There are limits beyond which the Copernican Principle (the idea that there is nothing special about our place in the Universe) cannot be extended. Determining where these limits lie depends in part on the tension between contingency and convergence. Those who favor contingency dwell on how many things must not have gone “wrong” in order for us to be here. Those favoring convergence argue that there are often many parallel paths to similar functional outcomes, even if any given path is highly contingent. Regardless of how both points of view ultimately come together into a complete account, our particular civilization is unique, whether there are many others in the Galaxy or it is entirely alone. It would be good for universities to restructure themselves in ways that foster the interdisciplinary work needed for that civilization to meet the challenges it faces this century.

Key words

astrobiology extra-solar planets evolution of life SETI the Drake Equation rare Earth 


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Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christopher Chyba
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.SETI InstituteCenter for the Study of Life in the UniverseMountain ViewUSA
  2. 2.Center for International Security and CooperationStanford Institute for International Studies, UniversityStanfordUSA

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