The Rarity of Life: Yuri Milner’s Eureka Manifesto and the Mission to Understand Our Universe

There are many rare things in the Universe, but perhaps the rarest is life itself. Some years ago, physicist and writer Alan Lightman used Kepler satellite data to estimate the fraction of stars with possibly habitable planets. He calculated that, even if life existed on every planet that could host it, the fraction of living matter in the Universe is miniscule: approximately one-billionth of one-billionth.

Giving Pledge signatory Yuri Milner discusses the significance of our existence in his short e-book Eureka Manifesto: The Mission for Our Civilisation. Released in 2021, Eureka Manifesto is Milner’s message to humanity. It calls on us to see the cosmic story we’re part of and embrace our mission to explore and understand the Universe.

Pursuing Humanity’s Mission

While humans have achieved incredible things, human progress is chaotic. We struggle to marshal Earth’s abundant resources for the good of all. We play zero-sum games and focus on short-term needs.

Milner believes our civilisation needs a shared mission to come together and thrive. He suggests that we look beyond Earth and commit to explore and understand our Universe.

The rewards of this mission include unimaginable technological progress and the expansion of our civilisation amongst the stars. However, if we fail to embrace the mission, we risk the very future of humanity. Why? Milner points to the extreme rarity of life in the Universe and the miracle of our existence for answers.

We could well be the only intelligent beings in the entire cosmos. If we are alone, our responsibility to explore and understand the Universe is immense, as we may be the only civilisation to ever do so. If we don’t pursue the mission, it could take billions of years for another such civilisation to emerge elsewhere.

If advanced extraterrestrial civilisations do exist, Milner says it would be “deeply unwise for us to relax our ambitions and rely on the aliens to pursue the mission.” Species can go extinct, and civilisations can crumble.

To reduce the chances of the mission failing, he explains that every civilisation should devote its resources to deepening our collective understanding.

The Preciousness of the Present

According to Lightman, life is not only rare in space — it’s also rare in time. In a few hundred billion years, once the stars have burnt out and all energy sources are depleted, all life in the Universe will end. That is enough time, Milner suggests, for our descendents to reach “a very deep level of understanding.”

Whether we are alone in the Universe or not, we humans are a rare mechanism by which the cosmos can make sense of itself. Over billions of years, lifeless matter has formed living minds that can analyse other matter. Milner describes our very existence as a “miracle.”

In a tangible way, we give the Universe meaning. Without us, the Universe would simply be. With this in mind, the rarity of life in the Universe and its inevitable end only makes the present — and our mission — more precious.

About Yuri Milner

Yuri Milner is advancing his Eureka Manifesto mission by investing in fundamental science and space exploration. His Breakthrough Foundation funds various science-focused projects, such as the Breakthrough Initiatives and Breakthrough Prize.

The Breakthrough Initiatives are a series of space science programmes probing the fundamental questions of life in the Universe. Questions like: Is there intelligent life beyond Earth? And could humanity travel to the stars?

Milner’s Breakthrough Prize celebrates scientists as heroes (another facet of his Eureka Manifesto plan of action to advance our mission). By raising the profile and prestige of the world’s top researchers, the Breakthrough Prize inspires younger generations to stand on their shoulders.

The Breakthrough Foundation also sponsors Tech For Refugees. This non-profit supports tech-driven initiatives that aid Ukrainian refugees and other displaced people worldwide.

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