February 14, 2024


Yuri Milner’s Eureka Manifesto: Humanity’s Unique Place in the Universe

The Renaissance polymath Nicolaus Copernicus proposed the heliocentric model of the solar system. As opposed to geocentrism, heliocentrism places the sun, not the Earth, at the centre. From this model, we derive the Copernican principle, which tells us that Earth doesn’t occupy a special position in the Universe.

While we shouldn’t assume that humans have an intrinsically privileged place in the cosmos, Yuri Milner believes the Copernican principle “can be pushed too far.” In his 2021 book Eureka Manifesto: The Mission for Our Civilisation, he discusses humanity’s place in the Universe and our role in its future. He argues that “although we are on the margins, we are not insignificant.”

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The Paradox of Humanity

The Universe is vast and ancient. It began almost 14 billion years ago, and it will likely exist for trillions of years to come. Today, we know that the visible cosmos is more than 93 billion light years across (and it could be one in an infinite multiverse).

Even at the human scale, there is far more to the world than we thought. We are one small twig on a tree of life sprouting millions of species. Interconnected networks of profound intricacy link us to our fellow animals, microbes, and the wider ecosystem.

We once believed humans represented the literal and figurative centre of the cosmos. Our modern view of a sprawling, complex Universe gives humans a humbler view of our place in the grand scheme of things. However, we are still a unique part of the story.

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In Eureka Manifesto, Milner says it’s not where we are, but what we are that makes us significant. As far as we know, we are the only intelligent beings in existence capable of exploring and understanding the Universe. This capacity gives us the “mission for our civilisation” at the heart of Eureka Manifesto.

The Awakening Universe

The Universe has been asleep (without consciousness) for a long time. Now, it’s waking up and starting to tell its story through humanity. Milner quotes Carl Sagan: “We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.”

However, Milner also cautions us not to become complacent. Without our commitment to the mission, the Universe could close its eyes and drift back to sleep. He offers several other reasons why we must embrace the mission to explore and understand our Universe:

  •   A common goal gives a purpose to existence and can help humanity thrive.
  •   Advancing science can help us avoid risks like extinction events and failed enlightenments.
  •   Technological progress can transform our lives beyond recognition.
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Milner proposes a five-step plan of action to advance our mission. First, we should invest resources into fundamental research and space exploration. In particular, artificial intelligence (AI) could help us accelerate our mission by driving scientific research.

Meanwhile, we should celebrate scientists as heroes and focus education on the Universal Story (the story of everything we know, including humans, life on Earth, and our Universe).

Finally, we should spark a new enlightenment and create a culture that values knowledge and rational thinking. Although only a handful of great researchers will unlock the mysteries of the cosmos, everyone can contribute to such a culture where great discoveries are not only possible but actively encouraged.

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About Yuri Milner

Yuri Milner’s belief in the significance of humanity’s role in the Universal Story has led him to invest in our shared future. He signed the Giving Pledge in 2012 to this end, stating that we must invest in our ideas now to find out where they can take us.

Milner’s Breakthrough Foundation organises and funds various philanthropic, primarily science-focused initiatives. These initiatives include the Breakthrough Prize and Tech For Refugees.

The Breakthrough Prize is the world’s largest scientific award. It recognises the discoveries of leading researchers in Fundamental Physics, Life Sciences, and Mathematics. Meanwhile, Tech For Refugees is a non-profit that funds tech companies and organisations’ humanitarian work.

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The Breakthrough Foundation has also committed over $200 million to the Breakthrough Initiatives. These programmes push the boundaries of our knowledge about space science. Specifically, whether life exists on other planets and whether humans could travel to the stars.


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