn't scientists went to specific locations  and perform objective field research on UFOs some of which were truly “anomalous” indicating intelligence. Dr. Dirk Schulze-Makuch briefly replied that as scientists they need to look at things in the lab.

My question didn't prosper as the possibility of elaborating was quickly shifted when another question from the audience came mentioned something about competition and natural selection as the only mechanism we know.

Reply by Dirk Schulze-Makuch: In life there's collaboration and competition – both – and collaboration is more.  Then someone made a comment about “synthetic evolution” and Dirk Schultze-Makuch replied something to the effect that that one basically needs a nucleotide, a member and equilibrium. Then the informational system supports the network.

Why bonobos don't build spaceships? We are not qualitatively different and we need to see that continuity. I don' think intelligence fits into boxes.

John W. Traphagan commented to the effect that science was culturally defined and that he didn't think there was only one path to scientific inquiry and someone from the audience commented that, although progress and such ideas have created a mess it doesn't follow that there is not something like that to which Iris Fry replied that we needed to look at the phylogeny.

Dirk Schulze-Makuch commented that he thought we were freaks since there's no need for most animals to be so intelligent. Then Iris Fry said that bilateralism may not be a good candidate for a universal biology principle. Someone from the audience asked if one got a message where would that fit with all this and Dirk Schulze-Makuch asked if there were a more advanced species that might already know we are here would it want to communicate with us?  Someone in the audience mentioned that perhaps they follow the “prime directive” and John W. Traphagan replied that we will undoubtedly interpret any message within our cultural context. He said that if ET life is found there will be lots of impacts, not “one” impact. He also said that he thought that any kind of generalized policy for contact would be hard to find and that we don't have any evidence that other civilizations have progressed.

Finally Lori Marino asked how do we pick up that which is essential rather than accidental from a biological population we encounter?

And the symposium for Saturday, September 18 basically ended with that note…

Highlights - Day Two – Sunday September 19, 2014

Dr. Steven J. Dick:

Highlights (introductory words):

Astrobiology used to be called the “science without a subject.” Now it includes social science professionals. Science and technology are both drivers of society.

Where there is water, there could be life. Yesterday frameworks and foundations were given for today's philosophical discussions. A book will be expanded with the inclusion of more non Western-centric approaches, mostly religious.

Mark Lupisella: Works on NASA's Human Spaceflight Architecture Team and leads Goddard's Advanced Exploration Systems Support for Human Exploration. He is co-editor of Cosmos and Culture: Cultural evolution in a Cosmic Context with previous NASA chief historian Steven Dick. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology.


Do we have cosmic hubris? Can we credibly explore cosmic roles for life & intelligence?

Life can be “intelligent” without much awareness. The idea of Darwinian evolution would be very single-minded but human intelligence seems to display non-darwinian behaviors.

Much of culture is arguably shaped by evolution and evolutionary psychology but cultural change is moving beyond biological evolution.

What is valuable? There's a need to explore Meta ethics.

We do have normative aspirations. Do facts and values = wisdom? There is a fact-value interplay.

Facts & science may undermine the values we aspire to but do facts forever constrain values or there is an infinite possibility space for values?

We can think of facts (F) and values (V) as separate; F and V as partially intersecting; F and V as greatly intersecting; F and V as completely fused; F subsuming V; V dominant over F; and V subsuming F.

Is it true that the more developed a being is, the more values subsume facts?

Regarding cosmocultural evolution, do we co-evolve if as beings we become more capable?

Types of cosmocultural influence? 1. Planetary influence 2. Astrophysical 3. Cosmological 4. Ontological 5. Metaphysical.

It's very confusing to look at and interpret human behavior either looking from the outside or from the inside. Intelligent and capable life could be dangerous. Normative aspirations may or may not be pursued by ETI. Does ETI become trapped by selfishness?

Is there a “post-intelligence” universe in which values are more important?

How do we view diversity? Diversity is key to the discussion. Values could also be enormously diverse.

Carol Cleland & Espeth Wilson: Cleland is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Colorado Was a member of NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) and specializes in philosophy of science, philosophy of logic and metaphysics. Wilson is a doctoral candidate in Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research interests include bioethics, ethics and public policy, American political development, civil rights political philosophy and constitutional law.


Wilson: Public policy & law must be informed if we encounter aliens. Would they be considered like non-human animals? Can we move beyond our anthropocentric concepts and assumptions? Remember the movie “District 9” where an ET craft shows up in South Africa. They are not too unlike us but are subjected to a discriminatory treatment like apartheid.

We need to know our background facts and assumptions influencing our assessments.

