The “humanosphere”, the region in the universe where all the human activities are taking place, is expanding in three different senses. The first aspect is of course the human activities by the professional astronauts, as well as the emerging space activities by the private companies. The second aspect is the increasing utilization of the satellites and the space environments. Satellites for global navigation system, communications and remote sensing have already become the essential infrastructure in the modern civilizations on the ground. The third aspect reflects the advance in our scientific understanding of the terrestrial environment and its relation to the space. For example strong solar flares emit huge amount of magnetized plasmas and high energy particles into the interplanetary space, which causes geomagnetic storms, satellite damages, radiation exposure of astronauts etc. Furthermore, it is known that the number of sunspots and the climate of the Earth seem to have weak but significant correlation. Though the detailed mechanism remains unknown, the important point here is the fact that today the number of dark stains at the surface of the Sun is not just a mere subject of an academic research but of a practical interest of the general public.
Whereever there is a human activity, there exist problems that are subject of the humanities and social sciences. The problems may be classified into two categories. One is related to the fundamental questions for mankind such as the origin of the human existence, and the other is about the contemporary problems to which the modern space exploration is facing, such as the space laws and other political problems. Of course there are overlaps between them. For example, the ethical as well as political problem of what are the acceptable risk and cost for human mission is a contemporary and practical problem for the space agencies, but it may also raise fundamental ethical questions such as the price of a life and whether extremely high risk missions are ethically permitted with a sufficient informed consent.
Thus the space invokes many important and interesting problems in the field of the humanities and social sciences. This is why the Unit of the Synergetic Studies for Space (USSS) was set up in Kyoto University to bring the researchers in natural science, engineering, humanities and social sciences together to encourage the interdisciplinary studies on space. While I have been working to coordinate such interdisciplinary studies in the USSS, I myself have been trying to figure out whether and how we can fill the gap between the practical/contemporary problems and the philosophical problems that lie somewhere between science fictions and reality, so that we have more ideas about what will happen to the human race if we keep expanding our humanosphere into the space and what types of society we wish to have in the 100-1000 years future. The aim of this paper is to present some of the thoughts I had through the activities in the USSS.
The goal of the space exploration raised in the Global Exploration Strategy (2007) by the 14 space agencies in the world is to answer three fundamental questions for mankind; “Where did we come from?”, “What is our place in the universe?” and “What is our destiny?” immediately remind us the title of the famous painting by Paus Gauguin; “D'où venons-nous? Que sommes-nous ? Où allons-nous ?”. The 2nd question in the Global Exploration Strategy is a bit different so that it is more answerable by natural science, but otherwise they are almost identical.
Why are these questions important? Or more practically, are they worth using big amount of money from the tax payer while we have a huge pile of other, apparently more serious problems in our society? Though I do not have a quantitative answer for this, one may find a hint in the old myths. According to the presentation by T. Kamata in the 28th ISTS, a myth can be defined as “Explanation and representation by stories about why and how we came to exist, and where we are from and where we are going, in the context of historical origin of the world and formation of the people and nation “. Similar explanations have been given by various anthropologists such as Levi=Strauss. Namely myths have a function to provide a "logical" explanation to the Gauguin’s three questions in order to give the people the meaning of their existence and hence a relief.
However, the logic used in the myths, though it has an internal consistency, is different from the objective and positive logic of the modern science and hence not satisfactory for us in the modern society. We therefore rely on science to find an answer. Since science doesn’t answer when it knows it cannot, we will never be fully satisfied. Perhaps that is why we still need and will continue to need religions. But the scientists have been working hard to extend the range of questions that can be answered and keep updating our knowledge. So, what can current space science and technology tell us about our existence and destiny in the universe?
The history of the universe since the big-bang until the formation of the Earth is relatively well understood. I don’t repeat the detail here, but just emphasize the fact that the universe now is much more complex and diverse compared with the early universe in a sense that there are more kinds atoms (only H, He and Li were there just after the big-bang), and because of that there are more kinds of stars and planets.
Regarding the life in the universe, whether there is any extraterrestrial life is the one of the most important unanswered question. But if we look at the evolution of the lives on Earth, though there are many exceptions, in average they also have been increasing their complexity and diversity. We the human race, now prevailing across the globe, has been a single species as a life. But our ancestors seem to keep increasing the complexity of their technology (from stone axes to liquid-fuel rockets) and the diversity of their culture. Although we still don’t fully understand the origin of ourselves, it is probably fair to say that the history of the universe that has eventually led to the existence of ourselves was a history of increasing complexity and diversity.
One important fact the recent development of the space and planetary sciences have elucidated is that our place in the universe, the humanosphere, is an inherently variable system because of both its internal dynamics and the influences from the space. Our long-term survivability hence depends on our adaptability to changes. It is commonly said that diversity is important for adaptability. And as mentioned in the previous section we have been increasing our diversity. So far so good? However, the space exploration may have brought us a concern.
The concern indeed looked a good thing at first. One of the most important results of the space exploration in the 20th century is without doubt the picture of the Earth taken by the Apolo missions. It showed the contemporary people in a very dramatic way that they lived in this beautiful and isolated planet. It must have played an essential role in cultivation of the cosmopolitan spirit that is necessary to tackle the common problems such as global climate change. What is the concern then? The concern is that the picture of the Earth along with the rapid developments of the transportation and communication technology, standardize the way of people’s thinking and the culture, thus reducing our diversity.
However, the things may work in the opposite direction if the expansion of the humanosphere continues and some people start to settle outside the Earth and form something like a small society there. The extremely different environment as well as the difficulty in mutual visiting may help to develop the different culture from those in the Earth, and hence being the seeds for the long-term diversity of the human race. It looks even more hopeful if we consider who will be the early emigrants to the space. As pointed out by Freeman Dyson in “Disturbing The Universe”, it is likely that the early emigration to the space will be pioneered by groups
of relatively small number of people who has strong will (possibly driven by the despair to the society in the Earth) and dare to take the risk which is too high for the national agencies to take. This indicates that the space pioneers will have a tendency against the Earth from the beginning.
It is a good news if we consider the diversity in the human race is always a good thing. However, one can easily imagine that such different cultures and values in the new space society will not be comfortable in our current standard, as they may be so different that we may not share our very basic values such as freedom, democracy and personal dignity. Do we head for such a grotesque destiny? It still sounds a question in a hackneyed SF, but I believe it is becoming more realistic, serious but interesting question for the researches in the humanities and social sciences.
Center for the Promotion of Interdisciplinary Education and Research