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An eye in the sky. August 21, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben isn’t referring to the Dark Lord, Sauron, but to the Mars Rover. Wouldn’t it be amazing if it actually did find signs of life on Mars? I think it’s improbable that it will come up with any living organisms more exciting than bacteria. But what if it found fossil evidence of creatures that once walked, flew and swam across the planet before desertification claimed it?

Our friend Ben is a friend to fossils of all types and stripes; I’ve collected them since I was in diapers, picking crinoid fossils out of the gravel in our driveway. (This is actually my earliest memory.) To see images of Martian fossils would probably be the thrill of a lifetime. I’ve been driving Silence Dogood crazy speculating about what these creatures might have looked like; doubtless very different from anything we’ve ever seen, to survive so far from the sun.

Maybe that’s where the concept of the little green men with eyes jutting up on stalks came from; they’d need much better vision than ours, if they needed vision at all.¬†Imagine a world of creatures with totally different senses than ours! I read just yesterday that piranhas typically live by grabbing bites out of passing fish, and that they have tastebuds all over the outside of their bodies, so they can sense which passing fish would be tasty and which wouldn’t! If that doesn’t sound like it’s straight out of science fiction, I don’t know what does.

Speaking of science fiction, much as we all love movies like “Avatar” and the concept of people shuttling back and forth between Earth and the rest of the galaxy, even were it possible to send people to other worlds, I doubt they’d be coming back. It would be too dangerous for our planet. Even the smallest alien bacteria, lurking undetected on the ship, could have the potential to wipe out all life as we know it, leaving only our own fossil record to say we had ever lived. Space exploration would have to be a kind of high-tech exile. But I’m sure there are plenty of adventurous sorts out there who’d consider exploring new worlds to be more than worth giving up this one!

Not our friend Ben, though. Our home planet has more than enough beauty and wonder for me. But I’d still love to see some photos of Martian fossils…

Fahrenheit 451. June 7, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben saw in today’s news that Ray Bradbury had died, joining those other science-fiction titans Isaac Asimov, Michael Crichton, and Frank Herbert somewhere across the universe. This of course reminded me of Mr. Bradbury’s book Fahrenheit 451 (and the wonderful Julie Christie movie made from it). And that in turn made me think about censorship: Not the censorship of speech, but the far more dangerous censorship of thought itself.

Fahrenheit 451 is about a society where reading books is banned, books are hunted down and publicly burned, and people caught owning or reading books are treated as criminals. (The title is the temperature at which paper catches fire.) People can not only not discuss ideas, they can’t even read them.

Other sci-fi classics address this concept, too: “The Running Man,” the wonderful movie created from Stephen King’s novella; the “Matrix” movies, where your thoughts are created for you; the TV series “The Prisoner;” and, taking the concept to an extreme, “The Stepford Wives” (original version). I’m sure there are many more, and I’m hoping you’ll chime in with your favorites.

I was hoping to end this post with an appropriate quote from our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin. I think this one fills the bill:

“It is in the religion of ignorance that tyranny begins.”