We share a common evolutionary origin. The problem with N=1 is that we cannot safely generalize to other life in the universe. How do we even begin to ask the right ethical questions?

Science alone cannot answer these ethical questions. Remember Max Weber's facts/value distinction. However, facts are morally significant. Regarding the physical and behavioral characteristics of organisms, we cannot isolate them from their environment and think clearly about them.

Astrobiology is a new frontier in bioethics.

How would finding ETI shape our conceptions? How do we judge an ETI as having moral value?

Moral agents: Some entities have moral status including an unimpaired human being. Moral agents also distinguish right from wrong and can be held accountable. Moral patients: Like small children and ill people deserve moral consideration but cannot necessarily be held responsible.

Most definitions of “life” are earth-centric. Most ethical theories are anthropocentric.

There actually is an animal rights movement for instance as proposed by Peter Singer and Tom Ranger. The utilitarian Jeremy Bentham didn't discount animals as worthy of moral consideration. They can suffer. The faculty of reason or if they can talk is not as important.

Carol Cleland: Some characteristics to be taken as a moral subject are intelligence, social behavior, sentience as capacity to feel pleasure or pain and the possession of an immortal soul.

Our species is treated as the standard for judging moral status by similarities…looks. Remember the “horta” from a Star Trek episode? It's a blob but is sentient, shows parental concern, intelligence and when that is found out it immediately acquired moral status.

Would the “Borg” with a hive intelligence be an ambiguous case or acquire moral status?

Also think of the cuttlefish. It doesn't have human looks but it is highly social and displays what appears like an alien communication system by changing colors and patterns over its surface. Is it a non-linear language? Are they sentient? Without a “Vulcan mind meld” it would be impossible to know.

Bees also have a hive social structure and - to us - an alien communication system. A “horta” analogue could be the octopus. They are solitary but display intelligent behavior, even tool making but we ignore their moral status in real life.

Constance M. Bertka: Holds a Master of Theological Studies and a PhD in Geology and is Co-Chair of the Broader Social Impacts Committee of the National Museum of Natural History's Hall of Human Origin's.  


Is there a “super alien intelligence?” Perhaps once a species develops a technology that puts them in touch with the cosmos they move from biology to Artificial Intelligence (AI).

AI has more advantages. Creatures could upload their minds. Agnostics would specially like to do this. A global catastrophe may make a world inhospitable to biological life forms so they'll need to become AI or to upload.

The “hard problem” of consciousness needs to be taken into consideration. Beyond manipulation of data there is a felt quality to experience. Would a super intelligent alien being, a computational system have felt experience?

Susan Schneider:

According to John Searl's “biological naturalism” the capacity to be conscious is unique to biological organisms. Other creatures would be able to behave as if they were conscious, but not be so. In the same way we can't be sure that the person next to us is conscious. We would neither know this about aliens if we meet them. If the information processing capacity is uploaded the behavior would be the same.

However, why wouldn't a superior substrate for information processing also be better for being conscious?

Nick Bostrom mentions that intelligence and final goals are orthogonal. This means that any level of intelligence could be combined with any final goal but it would be dangerous. AI could end up with several different goals.

I propose the possibility of “BISAS” or Biologically – inspired super intelligence aliens based on reversed engineering the alien brain. It could include uploading. They could have final goals including their own survival. They may or may not want to change their basic architecture to preserve their identity.

Most advanced alien civilizations will likely be super intelligent. Super intelligence can be conscious even as forms of AI. They can have ultimate goals and also instrumental goals.

Guy Consolmagno, SJ: Guy is a Jesuit brother, President of the Vatican Observatory Foundation, astronomer and meteoricist.


In a September 2012 lecture being given in Ireland Guy was asked if he would baptize an extraterrestrial.  He knew the questioner was trying to make him look stupid. If he replied “yes” he would be accused of hubris. If he replied “no” it would mean that Catholicism would have no universal significance.

Thomas Paine said that the inevitable existence of life in other worlds ends Christianity or would Jesus only be born on Earth? But who's to say that all salvation stories are the same?

If they are self-aware beings, free to choose, free to love, free to hate and thus in need of some kind of redemption. Other creatures may not only be (held by?) the same laws of physics, chemistry but presumably by the same rights and wrongs.

If we can share and relate and cherish and love them and if they have free will and intelligence and also asked to be baptized then I would.

No matter how many times I've answered if I would baptize an extraterrestrial people keep asking.

The possibility of other God-fearing intelligences out there exists.

Maybe we are the most ethical creatures. Who's to know? If you come across a race that never sinned how do we know that they have the freedom to choose between right & wrong?

