ISO: In Search Of A Schroedinger’s Cat

That segment of the Hippocratic Oath that calls for doctors “to do no harm” should not be relegated only to that profession.  It most certainly should apply to explorers.  Connected to this extended ethic is the scientific conundrum associated with Schroedinger’s Cat. Is the cat there, and is it alive or dead? In determining the answer we may very well impose circumstances that kill the cat or was the cat already dead? You may select the link above for more specifics on the cat and Herr Schroedinger. Our intent, here, is to make the point that in our explorations we should always strive to not kill the cat.

This ethic should apply to all levels of exploration; personal, scientific, and commercial. We are slightly more mindful of this imprimatur than in the past, but we are far from being perfect in our exploratory behaviors. To stress our point we will select three broad exploration areas and discuss the ethic within their respective contexts. The three areas are: Space Exploration, The Search for Life, The Search for Valuable Resources.

Space Exploration: We are doing pretty well here. We do not launch into space or to other planetary bodies without making sure that our spacecraft and our astronauts do not carry with them anything Earthly that may be harmful to our space neighbors or the broad environment of space.  Similarly, we also are careful to not bring back to Earth any foreign element that may be harmful to our environment.  Most importantly as we begin to extend our explorations from A (asteroids) to Z (some yet discovered Earth-like and habitable planetary body), we need to intensify these precautions.

Most importantly we must take extra precautions to not be overcome with the false hubris of the indomitable human. Past explorers have often suffered from this syndrome with resulting dangerous and often fatal encounters with foreign environments and life-forms. Does this mean we must be timid, overly cautious souls? Absolutely not, but it does insist that we proceed with caution and respect for the new domains we are investigating. This historically, has definitely NOT been a glowing reputation of our human predecessors. We must set a new and lasting example.

The Search for Life: What a glorious and exciting undertaking. Right now, with exception of some sampling from Mars and the Moon, we are exploring this planet for the answers to how life began. Scientists of many disciplines are involved in these explorations and generally they are most careful to not kill the cat By this we mean that we seek to study without disrupting or harming the source of our research or its environment. This is a practice that we must make certain follows us when we finally land humans, again, on the surface of a member of our solar system.

Are we perfect in the above precautions? Unfortunately we are not, and there will be instances where we repeat those accidents. We should learn from each incident and use it to guide us away from repeating these insults upon the foundations of life. Since we do not yet have all the answers and the key one of how life really started, we need to increase our cautiousness so that we do not obscure or alter those key pointers to life’s beginnings.

The Search for Valuable Resources: To live, to prosper and to continue to evolve we must attend to our well-being. This effort has evolved into a large and widely variable we generalize as commerce. This is very good and very bad. The good, all of us know about and appreciate. We also are very familiar with the bad, but often allow our attachment to the good to cause us to ignore the bad. We have certainly experienced a significant example of this in the late Summer and early Fall of this year (2010).  Most importantly we have clearly seen the impact of bad commerce on the well-being of ALL life-forms on this planet; from microbes to humans.

Commerce will actively and expansively enter space. This is good, and will be of benefit to all of us. What is not good is if that expansion continues to produce those bad outcomes. In order to prevent them we need to start here on Earth developing more effective ways to ensure that we eliminate those bad results.

No, we do not stop commerce, for that would stop us, but we can definitely create effective and HONEST systems that ensure that commerce does no harm, and does not kill the cat! This will cost each of us a bit more from our pockets, but it will buy us safety and peace of mind by making sure we fund commerce in such a way that it cannot be bad.

Most likely the money will be in the form of taxes, and the incentive to commerce will be a choice of investment help or serious fines and financial loss.  The latter hurts not only commerce, but it hurts us because we depend upon it to employ us and provide us with services and products that we need and want. There is absolutely no excuse for allowing commerce to kill the cat and thereby do harm to us. In space exploration this is critical, and we need to start now to develop systems that insure and support this policy and behavior.

So this exploration ethic must be expanded and sustained. In this regard, we close with a quote from Planetary Scientist, Dr. Sara Seager’s book, Is There Life Out There?

“When and if we find that other Earths are common and see that some of them have signs of life, we will, at last, complete the Copernican Revolution – a final conceptual move of the Earth, and humanity, away from the center of the Universe.  It will be a humbling, transformational experience.”


We are pretty certain that the cat in the image is not Herr Schroedinger’s, but this is obviously a cat who is unhappy in his environment. This is a human environment not his.  This striking image is courtesy of Found at this site:

Explore posts in the same categories: Astrobiology, Commercial Space Programs, Deep Space Explorations, Humankind and Exploration, Marine Biology, Paleobiology, Robotic Exploration, Scientific Research

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