Stephanie LaRose (02/18/04)
We started out the class talking about the original spacecraft that we sent out to explore the moon and Mars. I thought it funny that the earliest ones were just sent to take pictures as they sped towards the planets and then crashed into them. It must have felt so disheartening when Mariner 4 came back with pictures of a planet that looked dead like the Moon. Thankfully, they had Mariner 8 come back and show everyone what the planet really consisted of and what makes it interesting. If it hadn't been for that craft, we may not have considered going after Mars again, at least for a while.
It was fun to look at the "A Signal from Mars" sheet music. It shows how fantastically people thought about life on Mars at the turn of the century. And then to look at a tabloid cover saying that alien skulls have been found on Mars. People are still wrapped up in fantastic stories like that, and even worse, some people still do not believe we went to the moon. There are of course other "government conspiracy" ideas, such as Roswell, that others believe in. I personally believe that alien spacecraft may very well have been observing us for a while, though. I find some of the stories about UFOs to be too coincidental to not have some validity.
The Sagen-Mayr debate brought up some good points. The thing that bothered me was that Mayr was basically only writing this article to stop SETI from continuing. It would be foolish to not try to make ourselves known to the universe, no matter how unlikely it is that someone will pick it up. Mayr contested the fact that aliens would be able to pick up electronic signals and Sagen said that they would have to use this technology to keep track of asteroids. I do not like Sagen's defense on that. I believe that electronic technology is simply needed to do anything in space. One cannot use their olfactory sense in space. I am sure that any intelligent being will logically discover electricity if it is to become advanced. Sagen made a good point about other planets and solar systems being much older than our own. Someone in class made the point that maybe those races are old enough that they do not think us worthy or able to be contacted (like us to ants). This may very well be the case.
The discussion with Janet Cooper-Nelson, the Brown Chaplain, sparked much debate from people of different religious backgrounds. I myself am Jewish but was never raised as any more than a reform Jew, and generally do not believe in any religion. I thought it funny how many ways the Bible can be interpreted. The email was a much more literal interpretation and the article about the summit was much more liberal.
Janet Cooper-Nelson made a good point that there was no line between religion and science until astronomy came about and people began asking questions about it. Religion means different things to different people. Some believe the Bible to be completely true and the definitive word of God, while others see it as simply a long story to guide people on how they should act towards others. I tend to believe the latter, but I have never read any version of the Bible to say that I know much about what it contains. I just do not believe one can completely trust the Bible when in fact it has been edited and revised countless times and the older texts lost forever.
Some people would think humans to be special. This I do not believe. People say that we are the only species on this planet that is conscious and that this is what makes us special, but in taking a cognitive science class, I know that you can only know that you yourself are conscious. You can not definitively say either way on any other human being or any other creature. Some would say we are special because we have all this technology, but this technology has proven to be a detriment to the state of our world. In reading the Bible people interpret it as saying that the Earth is ours, a gift from God, to do with as we please. This I do not believe either. Since we are the "dominant" species of the planet, it is our job to protect the planet, not exploit it. I will agree with an interpretation of the Bible that says we are supposed to go out and discover. What God would want us to stay on our own planet when we have the means and drive to extend beyond it?If we find life on other planets, we will still conclude that we are superior to them; if not in technology, in consciousness, because we can only know this about ourselves. Of course, finding other life would be a blow to some translations of the Bible and would be humiliating for those who interpreted it that way, but individually people will hopefully accept the new interpretations that will abound after such a discovery.