DO THE COURSE EVAL…IT IS OPEN UNTIL 1159 PM
Interesting video on the science channel. Implants can be hacked and infected with viruses that could potentially cause harm. The video breaks down then process of the implant being hacked and infected. Then it shows how the virus can be transferred to other computer devices causing a serious security problem.
NASA has unveiled a new space suit design that will provide a more flexible fit, so the astronaut can have more freedom to walk and climb while in space. The New design will be tested out soon. Visit the link above and check out the new look
Sickle cell affects a large number of the population, child and adult. A new study has been done recently to see how affective bone marrow transplants are against sickle cell. In this science news article, linked below it discusses the out come of the study. A group of people underwent chemo to wipe out a majority of the sickle cells before the bone marrow transplant. Out of the group 25 of the people were a success and some of them have even been able to stop taking their medication. A chemo and bone marrow transplant regime may be the key
For more information on this topic go to the link below
From the beginning of the twenty-first century, there were a number of looming legal and ethical questions relating to the relatively new field of genetics research. With the Human Genome Project nearing its end, scientists were scrambling to claim discovery of various genes. Because it was such a new area of research and far abstracted from intuitive understanding, many of the important legal issues surrounding genetic research were unresolved. Among them was the issue of whether or not discovered genes were subject to patent. Despite the highly questionable nature of the practice, many companies began successfully filing patents on genes they discovered, speculating that they could make profit off whatever products were derived from the use of that knowledge.
Michael Crichton’s novel Next explores the issue of gene patenting, as well as issues of genetic engineering of humans and transgenic species. Most of his conclusions are pretty clear from reading the novel, but he’s kind enough to spell out his conclusions in the Author’s Note. His most evident claim is that gene patenting is wrong (Crichton, 543-546), but he also concludes that we need to “establish clear guidelines for the use of human tissues (Crichton, 546-549);” we must “pass laws to ensure that data about genetic testing is made public (Crichton, 546-549);” we should “avoid bans on research (Crichton, 546-549);” and that rescinding the Bayh-Dole Act is imperative (Crichton, 549-551). Crichton manages to discuss the fringes of science and human experimentation without making claims that “scientists have gone to far,” or “we shouldn’t play god” and instead takes the more nuanced stance that we need to workout the ethical implications of genetic research that will inevitably take place so that we can properly regulate it; this opposed to the ad hoc approach of doing the research and then deciding its acceptability.
The book Next follows a number of characters all following interconnected stories. It begins following a private detective and bounty hunter, Vasco Borden, as he pursues a thief who made off with 12 stolen embryos: setting the scene for a tale of intrigue and corporate espionage (Crichton, 15-17). But after his pursuit goes South, the story turns to Alex and Frank Burnett in court over a legal claim against the University of California (Crichton, 36-38). Alex, Frank’s daughter and attorney, is helping him argue that the University treated him unjustly, leading him to believe he was sick so they could harvest his cells without his consent; the trial is not going well (Crichton 36-44). This is the setup for one of the major plot arcs of the book. Frank loses the case and the University is given the legal rights to harvest his cells to sell to BioGen, a company who patented his cell line. BioGen then takes the stance that it has ownership over Frank’s cell line which includes the cells of his offspring. Biogen seeks to harvest cells from him and then Alex and her son, leading him and Alex to become fugitives from Biogen, hunted by Vasco Borden. This arc is resolved when a higher court rules that BioGen cannot own the Burnett cell line.
This story is then tied in with the story of Rick Diel the CEO of BioGen. Diel is portrayed as a speculator with little concern for ethics; if there is a villain in Next, it is probably Diel. Diel is undergoing a divorce and tries to exploit the possibility his wife has Huntingtons to get custody; she does not want to get tested, yet he argues that if she is going to start experiencing neural degeneration while raising their daughter, that he would surely be more fit a parent. Thus he attempts to force her to undergo genetic testing she does not want, or else give in to his custody demands. His ploy works and his wife escapes him and his attorney — abandoning her custody rights in the process. All the while Diel is dealing with a number of security breaches which ultimately result in the destruction of the Burnett cell line, forcing him to attempt to harvest more cells, leading to the Burnett’s fleeing. Eventually, Diel’s schemes fail and he is forced to resign.
There are a number of other story arcs, all of which are deeply interconnected and revolve around BioGen. Most notably, is the story arc of researcher Henry Kendall, who finds his DNA has been used to create a transgenic ape-boy. Henry saves the ape-boy, whom he names Dave, from being executed to hide the illegal experiment and adopts him as a son. The specifics of how Dave came about discussed in detail as well as the challenges of raising a hybrid ape-boy in a human society. There is also a story arc following a BioGen researcher, Josh, who accidentally infects his brother with a vector that inserts in him the “maturity gene” he’s been researching. It initially seems to cure his brother’s drug addiction, but it leads him to age prematurely and die at 21 of heart failure. Aside from these, there are a number of side stories, all of which relate to modern genetics somehow.
About Michael Crichton
Michael Crichton (1942-2011) was an extremely successful author and screenwriter of science fiction. Today, he is probably best remembered for Jurassic Park, but he also wrote 16 other novels (including The Andromeda Strain, Congo, and The Great Train Robbery), as well as 5 non-fiction books, 11 books under a pseudonym, 2 original screenplays, and produced the hit TV show ER (crichton-official.com). In addition, he made many of his books into movies and helped make his novel The Andromeda Strain into a televisions series (crichton-official.com).
Part of Crichton’s success can surely be attributed to his deep understanding of science. Michael Crichton received his M.D. from Harvard where he graduated Suma Cum Laude (crichton-official.com). He then went on to study Biological Studies as a postdoctoral student at the Salk Institute (crichton-official.com). Crichton subsequently taught a number of college courses (crichton-official.com). As a scientist himself, Crichton understood that scientists were, like everyone else, capable of both good and evil. His books tended to take a nuanced view of scientists; they did not fall into the common trap of claiming that science had “gone to far,” but they also did not idolize science as the key to a utopian world. Instead, Crichton created a sense of wonder and awe in his work: showing how science could be exploited with horrible effects, but also explaining its many benefits to mankind. And the scientists in his stories were not all paragons or villains, but represented a vast array of archetypes and personalities.
The Human Genome Project and Genetic Engineering
The novel Next is centered around modern genetics research. The book was published in 2006 — just 3 years after the completion of the Human Genome Project — which serves as the cornerstone for that research. The Human Genome project began in 1990 and was ongoing till April 2003, when it was completed “ahead of schedule” and “under budget (nih.gov).” The goal of the project was to map the human genome so as to increase our general understanding of human DNA and help us to “understand the genetic factors in human disease (nih.gov).” This was done through the use of gene sequencing technology developed in the 1970s (nih.gov). As of 2013, the NIH reports that it has “fueled the discover of over 1800 disease genes (nih.gov).” The project has dramatically reduced the amount of time required to find disease genes — from several years to several days (nih.gov).
Specifically though, Next focuses on the issue of gene patenting that became common practice in wake of the project. In the book, the company BioGen claims the right to a man’s cells because they control the legal rights to parts of his DNA. While this seems absurd, it is an unfortunate legal ambiguity that arises as a result of allowing companies to patent scientific fact. As of 2013, the Supreme Court ruled 9-0 in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics that naturally occurring genes were not subject to patent (ScotusBlog). Prior to this, the practice of patenting naturally occurring genes had run rampant. According to National Geographic in 2005, just one year prior to the release of Next, one fifth of the human genome had been patented (nationalgeographic.com). As a result, genetic research became very difficult, since in order to study a particular gene, or develop any product using knowledge of a particular gene, scientists had to negotiate the right to do so with the patent holder of that gene. The purpose of the patent is to provide companies with incentive to do research, but gene patenting very clearly got in the way of that research.
