20 November 2020

PhiloMadrid on Skype 6:30pm Sunday 22nd November: The ethics of space exploration


 
Dear Friends,
 
This Sunday we are discussing: The ethics of space exploration.
 
During our meeting last Sunday on space exploration we identified a few ethical issues on the subject.  For this reason I tried to avoid these obvious issues in my essay:
The ethics of space exploration
https://www.philomadrid.com/2020/11/the-ethics-of-space-exploration.html
 
In the meantime you can link to the current news and notices here:
https://www.philomadrid.com/2020/10/news-and-notices.html
 
-Alfonso has a new website and he gave us link to his latest book of poems: Después
 
-Oscar's book on his reflections on COVID-19 is still available
 
-David J.Butler has published a new book "Absent Friends" regarding the
Cementerio Británico in Madrid
 
Finally, the Skype Meeting is on 22nd November at 6:30pm: if you don't have the link already please send me a message. In the meantime sometimes new members have problems connecting to Skype. Having the desktop version helps, and the mobile phone version is also useful. For some reason Skype fails to connect via a browser. Other times you might need to restart your PC, but once you connect there is no problem.
 
Best and take care
Lawrence
 
telephone/WhatsApp: 606081813
Email: philomadrid@gmail.com
http://www.philomadrid.com
 
PhiloMadrid on Skype 6:30pm Sunday 22nd November: The ethics of space exploration
 








 

19 November 2020

The ethics of space exploration

 Topic by Cristina

 

The ethics of space exploration by Lawrence

 

A few ethical issues were mentioned during the previous meeting on space exploration which I won’t mention in this is essay.

 

There are two issues with this question of ethics in space exploration. The first is: what to do with ethical problems that arise from exploring space for example should we spend the money on something else, occupying other planets, and space junk in our orbit.

 

The other issue is more philosophical in nature. Does space exploration lead to a new set of ethical principles that are not yet considered here on Earth? Or, maybe principles that won’t be possible to experience here on Earth. This scenario mainly assumes space exploration by humans or types of explorations that involves human intervention, for example robot exporation.

 

At the most extreme cases, how should explorers deal with the situation if they come across biological forms of life on some planet or even rock structures? I specifically say biological for the purpose of common life form with, but of course I am not necessarily thinking of human forms or even animal forms  or any biological form. The chances are that we might encounter microscopic and insect size forms of life. In the past and still do, we answered this question by activating racism as an answer. We can kill them and harm them because they are not us. And would it matter if explorers come across larger beings?

 

A few possible dilemmas would be: should the explorers try to eliminate these creatures irrespective of their intentional frame of being? A sort of shoot first and ask questions later strategy. The chances, however, are that an exploration expedition might have the means to identify these creatures, the micro organisms, but not necessarily to deal with them or the harm they might cause.

 

We are all familiar with the landing on the moon and the subsequent quarantine of the astronauts when they returned back on Earth. The fact that nothing happened to the astronauts on their way back could have been an indication that there was nothing to be afraid of. Of course we know this after the fact, but what could we have done if they did bring back a nasty micro organism from the moon? In reality only a few people can answer this question and they are not telling us: as the aphorism tells us Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

 

But moving onto planets might be a different matter especially with long range explorations. Mars is already an active file for long range exploration. One idea was to send out a crew of astronauts only one way to the planet. The volunteers will have to remain on Mars till they passed away. There is no question that even today on Earth this would be immoral. Such an irregular context would only be considered in real life emergencies (e.g. nuclear accidents) or war conditions (destroy the enemy in their ports). Clearly if we don’t have the technology to bring people back then we don’t have the means to do deep space exploration. Why should the ethical and moral rules for exploring Mars be different from exploring the Moon?

 

But consider the case when humans have to evacuate the Earth and groups of people can be put on life supporting spaceship systems, but they cannot come back to Earth. Would they or their descendents have to develop a new set of ethics to fit their experience and situation? I am neutral whether such an ethical system would allow practices that we now consider unethical or the other way round maybe for these people what we allow to happen would be taboo for them. My concern is how strong can ethical systems develop and evolve. Compare the difference between the expeditions by Christopher Columbus and deep sea diving today with safety being the top most concern.

 

A valid situation for deep space explorers would be to adopt an ethical system based on the scientific method rather than on conjectured dogman. Maybe established behaviours on the lines of having some sub principles that may even go against established ethics. An example might even be our meeting guidelines of not talking about Spanish politics and religion these fifteen years. Such sub principles go against the form and spirit of open philosophical analysis and debate. Of course we all understand the thinking behind such guidelines and the benefits outweigh the limitations. But freedom of speech is more than just an activity, it is a right. I use guidelines precisely because we did speak about Spanish politics this year in the context of the Pandemic.  

