Xenology: An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization

First Edition

© 1975-1979, 2008 Robert A. Freitas Jr. All Rights Reserved.

Robert A. Freitas Jr., Xenology: An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization, First Edition, Xenology Research Institute, Sacramento, CA, 1979; http://www.xenology.info/Xeno.htm


Chapter 4.  Xenology:  The Context of the Universe


"The universe is not hostile, nor yet is it friendly. It is simply indifferent."
          -- John Haynes Holmes (1879-?), in Sensible Man’s View of Religion

"In such a universe as this what significance could there be in our fortuitous, our frail, our evanescent community?"
          -- Olaf Stapledon, in Star Maker (1937)1946

"What is it all but a trouble of ants in the gleam of a million million of suns?"
          -- Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892), in Vastness

"O thievist Night,
Why shouldst thou, but for some felonious end,
In thy dark lantern thus close up the stars,
That nature hung in heaven, and filled their lamps
With everlasting oil, to give due light
To the misled and lonely traveller?"
          -- John Milton (1608-1674), in Comus, 1/195

"In a universe whose size is beyond human imagining, where our world floats like a dust mote in the void of night, men have grown inconceivably lonely. We scan the time scale and the mechanisms of life itself for portents and sighs of the invisible. As the only thinking mammals on the planet -- perhaps the only thinking animals in the entire sidereal universe -- the burden of consciousness has grown heavy upon us. We watch the stars, but the signs are uncertain. We uncover the bones of the past and seek for our origins. There is a path there, but it appears to wander. The vagaries of the road may have a meaning, however; it is thus we torture ourselves."
          -- Loren Eiseley, in The Immense Journey (1957)2110



We now cast our eyes skyward to contemplate a still grander perspective than even human literature, folklore and ethics can afford -- the bound less twinkling oceans of the star-dusted firmament. The one commutual aspect of existence we can be reasonably sure of is the physical universe, that breathtaking panoply of brilliant suns, blazing galaxies and luminous nebulae which human and alien astronomers alike must share.

There are countless reasons why the cosmic panorama per se is of xenological significance. Ultimately, of course, the astronomical environment serves as the backdrop for all our speculations about life on other worlds. If we are to successfully evaluate the ubiquity of biology in the universe, we must attempt to isolate those features which all lifeforms will find in common. We must puzzle out whether humanity, life, and Earth are unique events or merely a footnote to a statistic in the Galactic Census.

Knowledge of the evolution and distribution of stars and galaxies will suggest the most profitable places to hunt for evidence of extraterrestrial civilizations. But our curiosity tugs at us more insistently. Where will life be most abundant in the Milky Way Galaxy? In the central regions, the disk of the Galaxy, the spiral arms...? What kinds of stars are most likely to harbor lifeforms and planetary systems? How many other civilizations might there be, and what stage of development have they reached? What are the general constraints on xenopolitical systems as regards size, complexity and distribution? Are there any cosmological limits to high technology and galactic engineering?

We may also gain insight into the limits of alien philosophies of nature, the universe, and the very mechanism of creation itself. How did the universe come to be the way it is? Has it always existed? Will it ever die? Are physical laws as we know them immutable, or do they vary in different parts of the cosmos or at different times? Do other universes exist? Is there any purpose to physical existence at all? These fundamental questions have gnawed at the mind of man for millennia, and must also intrigue the sentients of other worlds.

The issues of xenology are intimately bound up with the features and properties of the physical universe.


Last updated on 6 December 2008