International Journal of Astrobiology

On the plurality of inhabited worlds: a brief history of extraterrestrialism

Mark Brake a1
a1 Centre for Astronomy and Science Education, University of Glamorgan, 4 Forest Grove, Trefforest, Wales, UK e-mail:

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This paper delineates the cultural evolution of the ancient idea of a plurality of inhabited worlds, and traces its development through to contemporary extraterrestrialism, with its foundation in the physical determinism of cosmology, and its attendant myths of alien contact drawn from examples of British film and fiction. We shall see that, in the evolving debate of the existence of extraterrestrial life and intelligence, science and science fiction have benefited from an increasingly symbiotic relationship. Modern extraterrestrialism has influenced both the scientific searches for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), and become one of the most pervasive cultural myths of the 20th century. Not only has pluralism found a voice in fiction through the alien, but fiction has also inspired science to broach questions in the real world.

(Received June 12 2006)
(Accepted June 29 2006)

Key Words: Communication; education; culture.