Extra-Solar Science & Religion

star field

Under Reconstruction           HOME     CONTENTS


SETI-SETR.org speculates on advances made by civilizations and minds existing beyond our own planet. It argues that the only ones we might communicate with will have survived longer than we have. Therefore, how they overcame the threats to survival we now face is of great interest to us. What advances did they make in science, philosophy, and religion that saved them from self-destruction?

Advances in science seem of special importance because our own views of what is important to life have been constantly modified by scientific discoveries: that the earth is not flat, that Earth and other planets orbit the sun, that the sun energizes our environment. That this environment has nurtured life since the first primitive cells appeared. That this may not be true in the future

Our present understanding is that the universe may be 13.8 billion years old, but our sun and its planets may be less than 5 billion years old. If it takes 5 billion years to evolve a civilization like ours, there may be much older planetary civilizations orbiting older stars. If so, how did their civilization achieve longevity? Why have we not discovered that secret yet?

We gained the ability to destroy our civilization in 1945 with production of nuclear weapons. Since then, we have nurtured other means of self-destruction, including biological, chemical, and cyber weapons. But most alarmingly we find we are destroying our planet and our future by neglect, by not limiting its population or our destructive exploitation of its resources. Now, those resources are shrinking, and Earth’s temperature is rising towards levels only microbial life might survive. A planetary civilization much older than ours will know how to avoid that fate.

The 100 Year Challenge

A conference organized by NASA and DARPA in 2011 prompted these thoughts. The organizers sought technology developments that should be underway now to enable launch of a spacecraft to an extraterrestrial planet within one hundred years. In addition, they asked for estimates of the scientific, legal, and religious systems that might be encountered on such a planet.

Given the experience of the last century, the next 100 years are likely to include scientific changes so fundamental that they would modify spacecraft design profoundly. And we anticipate these changes would have already taken place in a civilization older than ours, not only advancing technology but also influencing their philosophical and religious views of the universe.

To understand the potential changes we might encounter, we start by recognizing that any civilization we discover (or discovers us) is likely to be much older than ours, because the probability of encountering another planetary civilization in the galaxy goes up steeply as the average age of such civilizations increases. The probability is depressingly low if civilizations destroy themselves within a few centuries of reaching our present stage of development.

To understand the most significant change that can occcur, we need to search for a scientific advance possible in the next 100 years that would affect all areas of knowledge. For such a period of time, a broader focus is preferable to predicting advances in specific technologies, for these may be pushed aside in a few decades by new ones we cannot even imagine. Instead, we should look for an advance so profound that it impacts every branch of thought. Some aspect of our understanding of the universe that is fundamental throughout science, philosophy and religion. The leading candidate is the nature of space and time.

Spacetime and the Quantum

Our understanding of space and time has already undergone one revolution. A century ago, Albert Einstein and Hermann Minkowski showed that to understand matter and radiation we must recognize that space and time are inextricably bound together in a unity known as spacetime. Spacetime recognizes only intervals of spacetime, not separate intervals of space and of time. This gave us general relativity and quantum mechanics that in turn led to the global positioning system and mobile cellphones.

Looking beyond this, we can guess that the next step is to recognize that spacetime is quantized. A quantized spacetime is a natural match for the quantized matter and radiation within it. But such a spacetime cannot be infinitely divided any more than quantized matter or radiation can. This takes us a significant step beyond the continuous, infinitely-divisible spacetime we currently rely on. It matches our experience at the human scale but does not match the behavior of elementary particles. We are finding too many singularities signalling a possibility of new physics, which is tech-speak for “Another problem, our . . .  equations don’t make sense.” In particular, although continuous spacetime holds particles cannot be infinitely close together, we find this, as Richard Feynman suggested, may not be true.

A quantum of spacetime would be the minimum interval of spacetime that can exist, beyond which spacetime disappears. That is, a gap between quanta that is less than the size of a quantum would have no spacetime. Which is a definition of of the type of eternity put by Marcus Aurelius of Rome and Augustine of Hippo, when they distinguished it from eternity as time that never ends.


For science, quantum eternity means absence of space and time dimensions, but not of other dimensions, such as energy. This tells us why continuous spacetime makes the universe look small. Its description of our spacetime, containing trillions and trillions of galaxies accounts for less than 5% of the total universe. It misses the presence of an energy with no spacetime dimensions, which supplies 95% of the mass or energy of the universe. Where is this energy? Hidden in gaps between spacetime quanta. Continuous spacetime has no gaps, because particles can be infinitely close together. So it has no hidden energy

There is such a fundamental difference in the two definitions of spacetime that all major phenomena of the universe are changed by quantization. No Big Bang, just rolling thunder. No black holes, only minute shells of photons exploding into cosmic thunder, and large shells by gravitational crushing of stars. No dark matter, just virtual mass appearing in empty quanta. Dark energy? Individual quanta created in larger gaps cause the expansion of the universe.

For religion, the omnipresence of energy with no spacetime dimensions is consistent with the nature of a God existing before creating the spacetime universe and so not limited by its constraints. That existense reserves the possibility of divine choice in selecting the characteristics of the universe. However, the location of God beyond space and time sits uncomfortably with those believing in a personal god within the universe who listens to and may choose to answer their prayers. And there continues to be unholy arguments about which choice God made. Dimensionless energy adds a new dimension to these arguments.

Definitions? From his deckchair in an abandoned room, Ludwig Wittgenstein defined science as everything that is the case. Here we define philosophy as concerned with science and what might be the case, and religion as concerned with philosophy and what is believed to be the case.

Onward to quantized spacetime.


Quantized Spacetime

ExtraSolar Planet Statistics

Number of Planetary Civilizations

The Search for ExtraTerrestrial Life

The Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence