David Dunér, Ph.D., is Professor of History of Science and Ideas at Lund University, Sweden and researcher at the Centre for Cognitive Semiotics, Lund University. His research concerns the development of science, medicine, mathematics, and technology during the scientific revolution and onwards. His latest book is The Natural Philosophy of Emanuel Swedenborg: A Study in the Conceptual Metaphors of the Mechanistic World-View.Dr. Dunér studies the history of astrobiology, and he was guest editor of the special issue “The History and Philosophy of Astrobiology” of the journal Astrobiology. His astrobiological research includes “astrocognition,” the study of cognition in space, detailed in his chapter “Astrocognition: Prolegomena to a Future Cognitive History of Exploration,” which appeared in Humans in Outer Space – Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Dr. Dunér’s work on the semiotic and cognitive foundations of interstellar communication appeared in the volume Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence.
What kind of indispensable cognitive ability is needed for intelligence, sociability, communication, and technology to emerge on a habitable planet? My answer is simple: intersubjectivity. I stress the significance of intersubjectivity, of shared cognition, for extraterrestrial intelligence and interstellar communication, and argue that it is in fact crucial and indispensable for any successful interstellar communication, and in the end also for the concepts that are focus of this volume, empathy and altruism in space. Based on current studies in cognitive science, I introduce the concept of intersubjectivity as a key to future search for extraterrestrial intelligence, and then explain—leaning on phylogenetic, ontogenetic, and cultural-historical studies of cognition—why intersubjectivity is a basic requisite for the emergence of intelligence, sociability, communication, and technology. In its most general definition, intersubjectivity is the sharing of experiences about objects and events. I then discuss what “intelligence” is. I define it as cognitive flexibility, an ability to adjust to changes in the physical and socio-cultural environment. Next, I discuss sociability and complex social systems, and conclude that we probably can expect that an extraterrestrial civilization which we can communicate with has a high degree of social complexity, which entails a high degree of communicative complexity and high degree of cognitive flexibility. Concerning communication, I discuss intention, attention and communicative complexity. I also stress three socio-cognitive capacities things that characterize advanced complex technology: a sustainable, complex social system, with a regulated system for collaboration, such as ethics; complex communication for collaboration and abstract conceptualization; and a high degree of distributed cognition. Finally, if we conclude that intersubjectivity is a fundamental requisite, we then have some options for future interstellar communication. We should target Earth analogues, monitor them, and finally initiate an interstellar intersubjective interaction.