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Living in the Age of Space Exploration Fellow of the International Institute for Advanced Studies Professor Emeritus, Kyoto University Tomio Kinoshita

Until now, space research has focused on science and technology. In the future, though, when the general public is able to travel to and live in space, social factors will become increasingly important. As space becomes more familiar, we will be forced to think more deeply about the relationship between humanity and space. The International Institute for Advanced Studies (IIAS), in cooperation with JAXA, conducted a study on the human and social aspects of space development. The results were summarized in a report titled 'The Humanities and a Social Scientific Approach Toward Space Issues.'The study was conducted by an international team of scholars, led by IIAS fellow Dr. Tomio Kinoshita, who recently spoke to us about the research.

Tomio Kinoshita, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus, Kyoto University
Dr. Kinoshita received his Master's degree (1956) and his Ph.D. (1980) in psychology from Kyoto University. He continued his association with the university as a professor starting in 1979, then director of general education, dean of the Faculty of Integrated Human Studies, and, starting in 1993, professor emeritus. In 1997, Dr. Kinoshita became president of Koshien University. He has served as chairman of the Japan Society of Social Psychology and the Society for Risk Analysis Japan. In 2005, he became a fellow of the International Institute for Advanced Studies and led the research project called "The Humanities and a Social Scientific Approach Toward Space Issues." A report basedon on his research was published by the IIAS in 2009. His publications also include "Coexistence of Science, Technology and Humankind: Ideology and Technology of Risk Communication." His specialty is social psychology.

World's first study of space from a humanities and social-science perspective

Q. What motivated the IIAS to study space from the perspective of the humanities and social sciences?

International Space Station (Courtesy of NASA)
International Space Station (Courtesy of NASA)

It's been almost 50 years since humans first went to space. From the manned spaceflight by Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in 1961, to the lunar landing by the U.S. Apollo program, to the construction of the International Space Station, all these tremendous achievements have brought us enormous pride and excitement. I think we have taken our first steps from being "earthlings" to becoming "spacemen."
But almost all the achievements in space development have come in science and technology. Results were scarce in the arts and humanities, which allow us to deepen our understanding of human life, society, psychology and culture. The reason for this is of course that space missions depend on advanced scientific technologies. The priority has always been scientific research and technology - not how to live in space, but how to survive.
Despite this, the possibility of space travel for the general public has moved much closer to reality. With space technology steadily improving, and the risks and cost of spaceflight becoming more manageable, the private sector is planning space trips, space hotels, etc. We are moving from the age of space exploration and adventure to the age of day-to-day life in space.
Today, it still costs billions of yen for a civilian to go to space, and requires more than six months of training. In 10 or 20 years time, though, the day may arrive when almost anyone can go to space without the need for much money or training at all. What do you think is going to happen when this becomes a reality?
Maybe there will be a "civil society" in space, no matter how small. Once society is set up, politics and culture will follow, and this will lead to many new questions. For example, when a crime is committed in space, who is going to judge the criminal, and under what law? We cannot set up a legislative system to govern a civil society in space if we don't understand what it's like to live there in the first place. Furthermore, I think our sense of values in space will be different than on the ground, so a social system designed on Earth wouldn't work in space. For this reason, whatever life in space is like, we have to understand how it would change our human sense of values, and think about how to create a governing system for space.
Faced with these questions, we collaborated with JAXA on a full-scale study of the social aspects of life in space. The report was published in 2009, and consists of three parts. In part one, we discuss the expected changes in the human sense of values, perception and behavior from the perspective of philosophy, literature, religion and psychology. In part two, we use current medical, psychological and engineering knowledge to predict the technological possibilities for human life in space. In part three, we look at possible options for a governing system in space, based on past experience in law, politics and economics on earth. I think this attempt to apply humanities and social sciences to space questions is the first such project in the world.

Q. What are the study's findings?

I think the biggest result is that we were the first in the world to highlight the need to think about space issues from the perspective of humanities and social sciences. This study was a challenge. The existing data was extremely poor, so most of the report relied on concept simulations. Of course, we used hypotheses based on existing scientific knowledge, but none of these hypotheses has yet been verified, so some people would say the study sounds like science fiction. Nevertheless, I think formulating hypotheses about space in the social sciences - something no one in the world has ever done before - is very meaningful. I don't think people will start designing a governing system for space right away based on our report, but I think we have suggested a starting point for discussion about what we should pay attention to when it is time to build such a system in the future. We are more than happy if someone wants to deepen theoretical discussions based on our hypotheses or try to confirm our ideas.

Space inspires a new set of values

Q. How do you think our sense of values has changed since humans first went to space? And how will it change in the future, as we continue to venture farther into outer space?

People's values differ greatly depending on their point of reference. For example, how to judge the action of asserting an opinion in public depends on your sense of values, which varies widely between Japanese culture and western culture.
Going to space is the same thing, so clearly there will be a big change in our sense of values - today's Earth-oriented value judgments will be shifted to space-oriented values in the future. The biggest change will come from looking at the Earth from the outside - the new sense that Earth exists in relation to someplace else.
When we are able look at the Earth from space objectively, we will notice the insignificance and meaninglessness of conflicts such as regional wars, tribal fighting, terrorism and battles for resources. We will also simply be impressed by the beautiful sight of the our planet, and discover what is going on with environmental issues on a global level, or notice the meaninglessness of borders and the importance of international cooperation. When such a sense of values becomes widespread, it may contribute to global peace and safety. So, ultimately, I hope humanity's sense of values will move in this direction. To achieve this, I hope that not only the general public, but also more politicians can go to space. I long for the day when a U.N. General Assembly meeting or summits of world leaders can be held in space.

Q. What do you think humanity has gained and lost so far by going to space?

"Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going" by Paul Gauguin

I think what we have lost are our imaginary and dream worlds, and the romance of science fiction literature. These were created by expanding the world of imagination without having any scientific knowledge. As children, we entered a dream world when we read the story about the rabbit pounding the rice cake on the Moon, or Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon. But I think now that we have such advanced technology and so much real information from space, there are fewer opportunities to wonder about imaginary worlds.
On the other hand, by venturing into space, we have gained another kind of romance - the scientific romance of discovering something new. When science is at an early stage of development, we don't even know what we don't understand - what questions we should be asking. But as our scientific knowledge grows, it leads to more and more new questions. Thus the more we learn, the more the unknown world expands. That's especially true for space, to which we have such a strong attraction. Paul Gauguin, the French artist, painted a masterpiece in his latter years called "Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?" As we gradually begin to understand the origins of space, life and humankind, the possibility of answering Gauguin's fundamental questions increases. I believe this is what we mean by the magnificent romance of science.

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