The different forms of living organisms on earth provide examples of considerable biodiversity, often arising from physical constraints that have forced them to adapt to their environment. Such constraints can lead to an overall architecture of complexity in “mosaic form” determined by two broad principles: the juxtaposition of entities of the same type, and their subsequent integration into systems of ever-increasing complexity where the initial entities have become parts of the system. Working on the hypothesis based on the Aristotelian model that the same constraints and the same architecture of complexity can be found throughout the universe, is it possible to imagine extraterrestrial forms of life? Such reasoning has the rational arguments of physics and constraints combined with exercises of the imagination offering potential for possibilities of unlimited scope. On a rational level we have determined a number of forms that could plausibly be extraterrestrial: beings made from carbon chains, independent modules, occasional recombination of carbon chains producing “sexual” variants, tree structures, bilateral symmetry, protective “cocoon” stages, steady temperature, perception/action systems, artefacts and central command units. This will then allow scope for artistic imagination with every possibility able to eventuate.
Starting from Georges Chapouthier’s exercise, the article proposes a brief history of the imaginary of living beings up to speculative biology. At first unbridled, this imagination meets the biological sciences in the 19th century, which impose constraints on the extraterrestrial creatures of science fiction stories. Later, speculative biology will consist in systematically imagining the properties of possible extraterrestrial living entities by analogy with those of terrestrial life, taking into account plausible physical constraints and the knowledge of biology. Even if it cannot be an academic discipline, speculative biology is a rigorous approach, as well as a multiform artistic practice.
In his essay, Georges Chapouthier reviews what caracterizes the living complexity in ordre to stimulate the creative imagination of artists in illustarting extraterrestrial beings. He use analogy with mosaic in which dissimilar units are put together to create esthetic set through their integration. Two main figures in the history of Biology, Aristotle and D’Arcy Thompson, are requestd for the definition of form. The first has played a basic role in understanding evolutive adaptations through his functionalist approach, but his teleological thought (finalism) was discarded by to-day evolutive biology. The second explained forms genesis through physical agents and he promoted their mathematical description, what turned out to be inventive in shape comparison and morphogenesis studies. However, remaining on the geometry and external forces ground, he missed the effects of biochemical and metabolic interactions, sources for internal energy. I find similar risks in Chapouthier’s approach. Mosaicity remains a geometrization, while the so universal modularity opened great evolutive opportunity. Reasoning by analogy provides at once and ambiguously heuristic capacity and weekness in generalizing.
Are extraterrestrial lives possible? Georges Chapouthier invites us to think about this immemorial quest which has given rise to numerous interpretations over time and technological advances. From oddities to rectifications, with imagination and inventiveness, Science advances…
Humanity has always sought to define itself and has of course considered the question of alterity. As soon as the notion of the plurality of worlds was posed, notably by Giordano Bruno at the end of the sixteenth century, or by the Marquis de Fontenelle at the end of the seventeenth century, the question of extraterrestrial life, and even intelligence, naturally followed. The figure of the extraterrestrial questions our conception of the unity of living species, or of their infinite diversity, and that the fictions that feature them rather reflect the way we look at ourselves.
Painters and poets are productive when they are asked about the life on another planet than Earth whereas the geneticists remain speechless. An extra-terrestrial life is difficult to imagine for them. Considering that life occurs when an organism reproduces itself and identically to itself either by itself or with an identical organism, the production of such a program results from Earth-specific conditions and there are few chances to get them in another world.
This comment summarizes the main astrophysical arguments according which it seems likely that there exists living complex beings located on a few extra solar planets and that some of them can be considered as « intelligent ». Nevertheless, it is impossible to prove their existence. Therefore the scientific and artistic considerations about their possible structures are and will be purely imaginative.
The question of an extraterrestrial life is as old as stars in the night. A whole art has been devoted to this question. The recent involvement of mathematics and physics in life sciences brings the hope of a general view of life in space. The space diversity must lead to other life ways and forms. Finally possible terrestrial crises increase the interest in extraterrestrial life.
Humans propelled into another galaxy, setting foot on an exoplanet favourable to certain forms of life, could they interpret the behaviour of the beings inhabiting this extra-terrestrial universe? No doubt, because in spite of the great diversity of forms that these creatures could take, the necessities of life, such as subsistence and reproduction, impose identifiable behaviours. Under the infinite variety of possible behaviours, a small number of determinisms constitute living invariants.
The possibility of a language shared by living beings on exoplanets raises the philosophical and fundamental question of what constitutes communication, or even a language. It raises the question of shared meaning at the same time as that of an intention to communicate. We postulate here, above all, the sensoriality of language, linked to its perceptibility, whatever it may be, and an undulatory, even vibratory approach, which seems universal.
Ethics is not usually questioned by the imagination. However, the hypothesis of a life, or even an extraterrestrial intelligence cannot be ignored by ethics. In this case, it is not so much a question of questioning ourselves about the mores of possible extraterrestrials, but rather of taking an interest in the human being, when confronted with a possible life that he cannot share.
The exploration of an extraterrestrial imaginary presupposes a curiosity for plant forms rather than ani-mals, which have long remained the preferred models of painters. The contemporary artist, detached from the canons of historical representation, can, more easily than in the past, exercise his creative power analogically, embracing a living complex and budding. The rediscovery of vegetal forms and expressions, round, sinuous, hybrid and abundant, offers, by this return to archaic, reproductive or dreamed forms, paths to the anticipation of cosmic life.
Terrestrial biodiversity as well as human productions are the result of evolutionary strategies as well as complex forms. However, the raw art and plasticity of life reveal a universal process in progress that extraterrestrial civilizations could share. What evolution would it follow in a completely different ecosphere? The challenge is to delimit these territories and the exo-forms of intelligence that would result from them. We bet here that plasticity as a fundamental property of matter-form would be prevalent because it is at the heart of the sensitivity of worlds.
The artist Anilore Banon has created and developed the VITAE Project, a participative artwork to be installed on the Moon. VITAE Project is an artistic and scientific odyssey, the artist accompanied by engineers and scientists, have developed a sculpture able to adapt to lunar constraints. (Shape Memory alloy (SMA)-Nitinol and gold Mylar). One million handprints collected around the world will be printed on it. VITAE, once installed on the Moon will open and close only by the heat of the Sun. It is designed to travel and be placed on the moon aboard a rover among scientific experiences.
The artist Marc Boulay has invited us to embark on a visual interstellar promenade, strolling amongst his favourite subjects and dreams of speculative exobiology. Here is a collection of “snapshots” and sketches from the voyages of the imagination featured in his latest book, Carnets de Voyages Stellaires – Souvenirs de Terrains. Highly original text forms the commentary for the snapshots and sketches.
When philosophers, scientists and artists are asked about the forms of extraterrestrial life that may exist, they provide a vast and diverse range of answers.