I chose to write about The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. I decided to read this book because Wells writes about two scientific themes that have always interested me. As the name of the book implies, one of the themes that Wells delves into is time travel. The other theme is human evolution. In the book, the main character, whose name is never mentioned, creates a time machine and travels to 802, 701 AD. While in the future, he encounters a group of humans called Eloi. The Time Traveller spends time with the Elois and learns much about them. I enjoyed this book, and I personally loved Wells’s view on how he believes human evolution will be like in the future. Although the book mentions two major themes of science, I will focus on the evolution part of this book. I am particularly fascinated with human evolution because humans can evolve at so many levels. We are able to evolve at the molecular level as well as on a societal level. In the book, Wells mentions that Eloi are physically different than humans today, but the biggest change was the way Eloi behaved. I think that the topic of human evolution is something that fascinates many people, and I believe that Wells paints an excellent picture of what he sees the future of humans may be like.
Herbert George Wells was and English writer born on September 21, 1866. Wells is most known for War of the Worlds, Island of Dr. Moreau, The Invisible Man, and The Time Machine. Although he was best known for his fiction writings, Wells also wrote books in other genres such as history and politics.
Wells was the last of four children of Joseph Wells and Sarah Neal. Wells’s father was a shopkeeper and professional cricket player, and his mother was a lady’s maid. As you can tell, Wells did not live in a life of luxury. Wells’s mother placed very strict puritanical religious views on him. His mother fed him scary ideas of burning in hell. Wells’s quickly stopped believing in God and religion. Wells became a draper’s apprentice whenever his family was experiencing financial burdens. He disliked being a draper and eventually quit, and went on to pursue an education. He was lucky enough to receive a scholarship to the Normal School in London.
His professor Thomas Huxley heavily influenced Well’s life. Huxley’s views on Darwinian evolution shaped the foundation of Wells’s beliefs. Wells also said, “that year I spent in Huxley’s class was beyond all questions, the most educations year of my life.” (WellsExper) Although it seemed that Wells would have gone on to be a scientist, H.G Wells went on to the literature route. However, Wells ended up dropping out of the Normal School of Science after his third year. Wells had to make a way to earn money, and he ended up finding a teaching job at a boarding school in Wales (Harris 19). While teaching at the boarding school, Wells was hit by a student during a game of soccer, which caused damage to his kidney and also crushed a blood vessel in his lung (Harris 19). Wells was diagnosed with Tuberculosis while he was recovering from his accident. He did not die, but while recovering, he had the chance to read a lot of literature from a library. The exposure he had to the literature helped develop his own ideas for writing.
Wells’s first big hit was The Time Machine. This book was very successful, and his career as a writer took off from this first book. His science background had much to do with his writing style and his views on certain issues. In the book The Time Machine, Wells writes about evolution and time travel. Wells also incorporates issues faced during his time. For example, in his book The Island of Doctor Moreau, Wells brings to light the issue of vivisection. During his time vivisection was seen as unnecessary cruelty. Wells’s work has had much influence on other works of fiction.
The story begins with the Time Traveller, an English scientist, discussing with his weekly dinner guests about the fourth dimension, which is time. The Time Traveller tells his dinner guest that it is possible to move through time. His guests are skeptical at first, but then show his guests a model of his time
machine. He informs his guests that we will travel through time, and then his guest leave after the evening has concluded. He invites his dinner guests over again the next week, and then he tells them all about his time traveling adventure.
The Time Traveller goes to the year 802,701 AD. While in the future he meets a group of humans that call themselves the Eloi. The Eloi live in small communities within the ruins of fallen cities. The Eloi are a very carefree people. The Time Traveller notices that the Eloi lack curiosity and discipline. He believes that they are a communist society. He has difficulty communicating with the Eloi because they are not interested in learning about him, and he thinks that in their society being intellectual is not an advantageous trait.
When the Time Traveller is done speaking to the Eloi, he is unable to find his time machine. The Time Traveller soon realizes that the machine was taken by a group of ape-like creatures known as the Morlocks. The Time Traveller speculates that humans evolved into two different species, the Elois and the Morlocks. The Morlocks live underground, and they seem to be the ones who make life enjoyable for the Eloi.
While the Time Traveller is finding his time machine, he saves an Eloi girl named Weena from drowning. He takes Weena with him on a trip to the remains of an old museum. At the museum, he finds a supply of matches and weapons, which he feels he will have to use in order to retrieve his machine. On the way to Weena’s home, they are both overcome by Morlocks, but they are able to escape because of a forest fire set by the Time Traveller. Although the Time Traveller escapes, Weena is lost in the fire. The Morlocks use the Time Machine to lure the Time Travller back to them, but the Morlocks did not seem to understand that we would just use it to escape. The Time Traveller escapes and ends up going 30 million years into the future. While in very distant future he sees the earth slowly erode, and becomes very overwhelmed and returns home to tell his story.
In this book, the topic of human evolutions is heavily presented. The main character travels into the distant future and encounters two distinct groups of humans. Not only did the humans change physically, but also the way they behaved was different. When H.G Wells wrote this book, he was heavily influenced by major scientists of his time. One person in particular was Charles Darwin.
Darwin’s main idea was evolution by natural selection. During an expedition to the Galapagos, Darwin observed finches and noticed that certain finches were better adapted to certain environments. This observation led Darwin to his theory of Natural Selection. His theory stated that if a certain adaptation were successful, then that trait would get passed on. Darwin also believed that animals descended from common ancestors. Darwin’s ideas on evolution influenced HG Wells’s writing. For example in the book, the main character stated that humans evolved into two species, the Morlocks and the Eloi. This idea is similar to Darwin’s theory of animals having common ancestors.
Today evolution is seen as changes in allele frequencies in population overtime (Britannica. However during Wells’s time, not much was known about DNA and the factors that affected it that could lead to evolution. When thinking in terms of human evolution, there are several levels in which one must look at. H.G Wells not only described the physical differences seen in the Morlocks and the Eloi, but also the behavioral differences. Wells’s describes the Eloi as people who were carefree and people who lacked curiosity. I think that Wells’s was illustrating that not only will humans evolve physically, but also at a societal level. It is uncertain what the future holds, but Wells’s does an excellent job at getting one’s imagination going.
In this book, HG Wells does an excellent job at looking into the future. As mentioned before, he was heavily influenced by the science of his time. For example, Darwin’s theory of evolution influenced how Wells’s approached evolution in his books. I would recommend this book for any science fiction lover because the book makes one think about what the future holds.
“Introduction.” The Island of Doctor Moreau Edited by Mason Harris. Ed. Mason Harris. Toronto: Broadview Editions, 2009. Page 19-22.
Wells,H.G., Experiment in Autobiography: Discoveries and Conclusions of a Very Ordinary Brain (since 1866). 2 Vols. London: Gollancz and Cresset Press, 1934
Pesticides have been know to be endocrine blockers, but new British studies reveal that pesticides also block male hormones. Pesticides are screened to determine if they block testosterone or other androgens. However, only a few chemicals get screened by the EPA every year leaving hundreds of other chemicals dissolved into our food and water.
Someone in class mentioned how nuclear technology and radiation where used in the medical field, and I wanted to know more about it. I knew radiation was used, but radioisotopes are also used in the medical field. Radioisotopes allow doctors to detect tumors or fractures, measure blood flow, or determine thyroid and pulmonary functions in patients. Not only are radioisotopes used, but idione-131, a fission product, is used in diagnostics test for certain thyroid disorders.
So after skimming through The Giant’s Shoulders #72 I found nothing particularly interesting, however, I did find something sort of interesting in the 35th one.
Near the very start of the class we discussed how, in the past, scientific debate consisted mostly of ridicule, and this site has an example of this; an entire book ridiculing Athanasius Kircher and other predecessors of Newton.
