Article published in the Mexican Newspaper La Jornada (August 2007)
Many of the pioneers of the Scientific Method like Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler, Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin were interested in Astronomy, Biology, Physics, Optics, Theology, Mathematics, Philosophy, Sociology, Chemistry… in fact, they did not call themselves “scientists”, but “Natural Philosophers”, because they studied Nature in an integral way, which gave them a privileged perspective to make great contributions to the human knowledge. Albert Einstein and his group of philosophers are another example of what our species is capable of doing when we try to resolve the mysteries of Nature with a holistic approach.
Today, the majority of scientists are specialized in a small part of the natural world and we often miss the big picture and the magnificence of the interaction among the parts that make up the whole. Without understanding the interconnectedness of life, we don’t know how we are affecting the connections and no community can exist without a unifying story. The problem is not specialization but isolation. Fortunately, in the last years, a “new field” of study has emerged: Astrobiology—the modern name for Natural Philosophy.
Astrobiology is the study of life as we know it (and as we don’t know it), how it originated, how it has evolved and how it has been distributed in the Universe. We have many pieces of the puzzle of life and its origins on our planet. That is why, since 1995—the blink of an eye in the cosmic scale—the detection of planets orbiting other stars has been so important.
Just 12 years ago we discovered, as species, the first exoplanet, the first planet outside the Solar System (I write in the first person plural in order to stress Collective Intelligence, to bring to the attention of the evolved reader who probably is thinking that intellectual property is proto-intelligence which begins to be a matter of the past). This discovery marked the start of a new age in the study of the origin of life, because finding worlds around other stars is giving context to the Solar System, and also the existence of our home: the Earth and its magnificent biodiversity.
Currently, we have found 240 exoplanets [close to ~300, November 2008] and the list of planets outside the Solar System keeps increasing with each month. However, these extrasolar planets are “gas giants”: a few are like Uranus or Neptune; the grand majority are like Saturn or Jupiter or even bigger. It is very likely that all these places would be impossible to be inhabit for what we today call “living organisms”. We are still looking for the first Earth-like planet orbiting another sun.
We are getting closer. A few months ago [April 2007], human knowledge made another jump: we discovered the first Super Earth —a terrestrial planet approximately 4 times the mass of the Earth—and it wasn’t around a Sun-like star, rather it was found orbiting a red dwarf star (75 out of 100 stars in our Galaxy are red dwarfs!). When we humans start to take into account the great diversity of the Cosmos, for example, when we look for planets not only around stars like the Sun but around all stars—of course, including the most numerous—we are rewarded.
The Universe tells us again and again that to cling to the anthropocentric principle is useless. When Galileo discovered the fascinating worlds of Callisto, Ganymede, Europa and Io orbiting Jupiter, the perspective of Humanity changed forever. In the West, this discovery of the Galilean moons proved that the Earth and humans were not the center of the Universe—the insight and reasoning of Copernicus were correct—it called into question the oppressive-obscurantist system of the Inquisition and thus opened the road to the Renaissance.
Likewise, today we are living in through the New Renaissance of Humanity. We are building a catalogue of Earth-like planets and Super Earths and we human beings start to understand that it does not matter what country, religion or sexual orientation you are but what matters is being a responsible citizen of the World. We are beginning to demonstrate that the Earth is but one country and the Humankind its citizens. We are a grand majority forming the Earth Community.
The message is still very clear, as Gandhi said: “The Earth has enough to satisfy everyone’s needs but not everyone’s greed.” There are enough resources for everyone but to cling to neoliberal policies, to the oppressive-imperial system, to the totalitarianism of corporate capitalism is useless. The time is coming when I could be writing these lines by my biological family, and I will not have to have my scholarship paid for by the sweat and suffering of the migrant siblings who support the economy of the part of the Planet we call Mexico; the time is coming when “scientific development” won’t be the development of atomic bombs (as some elites at the University of California assume today), that puts the survival of the human species at risk; the time is coming of the expansion of permaculture; the time is coming of the diffusion not of retributive justice, but restorative justice; the time is coming of the propagation not of threat power but integrative power; the time is coming … we have to be ready. In the end, I might be learning and teaching Astrobiology in the First Indigenous “University”.
It seems that red stars are giving us the answers to some of the oldest and most complex conundrums Humanity has ever had.
If you want to be a rebel, be kind. Human-kind, be both.
Francisco “Pancho” Ramos-Stierle
Berkeley, California, August 2007.