I received an e mail demanding I tell the Pope that aliens are better.

Science cannot prove religion and finding aliens would reinforce both atheism and religiosity.

If humanity is the center of God's love then is the rest of the universe not? I don't think so, because love is inclusive. If human love is inclusive, how much more would God's love be? Maybe it's about something that we have in common with the rest of the universe: loving, thinking, feeling, free willing. What God loves in us God also loves in the universe.

The question is: Are we willing to accept other intelligent beings in the universe? Being intelligent requires relating.

Robin W. Lovin: Director of Research at the Center of Theological Inquiry and Professor of Ethics Emeritus at Southern Methodist University.


The “image of God” relates to human dignity. Sense of duty. Theology is always embedded in a tradition. It is an interpretative discipline to make sense of reality as a whole and to provide direction. The idea of the “image of God” is found in the Islamic, Christian and Hebrew traditions.

In astrobiology are we only talking about human dignity? The only kind we know? As in N=1?

Analogy and theology…Theology is also affected by anthropocentrism but God is not in Man's image. What can be said about God without reducing it to human experience?

For Agustin freedom is an interplay of reason, will, memory. There's a tradition of analogical theological thinking, a likeness of beings in God. There's the presumption of dignity in any intelligent life discovered.

Given that we have still not detected alien life there might be a technical difficulty, but there must be a dignity theme to think about, a presumption of dignity.  Also, any ETI would be in a cultural expression built on top of a biological infrastructure. Cultures and civilizations share the dignity of persons.

The mandate about dominion over earth creatures does not extend to other worlds, civilizations and forms of life. For astrobiology its necessary to known that life itself has dignity. Theological interpretations about life may reflect how we treat other life and intelligent life.

(Then I recorded a dialogue that ensued) Susan Schneider asked Would you baptize a non-biological being? Cleland: Octopus don't exhibit compassion but they do curiosity and they are not social. Elspeth Wilson: Secular law is also important. It's important to recognize secularism in all this and also to protect different theological worldviews. Consolmagno: Skeptical about computers being 'intelligent' as to baptize them. Rather, they've gotten clever over time. Lovin: The problem with a secular ethics is that the use of language is shrinking. Bertka: Science is not just facts. It's done in a community. It's a process open to revision. Elspeth Wilson: No, science is a quest to discover facts. Maybe AI will or will not have values.

Audience comment: Some scientists think that we need carbon-based (for intelligence) with the use of cellular membranes but also D'amasio says it won't matter if behavior is alike.

Then, Mexican reporter Jaime Mausan - well known for his dedicated research on UFOs - asked brother Consolmagno if the Church was continuing with a disclosure of the ETI presence or preparing people for it, something that started with Monsignor Corrado Balducci, was apparently followed by Vatican astronomer Funes. Consolmagno basically answered that his statements were his own and that he wasn't aware of anything like that. Furthermore, he said that after having met the Pope his guess was that he had no position on that subject and that he probably didn't care about it.

Consolmagno: The past is alien to us, also the future. We may learn new ways to approach physics, laws, sociology even if they remain the same.

 Jane Maienschein: Directs the Center for Biology and Society in the school of Life Sciences at Arizona State University. Specializes in the history and philosophy of biology and how biology, bioethics and biopolicy play out in society.


Astrobiology was not considered “scientific” in 1966. See NASA's “Roadmap” from 1999. Among other goals there was the goal of understanding how life arose on Earth and to understand the response of terrestrial life to life and materials coming from outer space.  Astrobiology needs foeld work in space. How do we control conditions? Are extremophiles “astro?”

ET life impact on Earth & issues of astrobiology and society: 1) Regulatory policy (“planetary protection”) relates with the possibility of an invasive species and the social psychological impact on Earth. 2) Life that goes into space. 3) Studying life in space: field work, robotic? 4) Epistemological considerations. 5) Ethical, social impact on us and “them.” 6) Environmental impact.

Is there anything new under the Sun? Steven Dick said so. Astrobiology evokes a sense of awe & wonder. For science: Add the social questions and examine underlying assumptions. For society: Examine what it means to be ethical after all.

Margaret Race: Senior scientist at SETI Institute in Mountain View, CA. Works with NASA on astrobiology, planetary protection and risk communication.

There are different views of the ET puzzle. We need a framework to analyze & integrate all of what we are talking about. For this we have the 1967 Outer Space Treaty.

It's important to consider the impact to us and by us.

What is involved in current ET searches? Basic science and applied science, looking for evidence everywhere they can. The way astrobiologists are looking for ET life is: Detecting intelligent technologies, habitable exoplanets, and microbial life.

