Extraterrestrial Altruism: Evolution and Ethics in the Cosmos

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Douglas A. Vakoch
Springer Science & Business Media, Sep 14, 2013 - Science - 329 pages

Extraterrestrial Altruism examines a basic assumption of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI): that extraterrestrials will be transmitting messages to us for our benefit. This question of whether extraterrestrials will be altruistic has become increasingly important in recent years as SETI scientists have begun contemplating transmissions from Earth to make contact.

Technological civilizations that transmit signals for the benefit of others, but with no immediate gain for themselves, certainly seem to be altruistic. But does this make biological sense? Should we expect altruism to evolve throughout the cosmos, or is this only wishful thinking? Is it dangerous to send messages to other worlds, as Stephen Hawking has suggested, or might humankind benefit from an exchange with intelligence elsewhere in the galaxy? Would extraterrestrial societies be based on different ethical principles, or would we see commonalities with Earthly notions of morality? Extraterrestrial Altruism explores these and related questions about the motivations of civilizations beyond Earth, providing new insights that are critical for SETI.

Chapters are authored by leading scholars from diverse disciplines—anthropology, astronomy, biology, chemistry, computer science, cosmology, engineering, history of science, law, philosophy, psychology, public policy, and sociology. The book is carefully edited by Douglas Vakoch, Director of Interstellar Message Composition at the SETI Institute and professor of clinical psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies. The Foreword is by Frank Drake.

This interdisciplinary book will benefit everybody trying to understand whether evolution and ethics are unique to Earth, or whether they are built into the fabric of the universe.


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1 Cosmic Evolution Reciprocity and Interstellar Tit for Tat
Is Transmitting Dangerous?
Friends Foes or Just Curious?
A Thought Experiment
4 PredatorPrey Models and Contact Considerations
Visiting ETIs Likely Altruists
Lessons for Interstellar Communication
Potential Mechanisms for Advanced Altruism
Part IVUniversal Ethics and Law
13 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Altruism
A PresentDay View
An Extraterrestrial Perspective on Universal LawMaking
Part VRepresenting Altruism
16 A LogicBased Approach to Characterizing Altruism in Interstellar Messages
Seeking the Common Good as a Common Ground for Interstellar Communication
18 Patterns of Extraterrestrial Culture

Egoism Altruism and the Active SETI Debate
Part IIIInferring Altruism
Inferring Altruism from an Extraterrestrial Signal
The Significance of Shared Cognition for Communication Empathy and Altruism in Space
11 Other Minds Empathy and Interstellar Communication
Learning from Species on Earth
Images of Altruism
About the Editor
About the Authors

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About the author (2013)

Douglas A. Vakoch, Ph.D., is Director of Interstellar Message Composition at the SETI Institute, as well as Professor of Clinical Psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies. He serves as chair of both the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) Study Group on Interstellar Message Construction and the IAA Study Group on Active SETI: Scientific, Technical, Societal, and Legal Dimensions. Through his membership in the International Institute of Space Law, Dr. Vakoch examines policy issues related to interstellar communication. His research spans the fields of psychology, anthropology, environmental studies, and space sciences, and his books include Psychology of Space Exploration: Contemporary Research in Historical Perspective (NASA, 2011); Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SUNY Press, 2011); Ecofeminism and Rhetoric: Critical Perspectives on Sex, Technology, and Discourse (Berghahn Books, 2011); Feminist Ecocriticism: Environment, Women, and Literature (Lexington Books, 2012); Altruism in Cross-Cultural Perspective (Springer, 2013); On Orbit and Beyond: Psychological Perspectives on Human Spaceflight (Springer, 2013); Archaeology, Anthropology, and Interstellar Communication (NASA, 2013); and Astrobiology, History, and Society: Life Beyond Earth and the Impact of Discovery (Springer, 2013).

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