 

Thus ethical principles imply that they ought to be followed and the standards when we can chose not to follow them are much higher than say guidelines and protocols. Emergencies and extreme conditions might be a cause to relax some moral standards but consider the extreme case of cannibalism: even the legal standards are not clear here.  

 

The case of R v Dudley and Stephens (1884 14 QBD 273 DC) which centred on cannibalism at sea was decided that “necessity” was not a defence of murder but the death sentence was commuted to six months imprisonment (see for a quick review Wikipedia under “Custom of the sea”). Compare this case with the Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 (The Miracle of the Andes) the public outcry against cannibalism turned to understanding once the facts were explained by the survivors. But this did not absolve a father who exhumed the remains of his son to bury them at home. He was arrested for grave robbing although he eventually obtained legal permission to bury his son (see Wikipedia Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571).

 

From these two examples it seems that we still don’t have the right to kill others even if we think we have a right to survive. And peer pressure can sometimes influence what rights we have.

 

These are extreme situation we can find on Earth killing people is an act of murder in law and is still a no go area in ethics. Species protection seems to be a high priority in our ethical system not to mention legal systems. Indeed our legal system seems to coincide with the ethical system; for example passing the death penalty (legal requirement) and yet commuting the sentence to six months (a moral decision given the circumstances).

 

In an evacuation of people from Earth or a deep space one-way expedition to Mars who decides what ethical system they are bound by? Surely one of those principles would be: Though shalt not covet thy neighbour’s water rations. But this is nothing peculiar to space exploration unless such expedition is on a one way mission. And that makes a huge difference: can we have an ethical system without accountability?

 

By accountability I don’t necessarily mean legal accountability, but maybe peer accountability: the Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 is a good example of the ethical influence of peer pressure. Earlier I suggested that an ethical system might be based on the scientific method which can equally be a valid ethical arbiter. Thus this method excludes dogma and prejudice.

 

What would be the difference between Earth ethics and Space ethics? And is there a danger of turning this issue to one of my ethics is better than you ethics?

 

Best Lawrence

 

telephone/WhatsApp: 606081813

Email: philomadrid@gmail.com

http://www.philomadrid.comBest and take care

 

12 November 2020

PhiloMadrid on Skype 6:30pm Sunday 15th November: The limits of space exploration

 

Dear friends,

 

This Sunday we are discussing: The limits of space exploration.

 

The topic was proposed by Tatiana and she kindly wrote us an essay on her topic. In my essay I take a slightly different approach less humanistic and more mechanical. And although we did not copy each other we come to the same conclusion.

 

This question is part of two questions on space. In her topic Cristina looks at the ethics of space. We discuss this topic when Cristina can join the meeting.

 

The limits of space exploration by Tatiana

https://www.philomadrid.com/2020/11/the-limits-of-space-exploration-by.html

 

The limits of space exploration by Lawrence

https://www.philomadrid.com/2020/11/the-limits-of-space-exploration-by_12.html

 

 

In the meantime you can link to the current news and notices here:

https://www.philomadrid.com/2020/10/news-and-notices.html

 

-Alfonso has a new website and he gave us link to his latest book of poems: Después

 

-Oscar's book on his reflections on COVID-19 is still available

 

-David J.Butler has published a new book "Absent Friends" regarding the

Cementerio Británico in Madrid

 

 

Finally, the Skype Meeting is on 15th November at 6:30pm: if you don't have the link already please send me a message. In the meantime sometimes new members have problems connecting to Skype. Having the desktop version helps, and the mobile phone version is also useful. For some reason Skype fails to connect via a browser. Other times you might need to restart your PC, but once you connect there is no problem.

 

Best and take care

Lawrence

 

telephone/WhatsApp: 606081813

Email: philomadrid@gmail.com

http://www.philomadrid.com

 

PhiloMadrid on Skype 6:30pm Sunday 15th November: The limits of space exploration

 

The limits of space exploration by Lawrence

 

The limits of space exploration by Lawrence

 

 

Space exploration covers a range of activities and for the purpose of our topic I will also include space exploitation. Our topic is also one of two topics on space we agreed on Sunday, the other topic is on the ethics of space exploration. For this reason I won’t be including ethical issues in my essay.

 

So what are the philosophical issues related to space exploration? Let's face it, many issues regarding this topic belong to the philosophy of science, including quantum mechanics, Newtonian or classic physics, chemistry and many more. But of course, the first important issue for space exploration is the state of our knowledge at the time. Knowledge has always been at the forefront of exploration. And by knowledge I mean actionable knowledge and not knowledge that we cannot use for whatever reason.