Another area of difficulty for genetic patents is in the creation of genetically modified foods. Clearly a batch of seed genetically engineered to increase crop yield and resist disease is a product of specifically created human processes and is thus subject to patent. The problem is plants reproduce, and Monsanto, a major provider of genetically modified crops, is claiming farmers do not have the right to save the seed from the crops they plant from seed they buy from Monsanto (monsanto.com). They consider saving the seed to replant it to be producing their patented product (monsanto.com). While the courts have sided with Monsanto so far, the ruling is highly questionable. From a practical standpoint, its highly inefficient and makes little sense to tell farmers they simply have to dispose of valuable seeds, just so they can by the same seeds from Monsanto; it seems almost vindictive. And from a more legally rational standpoint, the ruling doesn’t make sense because the farmers aren’t producing the seed using Monsanto’s patented process; the plants make the seed and the farmers simply have the good sense to use it.
Another field brought up in Next was genetic engineering — specifically, the study and creation of transgenic species. Genetic engineering can refer to any means of trying to manipulate genetic structure; in some sense, breeding plants and animals to produce certain traits is genetic engineering. However, in the book and in the common usage, genetic engineering refers to methods of splicing genes from one organism into another, by cutting and combining separate strands of DNA (“Playing God”). In “Playing God,” the second episode in a five part PBS documentary series, a number of scientists, in particular Herbert Boyer, explain the the nature of genetic engineering, its founding, and its evolution as a science. According to the documentary, Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen discovered a process for recombining DNA (“Playing God”). The basic idea is that they “cleave” the DNA, cutting off a piece using certain enzymes, and then insert cleaved DNA from another organism in its place (“Playing God”). Boyer later used this process to attach human insulin producing cells to bacteria — thus creating a method to efficiently mass produce insulin to treat diabetics (“Playing God”). Many other drugs are synthesised using similar processes (“Playing God”). The documentary also talked about use of genetic engineering in food production to cut back on disease, and increase yield (“Playing God”).
Next explored the idea of having genes linked to human intelligence and brain development spliced into animals. Dave, an ape with near human intelligence, is such a creature in the story. Dave is not treated as an abomination by the story, but his existence raises a number of troubling questions. His “parents” enroll him in school, and while he functions well enough on a basic level, he has serious attention deficit problems and still exhibits ape like behavior, particularly when under stress. Towards the end of the story, he even responds to attacks on him by biting and throwing feces. The problem Dave creates is that he blurs the line between human and animal and thus makes it very difficult for us to identify his niche. He thinks, speaks, and is within the range of intelligence of other children his age, but he still isn’t quite human. Our society isn’t designed to meet his needs, yet it would be improper to treat him as a non-person. The book never makes judgement about whether or not transgenic species like Dave should exist, it merely raises some questions to consider about what that would mean for us and them. In many ways the book also seems to conclude that its an inevitability that they eventually will.
Genetic engineering is a fascinating and promising field, but its potential to blur the line between man and animal raises a number of ethical concerns. Next explores many of the issues surrounding the controversies of genetic engineering from last decade, many of which are still unresolved. It is encouraging that the Supreme Court ruled natural genes were scientific fact not subject to patent, but there are still many legal issues to be resolved surrounding genetic patents, because reproduction makes things tricky. And as for transgenics, those issues are still in the air as well. We already create transgenic species using human genes, though we have yet to create something that’s clearly a person, but not quite human. Crichton claims though, that it will come. Hopefully, we can answer the tough questions before it does; ad hoc is seldom a good approach to ethics.
“About Michael Crichton.” Constant Contact Productions.
http://www.crichton-official.com/aboutmichaelcrichton-biography.html. Web. July 3.
“Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc.” SCOTUSblog. http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/association-for-molecular-pathology-v-myriad-genetics-inc/. 2014. Web. July 3. 2014.
Crichton, Michael. Next. Harper Colins. 2006. e-Book. 2006.
Massarella, Carlo. “Playing God.” DNA. PBS. Video. 2003. (link to video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3wg-W3Slow).
“Human Genome Project.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://report.nih.gov/NIHfactsheets/ViewFactSheet.aspx?csid=45&key=H#H. March 29. 2013. Web. July 3. 2014.
“One-Fifth of Human Genes Have Been Patented, Study Reveals.” National Geographic News. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/10/1013_051013_gene_patent.html.
Oct 13. 2005. Web. July 3. 2014.
“Why Does Monsanto Sue Farmers Who Save Seeds.” Monsanto.
e-seeds.aspx. Web. July 3. 2014.
A Space Odyssey Series
Science fiction is unique in its ability to tell stories. While most other forms of fantasy and fiction allow for the discussion of human nature, philosophy and politics, only science fiction allows for the discussion of the interplay between them and science. A lot of modern science fiction coming out today is horrible, focusing on giant bugs or attack from obscure aliens with no clear motive or discussion of the technology being employed. In these stories, the aliens are no better than having a story based on elves or ghosts. Arthur C. Clarke, being aware of this, went out to create the “good science fiction movie” (Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey ). From this he set out to write 2001: A Space Odyssey. 2001 was not a lone book though. Inspired by birth of the space age, Arthur C. Clarke went on to write 2010: Odyssey Two, 2061: Odyssey Three and finally 3001: The Final Odyssey. The focus of these books is on actually telling a story through the use of real science and what technologies might plausibly arise in the fifty years between when the book was written and the time the book was set in. It is the goal of this essay to show that, while the technology of 2001: A Space Odyssey may seem outlandish by even today’s standards, it is far from impossible.
In order to understand the novels, you much first understand the life of the author. Arthur C. Clarke was born on December 16, 1917 in England. “Following service as a radar instructor and technician with the Royal Air Force in the Second World War, he honed his scientific acumen working as an editor for the academic journal Physics Abstracts, while earning a first-class degree in mathematics and physics at King’s College London” (Benford). With this highly technical background he had no problem understanding the scientific papers coming out around that time period. His expertise was so refined that “in 1945, he proposed the use of satellites in geostationary orbits as communications relays. Clarke never patented the idea, but promoted it ceaselessly” (Benford). Geostationary orbits have revolutionized modern communications and allowed for faster growth through the interconnected financial institutions of the world. Clarke died on March 19 2008.
In 1968, Clarke wrote the first book in the series 2001: A Space Odyssey. The book was a major success and with NASA further exploring the solar system during the next 14 years, other books had to follow. 2001: A Space Odyssey starts off with the evolution of man. A group of man-apes are existing in a cave but only just barley. Suddenly, a black monolith falls from the sky and over time teaches the man-apes hunting and tool use. It isn’t much but it’s enough to trigger an evolutionary response leading to Homo sapiens. The book then transitions to 2001 when a magnetic anomaly is found in the Tyco crater (TMA 1). Upon TMA 1 being unearthed a signal is sent to the planet Saturn. For clarification, in the novel 2001: A Space Odyssey the plan was to make a trip to Saturn, however in the movie that changed the location to Jupiter because they did not feel they had the budget to do Saturn justice. All the other books in the series revolve around the plot of the movie. The bulk of the book involves the crew of the Discovery One flying to Saturn to try and determine what the signal was about. The two crew members, David Bowman and Frank Poole, were sent as an exploration team but with no knowledge of the alien aspect of the mission. The time span for this trip would have been hard for humans during an extended stay in a zero gravity environment. Because of they the characters were kept in a spinning dome capable of simulating moon gravity. The onboard computer, Hal 9000, was told to keep this information from them, which contradicted its ethical programing. This dilemma would be acceptable for a person but not for a purely logical machine. As such, Hal was driven insane and killed off the all of the crew but David. Once Hal was shot down, David continued the trip and, when met with another alien monolith (TMA 2), was uploaded as a “Star Child”.
In 2010: Odyssey Two another mission was sent to Jupiter. The Americans and Russians were both in a race to reach the ruins of Discovery One but its orbit was found to be decaying so Russia and the United States decided to team up in order to reach it in time. During the mission, China launched a bigger rocket in secret that was able to outpace Discover Two and make it to Jupiter a few weeks early. They landed on Europa, where they planed to use the water ice there as rocket fuel for the return trip. During that process, the Chinese ship was attacked by a large alien life form, confirming that life exists elsewhere in the solar system. Druing this time, the entity once known as David Bowman examines the planets in the solar system to see which ones harbor life. Once it is found that Europa is capable of harboring intelligent life but it unable to do so due to being completely frozen over, the decision is make to implode Jupiter and turn it into a second sun. The crew of the Discovery Two just made it out with their lives. At the very end of the book a message is sent to the people of Earth from TMA 2 which only states “All these worlds are yours, except Europa. Attempt no landing there” (Clarke, 2010: Odyssey Two).
In 2061: Odyssey Three, Heywood Floyd was taking a vacation on a new ship with a built in ion drive. The drive was fast enough that it can take the trip from Earth to any planet in the solar system within a matter of weeks. While on the vacation another ship crashed on Europa and became the first people to visit since we were warned away. Floyd’s ship was the only one with the power to get there and rescue them. In 3001: The Final Odyssey, the body of Frank Poole was found frozen in space and, with the extreme cold and dry conditions, was still preserved enough that the more advanced people in 3001 were able to bring him back to life. The story of a future is told from his perspective. At the end of the book, what use to be David Bowman showed back up with a message. The aliens that built the monolith saw what we were like in the 20th century and and decided that we were a danger. Bowman thought we were worth saving and planted a logic bomb into the monolith, keeping it from doing any harm.
It’s a great story but what really drives it is how the development of technology is presented in the book. The first, and by far most recognizable, piece of technology is by far their artificial gravity. In most science fiction, artificial gravity is just something that works and is assumed to be done by technology that is just above and beyond anything we currently understand. Arthur C. Clark goes the next step however in actually providing a mechanism by which gravity can be simulated. He was by no means the first to propose such an idea but he is the most famous as it was presented in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, which came out at roughly the same time.
The idea can be simplified into something as simple as a yoyo. If you take the yoyo in one hand and begin to spin it in a circle off to the side you will be able to see the same physics at play. The yoyo is being tossed off to the side tangent to the circle. What is keeping it from being tossed away is the string, which is providing an inward acceleration given by (Tipler and Mosca)
This just provides the magnitude of the acceleration but it is always pointing towards the center of the rotation. This acceleration can be anything though depending on how fast you spin the object or how big of a circle you decided to spin the object in. Fortunately, the book provides a lot of information of the ship itself. While the whole ship doesn’t spin the dome in the front does. It was built with a diameter of 16.7m (54.8 ft) which translates to a radius of 8.35m (27.4 ft). (Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey ) At the same time, the gravity was kept at moon level because the moon seemed to be a good balance between the Earth’s gravity and the lack of gravity that would be presented in the rest of the ship (Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey ). The moon has a constant gravitational acceleration of a=1.62 m/s^2 . From here we can rewrite the equation above to solve for the velocity at which discovery had to be spinning:
This means that the speed at which the dome had to of been spinning at is v=3.6 m/s (8 mph). This speed is not very fast at all and should be within the realm that could be realistically done if we ever decide to build a ship of this nature.
Artificial intelligence is one of the other most recognizable aspects of the story as well. The 2001: A Space Odyssey was famous for its depictions of the Hal 9000. During the trip to Saturn, only two people were left conscious. David worked one shift while Frank took the other. The shifts were 12 hours long so one would be coming on while the other was finishing his shift. Because most of their time was spent alone millions of miles away from civilization there was a concern over them being driven crazy by the isolation. As such Hal was put on not just as an on board computer but also as a second team member (Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey ). This raises the question, however. Was Hal just a program that could simulate a human persona or was Hal a conscious being in his own right?
This question is not in itself new. In 1950, just 18 years before the book was written, Alan Turing was asking this very question. In his paper Computing Machinery and Intelligence he proposed a test that could be used to determine if a machine was demonstrating true consciousness or if it was just acting out a program that was able to mimic a living being. What Turing proposed was to present a computer and a person to a judge. The participants would be shielded behind a curtain to keep the judges from being able to know which participant was which. The judge would then have a conversation with both the person and the computer. If the judge was unable to tell the difference between the two participants, then it would be said that the computer must hold some sort of consciousness. The computer would be said to pass the Turing test (Turing).
Surely creating a machine that is capable to passing the Turing test in impossible, right? Or at the very least, it is beyond what modern computer technology can do. This is a comforting thought as it keeps the robotic revolution in the realm of fiction. News came out, however, a few months ago that a computer was able to successfully pass the Turing test. This was a bit of a misnomer.
“I did get a chance to talk to Goostman, before the droves of people wanting to do the same crashed the servers. Despite Oz’s harsh critique (he tends to go a bit overboard), I have to truthfully report that he’s good. Far from perfect, but not bad. Goostman makes all the mistakes the chatbots before him have made: he dodges questions, he changes the subject, he makes vague answers, he repeats things back to you in ways that no normal human does in a cute attempt to show that he’s listening, and of course he says really stupid stuff that doesn’t make any sense. Goostman’s creators explain his quirks away by giving him a fictional back story. See, Eugene is a 13-year-old Ukranian kid. He has favorite foods and a pet guinea pig, and he feels okay derailing important interrogations to tell you these things. I would have shot him as a replicant ages ago” (Naro).
What happened was that, of thirty judges, only ten were convinced that what they were talking to was an actual person and not a simulation. This may not be all that impressive, however Turing predicted this bench mark would happen around the year 2000, so it really wasn’t that far off. (Naro) While Hal was a fully functioning AI by the year 2001, this is something we still seem to have issues with. Even if we were able to come up with a computer able to pass the test, the question presented in 2001: A Space Odyssey and again in 2010: Odyssey Two still remains. When Hal was unplugged for the last time he asked a very pointed question, “will I dream Dave?” (Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey ) This is not a question a computer would normally ask nor would it really be something that a programmer would introduce during a shutdown process. The idea of dreaming is something unique to conscious beings and was the final hint that Hal was more then just a jumble of one’s and zero’s. Todays’ computers are nowhere near that advanced even though we are thirteen years beyond the era the book was trying to portray. This should not be taken as an argument against a true AI however. The idea of a computer passing the Turing test is still quite possible and in a few decades, may be considered commonplace.
AI’s are considered to the among the pinnacles of technology, however, even they would have a hard time transversing interstellar space on anything other then a radio transmission. As such, in 2061 Odyssey Three, a new form of engine was introduced. When we think of most rockets, we picture either the space shuttle or one of the old rockets used in the Apollo program. Both of these systems used chemical fuel even once they made it into orbit around the Earth. A problem with this is that fuel is heavy, which requires more fuel to get it into orbit, which requires more fuel and so on.
Ion drives propose a solution for navigation once you get up into space. “Inert-gas ion thruster technology offers the greatest potential for providing high-specific-impulse, low-thrust, electric propulsion on large, earth-orbital spacecraft” (Poeshel). They work by propelling a very low density gas out of a thruster electronically. They are able to get the gas to extremely high velocities. The result is that each atom is able to provide a tremendous amount of thrust; however, since it is kept at a low density, the overall thrust is kept low. They also solve the propellant problem of chemical based rockets. Since they use electricity to ionize their propellant they don’t need to drag along quite as much fuel. They don’t have the thrust to escape Earth but are ideal for orbit corrections or bringing a probe up to a high velocity over a long period of time.
These are fine for probes and satellites however not so great for human travel to the outer planets. NASA states that the early ion drives “can be operated on xenon or argon propellant to produce 0.2 N of thrust at a specific impulse of 3000 sec with xenon propellant and at 6000 sec with argon propellant” (Poeshel). However in 1987 Arthur C. Clarke decided he needed to go faster. His ion drive was nothing special in and of itself. No technical specifications were ever given or any real mention of why it was better than all the others. What did make it special was its use of cold fusion. This may be comical by today’s standards since cold fusion is right up there with the philosopher’s stone however, at the time of publication, news of cold fusion was brand new.
Since cold fusion has been found to be impossible since the publication of the book, it is unlikely that any technology will ever be found that can emulate this rocket design in real life. Luck, as it would have it, is on the side of modern innovation. A company called Ad Astra Rocket Company has recently come out with a new rocket propulsion technology called the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR). “In a VASIMR® engine, gas such as argon, xenon, or hydrogen is injected into a tube surrounded by a magnet and a series of two radio wave (RF) couplers. The couplers turn cold gas into superheated plasma and the rocket’s magnetic nozzle converts the plasma thermal motion into a directed jet” (Astra). The engine works in two stages; it becomes ionized by the RF waves and becomes “cold plasma”. Cold plasma is a bit of a misnomer however. The plasma in this stage is still roughly the same temperature as the surface of the sun. This plasma is then sent to the “Ion Cyclotron Heating (ICH) section” (Astra). Here it is heated to roughly the same temperature as the core of the sun. Once the plasma is super-heated, it is expelled the way any regular propellant would be. “The rocket uses a magnetic nozzle to convert the ions orbital motion into useful linear momentum resulting in ion speeds on the order of 180,000 km/hr (112,000 mph)” (Astra).
The VASIMR engine has several advantages over traditional ion style engines. It can more easily vary its thrust, allowing it to be used more a wider range of missions without having to be drastically redesigned. Also, since the plasma is excited with RF waves, no engine parts have to come into direct contact with the hot plasma. As such the engine does not wear out as easily and can last longer. Another advantage to this technology is that it can easily be scaled up for larger payloads. This may be able to move past putting satellites into orbit and allow for us to more easily capture nearby asteroids or even possibly sending men to Mars as suggested in the book. The limit to all of this is power. While to book relied on cold fusion for its power supply something more will be needed for large scale projects. Solar power will still be useful for near Earth missions however for anything bigger something more akin to a mini nuclear reactor would be desired. (Astra)
Arthur C. Clarke was a revolutionary. Unlike a majority of modern science fiction writers he did not just use science as a convent plot device or as a useful tool for social commentary. He inspired a future generation to innovate for a better tomorrow. He envisioned a world capable of travel to the outer planets, using sentient computers and artificial gravity inhabited by man as well as aliens. Later, he introduced the idea of life on Europa and how aliens may intervene in their evolution in the same manner they did in ours. Later on, he used advances in propulsion technology to shrink the size of the solar system in much the same way the steam boat and telegraph did to ours. Finally, in 3001, he brings up the idea that as technology increases and we are able to spread out into the cosmos we will finally be able to get beyond our let go our selfish desire for war and live in a utopia. Arthur C. Clark was very much an optimist, but his vision of the future is not entirely impossible.
Astra. Astra -VASMIR. n.d. Web. 30 June 2014.
Benford, Gregory. “Obituary: Arthur C. Clarke (1917–2008).” Nature (2008).
Clarke, Arthur C. 2001: A Space Odyssey . Penguin Group, 1968.
—. 2010: Odyssey Two. Random House Publishing Group, 1982.
—. 2061 Odysse Three. Random House Publishing Group, 1987.
—. 3001: The Final Odyssey. Del Rey, 1997.
Naro, Maki. Popular Science. 11 June 2014. Web. 30 June 2014.
Poeshel. “Development of Advanced Inert-Gas Ion Thrusters.” 1983.
Tipler, Paul and Gene Mosca. Physics for Scientist and Engineers. MPS, 2003.
Turing, Alan. “Computing Machinery and Intelligence.” Mind (1950).
I chose to read Harry Harrison’s 1966 novel Make Room! Make Room! because I find its dystopian view of population growth and the impact of human activities on the world rather interesting, and indeed somewhat depressing. I think the book is relevent to this class because we’ve been talking about Malthusianism and about global warming and environmental harm, and this book shows one possible outcome if we aren’t careful about how we live our lives on this planet. It also details the society born from a dense, resource-deprived population, which isn’t really an example of Social Darwinism, but perhaps a look into psychology, which we’ve only briefly touched on.
About the Author:
Harry Harrison was born on March 12th, 1925, in the town of Stamford, Connecticut. He eventually made his way to New York City, specifically Queens, where he grew up.(1) After getting out of high school, he was drafted into the military where he “worked on secret military computers, as an armourer and gunnery instructor, and finally – promoted to sergeant – became a Military Policeman”.(2) His service left him with a hatred for the military and war.
In one interview, Harrison said he was inspired to write the book from reading a number of scientific journals, and doing a bit of research on his own about population growth and resources.(3) In another, he says this: “The idea came from an Indian I met after the war, in 1946. He told me, ‘Overpopulation is the big problem coming up in the world’ (nobody had ever heard of it in those days) and he said ‘Want to make a lot of money, Harry? You have to import rubber contraceptives to India.’”(4) The setting of the book is in 1999 because it was still fairly close to the time in which he wrote the book, enough so that it was believable. One of the characters in the book, Soloman Kahn, had a birthdate and military life similar to Harrison’s, but the character was not meant to be a reflection of him.
The book takes place in a dystopian future in New York City, year 1999. In this future, the world population has skyrocketed, resources are scarce, and the world is heavily polluted and hot, with little water to go around.
The story starts off from the viewpoint of a police investigator, Andy Rusch. It chronicles his day beating back the crowd in the streets, and breaking up a stampede on a store that had a sale on “soylent steaks”, which are rare and highly sought after among the poor. Once that is broken up we got to the point-of-view of a kid named Billy Chung, who managed to make off with a box of soylent steaks in the confusion. After he finds a place to hide and eats his share of them, he decides to sell the rest so that he can pay his way into a job delivering telegrams.
It is during Billy’s first delivery that we meet another couple of important characters in the story, Michael O’Brien, and his girlfriend, Shirl Greene. These two live among the rich in a closed-off community, and it is when Billy goes in and notices much of the security is disabled that he gets the idea to rob the place.
The robbery goes wrong when Mr. O’Brien walks in on Billy searching through a jewelry box, and attacks. Billy fights back by striking O’Brien across the head with the tire iron he used to break in, and the blow ends up killing O’Brien. It is O’Brien’s death that sets the stage for the rest of the book.
Andy gets stuck with the task of investigating O’Brien’s death, and during the investigation, he developes a relationship with O’Brien’s “girlfriend” (really, something similar to a concubine, the prettier women were bought and sold like furniture), Shirl Greene. Since Greene has no place to go and has a contract permitting her to continue living in O’Brien’s suite until the contract ends, the two end up living together in opulence for a month.
