Cognitive Astrobiology for Middle-school students

Friday, 11 December 2020
Julia Brodsky, Art of Inquiry, LLC, Rockville, MD, United States
Should we teach cognitive astrobiology to our children? And if so, how can we approach it?

We would like to share our experience with developing an innovative cognitive astrobiology curriculum for 10- to 12-year-old children and teaching it to students all around the globe. It covers such broad range of topics as anthropocentrism and the varieties of animal intelligence, ecological niches and the evolution of the brain, system thinking and METI languages. It introduces children to the notion of distributed intelligence, conflict resolution skills to make peace with an ET, and even some philosophical topics such as the correspondence between the mind and reality.

The course also explores the exciting new possibilities of enhancing human brains. With the recent advances in biotechnology and AI, futuristic opportunities to greatly expand our cognitive abilities are rapidly becoming a reality, and the growing generation needs to understand how to fully take advantage of them while avoiding costly mistakes.

Cognitive astrobiology enables students to look at themselves from a very different, unfamiliar, literally otherworldly perspective, revealing the assumptions about themselves and their minds they were mostly taking for granted. To craft the messages for the minds very different from ours and design the means of conveying them, children need to consider what the myriad of forms those minds might take - and how those are shaped by their planetary environment.

The benefits of our discussions are not limited to the future encounters with the ET but are first and foremost intended to impact the children here on Earth. While gaining insights into animal minds, children get a chance to reflect on the importance of taking better care of our planet and its inhabitants to help them survive and thrive. And while learning to befriend an ET, they also understand how to mitigate their biases, become more open-minded, and accept each other regardless of their differences.

Our observations suggest that such a challenging yet intriguing curriculum, built around engaging questions that pique children’s curiosity and invite creative solutions, is enthusiastically and invariably embraced by the students. In addition to remaining highly engaged throughout each class, they continue discussing their discoveries with friends and families long after it is over.

Carbol, Nathalie A (2016) Alien Mindscapes—A Perspective on the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, Astrobiology, Volume 16, Issue 9, pp.661-676.

Crawford, Ian (2017) Widening Perspectives: The Intellectual and Social Benefits of Astrobiology, International Journal of Astrobiology.

Schneider, S. (2017). Superintelligent AI and the postbiological cosmos approach. In Andreas Losche, (ed.), What is Life? On Earth and Beyond? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,

Slater, Timothy F. (2006) Capturing Student Interest in Astrobiology through Dilemmas and Paradoxes. Journal of College Science Teaching, v35 n6 p42-45.