VU Physics and Astronomy Colloquium

Joint CC & Physics Colloquium 

Thursday, October 28, 2010, 6:30 PM. [Note special time]

Seventeen Key Developments in the History of the Extraterrestrial Life Debate

Dr. Michael Crowe, Dept. of History, Notre Dame University 
The extraterrestrial life debate, rather than beginning in the twentieth century, was already underway in classical antiquity and has continued almost without interruption until the present. This historical presentation, based on the presenter’s many years of historical research including visits to over forty research libraries, will survey seventeen of the most significant, exciting, and/or controversial turning points in this debate, involving those turning points associated with such figures as Aristotle, Epicurus, Cusa, Copernicus, Bruno, Kepler, Fontenelle, Huygens, Herschel, Paine, Locke, Whewell, Proctor, Schiaparelli, Lowell, Maunder, Antoniadi, Wallace, Hubble, Brock, and the discoverers of the exoplanets.  The discussion will include both astronomical and cultural issues and challenge various historical interpretations that appear in the literature.  It will also provide some suggestions concerning the role that non-scientific issues, including metaphysical and religious issues, have at times played in the debate.  Among the theses proposed in this talk are: (1) this debate has centered on one of the great questions humanity faces, (2) some of the effects that are predicted to follow if astronomers detect extraterrestrial intelligent beings have already occurred, and (3) not only has astronomy affected the debate, but the debate has had significant impacts on astronomy.