Science cannot only be explored through experiments or venturing out in the field but also through literature. Scientific novels allow us to see science through a fictionalized story such as I, Robot. I, Robot is a science fiction that was written by Isaac Asimov in 1950. Along with I, Robot, Asimov has also written several other award winning scientific novels. In I, Robot, several different scientific discoveries, such as expeditions to other planets and creation of robots, are mentioned along with underlying messages on ethics in scientific experiments and psychology. Isaac Asimov
Isaac Asimov was born on January 2, 1920 in Petrovichi, Russia to proud parents Juda and Anna Asimov. His family moved to Brooklyn, New York in 1923 where his family owned a candy store (Gunn, 1982). Asimov taught himself how to read at the age five, and he skipped a total of one and a half years of grade school during elementary. He completed junior high school in two years instead of the usual three and graduated high school at the age of fifteen. Asimov had the ability to retain information really well, but soon noticed that he lacked ability to grasp mathematics or economics. He began to write a series of books at the age of eleven. Being the elderly son, Asimov’s father wanted him to become a physician rather then writing books. Getting into medical school for Asimov was not easy. Medical schools back then had quotas on the number of Jewish students they could allow, thus Asimov never applied to medical school. He graduated with a bachelors of science degree in chemistry from Columbia University. Then he tried to reapply to medical school again but got rejected again, so he obtained his M. A. in 1941. World War II broke out when he was trying to get his doctorate, so he put a halt to his education to become a chemist at the United States Navy Yard in Philadelphia. In 1948, Asimov finally earned his degree and was offered to work at Boston University School of Medicine as an instructor in biochemistry. His passion to write scientific novels never really left him, and once again began to write. He published his first storyMarooned of Vesta in April 1940 in the Amazing Stories.
Asimov’s writing carrier started to take off to the point were he was making more from his books then his job at Boston University School of Medicine (Gunn, 1982). Originally, Asimov had published several individual stories about robots in the 1940’s, and it was not until 1950 that he combined Robbie, Runaround, Reason, Catch that Rabbit, Liar!, Little Lost Robot, Escape!, Evidence, and The Evitable Conflict into what is known today as I, Robot. He made these individual stories to be a part of a whole story depicting Susan Calvin’s life. By the end of his career, Asimov had received eight Hugo awards and two Nebulas. In 1983, everything came to halt when Asimov had to receive a heart bypass. A blood transfusion
had taken place during the procedure, and the blood used had been tainted with HIV. In 1992, Asimov died of AIDS.
I, Robot is essentially nine short stories blended together to seem like events that occurred in Doctor Susan Calvin’s life time while working at United States Robot and Mechanical Men Incorporation. The introduction starts out by giving a brief background of Dr. Calvin. An interview (who’s name never gets mentioned) wanted to know more about Dr. Calvin’s life while working for U. S. Robots to feature an article in Interplanetary Press. Susan goes on telling the interviewer nine different stories about robots all revolving around the ethics on creating and using robots. The first story is about the first robot ever made in 1996. His name was Robbie and was sold to be a nursemaid. In this story, the mother is afraid Robbie will get “some little jiggers” and “will go berserk” hurting her daughter Gloria (Asimov, p. 25). Mr. Weston reminds his wife “that it is impossible for a robot to harm a human being” thus Gloria is perfectly fine playing with Robbie. Eventually the Weston’s get rid of Robbie, and Susan continues to talk about U. S. Robots. She then mentions the Second Mercury Expeditions led by Michael Donovan and Gregory Powell with the help of robots. The next chapter is called Runaround, and Dr. Susan talks about the accident Powell and Donavan ran into with a robot called Speedy. Donavan had told Speedy to get selenium without putting urgency into the order. Certain terrains on Mercury were harmful to both humans and robots, so when Speedy went to collect selenium he ran into a dilemma. The third law would not allow him to get close enough to the selenium pool, but the second law made him obey Donavan’s order. Powell and Donavan eventually figure out how to make Speedy get selenium back to the station in a timely fashion.
The third chapter mentions another run in Powell and Donavan have with a robot called Cutie. Cutie believed he had a higher intellectual Master who had built him and would only obey to the Master. Powell figured out Cutie is a reasoning robot and there was not getting through to Cutie. The two men leave the station after knowing Cutie could handle the station alone and go back home to a six month vacation. Upon arriving back to U. S. Robots, a new robot had been created. The new robot was one big robot with six tinier robots working underneath named Dave. Dave malfunctioned and could not control six robots at a time decreasing his initiative. Gregory figures out that Dave can only be in charge of five robots at a time in order to fully function properly. The interview stops Susan from mentioning any other robots in space and asked her about robots on Earth.
She mentions her own run in with Herbie the “lying robot”. Herbie was the first mind reading robot ever created due to an error during the creation of his positronic brain. Dr. Susan, who is also a robopsychologists, figured out that Herbie was just obeying the first law of robotics, and thus would lie about things when questioned.
Herbie could read what people were thinking and what they wanted, so he would lie to them to make sure he would not hurt them.
In the next chapter, Dr. Susan mentions the creation of a ship from The Brain at U. S. Robots. Consolidated Robots approached them wanting to know what was wrong with their ship design, so they had The Brain replicate a new ship. The Brain was told to look at all the paper work , and to reject anything back with discrepancies. However, The Brain just fixed whatever was wrong and built a new ship. Powell and Donavan get stuck in the ship, and The Brain send the ship off into space. Not knowing where the two had been, Dr. Susan and others started to worry, but she knew The Brain had to still abide by the first law thus The Brain would keep the two scientist out of harms way. With this mishap, the government perfected the Jump through hyperspace allowing human colonies on other planets.
Dr. Calvin mentioned all the new discoviries that had occurred along with the several mishaps, but she told the interview that what happened on Earth in the last fifty years was what really mattered. She mentions how Stephen Byerley changed the public’s view on robots. The world has split up into Regions with Byerley as the World Co-ordinator and each region having a Vice-Co-ordinator. Each region focused on different aspects of the economy with robots along side humans. The robots would help calculate things such as how long it would take to finish a canal, how long it would take to grow crops, or how many resources were available to grow crops. The Machines were running the future of the world according to Dr. Calvin, and she believed that the “Society for Humanity” was right when they said that The Machines were taking over humans. The book ends by stating “It never had any, really. It was always at the mercy of economic and sociological forces it did not understand-at the whims of climate, and the fortunes of war. Not the Machines understand them; and no one can stop them, since the Machines will deal with them as they are dealing with the Society,-having, as they do, the greatest of weapons at their disposal, the absolute control of our economy (Asimov, 1950).”
Dr. Calvin saw everything form the beginning of creating the robots to them standing between mankind and destruction. At the end she tells the interviewer she will see no more and resigned. Robotics
Asimov mentioned several robots throughout his novel. Robotics in the 1940s and 1950s was based on two technologies: mathematical control and teleoperators (“World-Information”). In 1940, Asimov released his first short story called “A Strange Playfellow” stating the three laws of robotics (Isom).
1. A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
In I, Robot, Asimov mentions his first robot called Robbie who worked through mathematical inputs as well. As time went on, the robots became more intelligent as they did in Asimov’s stories. Alen
Newell and Herber Simon created the Logic Theorist, which was the first expert system that was used to solve difficult math problems (Isom). More research started to take place in artificial intelligence in 1949 (World-Information), which led to the development of the first industrialized used robots. In 1954, George Devol and Joe Enleberger created the first robot ‘arm’ (Isom). With the increase in development of technology in the 1950s, history changed on
October 4, 1957, when the Soviet Union launched their very first spaceship, the Sputnik (Garber, 2007). The space race had begun, and the United States started to create robots and spaceship to be sent into space to study the moon and other plants. On August 20, 1975, the United States launched the Viking equipped with the first space robot (Viking 01). Robotics further advanced from not only being used for expeditions or industrial prototypes, but as well in medicine. In 1998, Dr. David Gow created the first bionic arm called the Edinburgh Modular Arm System to allow disabled individuals to perform independent daily activities (Patel).
With more advancements that had occurred in science, Asimov created more stories such as “Lair!,” “Reason,” “Little Lost Robot,” etc. The robots in his stories also progressively became more advanced, and he also included sever voyages to different planets with these robots. He even went beyond his time era and mentioned humans living on other planets with Machines along their sides guiding their future. I believe that newer discoveries in robotics and space expeditions during Asimov’s time influenced each one of his robot stories, but one key aspect in Asimov’s stories was the ethics behind all these experiments. Ethics
Asimov’s whole book is based on the ethics behind robotics. He was the first person to create the three laws of robotics. The first robot Asimov talked about was Robbie.
“Robbie was constructed for one one purpose really-to be the companion of a little child. His entire ‘mentality’ has been created for the purpose.”