Article IX of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty: Avoid harmful contamination of planets and the adverse effects on Earth from Space Exploration. While conducting research there are no risks; upon discovery there are some risks, indirect. After discovery there are long term, uncertain risks.

Risk assessment: For extra solar planets no problem. Discoveries are not provocative. SETI won't do anything until it follows its protocols. For Solar System discoveries there are no current policies in place; for instance, if we discover life on Mars. Do SETI's protocols need updating? 

There's a current emphasis in discovering life and our place. The societal interest and support still needs to be developed. We also need renewed theological deliberations. The International Academy of Astronautics is a place to deliberate.

Eric J. Chaisson: American astrophysicist at Harvard University appointed to the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. His scientific research addresses an interdisciplinary, thermodynamic study of physical, biological and cultural phenomena, seeking to understand the evolution of galaxies, stars, planets, life and society devising a unifying cosmic-evolutionary worldview.


Why are we not picking up signals after 50 years? Are 'they' too advanced? Are they hiding from us or quite simply they are not there? Is it possible we can learn from a lack of signals? Maybe the “eerily silence” is itself sending us a signal. Maybe we are receiving the signal that we must first get our act together on this Earth?

How do we increase the factor L (life) of the Drake equation? I'm trying to develop a “Big History” approach, a measure of complexity and intelligence. All systems and societies are open systems. An optimal in-out flow gets complex. I tried to normalize the lows as rate energy flows in and out of a system: As energy; not as information:  Energy rate density as a function of time, plotting galaxies, the Sun, the Earth, plants, animals and societies in a graph as ergs/second/gram vs. time (in billions of yrs). This tells that more life = more complex. We can speak of a “radiation era,” “matter era,” “life era.” How do we cross into the life era? If we want to survive we need to acquire more energy.

We need to quickly adopt solar energy because it's already part of the Earth system.

Maybe we don't hear them because there's only a brief period to adopt efficient energy of their parent star (and most don't).

Linda Billings:  Ph.D. in mass communications. She is a consultant to NASA's Astrobiology and Near-Earth Object Programs in the Planetary Division of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.


 There's an “allure” about alien life in society. SETI is more about us.

What do we know about alien life? Nothing.

In the public mind the distinction between microbial and intelligent life is none.

What do we know about human intelligence? Little to nothing.

The fictional aliens –and I'm a neo-Marxist- serve to reinforce the whole male dominant culture. Lots of fear of invasion movies of 'others' not like us.

We have aliens as “messiah” as “id” as “brother” as “us” as “them.” There also are “alien antichrists” for example as un-individuated swarms. It is a belief system, not knowledge. We don't know anything about aliens but they lend themselves to profitable, easy to make documentaries abounding now even in Discovery, History, Nat Geo, TLC, the Science Channel and as series like “Alien Encounters” and “Are We Alone” attest. It's a belief system, not knowledge and part of it is that 'they' will save us, but almost always they are portrayed as dark and angry.

Do you know there's something called WETI or wait for extraterrestrial encounter?

What about people that don't have time for those interests because otherwise they may not be eating today? We need to promote scientific literacy and critical thinking.

Jennifer J. Wiseman, Senior astrophysicist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center moderated a Q&A conversation period and a question was raised: If we are not going to make ETI contact in many years is society going to support this search? Linda Billings: For me it's interesting and, yes, society is already giving us support. Margaret Race: Astrobiology is a way to think outside of the box.

I asked a question if there were any efforts at transdisciplinarity and said that that approach was already being developed in Peru in the Astrobiological Association. Linda Billings said that there was some talk about multidisciplinarity and interdisciplinarity, that transdisciplinarity was a very complex subject and that there was some talk about connecting disciplines at the National Science Foundation.

Someone mentioned that NASA's astrobiology program focuses on microbes and that SETI is not part of their funding. Also, has the universe developed microbial abundance, intelligent abundance or super intelligent abundance? We don't know yet. Is science and-or mathematics universal? Do ETI agree about objective things? Have we here contributed to the rise of “astroculture,” “astrotheology” “astroethics?”

Thomas Jefferson would embrace the idea of questioning all assumptions as we have done here at the Kluge Center. We prepare by preparing to do good science and to question assumptions, educating the public and continuing research in this area to engage the public.

We will soon include more papers, not so Western-centric.

(And the symposium was formally over).    

