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Cirkovic M.M.,Astronomical Observatory of Belgrade | Cirkovic M.M.,University of Oxford
Biology and Philosophy | Year: 2014

The well-known argument against the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence (SETI) due to George Gaylord Simpson is re-analyzed almost half a century later, in the light of our improved understanding of preconditions for the emergence of life and intelligence brought about by the ongoing "astrobiological revolution". Simpson's argument has been enormously influential, in particular in biological circles, and it arguably fueled the most serious opposition to SETI programmes and their funding. I argue that both proponents and opponents of Simpson's argument have occasionally mispresented its core content. Proponents often oversimplify it as just another consequence of biological contingency, thus leaving their position open to general arguments limiting the scope of contingency in evolution (such as the recent argument of Geerat Vermeij based on selection effects in the fossil record). They also tend to neglect that the argument has been presented as essentially atemporal, while referring to entities and processes that are likely to change over time; this has become even less justifiable as our astrobiological knowledge increased in recent years. Opponents have failed to see that the weaknesses in Simpson's position could be removed by restructuring of the argument; I suggest one way of such restructuring, envisioned long ago in the fictional context by Stanislaw Lem. While no firm consensus has emerged on the validity of Simpson's argument so far, I suggest that, contrary to the original motivation, today it is less an anti-SETI argument, and more an astrobiological research programme. In this research programme, SETI could be generalized into a platform for testing some of the deepest assumptions about evolutionary continuity and the relative role of contingency versus convergence on unprecedented spatial and temporal scales. © 2013 Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht.

Cirkovic M.M.,Astronomical Observatory of Belgrade | Cirkovic M.M.,University of Oxford
Acta Astronautica | Year: 2013

Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence (SETI) is now more than half a century old and has provoked enough discussion on technical, philosophical, and popular level, much of it critical. Historically, the criticism of SETI has been strong enough to heavily influence the course of research, so that there is a significant interest in discerning the nuances and fine points of critical argumentation. In this paper, I outline the two major forms of SETI scepticism, "fundamentalist" and "instrumentalist," which are often conflated in the published literature, both technical and popular. Precise delineation between these two types of scepticism is important for future research as a part of a wider taxonomic project, the build-up of SETI theory, as well as for smooth joining of SETI with the ongoing astrobiological revolution. Resolving the confusion in this respect is likely to lead to an improved atmosphere and heightened public image of future SETI searches and related activities. © 2013 IAA Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Vince O.,Astronomical Observatory of Belgrade
Serbian Astronomical Journal | Year: 2012

Currently, the CCD camera most used by observers of the Astro- nomical Observatory of Belgrade is the ALTA Apogee U42. It is used for both photometric and astrometric observations. Therefore, it is very important to know different measurable parameters which describe the condition of the camera - linearity, gain, readout noise etc. In this paper, we present a thorough test of this camera.

Cirkovic M.M.,Astronomical Observatory of Belgrade | Cirkovic M.M.,University of Oxford
Risk Analysis | Year: 2012

Ought we to take seriously large risks predicted by "exotic" or improbable theories? We routinely assess risks on the basis or either common sense, or some developed theoretical framework based on the best available scientific explanations. Recently, there has been a substantial increase of interest in the low-probability "failure modes" of well-established theories, which can involve global catastrophic risks. However, here I wish to discuss a partially antithetical situation: alternative, low-probability ("small") scientific theories predicting catastrophic outcomes with large probability. I argue that there is an important methodological issue (determining what counts as the best available explanation in cases where the theories involved describe possibilities of extremely destructive global catastrophes), which has been neglected thus far. There is no simple answer to the correct method for dealing with high-probability high-stakes risks following from low-probability theories that still cannot be rejected outright, and much further work is required in this area. I further argue that cases like these are more numerous than usually assumed, for reasons including cognitive biases, sociological issues in science and the media image of science. If that is indeed so, it might lead to a greater weight of these cases in areas such as moral deliberation and policy making. © 2012 Society for Risk Analysis.

Jankovic S.,University of Belgrade | Cirkovic M.M.,Astronomical Observatory of Belgrade | Cirkovic M.M.,University of Oxford
Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres | Year: 2016

Physical processes that characterize living matter are qualitatively distinct in that they involve encoding and transfer of specific types of information. Such information plays an active part in the control of events that are ultimately linked to the capacity of the system to persist and multiply. This algorithmicity of life is a key prerequisite for its Darwinian evolution, driven by natural selection acting upon stochastically arising variations of the encoded information. The concept of evolvability attempts to define the total capacity of a system to evolve new encoded traits under appropriate conditions, i.e., the accessible section of total morphological space. Since this is dependent on previously evolved regulatory networks that govern information flow in the system, evolvability itself may be regarded as an evolved ability. The way information is physically written, read and modified in living cells (the “coding concept”) has not changed substantially during the whole history of the Earth’s biosphere. This biosphere, be it alone or one of many, is, accordingly, itself a product of natural selection, since the overall evolvability conferred by its coding concept (nucleic acids as information carriers with the “rulebook of meanings” provided by codons, as well as all the subsystems that regulate various conditional information-reading modes) certainly played a key role in enabling this biosphere to survive up to the present, through alterations of planetary conditions, including at least five catastrophic events linked to major mass extinctions. We submit that, whatever the actual prebiotic physical and chemical processes may have been on our home planet, or may, in principle, occur at some time and place in the Universe, a particular coding concept, with its respective potential to give rise to a biosphere, or class of biospheres, of a certain evolvability, may itself be regarded as a unit (indeed the arch-unit) of natural selection. © 2015, Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht.

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