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The detection of extraterrestrial life : are we ready?

Capova, K.A. (2013) 'The detection of extraterrestrial life : are we ready?', in Astrobiology, history, and society : life beyond earth and the impact of discovery. Berlin ; Heidelberg: Springer , pp. 271-281. Advances in astrobiology and biogeophysics.


This chapter offers a sociocultural perspective on the scientific search for life beyond Earth. It sheds light on the ways in which alien life is imagined and theorized in order to assess the possible societal response to the detection of other life. This chapter is based on the findings of research conducted over two years in the UK, which conceptualizes the extraterrestrial life hypothesis as a significant part of the general worldview, constantly shaped by the work and discoveries of science. Based on these data, the chapter offers insights into the current Western concepts of other life as understood, perceived, and interpreted by the scientific community and popular culture. The post-detection scenarios currently discussed deal mostly with a profound cultural shock following discovery of a superior extraterrestrial civilization. In contrast, the most recent scientific quest for other life now operates with a distinctly different concept of extraterrestrial life that ushers in other possible reactions to a detection or a contact. To establish current concepts of other life then seems to be crucial for predicting the societal response to a first contact. The chapter presents an overview of multiple conceptions of other life in science and science fiction to outline the potential variety of responses. The aim of this chapter is to suggest that the societal readiness and overall acceptance of the other life hypothesis needs to be taken into account and that the actual response to the discovery of other life will be determined by the actual form or type of life detected. This chapter will present examples from science fiction and other ethnographic material collected during fieldwork to demonstrate how popular culture has adapted the other life idea and how the presupposed other life is perceived.

Item Type:Book chapter
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Record Created:14 Aug 2013 11:50
Last Modified:09 Sep 2014 09:48

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