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Lucas J. Mix
SPEAKER IN PERSON
PO005, Department of Philosophy, 48/49 Old Elvet
Galileo famously quipped “The intention of the Holy Ghost is to teach us how one goes to heaven – not how heaven goes.” Jesus Ascension was not the same as the ascent of a rocket. But what is the relationship between life in heaven and life in outer space? Lucas Mix will talk about the history of ascent narratives, tales of journeying into the heavens, both scientific and spiritual – from Plato to Carl Sagan and The Expanse.
For centuries, physical and spiritual “up” were aligned in the popular imagination. Traditional ascent narratives described a journey in spiritual space as well as physical space. Ancient and Medieval thinkers imagined a spherical cosmos in which distance from earth and from the center was directly correlated with goodness, and elevation had moral value. The Copernican Revolution did not decentre humanity physically, as humans were not physically central in prior cosmologies. It did, however, disorient humanity, relativizing concepts of up and down.
Parallel ascents, through progressive evolution, were popular in Early Modern Biology but definitively rejected in the early twentieth century. Despite this, astronomers and astrobiologists continued to promote ascent narratives labelled as “evolution” and linked them to a developmental story: spaceflight as human adolescence. This picture, when presented as biological science, is susceptible to moral abuse through the comparison of “higher” and “lower” expressions of life – as activities, individuals, or societies. One-dimensional models of the cosmos should be replaced by radial narratives of expansion in multiple dimensions. To complete the Copernican Revolution, we must eject the language of development, progress, and salvation, and speak of spaceflight as a journey outward into the unknown.
University of Cambridge