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Philosophical Issues in Space Science Seminar Series 2022

Seminar Recordings

Recordings of all of the talks in this series are available to view on our YouTube channel

The fields of space science and astrobiology provide a scientific framework for understanding some of the ‘big questions’. These fields are complex and interdisciplinary and some of the questions that arise within them have obvious philosophical dimensions; they invite a philosophy of space science. In this short seminar series we bring together some of the foremost figures in this exciting field to present, discuss and reflect on these emerging and important questions and issues. These include questions about scientific methodology and evidence, the nature of life and of our search for it, and how we should interact with it if – and when - we find it.

All welcome – please contact to register attendance 

2022 Series

Speaker Date Venue Title Abstract

Eleanor Armstrong

University College London


24th January 2022 (3:45pm GMT) Online only (Zoom) Ocean Worlds, Rocky planets, and Gas giants: Considering the context for the search for life How does the contexts of the search for life shape what researchers consider ‘life’? This talk takes the recent turn towards searching for life on so-called Ocean Worlds, and addresses how research of life in a diverse range of places has been shaped by, and continues to be shaped by, the perceptions of researchers working on the problems. 

Martin Ward

Durham University


7th February 2022 (3:45pm GMT) ER227, Old Elvet and online (Zoom) Directed Panspermia or Dorum Vitae

The hypothesis that life was brought to Earth by means of some form of cosmic debris has been extensively discussed. Of course this does nothing to solve the problem of the origin of life since it merely kicks the can down the road. More recently there has been a related discussion of the possibility that we might decide to send some form of living material from the Earth towards extra-solar planetary systems. This prospect has huge implications in areas that are of ethical, moral, philosophical and religious importance. I will describe the technical challenges of such an endeavour, and the chances of successfully injecting sustainable life onto an extrasolar planet. Then I will open up the big question of should it be done? An interesting adjunct to this is the point that if it can be done, if not by national actors, then it could be done by “lone wolf” billionaires.

Philipp Spillmann

University of Cambridge

7th March 2022 (3:45pm GMT) PO004, Department of Philosophy and online (on Zoom) Against biological solipsism  Philosophers and scientists alike have argued that life on Earth constitutes a single ‘instance’, ‘sample’ or ‘example’ of life. In this presentation I will identify four different ways in which this claim can be understood and defended. My aim is to show that none of these defences are strong enough to establish a ‘solipsistic view’ on biological extrapolation. That is, any view that holds that predictions to unknown occurrences of life are principally unjustifiable on the grounds of a single, observable instance of life alone. I will present four different types of biological solipsism and discuss what it would take to establish or reject each of these types. I will conclude by outlining some potential consequences for the science of astrobiology in cases in which the conditions for accepting or rejecting a given type of biological solipsism are met in scientific practice. 

Franklin Jacoby

Institute for Cross-Disciplinary Engagement ICE, Dartmouth College

21st March 2022 (3:45pm GMT)

PO004, Department of Philosophy and online (on Zoom)

Exploratory Modeling and the Search for Life

How can models help us cope with epistemic uncertainty? This question is particularly pertinent to two fields: the origin of life studies and astrobiology. These fields are relatively new and face high levels of uncertainty that is not easy to reduce. The purpose of this talk is to provide some depth of understanding about the use of a particular model, the GARD model, in these fields. I will argue that this model is indeterminate; models that are indeterminate are a type of exploratory model and therefore have extensive potential and can prompt new lines of research. They are distinctive in that that they do not have targets and, given the current state of scientific understanding, we cannot specify how and where the model will be useful in understanding the natural world: in this case, how life can form. The purpose of introducing indeterminacy is to give depth to our understanding of exploratory models and to illuminate the relationship between uncertainty and targetless modeling.

Manasvi Lingam

Florida Institute of Technology



28th March 2022 (3:45pm GMT) Online only (Zoom)  On false positives and priors in the search for technosignatures  In this talk, I will discuss recent publications from the Characterizing Atmospheric Techonsignatures (CATS) collaboration. I will present a simple Bayesian model to illustrate the importance of having a proper understanding of priors and false positives in the context of technosignatures. On a related note, I will provide a summary and brief history of the arguments used to either bolster or weaken the case for technosignatures. Next, I will review the work done by CATS on detecting signatures of atmospheric nitrogen dioxide and chlorofluorocarbons. I will conclude this talk by indicating some avenues that warrant further analysis.


2021 Series

Speaker Title
Sean McMahon Fossils, dubiofossils, and dubious strategies in the search for life on Mars
Jim Schwartz Planetary Protection: Is Life All That Matters?
Peter Vickers

Are enough high risk, high reward space science projects/missions being funded?

Kelly C. Smith The immorality of METI: Why Friends Shouldn’t Let Friends Message Aliens
Carol Cleland

How to search for extraterrestrial life without a definition of life