Alright, #SoCIA18 friends and followers. Next up is the conference's final act & second keynote: "Is there a sensible way to say Life is alive?" by Ford Doolittle of Dalhousie University!
Steps in the logic: 1. Life (capital L) = LUCA (Last Universal Common Ancestor) and her descendents. 2. Life and Life only (not lowercase-l) exists - see my tweets on yesterday's Carlos Mariscal talk...
...though the short version is that Life is better viewed as a cluster/individual than as an abstract natural category (which would be lowercase-l life). Anyways: 3. A Godfrey-Smithian approach to 'life' (whatever that means), 4.5.6.too fast.
At the #SoCIA18 panel discussion on space settlement. Based on room setup, I might be too busy engaging in discussion to livetweet, but we'll see!
Begins with everyone around the table summarizing their positions. 16 of us. Nice mix of "humans not worth saving" to "yes let's do it (sensibly)" to "will interfere with science" or "too muddled with Earth politics/elites."
I might've been the most radical sounding with "we should create aliens" angle, but I don't take that as an ethical conclusion - just a new vector people should add to the (serious) moral calculations.
Talking here about exploration (scientific) or exploitation (human). NASA has thus far been driven by search for extraterrestial life, NOT colonizing other planets. Is there any reason to change that priority? (Spoiler: she says no.)
My next #SoCIA18 talk will be "Being Here: The Significance of Human Place in the Light of Astrobiology," by Sarah Reynolds!
What does "learning about what's out there" teach us about ourselves, here on Earth?
"How are we shaped/influenced by our places of origin and habitation" is not a new question! Just a new context here. Though now we need to distinguish between habitable, habit-worthy, and hospitable. How do qualities of a place & its (native) life relate to position in universe?
Gonna try to stay focused here at #SoCIA18 with "The Value of Astrobiology with or without Specimens" by Gonzalo Munevar. What can this discipline tell us, even if we never find ETlife?
Ex: Earth life favors left-handed amino acids, right-handed sugars. Are these accidents of evolution, or are there reasons? Why does DNA use only 4 bases? Why do proteins use 20 amino acids? All these would be addressed by even N=2 origins of life.
ETlife would have evolved under different history, geology, accidents (meteorite strikes etc), so alien road to complexity would be different from ours.
Next up for me at #SoCIA18 is “The Time of Life” by Jason Howard. Temporal naturalism vs timeless naturalism? We'll explore those terms now. Forward!
Timeless Naturalism holds that experience of moments/passage is illusion. Doesn't deny the appearance of time, only its importance. If you unroll a carpet, the pattern is already set, the unrolling is not causative.
Apparent flow of time creates no novelty, complexty, or diversity. It all comes down to other physical laws.
It's the moment you've been waiting for! Tonight's #SoCIA18 keynote speaker is the science fiction author Elizabeth Bear (@matociquala) on "What Do We Owe The Galaxy? Ethical Considerations of Practical Astrobiological Research."
For the purpose of this talk, the definition of life will be based off Damon Knight's definition of science fiction: "Whatever I'm pointing at when I say 'life'."
What do we know about astrobiology? Baaasically nothing. All we have are theories and extrapolations, but that's enough to let us start building an ethical framework. In the absence of data, science fiction is fully qualified to explore this!
Two more #SoCIA18 talks today! Some confusion but I believe the next one is "What Lives? Life, Consciousness, and the Eco-Systemic Multiversity" by Kala Perkins. Ooh, she used to be an neuroscientist, might be my jam. (Extra jammy. It's all jamful here today.)
What is life? Why (don't we) respect it? Beyond the Last Common Ancestor, we share our origins with the entire universe from its original impulse, stellar atomic synthesis. A radically eco-systemic view.
There are things we co-exist with, intertwined with, than we know. Forex, we sure can't list all the bacteria that make our digestion possible. Bioethics require a better understanding of life/birth.
Bam! Rapid-fire #SoCIA18 talks! Next up, terraforming: Brian Green with "Ethics for Planetary-Scale Interventions on Earth and Beyond." Opens with the comment that we are currently un-terraforming Earth. Oops.
So, okay, we're already modifying our planet. Should we do this intentionally? If so, how? What are the underlying moral & ethical questions?
Different questions for terraforming our planet, lifeless planets, places with native life, etc? (Three of 8 questions, whoof things are fast.)
Next #SoCIA18 talk looks exciting: "Body Snatchers: What whole body hijacking reveals about our definitions of life," by Lucas Mix.
(Note that this is a 2-track conference, so I am missing at least 50% of talks.)
"What is life?" He thinks it's a process, not an object. Four useful/overlapping subcategories: Darwin (evolve by natural selection), Woese (uses SSU rRNA), Aristotle (perpetuate with nutrition), Haldane (self-regulation).
He's got a nonfic book (out or coming out?): "Life Concept from Aristotle to Darwin: On Vegetable Souls"
Up next in this #SoCIA18 track is Sheri Wells-Jensen with "Things you didn't see because you were looking: Blind aliens, science and inter- species miscommunication.” I'm not sure what this is about but I'm excited to find out.
Speaker - who is visually impaired, which is relevant given the talk title, and obvious to us here in the room - starts by noting that her introduction name/affiliation/title slide could be full of lies and nobody would notice.
But we have assumptions about this slide starting off a talk. We look for it, and compare against it.
Next #SoCIA18 talk: “On aliens and robots: moral status, epistemological and (meta-)ethical considerations" by Keith Abney!
(These are 20min talks, so they'll come fast & furious.)
How do robot ethics inform alien ethics? Robot Ethics definitely a big question, what with lethal autonomous weapons systems being developed. (Abney is from a group with a neutral position - finds some anti-roboweapon arguments compelling, others not)
Here we go, folks! The first talk (of those that I'll be trying to livetweet) at #SoCIA18: "Logic, Ethics and History: the Mistake is Thinking It's a Mistake," by Daniel Wueste.
How will alien contact change our understanding of ethics, logic, and history? People think logic and ethics as having some kind of fixed rules. We ask questions to fit things into our heuristics. ("Is it conscious? If so, rational conclusion is...")
But people really like the idea of getting objective, rational certainty. Even though it's mostly a fairytale.