 

For example Polynesian voyagers crossing the Pacific Ocean were experts at celestial navigation. Some implications of these voyages, and those of many others, are: 1) the Polynesians were confident and trusted their knowledge so much that they employed it and put it to the test; 2) their technological skills were sufficiently good to put their celestial knowledge into practice. There is no point in having excellent navigational skills using stars if one's boat sinks a few miles from the beach. And 3) they had a system of transferring said knowledge over time was robust enough to survive the times. Sure these navigators are not with us anymore but at the time they were on top of their game.

 

But a key feature of valid knowledge is that there must solid scope to predict things in the future. The Polynesians would have been able to predict the outcome of following a course, or trace back their course if they were following an unknown destination: they knew what comes next. I can, therefore, assume that the Polynesians were not only good at reading the stars, but also good at reading the clouds, and with at a pinch the state of the ocean. There is no point being experts of the start but know nothing about clouds in the middle of an ocean.

 

This brings me to another necessary condition when we come to apply knowledge: knowledge about a single discipline is practically useless without cross discipline knowledge. Mastery in reading stars is useless without ocean going boat technology; and as I hypothesised including meteorological skills at least at reading the clouds.

 

And of course modern space exploration does rest on multi discipline knowledge exchange and dependence. Thus in a fashion we have answered the first part of our question: the limits to space exploration are the limits of our knowledge. This leaves us with the two other terms: space and exploration.

 

Space and exploration bring to mind astronauts, spaceships and flag waving. Unfortunately, the weakness of our knowledge and our technology are human beings. Basically, humans and space don’t mix very well. Space is big, it is dangerous, and most important of all it takes time to explore, a lot of astronomical time. Humans are fragile, biologically demanding (we need food, water, air, etc) and we don’t live long enough to reach other parts of the solar system that might prove useful. In effect space exploration is best done by robot machines given the state of our knowledge, the rest is just Hollywood.

 

Of course, today space exploration is also done from Earth and orbiting satellites such as Skylab. A valuable source of space exploration is done on meteorites and comments parts of which have been falling on Earth since day one! In other words the scope of space exploration can start from here on Earth. Indeed Earth is a good model to understand other worlds and geological structures and in a way space exploration starts at home here on Earth.

 

Some might argue that space exploration might help us discover alien life. Indeed and many scientists are working on the problem as we write and it’s called Astrobiology. They also stand a good chance of finding some Astro-life forms but not necessarily humanoid life forms. There are many reasons why we won’t come across any Astro humanoids down our high streets and one of them is the same knowledge problems we have for not walking down their high streets, we don’t have the knowledge we don’t have the knowledge to do so. Light cones and event horizons excepted!

 

We can safely assume that space exploration done with spaceships and astronauts is very limiting as already mentioned. There is nothing that a human astronaut can do on Mars which a dozen robots cannot do at a cheaper price. But could this idea that we need an astronaut to explore space be highlighting the human need to move on and change our surroundings?

 

One of the reasons to pursue space exploration space by humans is for political posture. Remember the saga between the USA and the Soviet Union about who will be first to go into space and the first to go to the moon. I will not go into the conspiracy theories but it is curious that no one has been back to visit the moon in person. The simple answer must surely be that it is very expensive and very dangerous for basically nothing. What they are doing now on the moon is being done by robots.

 

By including exploitation in our question we can easily justify the need to explore our environment and move on to settle somewhere else: basically to find new resources, better living conditions, and maybe better physical surroundings. We can see that going back to the moon in person does not make sense because there are no resources that can be exploited now: what are we going to stake by being there? Protect the billion year old dust? It does not make any economic sense to go back to the moon today.

 

This does not mean it won’t happen in the future but it does mean that space exploration does make sense only when it is economically viable. Hollywood got it right by showing scouts ahead of the caravans, today we are extremely advanced at scouting by sending robots to the four corners of the solar system and beyond.

 

Although I say economically viable, I do not only mean financially viable but also technologically and intellectually viable. Today we do explore and exploit space for our benefits: communication satellites, GPS, Mobile communications, data satellites, spying, weather tracking, navigation satellites, radiation hitting the Earth, and so on.

 

This implies that the space exploration model, resulting into exploitation, clearly follows the biological model of migration. Biological creatures, including humans, exploit their local resources, and when this fails we move on until we find a good alternative. We seem to be exploring-exploiting space in the same way we explore and exploit our Earth: explore new frontiers, confirm their economic viability, exploit the location and resources to the limit then move on. Today after only 60 or so years the immediate Earth orbit is like a junkyard with satellite derbies.

 

But is our need to explore more powerful than the need to exploit? And are we in reality very limited with space exploitation? Curiosity is certainly a powerful motivation for some people. We can easily claim that curiosity is no different from our quest for knowledge. Unfortunately curiosity only works at the individual level: individuals are curious, societies are consumers. Some might argue that space exploration is a collective sense of curiosity, sure but curiosity does no mean wanting to know, but rather actually trying to know.

