“Extraterrestrial Altruism” edited by Douglas Vakoch 2014


ET AltruismI’ve been really interested in the work of Douglas Vakoch ever since I met him at a conference many years ago. I blogged his Ted Talk “What would you say to an extraterrestrial?” some time ago and still highly recommend it.

And he’s now got an edited book out, hurrah! It will be reviewed in a forthcoming issue of Space Policy journal, so keep an eye out.

Extraterrestrial Altruism: Evolution and Ethics in the Cosmos
Springer (2014)
ISBN 978-3-642-37750-1

From the Springer website:

* Discusses the important issue of whether there are dangers in transmitting signals into space to make contact with extraterrestrial intelligence

* Clarifies the many meanings of altruism—from taking care of close relatives to helping complete strangers—and asks why extraterrestrials would care about us

* Offers an interdisciplinary approach to extraterrestrial altruism

* Advances innovative approaches to communicating altruism through pictures, mathematics, and logic—providing new insights into designing interstellar messages that convey humankind’s highest values

* First comprehensive volume on extraterrestrial altruism

* With a Foreword by Frank Drake

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.

Should we expect altruism to evolve throughout the cosmos, or is this only wishful thinking? Would this make biological sense? Is it dangerous to send messages to other worlds, as Stephen Hawking has suggested? Would extraterrestrial societies be based on different ethical principles?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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Dr Jill Stuart is an academic based at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She is an expert in the politics, ethics and law of outer space exploration and exploitation. She is a frequent presence in the global media (print, radio, television, documentary) and regularly gives lectures around the world. From 2013-2017 she was Editor in Chief of the Elsevier journal Space Policy where she remains on the Editorial Board. She is also on the Board of Advisors of METI International, conducting scientific research into messaging potential extraterrestrial intelligence. She is one of an elite number of people to be endorsed by the UK Home Office as an Exceptional Talent Migrant/ World Leader in her Field. In 2015 she was awarded the prestigious Margaret Mead Award Lecture by the British Science Association in recognition of her cutting edge research. She is trained in both domestic and international mediation and has done consultancy work for the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice. She has a sub-specialism in women, peace and security and gender based violence. She is a Trustee of Luton All Women’s Centre.


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