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

  • 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, 1895 Viking I Orbiter, 1980
Mariner 4,6,7,9 (1965-1971) orbiters

Viking 1,2 (1976) orbiters and landers

Global Surveyor (1996)

Pathfinder (1997) lander and rover

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?

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
SETI's Serendip

Mars: Life Pinned on Viking Horns?, from Astrobiology Magazine
Mars, from NASA
Mars Links, from Oklahoma Baptist University

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