Wednesday, August 8, 2012

What is Cosmism?

The Earth is the cradle of the mind, but we cannot live forever in a cradle.
(Tsiolkovsky, 1911)

Crater Tsiolkovsky, the largest crater on the back of the Moon.

Cosmism is an existential philosophical orientation that sees the survival of mankind and of the individual as part of humanity's "common task". The migration of humans into space is seen as inevitable, since it is essential for humanity's long-term survival. The increase in human life-span is seen as another essential task. Certainly, given the known propulsion technologies, the vast time-spans needed to reach other stars necessitate extended life-spans or reversible suspended animation. For example, NASA (the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration) funded a basic research program on hibernation/suspension that continued into the 1980's, when budget cuts forced its termination.

"Cosmism is based upon a holistic and anthropocentric view of the Universe which presupposes a teleologically determined—and thus meaningful—evolution; its adherents strive to redefine the role of humankind in a Universe that lacks a divine plan for salvation, thus acknowledging the threat of self-destruction. As rational beings who are evolving out of the living matter of the Earth, human beings appear destined to become a decisive factor in cosmic evolution—a collective cosmic self-consciousness, active agent, and potential perfector. Cosmic evolution is thus dependent on human action to reach its goal, which is perfection, or wholeness. By failing to act correctly, humankind dooms the world to catastrophe. According to Cosmism, the world is in a phase of transition from the 'biosphere' (the sphere of living matter) to the 'noosphere' (the sphere of reason). During this phase the active unification and organization of the whole of humankind (or 'living matter endowed with reason') into a single organism is said to result in a higher 'planetarian consciousness' capable of guiding further development reasonably and ethically (in line with 'cosmic ethics'), changing and perfecting the Universe, overcoming disease and death, and finally bringing forth an immortal human race." (Hagemeister, 1997)

Originally, Cosmism advocated “storming the heavens” and aimed at overcoming Russian slavery and centuries old backwardness. Nikolai Fyodorovich Fyodorov (1828—1903), a scholar, teacher, itinerant wise man, and Christian mystic is considered to be the founder of Cosmism. He predicted cloning and artificial organs, and is thought to have set the agenda for Soviet science (Rosenthal, 1997). Fyodorov advocated the scientific method for radical life extension, human immortalization, and even resurrection of the dead. Another well known Cosmist is Konstantin Eduardovitch Tsiolkovsky (1857—1935), who pioneered space exploration. In 1903, he published the first serious scientific work on space travel, "The Exploration of Cosmic Space by Means of Reactive Devices [Rockets]". Tsiolkovsky believed that colonizing space would lead to the perfection of the human race, with immortality and a carefree existence. Other Ukrainian-Russian Cosmists included Vladimir Vernadsky (1863—1945) the founder of biogeochemistry, who coined the term "biosphere" and developed the notion of the "noosphere", and Alexander Chizhevsky (1897—1964), who pioneered heliobiology (the Sun's impact on Earthly life). The Main-belt asteroid 3113 Chizhevskij was named after him in 1978. So, Cosmism started out as a type of mysticism, but after the formation of the Soviet Union, science became the new "magic": "Science and technology in a sense became a new type of wizardry, with the engineer and craftsman its new prophets and priests" (Vanchu,1997). 

The "Great Silence" problem or Fermi Paradox (lack of any sign of alien civilizations) was first noted by Tsiolkovsky. His 1933 solution was that advanced intelligences have not intervened in the hope that humans might develop a uniquely "new and wonderful stream of life." He also suggested that the lack of contact is due to advanced intelligences not considering mankind ready for a visit. "Where is everybody?" was the question that suddenly occurred to the physicist Enrico Fermi in 1950. He had calculated that an extra-terrestrial civilization must have spread throughout the Galaxy and found it very odd that there was no evidence of their arrival. It is now estimated that there are thousands of intelligent civilizations in the Galaxy. They have had billions of years to get here, so even though great distances must be covered, the lack of evidence is inexplicable. The Fermi Paradox deepens as evidence for life on other planets continues to increase
Tsiolkovsky's "zoo hypothesis" continues to be one leading explanation for the Great Silence.

Why the Universe may be teeming with aliens

Transhumanist philosophy incorporates elements from Cosmism, as does the cryonics movement, which advocates low-temperature suspended animation (cryogenic stabilization as a medical procedure). Recent research in philosophy has advocated Cosmism as a rigorous foundation for a system of wholistic health: "The Cosmist personal norm of health has real universal sense, insofar as it expresses the single functional meaning of subjective and objective wellbeing in relation to each man: personally inherent gratifying feelings and perceptions, individual physiological constitution (biotype), and psycho-sociological wellbeing with respect to his/her realisation and carrying out the basic (ultimate, cosmist) functionality, i.e. his/her natural healthy vital activity" (Khroutski, 2003).

If there is no immortality, reason will sooner or later invent it.
- Gromov in Anton Chekhov's "A boring story"


Hagemeister, M. (1997). Russian Cosmism in the 1920s and today. In Rosenthal, B. G. (Ed.). The occult in Russian and Soviet culture. (pp. 185-186). Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Khroutski, K. S. (2003). In search of the universal personalist approach in biomedicine: a Cosmist hypothesis. Paideusis - Journal for Interdisciplinary and Cross-Cultural Studies: Volume 3.

Rosenthal, B. G. (1997). Introduction. In Rosenthal, B. G. (Ed.). The occult in Russian and Soviet culture. (p. 11). Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Tsiolkovsky, K. E. (1903). The Exploration of Cosmic Space by Means of Reactive Devices (Исследование мировых пространств реактивными приборами). The Science Review (Nauchnoe Obozrenie), n. 5

Tsiolkovsky, K. E. (1911). [Letter]. Kaluga, Russia.

Tsiolkovsky, K. E. (1933). The planets are occupied by living beings (in Russian). Manuscript in archives of Tsiolkovsky State Museum of the History of Cosmonautics, Kaluga, Russia.

Vanchu, A. J. (1997). Technology as esoteric cosmology in early Soviet literature. In Rosenthal, B. G. (Ed.). The occult in Russian and Soviet culture. (p. 222). Ithaca: Cornell University Press.


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