J.W. Traphagan, Ph.D., Professor of Anthropology, Department of Religious Studies, University of Texas at Austin
This talk will explore the scientific search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) as a practice of imagination, drawing on the work of Arjun Appadurai. I will consider the ways in which astronomers and others engaged in SETI research employ an evolutionary eschatology in which intelligent species are saved through technological and associated social progress as a way of justification for continued research. The social imaginary associated with Star Trek has significantly shaped the manner in which SETI scientists have thought about and justified their research. I argue that the collection of sociotechnical entities such as scientists, fictional representations, and ideological tropes intertwine in the SETI context to form a coherent body of practice that is employed to justify and legitimize scientific practices related to SETI.