This quote reveals how Asimov believed ethically robots are created with a sole purpose and will do just so. He later went on discussing how Robbie will always uphold the three laws engraved into him further solidifying how ethically Robbie was created. When robots began to become more complicated and further advance, Asimov creates stories about robots that malfunctioned. For example, when
the First Law was not impression in the NS-2 model robots in the chapter “Little Lost Robot”, the robots lost the capability to protect humans as their number one priority. I believe the underlying message Asimov is trying to state is that you should not tamper with things far past their limits especially when the knowledge is no present. He was the first person to even come up with the idea of robots, but he knew some laws had to be created in order to keep things in line.
Asimov at his time was the father of science fiction novels publishing over a hundred sci-fi novels. He took his knowledge of current scientific discoveries into play when writing his books, but he also tried to predict the future in robotics. Asimov depicted his story in such way to reveal not only the different aspects of robotics and expeditions but also the key role of ethics (a.k.a. his three laws of robotics) in scientific experiments and discoveries.
A few interviews with Isaac Asimov that are worth watching.
Asimov, Isaac. I, robot. New York: Bantam Books, 1950. Print.
Patel, V. R., M. F. Chammas, and S. Shah. “Robotic assisted laparoscopic radical prostatectomy: a review of the current state of affairs.” International Journal of Clinical Practice 61.2 (2007): 309-314. Print.
When you think of the expression, “My sister’s keeper” a general thought of an older sibling providing nurturing care to a younger sibling automatically comes into mind. A teenager that soothes their upset pre-teen sibling because the heart throb crush of the opposite sex does not share the same feelings, or the idea of an older sibling teaching the younger one the ways of life and proving encouraging words to influence good behavior in school, basically the general concept behind being a normal sibling. In the case of Anna and Kate Fitzgerald however this concept is out of the ordinary because Anna was born with the sole purpose of keeping her older sister Kate alive, “her sister’s keeper”. The book My Sister’s Keeper is a captivating novel that discusses moral conflict, family values, genetic makeup, designer babies, cancer and cancer treatment. This book by author Jodi Picoult is among the top best sellers because it discusses controversial topics such as stem cell research and designer babies in relation to a medical situation that will grab the reader and leave them searching through scholarly journals for more information on the science behind this book. Jodi Picoult did a great job with interesting the everyday reader while also involving science, medicine, and ethics. My Sister’s Keeper was used to raise the question of whether or not it is morally acceptable to create a life and use it to save another life, and also when if ever is it ok to subject someone to medical procedures against their will.
About the author
Jodi Lynn Picoult was born May 19, 1966 in Long island. She is an American author who has written numerous books featured on the New York Time’s, Best Sellers list. Jodi Picoult was interested in writing at a young age. When she was old enough to read and write she authored her first work known as “The lobster which Misunderstood”. (Journal) Jodi took her love for writing to college. Jodi attended Princeton where she majored in creative writing (picoult). While attending college she published work in Seventeen Magazine, and throughout college worked for a few companies as a writer to pay the bills (picoult). After College, Jodi began a career as a writer for Wall Street, a copywriter for an ad agency, and also as a middle school teacher. She then took her education to the next level and attended grad school to get a master’s degree in education at Harvard University (picoult). Jodi continued to write, and was later married to Tim Van Leer and started a family. A short time after she was married, Jodi published her first novel titled The Songs of a Humpback Whale in 1992, followed by several other novels that charted the top of the best sellers list. In later years Jodi Picoult was given several awards such as, The New England Bookseller Award for Fiction, the Book Browse Diamond Award for novel of the year, and even a lifetime achievement award (picoult). She has also been recognized for countless achievements for several other novels she has published. The work Jodi Picoult has done is inspiring to her fan base because it deals with so many interesting topics, and because of her skillful writing style. Jodi Picoult is an author, wife, mother, and a member of numerous charities (picoult). Jodi Picoult’s Novel My sister’s Keeper had so much success after it was published that it was made into a major motion film. My Sister’s Keeper the movie was released in 2009 (wikipedia). The film stared Cameron Diaz, Abigail Breslin, and Joan Cusack. When the movie was released there were some major changes in the plot, but it was still a hit in the box office (wikipedia).
The story of My Sister’ Keeper
The Book is structured around the Fitzgerald Family. The members are parents, Sara and Brian. The kids are Jesse, Kate, and Anna. The book starts out with background information about the family and the issues they are all dealing with. Brian and Sara have a son named Jesse who is healthy as a young child. When he is a few years old he gets a new little sister named Kate. Unlike Jesse, Kate is not so lucky when it comes to health. When she is around the age of two she begins to get sick often, and Kate develops mysterious bruises. The parents take her to the doctor to get some test done. Sara and Brian find out that Kate has developed a serious illness, and is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. The cancer is Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia, APL for short (organization). APL is a rare form of leukemia, and it affects an estimated 1 in every 250,000 people (genetics home reference, the guide to understanding genetic conditions). APL is a cancer of the blood forming system due to a translocation of cells in the body. APL is diagnosed by blood testing. Symptoms of this cancer include abnormal bruising and bleeding, such as blood in the urine and nose bleeds (genetics home reference, the guide to understanding genetic conditions). The symptoms related to APL are exactly the symptoms Kate experienced in the novel. After Kate was diagnosed with APL the plan of treatment was discussed.
The first plan was to have the family tested to determine if there was a donor match to assist in the treatment of Kate. There were no matches, so chemotherapy radiation, and several other medications were the next plan of action. Over the course of a few years the treatments worked, but due to the rarity of this cancer a repeat in treatment proved to be ineffective. The family seemed to be running out of options, and then a doctor that specializes in genetics gave them a new option. The doctor basically told them that even though none of the current family members were matches for Kate, there could still be a chance that another member can be. The doctor told the family that the increase in genetic studies has provided information on designing babies. The family could consult with a geneticist and embryologist to produce a perfect donor match for their sick daughter Kate. With the help of fertility treatment and specialist the family was able to create Anna. Anna was born and immediately became a donor for her sister. She underwent extensive amounts of procedures to donate blood, bone marrow, and platelets to her sister. It isn’t until Anna turns 13 that she no longer wants to be a donor for her sister. Anna decides she does not want to be a donor any more when her parents suggest that she should donate one of her kidneys to her sister. A young girl giving up a kidney means giving up the possibility of ever having a normal life. Research has shown that a person can live a normal life with one kidney. However things that could potentially harm the remaining kidney must be eliminated, for example drinking alcoholic beverages and major contact sports. There is also a chance that the remaining kidney fails on its own and then that person has to begin Dialysis (john hopkins what kidney donors need to know). There are several other complications associated with kidney donation that can lead to a troubled life down the road, and as a result to that Anna decides she will file a lawsuit against her parents for medical emancipation.
A medically emancipated minor, is a person who is found suitable to make their own medical decisions in the court of law. The minor can consult with their parent or other guardian for advice, but the ultimate decision is up to the minor (minor rights vs parent right). Anna hires a lawyer by the name of Campbell Alexander to take on her case. The court appoints a third party person named Julia who is to help the court decide what is medically best for Anna. The case goes to trial, and the truth behind the lawsuit is revealed. Kate asked Anna to stop being a donor for her so she could die. Kate has no desire to go on fighting the battle against her cancer. The court ruled in Anna’s favor to emancipate her. After the trial is over, Anna is on her way to see her family at the hospital when she gets into a terrible car accident. The doctors pronounce her brain dead. Sara and Brian make the decision to take the kidney out of Anna and give it to Kate. The surgery is a success, and Kate goes on to live a life cancer free (Picoult, 2004).
The book as a film
The book was made into a film and there were some major changes. The characters were different; some that were in the book were not in the movie. The major difference would have to be the ending. In the book Anna dies tragically in a car accident. In the movie Kate dies after Anna is granted medical emancipation. The overall plot line was still very similar.
Science and medicine
Without science, there would be no medicine, and without medicine, there would not be a demand for continued scientific research. Science and medicine make up the never ending cycle of life improvement. As time progresses new research is done to find a faster more affective cure for everything. This book discusses genetics, anatomy and physiology, medical research, chemotherapy, and several other topics in science because it is important on getting the point of the book across, but how important are these topics in a real life situation?