After the month is up, Shirl moves in with Andy and his roommate, Soloman Kahn, much to Shirl’s dismay since she had gotten used to a life of luxury. Andy remains obsessed with solving the murder case and hunting down Billy Chung, while his roommate Soloman becomes involved in protests against the overturning of a bill to implement population control by limiting birth rates. Soloman eventually grows sick from the stress and dies, and after he does, an entire family moves in to replace him, which gets on both Shirl and Andy’s nerves, and Shirl leaves and goes back into her life as a concubine. Andy eventually hunts Billy down and accidentally kills him, causing him to get demoted, and the book ends with the US population hitting a record high 344 million citizens at the century’s end.(5)
Comparison with Movie:
Make Room! Make Room! was adapted into the movie Soylent Green, which came out in 1973. The movie parallels the book pretty closely, just with different names for the characters, the murder victim being changed from a malicious businessman in the book to a kind soul in the movie, and a twist ending in the movie. Whereas the book has a rather unexciting ending, the movie leads on to the investigator doing some research about the victim’s past associations, finds he was associated with the company that makes Soylent products, and goes to investigate the company. He finds out a rather gruesome fact: Human corpses are used to make their Soylent Green product, and the movie just ends with him screaming “Soylent Green is people!” while being carried off.
Science behind the book and why it’s relevent:
While it is obvious at this point that the future chronicled in the book hasn’t come to pass and probably won’t for quite some time if it ever does happen, there are some things documented in the book that either are currently happening, or have some basis in scientific research and Malthusianism stating how those things could happen.
I’ll first talk about something we aren’t really seeing, and that is this idea that the population explodes to the point of their not being enough room and nowhere near enough resources for everyone. We have discussed a few times in class the concept of Malthusianism, a concept first proposed by Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus, which basically states that population growth is exponential, whereas the availability of resources is arithmetical, meaning that at some point population growth exceeds the availability of resources and the population begins to die off until it reaches sustainable levels again.
While it is certainly true that the population is growing at an exponential rate, that rate has steadily been decreasing in recent years, as we can clearly see in our handy graph from the US Census Bureau:
The book also mentions the idea of trying to limit population growth through government policy, which I think is again linked back to Malthusianism, in that it is assumed that reducing the population will restore the balance of resources to population size so there are enough to go around. It just so happens this is exactly what China has been doing in the real world for quite some time with its one-child policy, since China too struggles to get enough resources to feed its population. Since this policy has been enforced since around 1980, we can already see some of its effects: Because of chinese cultural preference for males, there is now a higher percentage of males in china than in the rest of the world; the ratio of males to females was at 1.17 as of 2001, compared to a ratio of 1.03 to 1.07 for the rest of the industrialized world. A particularly concerning consequence however, is that the average age of chinese citizens is going up since they aren’t having enough children to replace themselves, and this ever-increasing group of older citizens needs the smaller group of younger citizens to support it, which places a huge burden on the young.(6) China still has problems with food supply and, particularly, water supply despite the policy.(7)
I’d also like to discuss the psychological effect living in a huge population can have, although I don’t think it really pertains to anything we’ve discussed in class, except perhaps to a very small extent, Social Darwinism. In the book, we see the population riddled with crime, with a low value on human life, and with heavy segregation of the rich from the poor (they literally walled themselves in). A long time ago, I found an interesting video describing a study done by Dr. John B. Calhoun on a population of mice. They were placed in a “utopian” environment, where they had no natural predators, and unlimited access to food and water, and were just allowed to grow in population size boundlessly.
In the beginning, everything goes as expected in the experiment: the mice define their territorial boundaries and begin to reproduce at an exponential rate. However, after a while, the crowded mice began to fight constantly, and population began to level off, and different classes of mice began to develop. There were certain mice who always got into fights, who had chewed-up tails and tended not to live very long. There were mice that were always picked on. Then there were “the beautiful ones”, which were physically perfect, but had withdrawn from society and spent their time eating and grooming rather than breeding and interacting with other mice. Eventually, the society becomes completely dysfunctional, and the population plummets until eventually dies off completely.
Calhoun suggests that this is an example of what will eventually happen to human society if we keep on breeding without bound, in fact, we could already be in the middle of it, with our declining population growth.(8)000
The book doesn’t explicitly single out the topic of global warming, but it is sort of implied that it has happened in the book’s fictional world. In the book, we see extremely high temperatures, even in August, which would seem to suggest some sort of global warming has taken place. This is one of the things from the book that we can actually see happening in real life, albeit not (yet) to the extent described in the book. Before the book was written, even, we already had the dust bowl, where we outstripped our land’s resources and suffered from it.
We learned in class that the possibility of global warming due to our CO2 emissions has been known about since 1896 when Svante Arrhenius first realized it, and it is likely that Harrison was familiar with the idea as well, especially considering that the President Lyndon Johnson had spoken about the issue the year before the book was first published. Also, by the late 80’s at least, we knew that climate change is taking place, and by now we have quite a bit of data on it, so 1999 was a pretty reasonable date for the book’s setting in that regard.(9)
I think that, although the book was way off on its description of world population and climate from the actuality of the world in 1999, it still hits close to home on a couple of points. It accurately assessed that the world would heat up, the violence and mob mentality in the book is reflected to some extent in experiments on animal populations, and the measure of population control has already been implemented in China at least, even though the world’s population is on the decline and it really doesn’t seem to be necessary at this point. I think, if we were to go along the road to limitless population growth and limitless consumption, the story could very well become a reality.
- Tomlinson, Paul. “Harry Harrison – A Brief Biography,” 2009. http://www.michaelowencarroll.com/hh/bio.htm.
- ———. “Who Is Harry Harrison?,” July 1999. http://www.michaelowencarroll.com/hh/aboutwho.htm.
- Harry Harrison Interview. Interview by Paul Tomlinson, 1985. http://www.michaelowencarroll.com/hh/n07.htm.
- “Harry Harrison: When the World Was Young.” Locus Magazine, March 2006. http://www.locusmag.com/2006/Issues/03Harrison.html.
- Harrison, Harry. Make Room! Make Room! New York: Orb, 2008.
- Hesketh, Therese, Li Lu, and Zhu Wei Xing. The Effect of China’s One-Child Family Policy after 25 Years. Health Policy Report. The New England Journal of Medicine, September 15, 2005. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMhpr051833.
- Jun, Ma, and Naomi Li. “Tackling China’s Water Crisis Online,” September 21, 2006. https://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/392-Tackling-China-s-water-crisis-online.
- Calhoun, John. Population Density and Social Pathology. National Institute of Mental Health, November 1970. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1501789/pdf/califmed00143-0080.pdf.
- “Climate Research Unit: Data,” n.d. http://www.cru.uea.ac.uk/cru/data/temperature/.
The development and use of weapons of mass destruction brought an end to the long, brutal war of World War II; however, it also started the race towards nuclear armament and the fate of humanity. This very thing is what Kurt Vonnegut Jr. predicted would happen in his 1969 novel, Slaughterhouse-Five. In this book, Vonnegut explores the concept of Einsteinian space-time and its perceptions during that era, the use of science to amplify the destruction of humanity in warfare, and the harsh effects of war on the human mind.
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. was born in 1922 in Indianapolis, Indiana. William Rodney Allen of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library notes that Kurt Jr. was the youngest of three children born to Edith and Kurt Sr. Vonnegut. His father was a well-to-do architect and his mother was from a wealthy family, however, his family fell into ruins once they were hit by the Great Depression (Allen). This event turned Kurt Jr.’s life upside-down, as he witnessed the despair of his parents in response to this tragedy. His father’s abandonment of hope and his mother’s choice to abuse substances and commit suicide established the cynicism that Kurt Jr. then carried for the rest of his life (Buckley).
