Kate Edwards (02/11/04)
I truly enjoyed the discussion that was held last class. One thing that greatly interested me was the emphasis the class put on one's own perspective. After hearing Professor Putnam discuss his great-uncle, I could fully understand why Lowell believed the things he did. It really is important to remember that as scientists, we are all affected by our time, place, and ideology, and that these factors shape the conclusions we draw from given information. I especially enjoyed when we debated the constraints of our own time. Is it worthwhile to conduct experiments when we know that they will only improve in the future? Scientists, like writers, philosophers, and others, are limited by the era in which they live. However, as a group we concluded that the things we can learn from Mars truly are worthwhile, and that the information gleaned from these missions will not only further our knowledge of Mars, but of the origins of life here on Earth.
The other important discussion point was the discussion of the effects of space exploration on religion. This can be a touchy subject, but the class handled it maturely and brought many different perspectives to the table. Although this debate was a bit tangential to the immediate issues facing Mars exploration right now, it grows incredibly important as we come closer and closer to establishing a new definition of the word “life.” It was brought up first that the established church might reject the idea of life on other planets, which might discredit the mission to religious people. However, it was decided by consensus that this would most likely not be the case. Established religion has always found a way to incorporate new technology and discoveries into its dogma. It is because of this flexibility that religions have been able to flourish for thousands of years.
The historical information about the world's perception of Mars also interested me. It is amazing how much about Mars was discovered with only primitive telescopes and the desire to look outside the known world. It is also amazing to me to think that in only one hundred years of human flight, space exploration has come so far. The different ideas about life on Mars over time show the power of the human imagination and the power of science to find the truth. Someone in class made the comment that we have come full circle from believing their was life on Mars, then believing this was not so, and now we are on the verge of proving our predecessors correct. The public's opinion of Mars has also changed as well. I never knew that Mars was thought to be inhabited so recently in American history. Welles' “The War of the Worlds” was incredibly powerful after having such a great discussion, and I was happy that we did get to listen to the little bit that we did. Public interest in Mars waxes and wanes, but right now I believe there is a lot of excitement fueling important discoveries that are about to be made. I am interested as well to get into the political aspect of this discussion.
Monday's discussion was an enlightening experience for me. The class is a seminar, and so I was glad to have the opportunity to discuss the issues at hand. However, it is important to stay on track and leave time for the important other elements of the class. I feel that if just left to talk, the class will just talk forever! I enjoyed very much the idea of learning information from lecture and being able to bounce ideas off each other all in the same class.