Personal reflections:

1. About the need for transdisciplinarity and for an expansion of astrobiology research

Formal academic astrobiology needs to be informed by serious UFO research, by the more plausible contactee research and information, alternative physics involving consciousness and multidimensionality and by exopolitics as much as the these four latter fields need to learn from the careful, scientific, methodological approach of formal academic astrobiology. However, all of these fields, along with the social sciences, theology and philosophy need to find a common ground to cooperate in order to address the issue of “discovering” (in a widely socially endorsed form) both microbial extraterrestrial life and ETI. A truly integrative form of transdisciplinarity can assist key cultural leaders to make sense of it all.

I really think that to coordinate all these empirical, quantitative and rational-self-reflective, qualitative approaches in relation to the key and multidimensional concept of “life” (a leitmotif at least including consciousness, first person, subjective experience, information and volitional information-management, entropy, entropy reduction, syntropy, self-organization,  non-local quantum holographic connectivity, a revived recognition of rational metaphysics including formal causes, ontological levels and teleology) astrobiology will necessarily have to be “informed” by “TRANSDISCIPLINARITY,” a necessary and practical Meta philosophical and Meta scientific approach already being developed by integrative thinkers like Basarab Nicolescu and Ken Wilber.

To work with shared concepts, I'll basically define a “discipline” as a particular approach to the study a phenomenon or a set of related phenomena; “multidisciplinarity” as the use of a plurality of disciplines to study that phenomenon or set of related phenomena; “interdisciplinarity” as the use of a plurality of disciplines and their methods to enhance how a particular discipline studies a phenomenon or set of phenomena and, finally, “transdisciplinarity” as the use of shared patterns and principles common to a plurality of disciplines to best understand and synergistically coordinate them as a whole so as to study a phenomenon or set of related phenomena more perfectly. Transdisciplinarity is the search of commonalities among disciplines. Transdisciplinarity can itself be somewhat limited to a particular metaphysics and epistemology or be encompassing enough to integrate quantitative and qualitative experiences, methods, theories and disciplines under what could be called an all-encompassing integral metaphysics and integral meta science.

The discovery of intelligent extraterrestrial life will quite likely grow in leaps and bounds collectively surprising us on many levels and requiring from us (as an intelligent planetary-wide, interconnecting species) a revision of the premises and foundations of what today are often understood as logically incommensurable or disconnected disciplines. Inspired by Ken Wilber's approach I'll say that the need to make sense of a complex, multidimensional discovery will transform these disciplines into compatible constituents of a much more encompassing, integral science that makes sense of the qualitative and quantitative approaches inextricably needed to further disclose physical, mental and spiritual realities under objective, intersubjective and subjective perspectives (or the True, the Good and the Beautiful as per platonic value spheres).

Astrobiology and other mutually-reinforcing disciplines will likely be understood in a holographic sense as perspectives coordinated by common integrating patterns within a vast intelligible whole of meaning, knowledge, methods and experience.  Astrobiology and other disciplines will be “holographic” inasmuch as they reflect the stable intelligible patterns of knowledge as a whole and contribute to understanding that knowledge as a whole.

Astrobiology (as currently understood within formal academic institutions heavily influenced by the excessively incomplete and inadequate metaphysics of materialism) is the focus of most current “academically valid” discussions on the social and cultural implications about what may be an impending discovery of what is deemed either as “intelligent or non-intelligent” extraterrestrial life.  Astrobiology - thus understood- is already an emerging discipline gradually recognized within established institutions like NASA, SETI and leading universities, but in my view (due to inescapably connecting with the ever-widening issue of “life”) has the potential to grow into an integrative, culturally-transforming force surpassing the limits of conventional mechanistic and physicalist-materialist science.

Yes, the discovery of extraterrestrial life would likely encourage human society as a whole to find ways to think anew and/or more deeply and expansively about science, culture, life, theology, reality and civilization. Therefore, it is important to continue having these conversations to prepare for the various implications of discovering extraterrestrial life which might formally occur under conventional means or under unconventional means any time soon.

The conversation at the Kluge Center was basically respectful and open to many ideas, although most speakers coming from a conventional academic (and definitely also very valuable) standpoint were clearly unaware of the best objective evidence that there is a small percentage of serious UFO cases and alleged human interaction cases with greater scientific validity indicating that ETI (extraterrestrial intelligence) is actually interacting with us (through some of us) in ways that current, conventional science doesn't easily fathom. I don't think they were really considering all possibilities in the spirit of Thomas Jefferson, only possibilities that seemed reasonable enough within their boundaries.

But the process of self-selecting information goes both ways among “believers” and “skeptics.” In the case of normal academic scientists, they are insufficiently informed during their formative years and, once established in a prestigious community that obtains funds and official recognition they are psychologically “stamped out” from considering extraneous information. Both for “believers” and “skeptics” it is selective ignorance and knowledge.

