Are we alone in the Universe? The scientific evidence and its philosophical implications ADED11800E

  • Academic Session: 2019-20
  • School: Short Courses
  • Credits: 10
  • Level: Level 1 (SCQF level 7)
  • Typically Offered: Semester 2
  • Available to Visiting Students: Yes
  • Available to Erasmus Students: No

Short Description

The Chair of Harvard's Astronomy Department, Avi Loeb, has argued that Oumuamua, the first interstellar object ever detected passing through the Solar System, may best be explained as a probe from an alien civilization. Should we accept Loeb's argument? How can we assess the likelihood that we are alone in the galaxy or wider universe? What would be the philosophical implications either way? Should we expect extra-terrestrial life to have any significant similarities with terrestrial life, and what might extra-terrestrial contact result in? This course will address these and related questions relevant to the species-defining issue of whether we are alone in the universe.


Block 2

2 hours per week for 10 weeks

Mondays 15.00-17.00

Requirements of Entry


Excluded Courses





The assessment is by one online multiple-choice quiz, weighted at 25%, and one 1,500-word essay, weighted at 75%. 

Course Aims

This course aims to:

■ Introduce some of the latest scientific evidence regarding the likelihood of intelligent extra-terrestrial life and the potential philosophical implications thereof.

■ Facilitate increased understanding of the debates regarding the likelihood of the existence of extra-terrestrial life and the implications for the place of human beings in the cosmos.

■ Increase familiarity with central philosophical questions, debates, and theories relevant to human nature and how extra-terrestrial life might inform that nature.

Intended Learning Outcomes of Course

By the end of this course students will be able to:

■ Compare competing arguments for the probability of life, intelligent life, and technological civilizations arising naturally and surviving for a sustained period in the universe;

■ Explain how adopting different perspectives in the philosophy of science might affect conclusions regarding whether we are alone in the universe.

■ Discuss how radically intelligent extra-terrestrial life might psychologically differ from human life.

Minimum Requirement for Award of Credits

Students must submit at least 75% by weight of the components (including examinations) of the course's summative assessment.