Monday, December 20, 2010
Video - Wanderers
In the third Carl Sagan tribute video from callumCGLP (Callum Sutherland), Sagan begins by recounting our evolutionary heritage as wanderers. For much of humanity's existence, we lived in the open, hunting and gathering our food, scratching out our existence in a harsh and unforgiving world. And because of this, our environment encouraged and favored those of us who were filled with wanderlust, and culled those who were not, leaving our species with an evolutionary heritage in favor of exploring. But our own world has been largely explored. No matter where you go, it is likely that people have already been there, even if they are not living there right now. Sagan ties this wanderlust to our efforts to explore the universe in general, and the nearby planets specifically. He (correctly I think) draws a direct parallel between the ancient desire to see what is over a hill, and our determination to send a robot probe to the outer reaches of our solar system to see what Neptune or Pluto is like.
But he also notes that this is vaguely dissatisfying for us, because we cannot go ourselves. And because even if we could go ourselves, there is no place really hospitable that we could go. Any human settlement off our home planet will have to be built almost from scratch by ourselves. As Sagan notes, those we send into outer space as explorers seem to hold a position that our ancestors would regard as godlike, and one might suggest that if we go to other planets and reshape them to suit our needs, then we may very well be considered akin to the ancient gods. But I also think that the desire to wander and explore new and unknown places is partially what fuels our fascination with fiction in general, and science fiction specifically. It seems to me that we love books like Gulliver's Travels, A Princess of Mars, The Ophiuchi Hotline, and Dragon's Egg in part because we can go to places we've never been before and see things we've never seen. Our fondness for myth, fairy tales, and more recently fantasy and science fiction is, I would suggest, the manifestation of our unrealized dreams of exploration and resettlement. Perhaps this is why so many scientists, people who are generally dedicated to the idea of exploring the boundaries of human knowledge are so often drawn to science fiction.
Previous video in the series: Consider Again That Pale Blue Dot.
Subsequent video in the series: The Gift of Apollo.