Genetics is the study of genes. Geneticists study how traits are passed on from person to person. A person’s physical traits like eye color, hair color, and height are all things that can be determined with genetic studies. Inheritable diseases can also be found with the study of genetics (genes in life, genetics 101). Genetics was founded by Gregor Mendel in the early 1800’s. He performed an experiment with pea plants. The experiment provided information on the rules of heredity (deciphering the genetic code). Mendel used pea plants of different sizes and color and bred them. He found that when he bred certain plants together the plant would have characteristics of one of the plants. This finding gave way to the terms dominant and recessive gene traits (deciphering the genetic code). Genetics are used today to test for diseases like Down syndrome, cancer, Marfan syndrome, and several others. All of these diseases are inherited, and without the study of genetics information of these diseases would not exist (specific genetic disorders). A recent headline about the genetic disease Marfan syndrome was in the news. A young basketball player entering the 2014 NBA draft was diagnosed with having the gene that indicated Marfan syndrome.
Marfan syndrome and how it affects every day people
Stem cell research is another science discussed in this book. Stem cell research is a controversial topic because of how the stem cells are collected. Human stem cells have to be isolated from embryos (stem cell research ). This means that a person has to donate their embryos to science, and that is an ethical issue for some people because it can be considered as killing a life. This is because tissue from a fetus is collected. The fetus will most likely never be brought to term because it is for scientific study, so that can be considered as murder. Despite the ethical issue of stem cell research it has proved to be beneficial because so many different tests can be performed with them (stem cell research ). Stem cells have the ability to regenerate into several different things. A form of stem cells can be isolated from bone marrow and injected into another person to help their blood cells regenerate new blood cells. This is brought up in the book, when Anna was born the doctor took blood from the umbilical cord and used it to inject into Kate to help boost the creation of more blood cells and platelets. Anna also underwent bone marrow aspirations to collect bone marrow to donate to Kate (Picoult, 2004). Bone marrow aspiration and umbilical cord blood are examples of stem cell research because they are stem cells, and they were taken out of one person, and injected into another in hopes of improving a medical condition. After the injection the stem cells were able to repair tissue and regenerate as new tissue (stem cell research ). This put Kate into remission. Without research on stem cells, the doctors would have not known to try this as a form of cancer treatment. Stem cell research will benefit in the long run because it has the potential to help the medical field find out how a person got a certain disease, and then find out how to fix the problem, and cure the patient (stem cell research ). Designing babies is also a form of science discussed in this book. Designing babies with specific genetic traits is a thing now, but is it moral. The scientific term for designing babies is called “The Principle of Procreative beneficence”; it discusses the rights a parent has to select a baby with the best expected outcome. (SAVULESCU, 2009) This is a complicated process but it can happen. Generally it is not used to pick out a baby that can grow up to be the best looking person in the world, it should be used to select a baby that is maybe predisposed to a genetic disorder, but may have the chance of not having the issue (SAVULESCU, 2009). Go to http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-8519.2008.00687.x/full and read the article about designer babies.
Science is all around and it influences a lot of daily activity. The Book my Sister’s keeper is a book that discusses science in relation to medicine, while also throwing a mixture of ethical issues in as well. Without the science research we have today, we will not be able to find a cure for diseases of tomorrow. Science and medicine go hand in hand, and will continue to do so for years to come.
Who is God? What is God? Is there a God? Is God an entity who not only created the world, but is also an active participant as religions would like us to believe? Can God be determined through the study of science and mathematics, or do the atheist scientists like Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, and Sigmund Freud have the right answer? These are just a few of the questions brought up in Robert J Sawyer’s 2000 book Calculating God. A book described by the Toronto Star Newspaper as a “highly philosophical, theological and ethical story,” (R. J. Sawyer, Interview with Robert Sawyer 2010). Calculating God explores these questions and provides scientific reasons to support the theory of intelligent design.
Calculating God is rightly classified as a science fiction because the story revolves around an alien landing near a museum and wanting to study earth’s paleontological history. It could also be classified as a work of science-based philosophical fiction, as many of the discussions between the Royal Ontario Museum’s (ROM) Thomas Jericho and the alien Hollus are a debate about the existence of a God.
Is God a creator who designed the universe or does the universe just exist? The life-long atheist Jericho can’t believe that a fellow scientist, albeit an alien one, believes in the notion of intelligent design, and is again stunned to discover the second alien species brought by Hollus’s people are also believers. This stunned feeling is reciprocated by the aliens because of Jericho’s lack of belief, (R. J. Sawyer 2000, 34)
Sawyer uses the back and fourth between the humans and the aliens to argue the theories of Darwin, the big bang, DNA, the anthropic principal, and many of the fundamental scientific constants to provoke the reader into thinking about the design of the universe. For example this exchange on page 61:
‘How do you know,’ I said to him, ‘that the universe had a creator?, Hollus’s eyestalks curved to look at me. ‘The universe was clearly designed; if it had a design, it must therefore have a designer.’ (R. J. Sawyer 2000, 61)
And Sawyer himself said of the book in a 2010 interview with Philosophy Now Magazine “if the designer did exist though, he was a scientist, pure and simple,” (R. J. Sawyer, Interview with Robert Sawyer 2010). It is with this quote in mind, the reader gets to think about the science of the world with a different view than is often given in other scientific approaches to explaining the history of the world.
Biography of Robert J. Sawyer
Robert J. Sawyer is a Canadian science fiction writer of 21 published novels and other short stories. He is an award winning writer, and according to his biography on his website is also “the only writer in history to win the top science fiction awards in the United States, China, Japan, France, and Spain,” (R. J. Sawyer, Short Bio n.d.).
Calculating God Summary
Calculating God is the story of an alien named Hollus who arrives one day at the ROM in Toronto asking to work with a paleontologist about the earth’s five mass extinctions and their effects on the Earth’s evolution. Hollus’s landing changes the life and work of the books protagonist Thomas Jericho, a ROM paleontologist who just discovered that he is dying of lung cancer.
Jericho is surprised by the alien’s mastery of the English language, as Hollus tells Jericho she is from “the third planet of the star you call Beta Hydri,” (R. J. Sawyer 2000, 25). Beta Hydri
is a star approximately 24.3 light years away from earth and the brightest star in the Hydrus constellation, (Wikipedia Beta Hydri n.d.). This galaxy is the ninth star system she and those traveling with her have visited, and the third with intelligent life on it. She tells the staff at the ROM she has arrived with 33 other scientists, half of whom are Forhilnors (Hollus’s race) and the other half are Wreeds, another intelligent alien spices from the second planet of star Delta Pavonis.
Delta Pavonis is located in the constellation Pavo, and is roughly 20 light years away from earth, (Wikipedia Delta Pavonis n.d.).
Upon her arrival to the museum, Hollus asks to be treated as a normal visiting scholar and have access to the museum’s fossils and specimens in exchange for data about the aliens and their knowledge of the universe. The unexpected arrival of an alien triggers the museum, government and media to come together to learn more about the Hollus and her intentions. After the initial shock and media spectacle dies down, the two begin discussing the extinctions and working together. The interest in the five mass extinctions is due to the fact that five similar extinctions occurred at roughly the same time on both the Beta Hydri and Delta Pavonis planets. For Hollus, the study of the fossils and the earth’s history as well as their study of the Wreeds helps her and her people to better understand the history of their planet and the universe, (R. J. Sawyer 2000, 28-33).
Hollus is described as looking similar to a large spider with six legs and two arms. “His torso was no bigger around than the circle I could make with my arms…[it] was covered by a long strip of blue cloth. But his hide was visible on the six legs and two arms. It looked a bit like bubble wrap, although the individual domes were of varying sizes,” (R. J. Sawyer 2000, 23). Jericho determines that Hollus is endothermic, similar to mammals on earth; he also mistakenly identifies the alien as a male and is not until much later in the book Jericho finds out that Hollus is a female.
During their work together at the museum the two learn that despite the differences in appearance and planets, they are both made up of similar DNA structures. It is also explained by Hollus that all three planets have roughly the same technological advances, give or take a few decades, and the same basic life needs. To both the Forhilnors and the Wreeds, this is one of the indications of intelligent design, (R. J. Sawyer 2000, 85).
Although much of the book is a dialog between Hollus and Jericho about science and God, there are other subplots supporting the main themes. Jericho’s struggle with his terminal illness, and how it impacts both his family life and work. He is challenged to think about how God, if being real, could give him (and others) suffering and pain. Does God take an active part, a puppet master perhaps, in the ways of the world? The answer from the Forhilnors and the Wreeds is that God is merely the creator; not the God of religion and there to listen and answer prayers. However, they argue that God did play a role in the mass extinctions and paved the way for intelligent life to come about on all three planets.
Near the end of the book, the Earth and the alien’s planets face a possible sixth extinction; the universe is threatened by a star going supernova. Something intervenes, and destruction is averted. After what the aliens and Jericho believe was the earth’s salvation by God, Jericho accepts an offer from Hollus to travel with them to the creator’s known location. Instead of spending his last days on earth suffering, he is cryogenically frozen for space-travel by the aliens and they embark upon a journey to find God. The last chapter of the book is the aliens and Jericho meeting and communicating, though in an unlikely way, with God.
Intelligent Design and Calculating God
There is a great deal of science discussed in Calculating God. Sawyer uses the five fundamental forces: gravitation, electromagnetism, the strong and weak nuclear forces, and (according to Sawyer) the yet undiscovered repulsive fifth force to disavow the random nature of life and to promote the idea of a creator, (R. J. Sawyer 2000, 72). Though Jericho remains skeptical, Hollus argues, “there is no indisputable proof for the big bang and there is none for evolution. And yet you accept those. Why hold the question of whether there is a creator to a higher standard,” (R. J. Sawyer 2000, 101).
Hollus explains on pages 62-64 that if gravity was just different by just a few orders of magnitude on each side that the earth would have either never been created or collapsed under the extra gravitational weight.
Another example is that of the balance between gravitational and electromagnetism for the creation and balance of stars. According to Hollus, there aren’t many ways to do this mathematically and if their gravitational strength was different by one in 1040 that no yellow suns could exist in the universe (R. J. Sawyer 2000, 62). He continues with the example that if the nuclear forces which hold the atoms nuclei together was just slightly smaller, the protons would not allow for atoms to exist. If larger, only the hydrogen element would be formed.
This argument is similar to what is now known as the weak anthropic principal (WAP), which was introduced in Poland at the 500-year celebration of Copernicus’ birthday (Physics SFSU n.d.). The principal was presented by Brandon Carter,
the Australian theoretical physicist, and it’s underlying theory was that “humanity did indeed hold a special place in the Universe,” (Physics SFSU n.d.). It follows the works of the early Greek philosophers Aristotle and Plato, who argued for the case of a designer or creator because of the complexities of man. These early men when they made the illustration for intelligent design, did not do so with the notion of the Juedo-Christian God, a feeling that both the Wreeds and the Forhilnors agree with.
The weak anthropic principal also follows along with William Paley and his analogy of the eye and the telescope which was summed up as, “the eye is like a telescope; telescopes have telescope makers; therefore eyes must have eye makers,” (Ruse 2006). As it is now defined, the WAP states:
The observed values of all physical and cosmological quantities are not equally probable but they take on the values restricted by the requirement that there exist sites where carbon-based life can evolve and by the requirement that the universe be old enough for it to have already done so. (Physics SFSU n.d.)
Another scientific argument for the idea of a creator is based on water. Hollus in the book talks about the importance of water because unlike most compounds; water does not contract when it cools and again does not expand when it is heated, but the opposite. If it acted differently, ice could not float because it would be denser as a solid. If ice can’t float then the oceans would freeze solid, and as Hollus explains, no life would be able to live in the ocean and the underwater currents would not give way to spring thawing, (R. J. Sawyer 2000, 68). These properties are explained in greater detail by the University of Idaho’s Ground Water Hydrology website, which agrees with the logic in Calculating God about the opposite thermal property of water, “the importance of this property cannot be overemphasized for its role on the ecosystem of earth,” (University of Idaho n.d.).
Through Hollus, Sawyer also uses evolution and DNA to make the case for intelligent design. The scientists in the book take samples of both Hollus and the Wreeds blood for a DNA test, and they are surprised to find how similar they are to human DNA. Upon learning this, Jericho tells Hollus that the geneticist “was expecting something more – well alien,” (R. J. Sawyer 2000, 97). But if the same designer created all of the life forms, not just those of earth, Hollus explained it made sense to have similar genetic code.
When looking into DNA, there are only four letters A, C, G, and T that make up the sequences of nucleotides. According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s Design Arguments for the Existence of God, there are four possibilities “for origin of biological information. (1) chance; (2) a pre-biotic form of natural selection; (3) chemical necessity; and (4) intelligent design,” (Himma n.d.). The author, Kenneth Himma argues that intelligent design is most likely because it “is logically possible to obtain functioning sequences of amino acids through purely random processes, some researchers have estimated the probability of doing so under the most favorable of assumptions at approximately 1 in 1065.” While Jericho is thinking about DNA in relation to cancer and his conversations with Hollus, the reader is given arguments on the precision of the DNA code and the arguments for this being a creator, (R. J. Sawyer 2000, 167-170).
Throughout the many scientific arguments in the book, the reader as well as Thomas Jericho can argue that this is just one large coincidence, yet Hollus counters with, “It’s either coincidence piled on top of coincidence or it is a deliberate design,” (R. J. Sawyer 2000, 67).
While the bulk of the science in this book are based around the questions of God and intelligent design, not all of the science is about that. Calculating God is full of classic science fiction ideas, including aliens, space travel, cryogenic freezing, and fusion powered space ships.
For many readers, the assumption that we are not alone in the universe is not a large step from their imaginations, but an alien showing up in Toronto has not yet happened in the history of science or the earth. Also the technology used to power the Forhilnor’s ship is clearly Sawyer’s inventiveness at work.
However, it is the compelling arguments about intelligent design that provoke the reader to contemplate how science and God can move together. Sawyer himself has stated about the book that, “the science is carefully researched, and as we travel through the plot we explore issues in evolutionary biology, cosmology, quantum physics, astronomy, and biochemistry” (R. J. Sawyer, On Writing Calculating God 2000). His research is clear with the in-depth arguments made by Hollus about the nature of the universe and life as we know it.
The arguments made by Hollus for God do not give the reader the impression that the God of this book is the God of religion; but however, the God of the beginning of the universe. “Look, I’m not a mystic. I believe in God because it makes scientific sense for me to do so; indeed, I suspect God exists in this universe because of science, “ (R. J. Sawyer 2000, 98).
Oak Ridge Tennessee Here is a link to a gallery of historic photographs taken at Oak Ridge during the time of the second world war. I thought it was relevant to our class because Oak Ridge was a major contributor to the Manhattan Project. It is interesting to see in many of the pictures how seriously secrecy was taken. There are also good pictures of things we have covered in class such as a calutron.
“I have but one more question for you. For a scientist, what is the most precious thing?” “Intuition,” answered Tadokoro without hesitation. “Mmm?” The old man cupped his hand to his ear. “What is it?” “I said intuition sir,” said Tadokoro. “You may think it’s strange, but for a scientist – especially for a natural scientist – far and away the most precious gift he can possess is that of keen intuition. Without it, he’ll never make a notable break-through.” (Komatsu 51)
The intuition is the accident that is happening in the Japanese archipelago. Geophysicist, Dr. Yusuke Tadokoro sets to embark on research. Tadokoro and his team of researchers come to discover a strange flow and crack running through the ocean floor. Tadokoro was convinced with his hypothesis and continues to collect data. They came to a conclusion of one. That was within two years, in the worst case, most of the Japanese archipelago will sink beneath the surface of the sea.
Mr. Komatsu’s premise in “Japan Sinks” was that the tectonic plates that grind beneath the Japanese archipelago undergo a sudden colossal shift, setting off a chain reaction of volcanoes that spew torrents of lava, tsunamis that inundate cities, earthquakes that shatter the countryside and the deaths of millions of people. (New York Times, 2011)
Japan Sinks was written in 1973 by Sakyo Komatsu and then later translated by Michael Gallangher in 1976 and published in the United States.