Although an admittedly lousy student that dropped out of several colleges, Kurt Vonnegut Jr. studied chemistry and worked for many school and local newspapers during his teenage years, where he picked up a few of his writing techniques (Allen). At the age of twenty, Kurt was shipped off to fight in World War II for the army. Soon after his arrival in Europe, Vonnegut was captured by Nazi soldiers in the Battle of the Bulge as a prisoner of war. Vonnegut was later sent to Dresden, Germany as a POW, where he stayed in a slaughterhouse (Allen). On February 13, 1945, American and British airplanes dropped tons upon tons of bombs and incendiaries across the city, leveling Dresden and killing countless civilians. During this atrocity, Vonnegut and his fellow POWs took refuge in the underground slaughterhouses’ meat locker, surviving only to emerge to a murderous scene that changed their lives forever.
Soon after the Dresden firebombing, the Soviets came to the city and Vonnegut was liberated. After the war, Vonnegut took an advertising job with General Electric and married Jane Cox, with whom he had three children (Allen). Vonnegut began writing stories again and eventually published his first novel, Player Piano, in 1952. In 1957, Vonnegut’s beloved sister died of cancer, only a couple of days after her husband drowned in a horrible train accident (Allen). Vonnegut then adopted three of their children and decided to focus on writing novels so that he could support his family. Within the next twelve years, he went on to publish The Sirens of Titan, Mother Night, Cat’s Cradle, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, and then Slaughterhouse-Five (Allen). In these books, Vonnegut established his style of writing, in which he describes grotesque events in a sort of satirical fashion.
Vonnegut’s life never really seemed to stray too far from gloominess. Once his children grew up and left the house, Vonnegut’s marriage came to an end and he moved to New York City (Allen). Kurt published two more books in the mid-1970s, but they were unsuccessful and he then fell into a writer’s block (Allen). At the end of the decade, however, his writer’s block had left as he entered into another marriage. He continued to write prolifically about the hopelessness he had for humanity and he later taught as an English professor at universities (Allen). In his latter years, Kurt Vonnegut Jr. was a powerful spokesman against the use of nuclear weapons and on protecting the biosphere. In 2007, Vonnegut died from falling down the stairs of his own home (Allen).
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. published his antiwar novel Slaughterhouse-Five in 1969. The story is based on the author’s own accounts in World War II, as he, then a POW, survived the firebombing of Dresden by the Allied Forces. The novel begins in first person, as the author discusses his involvement in the Dresden firebombing and his difficulties of recounting his experiences into a book for many years. Vonnegut then tells of how he met with an old wartime friend as they returned to Dresden for their first time in 1967. Vonnegut tells some of the things about his postwar life and his earlier attempts at creating an antiwar novel from his experiences. On his way to Dresden,
Vonnegut stays the night at a hotel in Boston. There, here reads about the story of Lot’s Wife and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah from the bible and loses his perception of time.
After the first chapter, the third person narration by the author dominates, as he tells the story of Billy Pilgrim. The narrator tells us, “Billy Pilgrim has become unstuck in time,” and then shifts randomly through time with Billy Pilgrim, as he has no control of which moments in his life he is transported to. Billy is described as a weakling from Ilium, New York, where he learned to practice optometry before being shipped off to war. Time continues to shift and the story tells about Billy’s postwar breakdown and recovery, marriage and family, a plane crash he’d survived, and the death of his wife. After recovering from his plane crash, Billy returns to New York City, where he talks about being abducted by aliens on a radio show. Billy continues to write to newspapers to tell of his abduction and the lessons he learned from the aliens of Tralfamadore until his daughter comes to care for him. He tells of his experiences in World War II and in Luxembourg, where he has his first time-shift while leaning against a tree. He sees himself pre-birth and after death, and then shifts to being thrown in a pool by his father to learn to swim. He continues time shifting to various family moments and minor events, and then back to behind enemy lines where a fellow soldier, Robert Weary, is shaking him awake. The other soldiers had deserted him, but Weary stayed behind to save him and blame him for their abandonment. Time then shifts to Billy giving a speech in 1957 as president of the Ilium Lions Club, then shifts again to his and Robert Weary’s capture by German soldiers. Billy continues to fall asleep and time-shift at inappropriate times, and we learn that he has trouble staying awake throughout the day but has sleeping problems at night.
In the story, Billy becomes a POW just like the author, and they survived the firebombing of Dresden together, as the author makes himself a character in the story. In a postwar moment in 1967, Billy is a prosperous optometrist with his son serving as a Green Beret in the Vietnam War and his daughter planning to become married soon. That night, the story shifts again to Billy as a POW, where the Germans are forcing the prisoners onto boxcars. Billy becomes separated from Weary and he is stuck in his crowded boxcar for two days before it even starts to move. Once the train finally begins to move, Billy appears at the night of his abduction to Tralfamadore. It is the night of his daughter’s wedding day and Billy cannot sleep because, having already traveled through time, he knows he is soon to be abducted. He later sits down to watch a World War II documentary and watches the movie both forward and backward, noticing how opposite the stories are when reversing the chronology of events.
Walking outside to meet the arriving saucer, Billy asks the aliens why it is him they are abducting. The Tralfamadorians claim this question to be characteristic of humans, telling Billy there is no why. There just is. The Tralfamadorians are described as looking like toilet plungers,
and saucer then jolts away from Earth and Billy is sent back in time to the boxcar. After nine days of being on a boxcar, people are dying all around. On another boxcar, Weary is telling everyone of Billy Pilgrim and how he is the man responsible for his fate. Just before Weary dies, a vicious Paul Lazzaro swears vengeance on Billy for Robert Weary’s death. Ironically, the trains arrive at the prison camp the following night and the prisoners are led to a mass shower. While showering, Billy shifts to a number of other times, including to when he was on the saucer. The Tralfamadorians explain to Billy their understanding of the universe and predeterminism. They tell of their perception of time as the fourth dimension and that each moment is pre-structured so no free will can possibly exist. The Tralfamadorians also explain to Billy how time is not a linear progression, rather a collection of moments that occur an innumerable amount of times.
On Tralfamadore, Billy is put into a zoo, where he is displayed as an exhibit. Billy then shifts to times in his childhood and then back to his prison camp. The Americans are housed with a group of British prisoners and they watch a performance of Cinderella later that night. During the performance, however, Billy bursts into hysterics and is taken to the camp’s hospital where he is sedated. When Billy awakes, he has traveled to 1948, where he is in a mental ward in New York for his postwar psychiatric problems. In the bed next to him, Billy meets an ex-captain that introduces him to the novels of Kilgore Trout. Billy falls in love with Trout’s science fiction and can’t seem to talk about anything else when his fiancée comes to visit him. The story then goes back to Billy in the zoo, where the Tralfamadorians are telling him that there are actually seven different sexes of humans required for reproduction, but Billy is not able to perceive the other five because they only exist in the fourth dimension. Billy is also told how the universe will end by a Tralfamadorian accidentally exploding it, explaining that that is how it has happened every time. Later, Billy is introduced to another human, Montana Wildhack, who was brought to Tralfamadore to mate with Billy. The two begin sleeping together and then the story shifts to 1968. Billy meets a boy whose father was just killed while fighting in Vietnam. In an effort to comfort the boy, Billy tells him of what he learned about time in his visit to Tralfamadore, and appears insane to everyone around him.
At the POW camp, Lazzaro is beaten up after trying to steal from an Englishman. Lazzaro claims he will make sure that the man is murdered after the war and tells Billy the revenge is the sweetest thing in the world. He reminds Billy of how he’d made a promise to kill him, but Billy does not worry because he has apparently seen his murder numerous times. He then goes on to recount his death. He is giving a speech about the concept of time in 1976 and China has just dropped a hydrogen bomb on Chicago. He explains that the US has been divided into twenty-two different nations so that it cannot threaten the world. He says that immediately after giving his speech, Lazzaro walks up and shoots him with a laser gun. The prisoners are later shipped to Dresden to be housed in a slaughterhouse. Upon his arrival, Billy is astonished with the architecture and beauty of the untouched Dresden. He later tells of the malnourishment of the prisoners, but seems oblivious to the harsh conditions.
