Cindy Beavon (02/11/04)
I thought our discussion today went well for a “first-time” discussion. I think it would definitely be a good idea to get a more comfortable, discussion conducive seating set up. Maybe when the numbers in the class are finally settled, we could all introduce ourselves very briefly, because discussion is easier if we all know each others names.
Regarding the specific topics of today's discussion, I found Professor Head's ‘thesis of diminishing self-importance' (or something like that) most interesting. What is the nature of discoveries we are unable to understand currently that would influence our reaction to the impact of discovery of life elsewhere in the Solar System? Certainly any discoveries we make until then of that nature force us to acknowledge how insignificant a role humanity has in the universal timeline. And similarly, does our conception of superiority to other species hinder scientific progress or work as a disabling paradigm?
I was intrigued by the discussion of the resistence of ‘the public' to accept certain ‘scientific' facts, for example the fantasizing period between Lowell's speculations and Mariner missions discovering Mars was a mostly barren land with craters. The discussion seemed to conclude that ‘the public' was in a form of scientific denial by not letting go of the idea of an advanced civilization, but I believe this is not so. The public is nearly completely under control of the media—if there were news broadcasts, newspapers, television shows, and the internet at the beginning of the twentieth century, I believe ‘the public' would lose the pretext of sentient life on Mars much more quickly, assuming media bodies kept regular contact with science industries, like they do now.
Also, I believe our ‘religious significance' discussion was rather sloppy and general. There's a lot to say regarding this issue if more specific questions were articulated, and more facts were integrated. What is the nature of religious adaptability? What can we realistically expect from religious institutions upon discovering life elsewhere- the Catholic church, the Dali Lama, small Protestant congregations?We only touched on this briefly, but I am intrigued by the idea of space exploration as a political tool- I'd be interested in hearing someone contend the only reason the United States as a government (through NASA) engaged in space exploration at all was to garner political capital for candidates or presidential popularity. Should we be concerned about this?