Sakyo Komatsu was born in Osaka in 1931, and attended Kyoto University where he studied Italian literature. After college, he was involved in writing for magazines and doing work for stand-up comedy acts. He began his true writing career in the 1960’s and his most popular works outside of Japan are Japan Sinks and Sayonara Jupiter. Both of which have been turned into various forms of comics and movies. In 2011 on July 26th, Komatsu passed away at the age of 80 years old from pneumonia in Osaka.
Japan Sinks starts off with the account of a small island sinking overnight. There was a fishing boat anchored at this island in the northeast part of the Ogasawara chain for the night, the fishermen woke the next morning to find themselves in the middle of an empty sea.
While still not totally sure what to think of the recent findings, massive earthquake and volcanic eruptions soon become more frequent throughout Japan.After this is reported, the Japanese Weather Service sends a vessel to investigate. Onodera, the engineer who pilots the deep-sea submarine, and Dr. Tadokoro set out to scan the sea floor near the sunken island. They find that the island had indeed sunk overnight.
Upon help from the Japanese government, further research, and with the disaster situation worsening, Tadokoro warns that the Japanese archipelago may sink to the ocean floor. This information is kept as top-secret as further research and planning goes on to avoid public chaos. As events become even more intense nationwide, a plan to evacuate all of the Japanese people to other countries begins.
A plan known as “plan D” is formed, top scientists and government officials are assigned to this plan to continue research. Their findings revealed that due to a change of mantle convection around the Japan Trench, the Japanese archipelago will sink into the sea in about two years at the earliest. As time passed, further research revealed that there was only less than one year left before all was lost.
Talks continued to go on between nations such as Australia, China, Russia, Africa, and the United States to accept Japanese citizens as refugees. Suspicion throughout the international community began to rise, Japanese bonds were being sold out, which started to leave Japan feeling helpless and abandoned.
Japan eventually becomes submerged in the sea while still being torn from East to West. The some 70 million Japanese that were fortunate to evacuate, had become a “wandering people” scattered all over the world.The Japanese citizens had great trust in their government and complied with evacuation procedures even though they were not completely aware of the situation. Throughout all of this, more earthquakes and volcanic eruptions continued violently, killing millions.
Vibration and Movement
There are plates of varying sizes that make up the Earth’s surface. The six pieces of the large-scale plates; their names are derived from the name of the continent, such as “North American plate”, “Africa plate”, and “Antarctic plate”.
Some plates may be small in size when compared to others, but in terms of shaping the earth they are very important in the same way. Juan de Fuca plate is also a minimal one, but the impact of volcanoes that dot the Pacific Ocean America Northwest Coast are numerous.
A plate constitutes the outer shell of the earth called the lithosphere. The lithosphere, is the top of the mantle and crust, and the like. Convection lava in the lower layer and turbulence, will force the plate to move like a conveyor belt. Most of the geological activity is due to the interaction of these plates or separate collisions of broken plates.
Boundaries of geological structures can be divided into three types by the motion of the plate. It is three types of transformations that will cause a strike-slip plate while interacting and diverging, When this happens the plates are gradually divided.
This is where the plate is a landmass between the collision. This boundary is formed by the mountain ranges of the myriad of wrinkles that could be in the crust. Asia and India collided together about 55 million years ago, it was pushed slowly and formed the Himalayan mountain system which is the highest on Earth. Such squashing continues, forcing mountains to rise even higher accordingly. Everest, may become higher tomorrow than it is today.
Convergent boundary occurs at the place when it dives beneath the continental plate in a process that involves the oceanic plate, known as subduction. Thereby, the upper plate is lifted , and mountains are formed there as well. In addition, there are also occasions when the plate of concern slips and melts, and it ends up becoming a spewing volcanic eruption. For example, some of the Andes mountains in South America were so formed.
The convergence between the oceanic plate, the plate of one dives beneath the other plate, deep trenches such as the Mariana Trench which is the deepest North Pacific Ocean is formed on the planet most of the time. The collision of this type may have enacted underwater volcanoes that are thought to have made up the island arc like Japan.
Learn about the tectonic similarities between Japan and the Pacific Northwest U.S. in this interactive animation.
In the divergent boundary of the ocean, magma has risen to the surface from deep in the Earth’s mantle. Mountains and volcanoes occur along this seam. The shape of the seabed changes by this process, a huge basin to expand. This mid-ocean ridge system of one connects the world’s oceans, the ridge is known to be the world’s longest mountain range.
Where the plate is pulled in opposite directions of each other on the ground, a huge rift Great Rift Valley (such as the Great Rift Valley of Africa) is formed. The plate continues its separation as it is, this shows how that East Africa is separated from the continent several million years later and a new land mass was formed. The boundary between the plates at that time were a mid-ocean ridge.
Transform type boundary
The San Andreas Fault in California, is a typical example of a transform boundary type. You are rubbing two plates along a strike-slip fault. This spectacular terrain such as mountains and oceans are not born at the boundary like this, but it is caused by a major earthquake triggered by irregular movement in most cases.
The earthquake of 1906 that devastated San Francisco is one example.
Mantle, is made up of solid stone; hard in the sense day-to-day. However, (hereinafter referred to as the rheology field to study the mysterious nature of such materials) it behaves like a fluid like when viewed over a long period of time.
It is believed to release the extraterrestrial heat of the earth’s interior and the cooling heat of the core. With the heat generation in the mantle, convection starts at a slow rate. Originally mantle convection is what receives the continental drift theory of Wegener and Holmes of the United Kingdom and has been proposed as a driving force for continental drift. At present, it is not considered to be caused by mantle convection and it is compatible and just plain plate motion. However, it is important to rule that the convection is present in the mantle, and with the various geological phenomena occurring within the mantle, including the Earth’s surface, there is no doubt that it is a process that exists. Research has been actively conducting experiments and numerical simulations to prove this. One way to demonstrate the progress of the study the earth’s internal structure would be to consider an earthquake wave (mantle tomography), the convective motion is what is happening and is what has been brought to light in recent years.
In a deep-sea submarine, there is a spherical pressure hull. High-strength steel has been used previously for the hull, but titanium has mainly been used since the 1980’s. Power is supplied from batteries, which in recent years are lithium batteries.
These vessels are usually equipped with different forms of cameras, robotic arms, according to the purpose of its use. It is possible to send images and sounds to the mother ship with ultrasound, but there is a limit to the transmission capacity band. Compared to past compression techniques, they may have improved to some extent in recent years, but still the problem is not completely solved. In recent years, the motor is a mainstream AC induction motor. With discharge characteristics that are excellent even at low temperatures, for long life cycles that contribute to cost reduction. Gasoline was used previously as buoyancy material, but this hardened with epoxy resin micro balloons silica is used presently. Mercury was used in the past for adjusting the inclination of the hull, but the model which moves the center of gravity by moving the ball tungsten connected as beads instead of mercury as Turtle and Sea Cliff in recent years some. The ball of tungsten enters on one side of the ball made of buoyant material is continuous with half a ball of tungsten, to compensate for the volume that you moved in that the buoyancy, material enters the tank on the opposite side by the same number. Manned submersible boats were built various countries until the 1970’s.
The performance of remote-controlled unmanned spacecraft technology has vastly improved since the 1980’s, resulting in the number of manned submersible boats used to be reduced. Operating expenses, including the support of the mother ship, such as remote control unmanned spacecraft is to be less than 1/10 as compared to the manned submersible with a diving capacity of deeper capability. Further, it has become possible to fly drones in the sky with the advancement of technology, that was previously impossible without being manned. In addition, the operation to control the unmanned submersibles compared to manned submersibles has helped in the investigation of the Titanic at the ocean floor. Self-ROV, which do not require the manipulation of a cable in recent years have been developed, and it has become possible to continuously navigate over long distances.
Relevance to the Novel
This convection and moving and colliding of the plates is the basis of how Japan is sunk under the sea in the book. When the plates collide, it basically pulls and forces the other down with it. This causes the plate, with violent changes happening rapidly, along with the whole Japanese Archipelago that is a part of it to become submerged. The use of deep-sea submarines manned by researchers, was a very useful tool to investigate the depths first hand.
