AAS 205th Meeting, 9-13 January 2005
Session 35 HAD II: Observatories, Toys and Genesis
Oral, Monday, January 10, 2005, 10:00-11:30am, Pacific Salon 1

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[35.05] Cosmic Evolution: The History of an Idea

S. J. Dick (NASA HQ)

Cosmic evolution has become the conceptual framework within which modern astronomy is undertaken, and is the guiding principle of major NASA programs such as Origins and Astrobiology. While there are 19th- and early 20th century antecedents, as in the work of Robert Chambers, Herbert Spencer and Lawrence Henderson, it was only at mid-20th century that full-blown cosmic evolution began to be articulated and accepted as a research paradigm extending from the Big Bang to life, intelligence and the evolution of culture. Harlow Shapley was particularly important in spreading the idea to the public in the 1950s, and NASA embraced the idea in the 1970s as part of its SETI program and later its exobiology and astrobiology programs. Eric Chaisson, Carl Sagan and others were early proponents of cosmic evolution, and it continues to be elaborated in ever more subtle form as a research program and a philosophy. It has even been termed "Genesis for the 21st century." This paper documents the origin and development of the idea and offers a glimpse of where it could lead if cultural evolution is taken seriously, possibly leading to the concept of a postbiological universe.

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Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, 36 5
© 2004. The American Astronomical Society.