While quite often there are extremes of gullibility and over generalizing mistakes among those who think or experientially known that we are already being visited, observed or contacted and those that do not (the latter sometimes adopting a committed skepticism and the former an ill-disposed, accusative view), but the conversation must develop amply without mutual animosity or offhanded dismissals.

While objectively seen with a neutral and critical attitude the best UFO and “experiencer” evidence is reasonably convincing that we are indeed being “visited” or interacted with by intelligences which can qualify as “extraterrestrial” there also are good reasons to doubt about the unscientific approach and often overwhelming generalizations of many that are so convinced. But being the issue of vital planetary and cultural significance it is too important to be held back by characteristic oversimplifying, dichotomous thinking in either camp. We need to know; learning to think, feel and sense in ways suitable to a reasonably harmonious planetary civilization require it.

Serious individuals developing astrobiology and also less recognized approaches to the political-cultural implications of extraterrestrial life (like “exopolitics”) not only need an inter disciplinary approach but to discover a TRANSDISCIPLINARY approach based on highly inclusive universal patterns (not just reduced to or based on modern scientific premises or even on pre-modern ones) in order to coordinate the various qualitative and quantitative disciplines and approaches to life in general and to extraterrestrial life in particular.

Ken Wilber's AQAL model, Nicolescu's Transdisciplinarity ideas, Edgar Morin's Complex Thought, Archie J. Bahm's Organicism, Fritjoff Schuon's overview of Metaphysics within a “perennialist” integrative school as well as other integrative meta philosophies (or developments which may contribute to the development of meta integrative philosophies) should be able to assist us to come together with a more intelligently inclusive “meta paradigmatic approach.” Our integrative attitudes would also co-evolve (even surpassing the zeitgeist of modernity and postmodernity) as we discover the meaningfulness and usefulness of this approach.

The intrinsic inseparability not only of information but of consciousness probably found amidst more intellectually advanced extraterrestrial individuals operating within a science capable of understanding how to manipulate spacetime will probably have to be systematized and understood also by us in order to survive as a species and to move on coordinating among us as a planetary civilization with autonomy, respect and a type of sovereignty recognized by the extraterrestrials.

We'll need to surpass fragmentary thinking mainly temporarily useful for certain survival applications in a classical physical experience and we'll need to adopt a higher level of discourse, one that transcends and includes the distinct disciplines under a more inclusive logic. Under that higher level of discourse (including and surpassing the “excluded middle”) otherwise separate disciplines will seem commensurable. Its premises will also transcend and include those of the natural sciences.

Rational meta frameworks stemming from a deep understanding of non-duality, logic, an integrative vision and ultimate transcendental spiritual principles can be coherently developed and they should. In particular Ken Wilber's AQAL model once again comes to mind as a promising, incipient example as – among other virtues - it offers a way to recognize in a logical way the quantitative and qualitative aspects of life as inextricably interwoven and simultaneous.

Sincere, dedicated, mentally balanced individuals constantly willing to learn (whether convinced of the evidence of an intelligent extraterrestrial presence or not) need to carefully listen to each other's best arguments, understanding each other's premises and finding whatever good there may be in each other's evidence-gathering methods to respectfully converse on this important, society-transforming, planetary issue affecting our entire species and planetary future. SCIENTISTS AND NON SCIENTISTS alike would have to deactivate excessive mutual criticisms and offhanded dismissals (which often go both ways) because of seemingly incommensurable methods and premises under limited pre-integral and pre transdisciplinary cultural attitudes and insufficiently inclusive/connective Meta principles.

Although I'm convinced by the evidence that we are indeed being visited by intelligent beings from the Cosmos, I also affirm that we need to seriously appreciate the dedicated, methodical work of our conventional academic scientists, also contributing in many ways to humanity's development.

After decades of pondering on genuine and alleged contactee, contactee-abductee and-or “experiencer” cases with extraterrestrial intelligences already interacting with segments of the human family I think that subjective and intersubjective means and methods seem to work best to causally interact with beings that (albeit their advanced technology) often seem to physically exist in a more, shall we say, “refined” level of reality; a reality with greater degrees of freedom relating its quantum states with its macroscopic structures after (entropy-and-probabilities-modifying) intention, measurement and observation. In other words, while still under the structures of exterior physical objective patterns to qualify as “physical” there would be greater degrees of freedom to be able to affect those structures through subjective and intersubjective means. This would be one of the reasons why conventional scientific means limited to exploring our own physical level (and “time density fractal” as contactee Eric Julien would probably assert) may be limited in reach to the moments of convergence between these being's reality system and ours.  However, although contactees working with subjective and intersubjective methods may be relating more directly with at least some of the alleged ETI I think that the conservative and methodological approaches of most scientists and academicians bring balance against the interpretive failures associated with the contactee approach.

