We science fiction fans have always assumed the destiny of mankind is expanding our habitat across the galaxy, exploring new worlds, conquering new frontiers, expanding our territory, because that’s the kind of species we are. But what are the ethical issues involved. Think of the Federation policies in Star Trek, and it’s rules about first contact. It’s pretty obvious that we should leave emerging civilizations alone, to let them find their own way, but what are the right ethical conditions for us to land on a planet and start colonizing it?
If it’s a rocky world like Mars I would think there would be no problems at all, even though some people do advocate leaving Mars untouched. I think we at least have to establish two ends of the spectrum. On the left is a dead world, and the right is emerging intelligent life, somewhere in between is where we need to place our mark as the beginning point for not interfering.
Let’s say we landed on a planet that had life like in the Jurassic, tiny brains and big bodies, and no chance of intelligent life appearing for a hundred million years, would it be okay to stay there and setup a colony? Ignoring the butterfly effect, it should be possible to colonize this world without misdirecting the path of its evolution. Now we couldn’t utilize this world like we’ve done Earth, using up all the resources and killing off endless species, but it might be possible to coexist with the indigenous life without doing much harm or changing its evolutionary direction.
It would be unethical to use up the heavy metals and other minerals, so we should import them from off planet and make sure we didn’t produce significant waste.
So how close in time to an emerging self aware intelligence should we stay? Could we live on a planet with a homo erectus type intelligence and just avoid contact with them?
What about bringing other species with us from Earth?
What if we found a planet with simple life in the ocean, and simple plant life on the land, maybe just grasses and fern type species. Should we introduce fish, trees, vegetables and fruits, along with dogs, cats, chickens, pigs, sheep, cows and horses? Or should we believe that given enough time complex life would emerge on this planet and the life forms we bring with us would keep them from emerging?
Should the ethnical rule be that only intelligent species should travel to other planets. So for dogs to go to the stars they would have to evolve and build their own space ships. But what if we find worlds that have no life on them whatsoever and we terraform them for life, can we bring our animal and plant friends with us? I would think yes.
How dangerous is the bacteria in our bodies?
But what about all the bacteria and viruses that live inside of us, won’t those contaminate a world and harm its evolution? we might could live without viruses, but I don’t know, but it’s doubtful we could live without our bacteria friends. We have a symbiotic relationship with them.
Are we alone?
Are we alone because there’s no other intelligent species near us, or because it would be unethical to contact us? Are there wise beings all around us waiting for us to grow up? If we are alone, and humans are the miracle of the galaxy does that give us ethical clout to colonize like crazy? Would the greatest ethical crime of all reality be the one where we destroy ourselves or let ourselves be destroyed? Or what if humans go extinct, and other animals and life continue living on the Earth for millions of years without ever becoming self-aware like we are? Does it matter? If a self-aware being arises in reality and dies and there’s no other aware beings to notice, do we make a sound? Do we have an ethical obligation to expand our territory to other worlds so our species can live as long as possible?
What if we don’t go to the stars?
What if we never go to the stars, either because our bodies can’t handle living in space, or we can’t conquer the physics to travel such distances, and just continue to live on Earth, maybe for millions of years. What does that mean philosophically? What if we become fish in an aquarium looking at the glass forever? Is just existing a good enough ethical existence? What if expanding our abilities, influence and habitats define our meaning in reality? What if it’s unethical for us not to try to colonize space?
JWH – 4/17/11