Stephanie LaRose (02/11/04)
This week's class started out with a brief history of Mars exploration and some of the people who were involved and what they contributed. It is amazing to think about how much the pre-telescopic people were able to discover simply because they did not have the light pollution to block their viewings. Being able to view the stars and planets so easily was a good enough reason as any to be fascinated by the movements of these points of light in the sky.
Professor Michael Putnam came in to tell us about his great-uncle, Percival Lowell. Lowell was originally interested in the Far East, but then became fascinated with Mars and what Schiaparelli had "discovered" about canals. He set up an observatory where he mapped out the "canals" that he saw. He did a lot of lecturing and wrote publications on his work, so it became popularized and thought to be true. Today, though, we know all of that was not true, and yet a lot of money is still being made off of the idea of there being intelligent life on Mars and other planets. We should discuss more of why this may be true.
After Professor Putnam's talk, the class became absorbed in many debates and questionings. We talked about how the driving forces for scientific change seem to be episodic and not linear. People, such as Lowell, popularize an idea and the public and the scientific community take off on it. We also talked about how finding life on Mars would affect religious beliefs. Some speculated that religious ideas would adjust to the findings of life having started on other planets, as religions have always seemed to have done (i.e., when they thought the world was going to end at various times that have now passed).We also listened to an excerpt from H. G. Well's "The War of the Worlds" by Orson Welles. The broadcast was amazingly life-like and I can see how the audiences would have thought it was real. It shows how believable it was at the time that there was sentient life on Mars. I had heard of the broadcast but always wondered why so many people would think it was real, and now I know. It would be interesting to talk about the reasons for this more.