 

Of course space exploration can be very interesting, and give a billion euros to scientists and engineers and they’ll seriously indulge their curiosity of nature and everything else. For others space exploration is just a pay cheque at the end of the month. But making financial resources available for space exploration has always been a contentious issue for countries: especially countries that use space exploration for political status rather than curiosity for new knowledge.

 

Thus a very important limit of space exploration is political philosophy: today sending humans to space does not add much as exploration, what we explore matters today. Wealth distribution does limit how far we can spend on science and intellectual curiosity. And a country’s wealth is limited to economic prosperity, which brings us back to the human conflict between exploration for exploration’s sake and exploration for exploitation purposes.

 

I personally doubt that we’ll be doing much space exploitation in the near future other than what we are achieving now. Maybe events will be different by the end of this century, however, space exploration should be at the top end of a must-do list. Space technology has always benefited society indirectly this is not an issue, the problem with space exploration is that it is not done at a species level but at the political ideology level. With this attitude we certainly won’t be exploring space that much.

 

Best

 

Lawrence

 

telephone/WhatsApp: 606081813

Email: philomadrid@gmail.com

http://www.philomadrid.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

The limits of space exploration by Tatiana

The limits of space exploration by Tatiana

 

Exploration of space has always been a secret of all the secrets and a mystery, very hard to decode.

We came to the point where we start to think of our optional home, which means an optional planet where humans could restart their existence. We desire to know more of what is yet unknown by us and nothing is more interesting to discover then the infinite darkness of space. Is it infinite, or is there an end to it?

We thrive so much to explore what is out there that we forget that we have still so much more to learn about our only home, the Earth.

Why do we need so much to discover even what could harm us? It’s not a secret that so many innovations and explorations were harmful and even deadly to our civilization.

When it comes to destruction, humans have a lot to say but the eagerness to create what can destruct us is stronger than the experience and responsibility so much limited by laws that protect individuals more than the whole society.

Since the beginning of civilizations in all parts of the world, humans tried and often succeeded to overcome the obstacles of living, trying to create and also to improve conditions of life. And all this is called process in the name of progress.

There is no doubt that the demand of human kind getting bigger and even greedier to succeed in creating life more comfortable.

Most of us are just consumers of explorations and the consequences of innovations and we all feel them physically or emotionally being a part of this world where everything is intervened and carried over as a long term legacy. The Atomic bomb as much as destructive it is still considered one of the biggest innovations of our time and we have all been afflicted by it, directly or historically.

Governments and leading scientists take responsibility in their hands to choose for us which next big innovation is going to be used for our progress and they are going that far as to the universe, exploring beyond our understanding.

What gives someone the right to choose how far they can go into exploring what is completely unknown and in the end could harm us? Could universe just simply punch back and refuse our participation?

It seems that most of us just flow in the world of unknown letting us being carried and manipulated by those that are considered to know the best. So we put the responsibility on them to do what we all probably would also do in the same position.

Curiosity killed the cat, they say, so if we didn’t learn from the atomic bomb and nuclear weapons and plenty other destructive weapons shouldn’t we be more careful and put the limits while creating and implementing strict laws on those who choose for us to explore unknown space.

 

World governments are far from establishing peace and prosperity on this home we already inhabit, planet Earth, so is it really progressive to continue searching for another home out there in the space, eventually on Mars, that shows the biggest similarity to Earth?

Are certain governments trying to reconstruct life on Mars or maybe on some other planet in our Galaxy to save us from eventual and already threatening climate change and fear of a nuclear wars or they want to use a universe as a second chance escape goat to repair  the mistakes we committed on this planet?

So little is transparent to us as what is actually being done in space and how far we got. It seems like the universe is a little treasure or a diamante hidden somewhere to be refined and then eventually exposed to the public eye. I would like the universe to stay a mystery as it is so it could still engage our imagination. I prefer my home to be Earth and I wish governments would focus on our mistakes done on this planet rather then discovering others and possibly imposing human laws and habits. Who is in the end controlling those on the first line that go to the universe to take samples and search for life or settlement for recreating our way of life?

I guess that we are a small drop in the ocean of space and time and it is logical that we are curious and we want to know more but where is our responsibility to the creation and life in the universe.

Since the first landing on the Moon the ethical part of exploration of the universe has never been discussed enough on a public level as if public doesn’t participate in it, which is the truth because general opinion is mostly that those who lead the countries and those of bigger financial possibilities will actually profit from the positive explorations of the universe.

Shouldn’t we stop at the landing on the Moon and visiting Mars? Countries involved in the universe exploration should be taken responsible by creating laws that limit them technically and ethically because until now there were no actual limits but just possibilities in discovering the universe.

I guess time will show once again whether exploration of the universe will lead up to be just another colonization into the darkness of space and time.

 

By Tatiana

 

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