The plane crash that Billy survives is told in greater detail, and we learn that Billy’s father-in-law is in the plane with several other optometrists. Billy is the only person that survives the crash and his
wife rushes to go see him in the hospital. On her way, his wife gets into a car accident and later dies from carbon monoxide poisoning after reaching the hospital. When Billy awakens in the hospital, he finds himself next to another patient that is writing about the successes of the Dresden firebombing. When Billy tells the man that he was there during the bombing, he is ignored, as the man knows Billy will only speak of it as a horror. Billy then transports back to Dresden, where the Germans have begun to flea because of the imminent invasion by the Russians. Outside of the slaughterhouse, Billy has his first brush with reality as he breaks down upon the sight of suffering horses. He then appears in New York City, where he goes into a bookstore and happens to find books by Kilgore Trout that are strikingly similar to his own alien abduction experiences. He also sees a pornographic magazine with Montana Wildhack on its cover. In New York, Billy sneaks onto a talk show and tries to talk about time and his abduction story but gets kicked out. Billy then shifts back to Tralfamadore, where he sees Montana nursing his and her child.
In the last chapter of the novel, the narration shifts between first and third person. The Tralfamadorians are interested in asking Billy about Darwin, but not about Jesus Christ. The story shifts to just before the ending of the war with the POWs, including Vonnegut and Billy, forced to gather and burn the thousands of dead bodies that were left strewn across the city after the bombing. Before long, the Germans leave the city in fear of Russian invasion and the POW are finally liberated. The scene in Dresden is described as silent other than the song of a bird, as nothing is appropriate to say in such a horrific time (Vonnegut).
Here is a comical video that I found represents the book surprisingly well. WARNING: It is a goofy video with several cursing bleeps.
One of the principles of science that is clearly brought into question in this novel is the concept of time. Kurt Vonnegut’s college career in the 1940’s was a time when Einstein’s theory of relativity and new ideas in physics were very popular. As a result, it is likely that these ideas were fresh in the author’s mind during his times of horror in war and led to the development of his ideas of time. The author facilitates the concept of time into this story as a mechanism in coping with the grief of war and death. He uses the Tralfamadorians explanation of time in order to accept all of the death that surrounds him, as they claim that all moments are predetermined.
Kurt Vonnegut posits the deterministic view that all moments in time are pre-structured and follow a strange loop, in which each moment is just as permanent as any other and can be revisited an infinite amount of times. He questions the principles of the Christian religion and suggests that no free will exists, and therefore neither could a superior being. This is exactly the reason his book has struggled with banning. In Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut also uses his concept of time to pursue personal happiness. The author dances along the edges of immortality as he claims that even after death, which you may experience multiple times, you can revisit the joyful times in your life. This is a very important aspect depicted by Vonnegut, as he is applying his twist to Einstein’s theory of relativity and rejecting Newton’s assumption of absolute time. Viewing time as something other than a linear progression was not an easy task for most people, as it is still difficult for most to do so today. By manipulating time to be holistic as he did, however, Vonnegut gave the public a new consciousness of time and allowed them to see it from a different perspective, although not necessarily the correct one.
The firebombing of Dresden on February 13, 1945 “killed 135,000 people, mainly civilians – twice the number killed at Hiroshima – in a period of several hours” (Farber). Through Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut was able to communicate to the public that the atomic bombs were not the only things that brought mass destruction upon the world; rather mass destruction was caused by war as a whole. Vonnegut expresses his view of war as meaningless destruction by ending his book at the bomb scene, where no conversation or sound could be heard other than the senseless chirping of a bird (Vonnegut). Through Vonnegut’s use of China dropping a hydrogen bomb on Chicago, he also displays his concern that the development of such powerful weapons will only promote nuclear war and the fate of humanity. The author clearly portrays science as morally evil, as he depicts scientists of the time as dedicating their efforts towards hurting society rather than advancing it.
Here is a video documenting the Dresden bombing. WARNING: It contains graphic content.
One of the reasons that drove Vonnegut towards criticizing scientists was through the use of their money. In an interview found in the 1972 Chicago Tribune, Vonnegut explains his view that there should be a reduction in the expenditure towards technology, especially in weaponry. Vonnegut goes on to discuss how so much wealth was being poured into weapon development at the time and how the effort was also burning through the nation’s fuel resources (Wolf). Not only was Vonnegut concerned with the billions of dollars spent in creating weapons that would destroy mankind, but also spoke openly against the mission to the moon on a broadcast with Walter Cronkite, claiming that this thirty-three billion dollars was being wasted when it should be put towards the poor and the improvement of society (Buckley). As his book became increasingly popular throughout the Vietnam War, Vonnegut was able to effectively impact the public opinion on the use nuclear weapons and greatly increased the anti-war effort.
As Stephen Farber explains in his 1972 New York Times article, “the
huge firestorm produced hurricane-strength winds which sucked fleeing civilians back into the inferno, while most of those who thought they were safe in underground shelters were baked alive or suffocated by poisonous fumes” (Farber). This article criticizes Slaughterhouse-Five, claiming that it failed to tell the true monstrosity that actually occurred during the bombing. Vonnegut’s brief descriptions of the scene through his use of fragments in time, however, bring the social effects of the horrors of war to light.
After their miraculous survival of the firebombing in Dresden, Vonnegut and his fellow POWs were forced to excavate the countless bodies of the dead civilians and burn them, a sight that haunted them forever (Allen). Rather than actually describing all of the horrors of the bombing, Slaughterhouse-Five focuses on the effects of warfare on human psychology and mental wellbeing. When initially reading this novel and the tale of Billy Pilgrim, the reader likely thinks that the book has turned into a fantasy that they are expected to believe to be true to the story. Not after long, however, one learns that this character must be completely out of his mind, just as the others believe him to be (Vonnegut). Through this depiction of the postwar effects on the mind of Billy Pilgrim, Vonnegut made his anti-war effort in the novel very apparent.
In an interview with Andrew Pomerantz, veteran and chief of mental health at Vermont’s VA, Pomerantz claims Slaughterhouse-Five to be the best book to ever be written about PTSD. Pomerantz says that he reread the book after war before going home to prepare himself for interaction with the general public (Pomerantz). The story of Billy Pilgrim clearly demonstrated that many soldiers returning from the horrors of WWII experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), although this disorder had not yet been discovered at the time. As Steve Bentley points out in “A Short History of PTSD…”, this type of breakdown during World War II was referred to as names such as “combat neurosis” and “battle fatigue,” and also claims that out of the estimated 800,000 American soldiers who actually saw direct combat, over thirty-seven percent (not accounting for those that died) had such serious psychiatric trauma that they were permanently discharged (Bentley). The atrocities that these veterans witnessed followed them everywhere, and the lack of public appreciation for their efforts only heightened the issue. This disturbance amongst veterans did not go unnoticed by others however, and medium such as Slaugherhouse-Five effectively spread awareness of the psychiatric problems experienced by soldiers and encouraged development in the field of psychiatry.
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. combined the destructiveness of war, its effects on society and the human mind, and his non-linear concept of time to spread his anti-war effort through his most acclaimed novel, Slaughterhouse-Five. In this novel, Vonnegut slams the scientists of his time for their contributions towards the creation of weapons of mass destruction and correctly predicted that this would threaten the existence of humanity in the future. Vonnegut’s novel led to a better understanding of the concept of time amongst the general public at the time, to further develop the field of psychology and enhance the care of war veterans, and to the education of his readers on some of the consequences of continued weapon development.
