October 10, 2014 Steven Dick to Discuss How Discovery of Life in the Universe Will Transform Our Thinking, Oct. 30

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Astrobiologist Steven J. Dick, who holds the Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology at the Library of Congress’s John W. Kluge Center, will conclude his tenure with a lecture on “How the Discovery of Life Beyond Earth Will Transform Our Thinking.”

Dick will speak at the Library at 4 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 30, in room 119 of the Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C. The lecture is free and open to the public. Tickets are not needed.

Dick has spent the past year using the extraordinary collections at the Library of Congress to research his forthcoming book on how humanity may prepare for the discovery of life beyond Earth.

His research uses history, discovery and analogy as guidelines to examine the potential impact of discovering microbial or complex life in the universe. Dick examines anthropocentric assumptions about basic concepts—such as life and intelligence, culture and civilization—and asks whether human knowledge, including in science and mathematics, is universal. Finally, he examines how the discovery of life beyond Earth may profoundly affect science, theology, philosophy and ethics, redefining what it means to be human. Insights from his research will be shared in the Oct. 30 lecture.

“Astrobiologists explore the conditions for life in the universe,” Dick said. “In doing so, we bring the tools of science to bear on age-old philosophical, religious and cultural questions of ‘How does life begin and evolve?’ and ‘What is the future of life on Earth and beyond?’ My research seeks to address key societal concerns regarding the potential impact of discovering any form of life elsewhere in the cosmos, so that we as a society can begin to think through the complex religious, ethical, legal, cultural and policy concerns that will arise in the event we find organic life elsewhere.”

During his one-year tenure as the astrobiology chair, Dick has participated in numerous activities to ensure that the subject of astrobiology’s role in culture and society receives considered treatment in the nation’s capital. In September 2014, he hosted a two-day symposium on preparing for discovery, and in December 2013, he testified before the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology on the current state of astrobiology research.

The Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology is a distinguished senior research position housed within the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress. Using the collections and services at the Library, the chair holder conducts research at the intersection of the science of astrobiology and its humanistic aspects, particularly its societal implications. The chair holder is expected to give at least one public presentation and to organize workshops, symposia, small conferences or other activities that engage the broader academic community and the public.

The chair honors the late Baruch Blumberg, a Nobel Prize-winner in medicine, former member of the Library’s Scholars Council, and the founding director of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute. For more background on the establishment of the chair, see the Library’s original announcement.

Through a generous endowment from John W. Kluge, the Library of Congress established the Kluge Center in 2000 to bring together the world’s best thinkers to stimulate and energize one another, to distill wisdom from the Library’s rich resources and to interact with policymakers in Washington. For further information on the Kluge Center, visit www.loc.gov/kluge/.

The Library of Congress, the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution and the largest library in the world, holds more than 158 million items in various languages, disciplines and formats. The Library serves the U.S. Congress and the nation both on-site in its reading rooms on Capitol Hill and through its award-winning website at www.loc.gov.

The NASA Astrobiology Program supports research into the origins, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe. The NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI), an element of that program, is a partnership among NASA, 14 U.S. teams, and 10 international consortia. NAI’s goals are to promote, conduct, and lead interdisciplinary astrobiology research; train a new generation of astrobiology researchers; provide scientific and technical leadership for spaceflight missions; use modern information technologies to connect widely distributed investigators; and share the excitement of astrobiology with learners of all ages.


PR 14-182
ISSN 0731-3527