When we look back 4.6 billion years in the past, planet earth was nothing like what we see today in our everyday lives. At this time, the atmosphere contained no oxygen and was toxic to life. The planet was extremely hot and continuously collided with other things in space. However, suddenly the planet stopped gaining heat and eventually began to cool off to a solid crust. From here, water, one of the keys to life, began to appear on the surface of earth. It took approximately one billion years for the first forms of life to exist on Earth. The first forms of life on Earth were not what we would think life to be today. Microorganisms were the only forms of life until multicellular organisms suddenly arose about 580 million years ago. Over billions of years the planet we call home has been changing and growing
more diverse with each modification. Geological changes allowed for new organisms to form whereas mutations and adaptations allowed for these organisms to become more diverse and even produce completely new life forms all together. Some say it is absurd to believe that life could exist on another planet, but is it really that outrageous when our very own Earth transformed from an uninhabitable sauna to a planet where life is abundant? Carl Sagan believed that life was possible on another planet. His novel, Contact, explores the possibility of extraterrestrial life on the star, Vega. Sagan’s use of the ideas and concepts of radio astronomy, extraterrestrial life, and wormholes in this novel impacted the world in tremendous ways. Sagan not only wrote this book and many others over these interesting ideas, but also devoted his life to researching and contributing to the study of space leading to many of the facts we know about modern space.
On November 9, 1934, in Brooklyn, New York, a New York garment worker gave birth to a man that would make great contributions to the world of astronomy. Carl Sagan lived in a working-class Jewish neighborhood and attended public schools in New York and New Jersey. Carl Sagan became fascinated with science and the field of astronomy at a very young age. His interest was sparked when he attended the 1939 New York World’s Fair with his parents at the age of four. Although his parents were nowhere near wealthy, they continuously encouraged Sagan to pursue his interests in the sciences. They would buy him different books and chemistry sets in order to keep his interest alive. In 1951, Sagan graduated from Rahway High School at the age of only 16 and decided to attend the University of Chicago. During his time at the University of Chicago Sagan first received an A.B. degree with honors followed by a bachelor’s degree in Physics and then a master’s degree in Physics.
Sagan never stopped pursuing his interest in science and space and went on to obtain a Ph.D. in astronomy and astrophysics. In 1968, after being denied tenure at Harvard College as an assistant professor, Sagan accepted the position, Director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies, and was later promoted to David Duncan Professor of Astronomy and Space Sciences at Cornell University. He maintained this position until his death in 1996.
Sagan was known for his drive to succeed and his desire to share the wonders of the sciences with others. His lifetime goals included, understanding the universe and being able to relay the information in an intriguing manner to the world. Due to his unwavering dedication to his life’s work, his first two wives were not pleased with his inability to devote time to their marriages or his children.
Research was Sagan’s life. He devoted almost all of his time to his research. His hard work and dedication allowed him to have great accomplishments and in return won him respect from his academic peers and the scientific community. Sagan was able to help in defining the disciplines of planetary science and exobiology. NASA also benefitted from his work by using his help to chart exploration of the solar system by spacecraft.
The planet Venus was of particular interest to Sagan in his early years of research. The atmosphere of Venus is mainly where he chose to focus his studies. He worked to explain and define the modern understanding of Venus’s atmosphere. Mars was another plant that caught the eye of Sagan. He believed that the seasonal changes occurring on the surface of Mars were due to wind-blown dust. The Mariner 9 and Viking spacecraft verified his belief later on.
Sagan was a key component to NASA’s success and technological advances. Sagan worked to accomplish the mission of the Viking spacecraft, which was to land this spacecraft on the surface of Mars. In 1976, the spacecraft Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 were sent on a particularly interesting mission. The mission was to transport a symbolic interstellar message beyond the Milky Way. In order to accomplish this, NASA asked for the help of Carl Sagan.
Sagan’s research and help to advance the world of science were not the only contributions he made during his lifetime. Sagan was also an avid writer and used his books to show everyone his vision of the world and science. His first book, The Cosmic Connection, was published in 1973, quickly becoming a bestseller. In the second book published by Sagan, he talks about something that intrigues many of those in the world of science, the brain and human intelligence. This book, The Dragons of Eden, won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction in 1978. During the year of 1981, Sagan married his third wife, Ann Druyan, whom coauthored the only book of Sagan’s that was transformed into a film. The novel, Contact, was published in 1985 but was not made into a motion picture until August of 1997, one year after Sagan’s death.
There is no doubt that Carl Sagan was a man that will forever be remembered in history. A man capable of his brilliance, skepticism, and pure desire for knowledge has not surfaced since his passing in December of 1996. Sagan battled an extremely rare disease known as myelodysplasia for two years before he died of pneumonia. The amount of passion Sagan has, has been sought after for ages. He wanted others to feel the same excitement about space as he did. He was well known for being “the single most-recognized science missionary bringing the ideas, excitement, and adventure of space exploration to the general public” (Terzian and Bilson, 1997). Hard work, dedication, and pure passion were at the core of Carl Sagan’s life and his research and he will forever be “an icon for modern science” (Terzian and Bilson, 1997) in the eyes of Americans.
The novel, Contact, by Carl Sagan is focused around the central character Eleanor “Ellie” Arroway. The book begins by taking the reader back to some early childhood experiences of Ellie. She was very curious and not afraid to ask questions, some might even call her a skeptic. Her father passed away while she was young and her mother remarried a man named John Staughton, who Ellie does not get along with.
Ellie grows up and attends Harvard University where she studies physics and mathematics. It is here that she gains a growing interest in astronomy. After graduating, Ellie becomes the apprentice of Dr. David Drumlin, a well know radio astronomer. Continuing to follow her passion, Ellie receives her doctorate and begins work on the “Argus Project” located in New Mexico. At this site, radio astronomers use over 100 radio telescopes to monitor outer space for any signs or radio frequencies that may signal the chance of extraterrestrial life.
Ellie works on the Argus Project for a great amount of time, until one day, she believes she has received a transmission from another civilization. While monitoring the star system Vega, 26 light years away, she records a series of prime numbers being transmitted to earth. After consulting other scientists as well as public and government officials, another message is received. The second form of contact is a playback of the first time radio waves were transmitted from Earth into outer space, which was Adolf Hitler commencing the opening of the 1936 summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany.
This message was perceived to be a sign that extraterrestrials had received our radio transmissions and were responding to us. However, after closer analysis, there was an encrypted message found in the transmission. After finding the code to decipher the encryption, a blue print that reveals the instructions to building some sort of machine.
It was not entirely known what the machine was supposed to be used for. After long debates and much controversy, the United States and Russia each began building the machine. Due to technical difficulties the Russians are unable to complete the machine leaving the United States to finish out the project. Originally, Ellie is not chosen to be a passenger in the machine. As the United States prepares to test their machine, mechanical error arises and destroys the machine, killing the previously selected 5 passengers along with it. Ellie, with the help of her billionaire friend S. R. Hadden, is chosen to be one of the passengers on a third machine that was secretly built near Hokkaido Japan by Hadden.
The machine is a success and Ellie along with her four crewmates traveled through what they think is a black hole, but is actually a wormhole. The only difference lays in the fact that black holes have no end, whereas wormholes have a beginning and an end. Along the way, they view many other star systems and arrive at what they believe to be the star system Vega, where the original message originated. They arrive on a sandy beach near an ocean with an atmosphere that appears to be similar to that of Earth’s. The crewmembers eventually get separated on the beach and Ellie is greeted by what she believes to be her deceased father. It is later revealed to Ellie that this form of extraterrestrial life took on the appearance of her father in order to keep from frightening her. It is explained to Ellie that it was a long lost species that created the wormholes for traveling through space. Other crewmembers have similar experiences and are met by past family members. Ellie, who is a fierce opponent of religion throughout the book, eventually comes to accept the possibility that there might be a supreme being or creator of the universe. Upon returning to Earth, Ellie and her colleagues believe that they have video evidence of their travels. However, somehow the video has been erased and what seemed like many long hours of travel was really no time on Earth. After learning that Hadden has died and there is no evidence to support the travelers, government officials accuse them of conspiracy. After finally returning to her normal life, Ellie uses information given to her while on her mission to fuel her new research desire surrounding π.
The novel ends by describing Ellie’s encounter with John Staughton after the death of her mother. Her stepfather shows up with a note and as she opens it, she realizes her mother was the author of the note. In the note, her mother confesses that the man she believed to be her biological father was not her dad. Ellie’s biological father was really John Staughton, the man Ellie had despised since he married her mother.
