Thursday, 28 May 2015

A Secular Prophet

Poul Anderson, Starfarers (New York, 1999).

Chandor Barak, director of the Venture Society academy, tells Captain Nansen:

"' are the hero. I could well say you're the prophet. We need your imagination.'
"Nansen felt uncomfortable about that. But no matter. The zeal before him lighted his own fire afresh. This was not about gain or glory, it was about the nature of humankind, and humankind's place in the universe." (p. 466)

That does sound prophetic. But is it mankind's place in the universe that motivates people to travel long distances into unknown regions? I think that Europeans invaded other continents for gain and glory and sometimes rationalized their own enrichment with fine sounding phrases. Anderson imagines a situation in which the returned Envoy crew members have no economic motive for space exploration but instead really do believe that this is the way forward for mankind.

That is my hope for the future. Freed by technology from material want, some human beings may relapse into passivity but others will be freed to pursue worthy goals like the exploration of the universe. Knowledge is primarily an end, not a means.

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