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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Hannah Pepper-Cunningham (02/11/04)

Monday's seminar discussion brought up many interesting issues for me, most notably the question of the ways in which culture and society influence science and vice-versa. It was interesting to explore the idea that the creative force driving science, especially the science of space exploration, is as much or more due to artistic, literary, and popular elements of society, than of scientists themselves. I think it may have been Spike Lee who, when he came to speak at Brown, said that if you look at old science fiction movies from ten, twenty, thrity, or even sixty years ago, the issues that the movies explore are the issues being explored by scientists today. Monday's class challenged me to examine this phenomenon on a broader canvas and assess the ways that science can be somewhat coopted to reenforce societal values or aspirations. As Professor Head said, scientists are just as human as the rest of us, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that the direction their research goes in and the shape that it takes may reflect fundamental social, political, and cultural aspects of a society.

On the “vice-versa” side of the discussion, I was intrigued by Professor Head's thesis that, as we begin to perceive ourselves as being less and less at the center of the universe, we will be less and less impressed/surprised by the existence of life on Mars. While I agree that such a trend towards a more universal perspective will perhaps diminish the shock and amazement of discovering life on another planet, I also feel that only the discovery of life on another planet could actually cement a perspective that is less earth-centric. In the discussion of religion, multiple people mentioned a term that I now forget that referred to the miracle or divine intervention that could have allowed for the development of life on this planet from a bunch of molecules. Whether or not this is as miraculous as many believe it to be, I believe that until it has been proven that there is life on another planet, earth will still be viewed as extremely special and unique. It is the discovery of life itself, I feel, that will really shake the foundation of people's views on their place in the universe.

I also found the issue of religion extremely interesting. Not having grown up religious, I am unaware of many of the issues linking religion and science outside of the scandals and controversies that make it to either textbooks or the news. I was particularly interested in Julie's observation that, when read in Hebrew, the Torah(I think) mentions the possibilities of other planets and other universes. I would love to know more about that. It is interesting to me the way in which religion sometimes appears to allow for scientific discovery. I know that there are many times in which religion and science come into dire conflict. However, I feel that in some ways, scientific discoveries can strengthen a certain kind of religious faith by demonstrating the ways in which such a faith can transcend tangible facts and evidence. However, I am seriously undereducated as to the attitudes of different religions on the universe, and I am eager to learn and discuss more. I would also like to spend more time discussing the ways in which the notions and prejudices in our current society affect our modern exploration of Mars. It was very intriguing to read about how the Arizona landscape influenced Lowell's depiction of Mars, as well as how the 70's era definition of life influenced the Viking experiments. I would love to see how similar influences and scientific notions today may affect the current exploration.


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