Thus we must also understand our own personal lack of connectivity and understanding first rather than to be overtaken by our achievements and to criticize and point fingers onto others not apparently sharing our approach to a greater understanding of “life.”  This includes us all and the likely fact that most key “actors” (including us, some politicians, some military in the know, renowned scientists, but also contactee and abductee “experiencers,” UFO witnesses, committed skeptics, intelligence officers, UFO researchers, movie producers, media reporters, and people in general have not been able to adequately process, interpret and integrate unto themselves whatever they may have found about the extraterrestrial situation adequately. In these matters (seemingly bizarre and challenging of specific instincts adapted to our experience of a continuous, stable classical reality) we are all together –both committed “believers” and committed “skeptics.” We are all learning to think more inclusively while defending our partially valid and important truths as we gradually overcome our fractional thinking patterns.

2. Reflections about specific concepts shared by the symposium speakers

Regarding  what Dr. Steven J. Dick thought about direct discovery of UFOs not being a type of valid evidence he didn't go into details of serious UFO research evidence or clarified that only SOME 'UFOs' may qualify as adequate evidence of ETI.

Regarding the statements by brother Guy Consolmagno, SJ, I think that quite often those of us who are convinced that we are already being visited by ETI over read and over expect members of the Vatican to secretly plan about, know and care about ETI. While some may actually know we often think that there must be a well-concerted plan for disclosure in which someone like a Vatican Observatory astronomer must be in. To me brother Consolmagno was not giving a surreptitious Vatican pronouncement about ETI but simply giving his reasonable theological views about the possibility of baptizing certain types of extraterrestrials if certain specific conditions pertaining to individuals with souls (like self-awareness, free will capacity, capacity for intimate relationships, capacity to love and to err and the desire to be baptized in spite of their advanced knowledge and technology) were met.

As an astronomer and Jesuit brother he had simply found himself needing to respond to these issues and he enjoys a degree of freedom to take initiatives and engage on certain issues without the Church hierarchy dictating or controlling him. I really don't think he was preparing the public or church members for the discovery of ETI or that he was sent to lower down such expectations. He was trying to raise the level of discourse beyond simple expectations. I also don't think that his conference was a continuation or modification of a deliberate policy connected with the previous declarations of Father Gabriel Funes, SJ or of Monsignor Corrado Balducci. I think each case should be judged independently.

Regarding John Traphagan's assertions about our interpretations being culture-centered are quite true and worth considering but also excessively well-established on the relativism known by anthropologists. This excess is already being transcended by post postmodern integrative Meta philosophical approaches needed for a post-disclosure and-or post discovery of ETI period.

Regarding Susan Schneider's concept of computational frameworks being conscious, I think it is quite possible but not as producing consciousness, only as support or physical correlates which partially due to its complexity may be able to interact with a subjective embodied consciousness that should not be conflated with the objective, material aspect. While I think that a self-aware individual can live in such a non-biological framework I don't think that uploading the intelligent, information-processing pattern is equivalent to uploading the subjective individual consciousness. There's a qualitative difference between information processing and subjective experience. Thus, an uploaded intelligence and memory would probably not be able to display free will and originality beyond certain limits and that would become noticeable.

Whether non-biological frameworks/bodies would be superior to biological ones (so that upon encountering advanced ETI we would likely find non-biological entities who may have created analogues of their original biological brains) I don't think it might be necessarily so as we have indications that direct experiencers of ETI still seem to predominantly meet with entities that still seem to be predominantly biological.

Regarding Eric J. Chaisson's increasing pattern of energy and complexity leading to life, I think that there are some categorical confusions between physical objects, biological entities and societies. As Ken Wilber points out, each belongs to a different category, while complexifying relations correlate among them.  I agree that the use of solar energy could be necessary to support a more intelligent “life era” planetary civilization but I also think that the use of zero-point energy will also be useful. As a related issue, as per the Kardashev scale of cosmic civilizations according to energy use, I would add that the discovery of how to use zero-point or energies internal and transcendent to spacetime would replace the need to use exterior energies such as those available by harvesting stars (such as in the “starivore” hypothesis offered by Clement Vidal or the need for a “Dyson” sphere surrounding a star).


