William Sims Bainbridge

William Sims Bainbridge on spaceflight and cosmic religions – Second Life, January 10

The next Turing Church meeting in Second Life on Sunday, January 10, will feature a short talk by William Sims Bainbridge – the renowned sociologist and author of seminal papers on space colonization, virtual worlds, and new cosmic religions – followed by a Q/A session.

The meeting will take place on Sunday, January 10, at 8:30am Pacific time (11:30am Eastern time, 5:30pm European time, 4:30pm GMT). Please check the time if you are in another timezone.

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Please take a look at the reading list at the end of the post to be more familiar with Bainbridge’s ideas and prepare interesting questions.

“As William Sims Bainbridge pointed out in his 1976 book, The Spaceflight Revolution: A Sociological Study space travel is a technological mutation that should not really have arrived until the 21st century,” said Sir Arthur C. Clarke in a 2007 IEEE Spectrum interview titled “Remembering Sputnik.”

The Moon program of the sixties was “a grand attempt to reach beyond the world of mundane life and transcend the ordinary limits of human existence through accomplishment of the miraculous – a story of engineers who tried to reach the heavens,” noted Bainbridge in The Spaceflight Revolution.

As Clarke said, the program was just too far ahead its natural times and proved unsustainable. But now, in the 21st century, it’s time to restart the countdown to the stars. In a 2001 essay titled “The Spaceflight Revolution Revisited,” published in Looking Backward, Looking Forward (NASA SP-2002-4107), Bainbridge imagined new, aggressive social movements focused on spaceflight.

“[A] fresh social movement would demand fresh thinking that shatters conventional notions about what science, technology, and the human spirit could accomplish in space,” wrote Bainbridge. He proposed to develop technologies to capture entire human personalities in software – archived humans – and offer activists a second life in space as post-biological galactic colonists.

“[A]dvances in genetic engineering, information systems, and robotics will allow archived human beings to live again, even in transformed bodies suitable for life on other planets.”

Though technologies able to “run” archived humans are still a dream, Bainbridge argued that personality capture technologies are almost there today. His 2014 book Personality Capture and Emulation describes “an amazing future that actually may be achieved, enabling the preservation and simulation of human personalities at progressively higher levels of fidelity.”

In his 2009 essay “Religion for a Galactic Civilization 2.0,” Bainbridge outlined his soft uploading approach as follows:

“The process will be complex, but in outline form it consists of four stages. First, you will be recorded: all your memories, personality, skills, physical characteristics and genetic inheritance. Second, this information will be entered into a vast computerized data base, so that future generations can draw upon your experiences and you can continue to be part of this world after your death. Third, your data will be transported by robot spacecraft or radio transmission to the solar system of a distant star, where a new colony is to be established. Fourth, you will be reconstituted from the recording and begin a new life in a fresh, young body as a colonist of the new world.”

Bainbridge isn’t afraid to propose new cosmic religions to take us to the stars. “We need several really aggressive, attractive space religions, meeting the emotional needs of different segments of our population, driving traditional religions and retrograde cults from the field,” he says in the 2009 essay. “it is wrong to feel that irrational religion must always be a hindrance to progress.”

“I have suggested that only a transcendent, impractical, radical religion can take us to the stars.”

Bainbridge suggests a return to the traditional view of space: The heavens are a sacred realm, that we should enter in order to transcend death. He argues that a powerful galactic religion could lead humankind to colonize the stars.

“[The] creation of a galactic civilization may depend upon the emergence of a galactic religion capable of motivating society for the centuries required to accomplish that great project. This religion would be a very demanding social movement, and will require extreme discipline from its members, so for purposes of this essay I will call it The Cosmic Order.”

See also a previous 1982 version of the 2009 essay (archived here).

Reading list: