Sunday, 17 November 2013

A Certain Hunger?

"Already today, when man has not yet set foot on the Moon, we look at the stars with a certain hunger. It is bound to grow once the Solar System has become familiar to us. Can it ever be appeased?"

- Poul Anderson, Is There Life On Other Worlds? (New York, 1963), p. 165.

Do we? How many people on Earth want either to cross interstellar distances or to be alive when others do? Many struggle for existence on Earth. Others hope for a fulfilled life here. For those who are interested in the exploration of the Solar System, it will be a very long time before it becomes familiar. Anderson wrote this book at a time when the US was racing to the Moon, although, as he says in Thermonuclear Warfare, this was more for the development of rocket and computer technology than for interplanetary exploration. But interplanetary exploration was part of the popular image of why they were doing it.

At the end of the preceding chapter, Anderson presents this rationale for interstellar travel:

"Machine civilization, irresistably powerful, spreads across Earth and devours all others...We see before us the specter of a planet-wide rigid as Pharaonic Egypt...the individual may have numerous liberties. But if there is nothing he can do with it, his freedom is empty. Already today we feel the first gnawings of that millennial hollowness. Yet we move on toward the empire, for our alternative is to renounce the machine.

"The newness that is our salvation may come from the stars." (p. 164)

Nothing he can do with it? We can life live to the full on Earth with some exploration of the Solar System even if the first interstellar travel is a long way in the future. Instead of renouncing technology, we can use it to make this world fitter for humanity.

I am for the exploration of the universe but do not see the interstellar question in such apocalyptic terms.

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

Of course most people will never leave Earth, either because they can't or don't want to, but I can see a fairly large minority who WOULD if the chance ever came to them. For instance, you may have read of the private association which hopes to send a four member expedition to Mars to found the first colony there in ten years. Plans were made to send only four persons, but more 80,000 sent in their applications! So the "hunger" metioned by Poul Anderson IS there.

I also have sympathy for his belief that if mankind does not get off this rock in a REAL way, the best we might hope for is a reasonably decent and tolerable, but ossified and rigid society ruling Earth. Such as what we see in THE LONG WAY HOME. A far nastier alternative is what we see in "Welcome."