Science: The Wormhole
In the novel, Contact, Carl Sagan describes an astonishing and new idea when Elanor travels to Vega by means of a wormhole. Wormholes are considered to bend space and time allowing the connection of two distant regions in the universe. While wormholes or Einstein-Rosen bridges are still only theoretical, they provide the world with something to look forward to in the future.
Karl Schwarzschild is known for coming up with the concept that a point mass curves spacetime around it. This was his idea of general relativity. It contains two singularities, where “mathematical quantities become infinite” (Lindley, 2005). Albert Einstein and his associate, Nathan Rosen, were not fond of these singularities and were determined to get rid of them.
In 1935, the two scientists came up with a solution that eliminated the Schwarzschild singularities. Nevertheless, this posed a new solution. Jim Al-Khalili discusses the discoveries of Einstein and Rosen in his book Black Holes, Wormholes and Time Machines, Second Edition. Al-Khalili writes, “They showed that the singularity became a bridge connecting our universe with… a parallel universe” (Al-Khalili, 2012). Sadly, Einstein did not believe that such a thing could actually exist and wanted only to explore other alternatives to Schwarzschild’s equation.
There have been many works of literature that use the idea of connecting two different worlds. Carl Sagan is one of the many authors that use the Einstein-Rosen bridge to break spacetime. Tragically, many works of literature wrongfully convey the travel to parallel universes and time travel. Even if we some day discover a real wormhole, there will be no way to practically use it as a means of transportation to a different universe.
Here are some relevant links to more information on black holes and wormholes:
Science: The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence
The thought of life on another planet has become an extremely well known and controversial topic over the decades. Religious beliefs contradict the idea of extraterrestrial life and the idea that life could exist on another planet. However, this doesn’t stop some from searching for these forms of life elsewhere in the universe. Sagan was one of these men that believed and worked to find these life forms. His novel, Contact, displays his passion to search, find, and contact other life in the universe. Sagan worked closely with other scientists who also believed the planet we call home was not the only plant forms of life called home which greatly influenced his writing of this novel.
The search for extraterrestrial life was not popular until around the year 1960 when three scientists; Frank Drank, Giuseppe Cocconi, and Philip Morrison began publicizing the search for life. NASA was even a contributor to research during the early years of SETI, the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence. Eventually setting up an entire program dedicated to the cause. There are thousands of answers being asked by scientists and skeptics alike, but very few answers are being received.
Frank Drake worked with a few other scientists in the late 60s and early 70s, including Carl Sagan, in order to find a formula in an attempt to determine the number of planets that harbor the potential for life. This equation is now known as the Drake equation and has found that there are over a billion planets in the universe with this potential.
One problem that arises when studying extraterrestrial life is the gap in understanding when molecules actually become alive. In an article written by Martin Dominik and John C. Zarnecki, an important question is addressed that most people do not consider. The article reads,
We readily accept that the concepts of physics and chemistry apply throughout the cosmos and are valid for all time, but should this not make us wonder where biology is universal as well, and not just a special feature that only applies to planet Earth? (Dominik, 2011)
Is it really so outrageous to believe that biology could apply to other places in the universe as well? In the book Conversations with Carl Sagan, Sagan is recorded saying, “I believe that the search for life is of such extreme importance to science, philosophy, and to our ideas about ourselves that every time we go to a new place, we have to ask ourselves seriously about whether there’s life there” (Meredith, 1979). Although this idea is shared by many in the search for extraterrestrial life, research has yet to provide us with any relevant evidence proving the existence of life on other planets.
Science: Radio Astronomy
There is no question that Carl Sagan’s book, Contact, was influenced by space exploration and the technological breakthroughs that were being made during the time in which he was writing this novel. Sagan used radio astronomy in his early career to make one of his most notable discoveries. Using the plant Venus’s radio emissions, Sagan was able to find the cause of these radio emissions was due to the extreme conditions of the planet’s atmosphere. Sagan also writes about the use of the radio telescope in order to make contact with extraterrestrial life in his book, Contact. However, none of this would have been possible without the discovery and the main contributors to the field of radio astronomy.
Before the early 1930s, not much was known about radio waves. The only studies or research performed was in the 1890s when scientist tried to detect radio waves from the Sun. The results were inconclusive due to primitive equipment. From then on radio waves were thought to only exist on Earth or were undetectable in the solar system. In 1932, a man named Karl Janksy proposed an idea that was thought to be ridiculous at the time by the rest of the world. While working as a radio engineer assigned to detect the source of radio static or noise that would block wave transmission for the Bell Telephone Laboratories Janksy discovered an interesting cause for the communication static. He explained that this static was caused by waves that were being emitted beyond the solar system, more commonly known as extraterrestrial radio waves.
Most astronomers of the time paid no attention to Janksy’s discovery. Nevertheless, one man, Grote Reber, believed in Janksy’s work. Lisa Yount’s Modern Astronomy: Expanding the Universe recalls Reber’s account of the findings as, “a fundamental and very important discovery” (Yount, 2006). The year of 1937 was eventful for Reber. With help from friends and family Reber was able to manufacture the first radio telescope in his backyard. Weighing approximately two tons with a parabola shaped iron mirror measuring nine meters in diameter, the telescope was capable of transforming the electric signals into electric signals. The electric signals produced were then recorded on paper. Reber was able to confirm the radiation from the Milky Way that Janksy had first discovered.
After committing his work to radio waves and radio telescopes, Reber produced the first radio maps of the sky in the early 1940s and found the center of the Milky Way was the source of some of the strongest signals. In 1944 Reber finally published a complete radio map of the sky after working for three years in hopes of worldwide recognition. Sadly, the world’s engagement in World War II masked his hopes of obtaining the world’s recognition. Luckily, one of his articles caught the eye of Jan Oort, the director of the Netherlands’ Leiden Observatory. Oort believed that the fixed lines of the electromagnetic spectrum created by specific wavelengths of radio waves could be moved from their present position by the Doppler effect. This would allow astronomers to “measure the distance and movement of objects that did not give off light such as gas clouds themselves” (Yount, 2006).
One of Oort’s students predicted that, “atoms of hydrogen… would give off radio waves 21 centimeters (about 8 in.) long” (Yount, 2006). After this prediction was proved to be correct in 1951, these hydrogen emissions were used to prove that the Milky Way galaxy was indeed a spiral like shape. Contrary to popular belief, radio telescopes do not actually carry sound, but instead radio waves are processed and have the possibility of being converted into images on a computer or TV screen.
Without the brilliant and courageous scientists, our ideas of modern space and time would be greatly altered. The use of radio astronomy has led to amazing discoveries in the past few decades. Pulsars, quasars, and many events that occur in space are just a few of these discoveries.
The study of space is a very difficult yet intriguing field. The beauty of this unknown is slowly catching the eyes of many astronomers like Carl Sagan. Sagan worked diligently in an attempt to show the world the marvels of the universe. This is especially evident in his writings. He not only wrote about the things discussed in this novel, but also spent his life researching them.
The book, Contact, is believed to give an insight into some of Sagan’s personal ideas about various realms of space and science. A book review published by Jeff Clark in 1985 reads, “the ideas are stimulating, and Contact makes for entertaining reading” (Clark, 1985). This was always a goal of Sagan, to inform the world of the entertaining and awe inspiring aspects that our universe has to offer. The sciences and scientists that contributed to the ideas of contained in the book deal with whether or not further research in some fields like extraterrestrial life should be continued. Carl Sagan was a brilliant scientist, idealist, and author that forever altered the world of astronomy and other aspects of science through his devotion to research and his works of literature.
Listed below are a few more relevant links including one to a TV series that Sagan helped write:
Dominik, M., and J. C. Zarnecki. “The Detection of Extra-terrestrial Life and the Consequences for Science and Society.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences 369.1936 (2011): 499-507. Highwire Press Royal Society. Web. 28 June 2014. <http://rsta.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/369/1936/499>.
Elbers, Astrid. “The Establishment of the New Field of Radio Astronomy in the Post-War Netherlands: A Search for Allies and Funding.” Centaurus 54.4 (2012): 265-85. Web. 26 June 2014.
Jones, Barry O. Dictionary of World Biography. Melbourne, VIC: Information Australia, 1994. Print.