Geo016 - Exploration of Mars

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Geo016 / Exploration of Mars / (M) 3:00-5:20 / Lincoln Field 105 / Prof. James Head

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Alana Firl (04/08/04)

Today in class we basically discussed the current and future exploration of Mars, and listened to the “Signal From Mars” march.

What I found particularly interesting was the question of why humans want to explore Mars. I like this kind of question because it seems so obvious, and yet it quite frequently proves impossible to answer. What could possibly motivate someone to venture out of safety and into the unknown? A few suggestions in class included fear of the unknown and genetic-based curiosity.

Personally, I'd like to look beyond the human species. Life likes to take up space, it likes to expand. Anyone who has had a pet knows that animals like to explore and get into mischief. What motivates this curiosity? Despite the dangers involved with exploration, complacency is viewed as unhealthy—something with no curiosity is usually brain damaged or ready to die. Curiosity appears to be the mark of an active mind and physical health. As such, I would hypothesize that a “need to know” is a fundamental and inherent characteristic of complex life. Amoebas don't exhibit many signs of curiosity, but as the living system becomes increasingly complex, the drive to explore seems to increase as well. As the thinking ability grows, the depth and breadth of the questions can also grow.

I can't help but think this all goes back to avoiding boredom. When I say boredom, I mean the negation of life—life is dynamic, changing, active, while boredom can be nicely represented as an inert flatline. People hate being bored; they want to test limits, they want to be doing things, they want to be alive. The fact that not everyone wants to explore Mars shows that people have different ways of perceiving/avoiding boredom. Some are perfectly content to mentally occupy a very small range. They are happy with their homes, relationships, and various daily tasks. Others feel the need to look further—leading a simple and secure lifestyle is not good enough. Of course, it sounds ridiculous to say that people want to explore other planets because they don't want to be bored. What I'm trying to do is determine what motivates people to action in the first place, and then apply it to the exploration of Mars. I think that, in a way, exploring Mars is the same thing as getting an education or going hiking—as unrelated as they may seem, it's all about finding out more, expanding horizons.

I am of the opinion that George Bush is not personally invested in the exploration of Mars. Judging by his presidential image, he is more interested in the glory of America on Mars than knowing anything about it. Wanting to use Mars and wanting explore Mars stem from different motivations. Wanting to use Mars—as a military outpost, prison, dump, etc—is nothing unusual, that's motivated by a wish for expediency, to find a solution for a preexisting problem. Wanting to explore Mars for the sake of exploration is more puzzling because it is extra . There is no immediate need to go there. As inadequate as this sounds, I'd say that the intellectual wish to explore Mars is the result of boredom—but I mean this in a good way; avoiding boredom is an affirmation of life.
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