Astrobiologists should consider Integral Theory, Transdiciplinarity and other integrative models in order to coordinate the different quantitative and qualitative disciplines used. Moreover, they should also take a serious, open-minded, unbiased look at the best UFO and contactee research evidence offered. Astrobiology impinges on policy-making regarding extraterrestrial life and intelligence and astrobiologists should dialogue both with integrative theorists and with exopoliticians who are already convinced by the evidence that we are being visited by intelligent extraterrestrial beings displaying a modus operandi and level of technology that is difficult to interpret according to modern scientific, academic assumptions. Furthermore, integral and integrative thinkers should consider learning from and becoming involved in a dialogue with astrobiologists, serious UFO researchers, contactee researchers and exopoliticians. All of these “elements” challenge pre-integral ways of thinking and none can integrally flourish without the other.

The transformation of the human family into a more integrated planetary-wide civilization respectful of its participant members, the planet's living creatures and into a species capable of being admitted as sovereign into a complex cosmic community not only requires the adoption of a particular integral or integrative model over another in order to better understand some aspects of life while ignoring or dismissing others. All sources of research, discovery, reflection and information which can contribute to that integrative goal and the expansion of human consciousness should relate under a truly integrating approach.

The integral community should assimilate and work with current orthodox scientific developments like “astrobiology” gaining recognition but also contributing to that field assisting it to become transdisciplinary. It should also examine and learn from unorthodox scientific approaches that seem better suited to connect non-local psychic events, consciousness, and multiple levels of existence. Astrobiology, the integral theory movement and other integrative movements should also move beyond admissible modern-postmodern academic encapsulations (selective and biased information-seeking and validating) and consider taking a fresh look into all kinds of reality and paradigm-expanding evidence which some of the more objective and sincere UFO researchers, exopoliticians and contact experiencers are also currently offering.

What is at stake is either a successful updating of our personal and collective sense of reality and foundational metaphysical premises in a truly coherently inclusive integral mode or a sickly personal and collective lingering in denial leading to limits on human freedom and an insane lack of adaptation to an interconnected world. What is at stake here is the possibility of coming together recognizing each other's contributions without hubris and offhanded dismissals to work in the creation of a sane integral world or dismembering into atomized, mechanistic failure, the inability to think and disarray.


Given that there is good evidence of truly “anomalous” (non-conventionally explained) UFO sightings captured on film and photograph and collectively witnessed and, given that serious, dedicated UFO research has accumulated over several decades credible evidence of intelligent extraterrestrial visitation in ways that transcends most conventional knowledge of physics , as soon as the symposium ended I individually asked Dr. Shostak if any SETI or NASA scientists would care to go to the fields with scientific instruments where truly anomalous UFOs appear and he told me it wasn't the SETI scientist's task to research into the UFO evidence although sometimes they were given alleged evidence of an extraterrestrial presence and UFOs which turned out not to be convincing. He suggested that that effort should be ours. Like citizen scientists? I asked.  Yes, he replied. He suggested me to go out with two cameras and to try to simultaneously take two pictures of a UFO with the cameras separated from each other for a known distance, preferably a mile or so in order to be able to triangulate.  I asked if a mile was excessive (as he probably thought that the object would be too far away) and he said that that distance between the cameras would be correct. It should be daytime and preferably with some moderate cloudiness for reference.

I think that that the distance between the cameras may be excessive but not impossibly so. If the UFO (or craft) is not too far away the distance between the cameras doesn't need to be so long. Also, the two photographers could coordinate with walkie-talkies and have someone else film them. Hopefully an ET vehicle could collaborate for this and situate itself equidistant from the cameras and not so far away. I suppose that if the cameras have are of the same brand, model, lens and are programed with the same picture-taking characteristics it would be better.

I wonder if after achieving such a feat SETI scientists would still be reluctant to go out and verify the phenomena for themselves with adequate equipment or still doggedly try to find alternative explanations, nonetheless I'm sure that many of the issues raised at the symposium are still crucial for when the time comes to develop a cultural, formal, national and global exopolitical process after ETI is sufficiently verified. We all need to work together in this in spite of our differences.


Bahm, Archie J. (1979). The Philosopher's World Model. Westport: Greenwood Press.

Kluge Center at the Library of Congress, in collaboration with NASA: September 18-19, 2014. Symposium: “Preparing for Discovery: A Rational Approach to the Impact of Finding Microbial, Complex or Intelligent Life Beyond Earth”

Morin, Edgar (2008). On Complexity. Cresskill: Hampton Press, Inc.

Nicolescu, Basarab (2002). Albany: State University of New York.

Wilber, Ken (2006). Integral Spirituality. Boston: Integral Books.

Comment Form is loading comments...