Alien life matters: reflections on cosmopolitanism, otherness, and astrobiology

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Andre Novoa


This is a synaptic paper that invites the reader to take a stroll on the edges of cross-disciplinary knowledge. We will walk the roads of anthropology, history, philosophy, astronomy and biology. It is mainly a theoretical article, where I attempt to provide links between authors and theories that were, at first sight, unrelated. In doing so, this paper is aimed at making one controversial claim: ideologically and politically speaking, cosmopolitanism may never fully transcend itself beyond a debate until and unless humankind encounters alien life forms. The argument is based on a simple equation. Despite all the quarrels and debates around the concept, it seems innocuous to assume that cosmopolitanism is the search for a certain universal identity or, at least, a search for a common culturalia, i.e. the cultural grounds wherein local and global senses of universalism come into being (section 2). In spite of the fact that identities are built in opposition and supported by difference (section 3), cosmopolitanism might only be possible as a political project (cosmopolitics) when humankind is faced with life forms that are capable of providing true Otherness. I believe that this may explain why we have been fascinated by the utopias of extra-terrestrials for many centuries now (section 4). These utopias are present in a diverse array of knowledges, ranging from science to art, literature or even religion. They have been around for at least 500 years. Until now, all of them have been trapped in the realm of imagination, but there is one concrete cluster of knowledge that has attempted to transpose these imaginings into reality: the promising discipline of astrobiology. Astrobiology is mainly troubled by the de-naturalisation of Earth in order to create analogues for the study of life elsewhere in the cosmos. Provocatively, I end up this paper stating that this may well be the most cosmopolitical practice available to us (section 5).

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