Astrobiology is the study of life in the universe. It’s a relatively new field of science working to understand the origin, distribution and future of life in the galaxy, our solar system and our planet.
As a scientific enterprise, scientists use the scientific method to find empirical data on life beyond the confines of earth.
In a complement to astrobiological research, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) and the Search for Extraterrestrial Artifacts (SETA) are combing the stars for indicators of alien civilizations. These might include radio emissions, advanced mega structures, or alien space probes.
Another effort to look for extraterrestrial life comes in a field known as Xenoscience. This area of studies asks how humanity perceives extraterrestrial life and what it believes about alien intelligence.
Unlike the technology-intense field of astrobiology, and the SETI and SETA projects, xenoscientists look into human history and pull out writings which describe non-earthly beings.
Some of these accounts, like those of the ancient Greek writer Lucian, in his work “True History”, are clearly speculative in nature. They tell of men on the moon, who are mortal, and much like ourselves.
However, they ride three-headed horse-vultures and fight in battle against other men riding extra-terrestrial monsters.
Other accounts speak of non-earthly beings as having super-intelligence and unearthly powers. They are described as gods, sons or messengers of the gods, giants and other super-beings.
Sometimes they ride in chariots pulled by flying beasts, or in vehicles made of ‘wheels within wheels.’ Other times they have wings of their own.
Many of these accounts are found in myths of the ancient world and ascribe moral agency to these super-beings. Some associate the beings with great natural disasters and upheaval events that wreak havoc on humanity.
Others claim the beings to be the source of enlightenment, technical and moral advancement, even civilization. In either case, they are beings who shape human history.
In reviewing xenoscience, there are two approaches evident. Some more popular writers consider these myths to be rooted in the visitations of actual ancient astronauts.
When humans of earlier times encountered these space-faring beings, these writers assert humans mistook the alien technology for super-natural powers and ascribed to the aliens god-like status.
The power to fly and capture light would have been unexplainable to ancient Mayans. However, in the absence of hard evidence to support the underlying assumption that we have been visited by ancient astronauts, this approach is not well received in the scientific community.
Other more academic writers read these same accounts with a more skeptical mind. They suggest that in the absence of concrete evidence to support the stories, one must assume them to imaginative. As such, they are not about actual beings, but rather about the psyche of the authors who wrote about them.
Trying to comprehend an earthquake which wiped out an army in siege of a city, while sparing the city’s inhabitants, was attained by appeals to the hand of super-natural moral beings. This approach carries more weight with archeologists.
Fascination and Mystery
What is evident in these fields of study, is the depth of fascination in the topic of life and intelligence beyond our own world. In one search, astrobiology, we look for the most tiny signs of life.
In another search, we look for signs of intelligence through communication or artifacts, and in a third search, xenoscience, we look to the collective mind of our ancestors to glean from their experiences.
These three search efforts are valuable to us, not only in the information they offer as evidence of life in the universe, but also in what they reveal about ourselves and our experience as being humans on this lonely blue planet we call Earth.