The Story of Evolution / The Evolution of Stories - Spring, 2004
Paul Grobstein

Is There Life on Mars?
A Story About ...
A Contemporary Chapter of a Story in Progress

Early chapters

Pluralism (atomism, Leucippus, Democritus (470-400 B.C.), Epicurus, Lucretius):
Principles of Mediocrity, of Uniformity, of Plenitude


  • Stories start in experience
  • Stories can be about about things one doesn't know, haven't experienced
  • Different stories about same thing
  • Stories relate to/influenced by other stories

Middle chapters

Begins with Aristotle but ... Geocentric to heliocentric world view reflecting in part new kinds of experiences
  • William Whewel (1794-1866), On the Plurality of Worlds: An Essay

    ". . . God has interposed in the history of mankind in a special and personal manner; . . . that one, having a special relation to God, came from God to men in the form of a man . . . [Consequently] what are we to suppose concerning the other worlds which science discloses to us? Is there a like scheme of salvation provided for all of them? Our view of the saviour of man will not allow us to suppose that there can be more than one saviour. And the saviour coming as a man to men is so essential a part of the scheme . . . that to endeavour to transfer it to other worlds and to imagine there something analogous as existing, is more repugnant to our feeling than to imagine those other worlds not to be provided with any divine scheme of salvation . . ."

    • The ability to make new kinds of observations may (or may not) lead to entirely new stories.
    • New kinds of observations at a minimum require new versions of older stories ... and make predictions that may become testable by new observations.
    • There is some "inertia" to story types.

    Contemporary and In Progress Chapters

    • Stories can motivate new ways of observing that make the previously unobservable observable
    • New observations suggest new stories
    • Story telling is a never-ending process?

    Mars: The Story in Microcosm

    Percival Lowell, Mars, 1895Viking I Orbiter, 1980
    Mariner 4,6,7,9 (1965-1971) orbiters
    • From craters to landscapes - life?

    Viking 1,2 (1976) orbiters and landers

    Global Surveyor (1996)

    Pathfinder (1997) lander and rover

    • Dry landscape but ... ?

    Mars Exploration Rover (2004, current and 24 January, 9 pm)

    • "Smaller" stories are influenced by and influence "bigger stories"
    • Stories always derive from observations as well as from other stories, and contain elements of the as yet to be observed?
    • Stories both influence and are constrained by observations?
    • Stories both influence and are constrained by other stories?
    • There are always multiple possible stories?
    • Stories evolve?

    Life on Mars ... elsewhere in the universe ... does it matter?

    • "Do there exist many worlds, or is there but a single world? This is one of the most noble and exalted questions in the study of Nature". ---St. Albertus Magnus (circa 1260 AD)
    • What are the possible societal effects of a SETI success?, from the SETI Institute
    • Life in the Universe: Social Implications, from the European Space Agency
    • Imagining himself engulfed between infinity and nothingness, the great French scientist and theologian Blaise Pascal expressed the terror of the interstellar spaces. Yet other writers enjoyed their contemplation of the infinite plurality of worlds within us and around us. The possibility of traveling there, at least in imagination, could liberate the mind from its dull rounds, from custom and authority; science could be as exciting as science fiction. To Margaret Cavendish, the duchess of Newcastle, the multiplication of worlds was second nature not least because women as well as men could imagine worlds that were better suited to what they desired.", from The Plurality of Worlds: Overview

    For Further Exploring/Story-Telling

    William Sheehan, The Planet Mars: A History of Observation and Discovery, University of Arizona Press, 1996
    Steven J. Dick, Plurality of Worlds: The Origins of the Extraterrestrial Life Debate from Democritus to Kant. Cambridge University Press, 1982.
    Michael J. Crowe, The Extraterrestrial Life Debate, 1750-1900: The Idea of a Plurality of Worlds from Kant to Lowell. Cambridge University Press, 1986. Steven J. Dick, The Biological Universe: The Twentieth-Century Extraterrestrial Life Debate and the Limits of Science. Cambridge University Press, 1996.
    Michael J. Crowe, "A History of the Extraterrestrial Life Debate." Zygon 1997, 32: 147-162

    The Plurality of Worlds, from the Norton Anthology of English Literature
    Mars, from NASA
    Mars Links, from Oklahoma Baptist University

    | Course Home Page | Forum | Science in Culture | Serendip Home |

    Send us your comments at Serendip

    © by Serendip 1994- - Last Modified: Wednesday, 02-May-2018 10:51:49 CDT