What is Metalaw?

According to Dr. Ernst Fasan, Metalaw is “the entire sum of legal rules regulating relationships between different races in the universe.” Metalaw is the “first and basic ‘law’ between races” providing the ground rules for a relationship if and when we establish communication with or encounter another intelligent race in the universe. Dr. Fasan envisioned these rules as governing both human conduct and that of extraterrestrial races so as to avoid mutually harmful activities.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Metalaw, Lawyers, and the Giggle Factor

Back in 2004, radio astronomer Seth Shostak of the SETI Institute predicted that, if intelligent life existed elsewhere in our Milky Way galaxy, we would probably detect radio or other transmissions from such a civilization within 20 years, or by the middle of the 2020s.

That prediction was back in the news last week when this story ran about the rapidly accumulating scientific evidence for extraterrestrial life.  We're not there yet, but practically every month brings word of some new discovery that supports the Copernican suspicion that life on Earth -- perhaps even intelligent life -- is not some one-off freak accident but rather a relatively common phenomenon in our vast universe.

I also recently read this excellent 2005 paper by social psychologist Albert Harrison, now a professor emeritus at UC Davis, discussing the occupational hazards that social scientists and others face when wading into the scientific study of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

As the pace of discovery accelerates and the evidence accumulates, representatives of one field of human social endeavor, in particular, are conspicuously absent:  Lawyers.

Unfortunately, you can count on one hand the number of lawyers who have published or presented papers on the subject of Metalaw in the last 30-40 years (not including my own). Most of the generative (as opposed to merely descriptive) work on Metalaw has been done by a relative handful of individuals. As I've speculated before, I suspect this is due in part to lack of career opportunities for either academic or practicing attorneys with a professional interest in Metalaw.

Harrison suggests some other reasons why this may be, including lack of funding and the "giggle factor."  While his paper is addressed primarily to social scientists such as sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists and political scientists, his reasons are probably equally applicable to the field of legal science.

You can read for yourself Harrison's suggestions as to why there are not more social scientists working in the SETI field, and I would encourage you to do that.  I want to focus just briefly on a few of the subjects relevant to SETI that he suggests can be illuminated by social science (and I am including approaches to legal science in that field, at least those that take an empirical, fact-based approach to the law -- which are the only approaches that make any rational sense to me).

In particular, lawyers could join other social scientists in studying potential long-term consequences of detection (Harrison specifically mentions "meta-law" as one possible area of exploration) as well as the potential nature of advanced technological civilizations.  Here and elsewhere in the paper, Harrison warns of the dangers of anthropomorphism when contemplating "the nature of unknown civilizations that are radically different from our own."  One viable approach to this, Harrison suggests, is to "seek principles of behavior that are 'universal' or 'deep' in the sense that they hold true across species, cultures, and historical epochs."

This is exactly the approach to Metalaw that I urged in my own paper that I presented at the 39th IAA Symposium on the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, held concurrently with the 61st International Astronautical Congress in Prague in September 2010.  It's also an approach urged by others, including George Robinson, former counsel to the Smithsonian Institution.

There were a lot of space lawyers at the 61st IAC in Prague earlier this year, meeting concurrently with the International Institute of Space Law.  Unfortunately, few of them evidently have an interest in Metalaw.

Maybe it's the giggle factor.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Biography of Andrew G. Haley Now Posted

by Adam Chase Korbitz

Andrew Gallagher Haley was an American lawyer and early rocket propulsion entrepreneur, sometimes described as the world’s first practicing “space lawyer.” He originated the concept of Metalaw, a legal concept closely related to the scientific Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI).  First conceived by Haley in 1956 (four years before astronomer Frank Drake conducted the first true SETI experiment, Project Ozma) Metalaw was the term Haley coined to refer to fundamental legal precepts of theoretically universal application to all intelligences, human and extraterrestrial.

Born on November 19, 1904, in Tacoma, Washington, Haley earned his LLB from Georgetown University Law School in 1928 and later his BA from George Washington University in 1934.  In addition to being a lawyer, Haley became an expert in rocket propulsion.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Origin of the Term "Metalaw"

I haven't spent a great deal of time researching the origin and etymology of the word Metalaw beyond the work of Andrew Haley and Ernst Fasan.  I am still under the impression that it originated with Haley, who we know gave the word its current reference to legal principles of universal applicability to all intelligences, terrestrial and extraterrestrial, in his 1956 paper, "Space Law and Metalaw -- A Synoptic View."

While the term and the concept it represents are both today rather obscure (a deficiency I hope to cure), the term did enter the popular parlance of the day rather quickly in the 1950s, only to fade gradually into the fog of history.

I recently came across this post from Opinio Juris, a blog about international law and international relations.  The post's author, Professor Kenneth Anderson (of the American University Washington College of Law), quotes a passage from Have Space Suit -- Will Travel, a 1958 story by the great science fiction author Robert Heinlein and published two years after Haley's paper:

“Russell, I heard on your tape that you plan to study engineering - with a view to space.”
“Yes, sir.  I mean, ‘Yes, Mr. Secretary’.”
“Have you considered studying law?  Many young engineers want to go to space - not many lawyers.  But the Law goes everywhere.  A man skilled in space law and meta-law would be in a strong position.”
“Why not both?”  suggested Peewee’s Daddy.  ”I deplore this modern overspecialization.”
“That’s an idea,” agreed Mr. van Duivendijk.  "He could then write his own terms.”

I suspect, but have no evidence, that Haley and Heinlein either knew each other, corresponded, or at least that Heinlein was aware of Haley's work. The latter is entirely plausible. We do know that Haley's presentation of his paper at the International Astronautical Congress in Rome in September 1956 was covered in the October 1, 1956 issue of Time.  

In addition, Haley's presentation of a similar paper a few months later was covered in the December 29 issue of The New Yorker the same year.  In this article, Haley explicitly claims, "It's something else to imagine laws suitable for beings that are themselves scarcely imaginable.  The word I've coined for such a body of laws is 'metalaw,' which I define as 'the law governing the rights of intelligent beings of different natures and existing in an indefinite number of different frameworks of natural laws.' "

Even if Heinlein did not know or correspond with Haley, he may well have read about his work in one of these publications.

Biography of Dr. Ernst Fasan Now Posted

by Adam Chase Korbitz

One of the most visionary space lawyers of the 20th and 21st centuries, Dr. Ernst Fasan was born in 1926 in Vienna.  In 1958, Dr. Fasan was a practicing attorney when he helped to establish the Permanent Committee on Space Law of the International Astronautical Federation.  Two years later his friend, colleague and fellow pioneer in space law Andrew Haley invited him to join the committee's successor, the International Institute of Space Law.  In 1962, Dr. Fasan was elected to the board of the IISL as subsequently served as an officer of the organization.  In 1963, the IISL awarded him the Andrew G. Haley Gold Medal for his work.

Dr. Fasan has published dozens of articles on problems of space law, including Metalaw and SETI.  In 1970, Dr. Fasan published the seminal book on Metalaw, Relations with Alien Intelligences:  The Scientific Basis of Metalaw.

Metalaw and SETI now on Portal to the Universe

Metalaw and SETI is now listed on Portal to the Universe!