In a recent discussion in the Greater Earth forum, I asked Stephen Ashworth to help me in a quick understand of his theory, Astronism. The following is the Stephen's answer. A.A.

A quick overview on Astronism

by Stephen Ashworth


Astronism is nothing like a religion (which is always based on traditional authority). On the contrary, it is a philosophical world-view, based on science and therefore subject to revision as the scientific view of life itself develops.

If we called it Astronautical Evolution, that wd perhaps be the most transparent possible name for it, for it is essentially an extension of the idea of evolution into the astronautical realm.

This is not, of course, to fall into the trap of the fascists earlier this century, who naively applied Darwinian evolution to society and concluded that social evolution must therefore be as "red in tooth and claw", and as pitiless towards weakness, as biological evolution. For evolution in the broadest sense proceeds up a series of levels, and each level introduces new mechanisms of creativity which bring with them their own new set of laws. These levels are as follows.

(1) The process starts (as far back as cosmology can look) with cosmic evolution, in which hydrogen and helium gas, throughout the known cosmos, structures itself into galaxy clusters, individual galaxies, and stars. Firstly, the gas organises itself under the force of gravity (and perhaps, as Hannes Alfven and Eric Lerner have proposed, also driven by electric currents operating on a cosmic scale); subsequently, nuclear fusion comes into play, and the new process of nuclear synthesis begins.

(2) The heavier stars explode, seeding the interstellar medium with heavy elements, and this allows the second round of evolution, on an astronomical scale, to begin, in which the heat from new proto-stars fractionate in bulk the materials in their accretion disks: the end product is planets, including terrestrial planets.

(3) Once the latter are in place, a third round of evolution based on the molecular mechanisms of metabolism and heredity comes into play. This proceeds up a number of discrete sub-levels (what Richard Dawkins calls "the evolvability of evolution"): eukaryotic to prokaryotic cells, to multi-celled creatures, to animals with a nervous system, and so on.

(4) With Homo erectus, a platform is available for the fourth round, that of intelligence and culture. Obviously, cultural evolution must transcend the law of the jungle if it is to work creative results. Cultural evolution itself proceeds up a number of discrete sub-levels, the last one of which was the transformation of medieval society into industrial civilisation. The one in progress now is clearly, if we allow ourselves to extend this pattern into the future, the astronautical revolution, which cd see terrestrial life spread throughout our galaxy within, say, the next 100,000 years.

(5?) Whether there exists a fifth major evolutionary level of creative growth, based on new phenomena which transcend mere culture, science and technology as dramatically as culture itself transcends unconscious biological, Darwinian evolution, is a question which perhaps nobody will able to answer with certainty for a very long time indeed. Arthur C. Clarke speculated about it in his novel "Childhood's End" (his new evolutionary level used psychic phenomena, incomprehensible to ordinary mortals). But we should just remember that the world-view based on science, in which the Second Law of thermodynamics is counteracted by the newly studied phenomena of chaotic systems spontaneously generating order, suggests an open-ended view of the universe. Where once people's ideas were bounded by the seemingly inevitable prospect of either the heat death of the universe, or its annihiliation in a big crunch mirroring the original big bang, the new ideas make it clear that we cannot assign limits to what may be possible.

This suggests an ethics based on the ultimate value of creativity. We are alive, so let us live to the full, let us celebrate our existence by doing great things! (This sounds lame in prose; only in poetry can one properly say it, or in music!) And then all the lesser questions about the morality of genetic engineering, nuclear power, the breakup of the family, etc. etc. begin to fall into place. Morality itself is freed from the religious paradigm of eternal laws given by God which we disobey at our peril. The new moral paradigm is evolutionary, guided by the single transcendent value of the creation of wonderful things.

Humanity's overall view of the meaning of its place in the universe -- having first rejected the stifling vision of a subservient people closely supervised by an intolerant creator-god, having entertained throughout most of the 20th century a despair of the futility of life derived from the doctrines of Newton, Laplace, Freud and Darwin -- now finds opening up before it a wonderful vision of open-ended creativity. Even the atoms in our bodies are alive; the road to future progress stretches away as far as the eye can see.

So with any luck the 21st century shd see this new philosophy of optimism sweeping throughout human culture. Again, this has implications for art, politics, and so on.

Astronautical Evolution (Astronism) is my stab at defining the philosophy of the future.

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