Vonnegut, Kurt, Jr. Slaughterhouse-Five: Or, The Children’s Crusade, a Duty-Dance with Death. New York: Delacorte, 1969. Print.
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:
Al-Khalili, Jim. “Wormholes.” Black Holes, Wormholes, and Time Machines. Boca Raton, FL: Taylor & Francis, 2012. 135-38. Google Books. Web. 30 June 2014. <http://books.google.com/books?id=v__ukMwx4IwC&printsec=frontcover&dq=black+holes,+wormholes+and+time+machines&hl=en&sa=X&ei=Ll2zU9HcHNCKqAb_3oHgDw&ved=0CCQQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=black%20holes%2C%20wormholes%20and%20time%20machines&f=false>.
Clark, Jeff. “Contact.” Library Journal 110.20 (1985): 128. Academic Search Premier. Web. 1 July 2014.
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.
Lindley, David. “The Birth of Wormholes.” Focus 15 (2005). American Physical Society. Web. 30 June 2014. <http://physics.aps.org/story/v15/st11>.
Overbye, Dennis. “Please Call Earth. We Still Haven’t Found You.” The New York Times 2 Mar. 2008: WK4. ProQuest Historical Newspapers. Web. 29 June 2014. <http://search.proquest.com/docview/897744707?accountid=12964>.
Sagan, Carl, and Tom Head. Conversations with Carl Sagan. Jackson: U of Mississippi, 2006. Google Books. Web. 29 June 2014. <http://books.google.com/books?id=gJ1rDj2nR3EC&pg=PA51&dq=carl+sagan+extraterrestrial+life&hl=en&sa=X&ei=RTezU92FCoySqAbgkYD4CQ&ved=0CCQQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=carl%20sagan%20extraterrestrial%20life&f=false>.
Sagan, Carl. Contact: A Novel. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985. Print.
Smith, Robert W. “Collaboration, Competition, and the Early History of Radio Astronomy.” Metascience (2014) 23 (2013). Ebscohost. Web. 28 June 2014.
Spangenburg, Ray, and Diane Moser. Carl Sagan: A Biography. Westport, CT: Greenwood Pub. Group, 2004. Print.
Terzian, Yervant, and Elizabeth M. Bilson. Carl Sagan’s Universe. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge UP, 1997. Print.
Yount, Lisa. Modern Astronomy: Expanding the Universe. New York: Chelsea House, 2006. Print.
For my personal blog, I chose to read Michael Crichton’s 1990 science fiction novel Jurassic Park, mainly because I enjoyed Steven Spielberg’s 1993 movie adaptation as a child.
In the novel, Crichton uses scientific themes surrounding genetic engineering, computers, and chaos theory to ultimately build a foundation on which he criticizes the dangers of technology and the irresponsible use of science in controversial endeavors. The novel’s themes tie into our class readings of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: Or, The Modern Prometheus and H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau and connect to our discussions on the creation of the atomic bomb, GMOs, and nuclear disasters.
On October 23rd, 1942, John Michael Crichton was born in Chicago, Illinois, and was the oldest of four children.
He grew up in, “Rosyln, on Long Island, where his father was the editor of Advertising Age and later president of the American Association of Advertising Agencies” (Grimes). Following high school, Crichton attended Harvard University. Originally an English major at Harvard, “ Crichton switched to anthropology after a professor criticized his writing style” (Grimes). He would later, “graduate summa cum laude from Harvard” (John) and proceed to, “teach anthropology for a year on a fellowship at Cambridge University” before attending Harvard Medical School (Grimes).
He began writing, “to help pay tuition” (Grimes) while at medical school and even published, “his first best seller, The Andromeda Strain, before graduating” (John). At the time, Crichton wrote under the pseudonyms “Jeffrey Hudson” and “John Lange” and finished eleven novels, “one of which won an Edgar award”, before writing under his real name (About Michael). After graduating from Harvard Medical School in 1969, “Mr. Crichton moved to the La Jolla section of San Diego and spent a year as a postdoctoral fellow at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies” (Grimes) where he “was researching public policy” (John).
The following years lead to, “more than a dozen of his novels becoming movies, and he turned his hand to directing, screenwriting and producing for film and television” (Grimes). Crichton became immensely popular following the movie adaptation of his 1990 novel Jurassic Park by Steven Spielberg, which became, “one of the highest grossing films of all time” (John). In reflection on the novel, Crichton noted that during the writing of Jurassic Park, “[he] had come to rely on five or six people to read [his] drafts” and that “they all hated [it]” (Crichton). The original draft was written from a child’s point of view, “so [he] rewrote it as an adult story… and then everybody liked it” (Crichton). Crichton is also the creator of E.R., “a medical drama which ran for fifteen seasons from 1994 to 2009, and won him an Emmy, a Peabody and a Writer’s Guild of America Award” (John). As a doctor and a student of science, many of his novels “contained themes of scientific disaster and environmental destruction… and have been translated into more than thirty-six languages” adding to Crichton’s popularity around the world (John). In 2008, John Michael Crichton “ died at the age of 66 from cancer on November 4th in Los Angeles, California after a long struggle with illness” (Grimes).
Jurassic Park begins with a helicopter bringing an injured workman from an island several miles off shore from Costa Rica to a doctor on the mainland. The people onboard the helicopter tell the doctor that the man was hurt in a heavy machinery accident during construction on the island, however, the doctor is not fooled; she can tell the individual is a victim of some kind of animal attack. Before the man passes away, he manages to struggle the word “raptor”.
Later, reports of attacks by an unidentified species of three-toed lizards in Costa Rica begin to surface. A sample specimen of a “lizard” is obtained and sent to Dr. Alan Grant, a paleontologist, and his research assistant Dr. Ellie Sattler.
The two suspect the specimen to be a dinosaur, but before they can do any tests they are flown off to the island of Isla Nublar, not far from Costa Rica, to do consulting work for a secretive bioengineering firm owned by the same man who funds Grant’s research; John Hammond. For the past five years, Hammond has been in the process of converting Isla Nublar into a zoo-inspired prehistoric theme park called Jurassic Park. With Hammond’s money, supercomputers and the work of scientist Dr. Wu, several species of dinosaurs have been cloned from blood found in mosquitoes that were preserved in amber.
Hammond’s lawyer Donald Gennaro, mathematician Ian Malcolm, Hammond’s grandchildren, and the programmer of Jurassic park’s security system Dennis Nedry, fly out to the island to determine if the park is safe to open to the public. Malcolm, who religiously refers to a principle known as chaos theory, expresses how he believes, based on his calculations, that Jurassic Park is destined for catastrophe before he even sets foot on the island.
Hammond created Jurassic Park with the goal to automate as many aspects of the park as he could, so the vast majority of the park is controlled by the same computer system. Nedry, who was secretly hired by a rival bioengineering company to steal dinosaur embryos, shuts down the island’s entire security system (along with the electric fences that keep the dinosaurs at bay) while most of the characters are on a tour of the park.
As the infrastructure of the park begins to collapse in accordance with Malcolm’s theory, Nedry attempts to escape the island with the stolen embryos but becomes lost, and is ultimately killed by a venom-spitting dilophosour.
Meanwhile, the electric cars that were carrying Malcolm, Hammond’s grandchildren, Grant, and tour guide Ed Regis, have stopped working. This strands the characters right next to the Tyrannosaurus Rex enclosure. With the electric fence out of order, the T-Rex escapes and attacks the vehicles, killing Ed Regis and critically injuring Malcolm, who is later picked up by Gennaro and Jurassic Park’s game warden.
Grant and the children are relatively okay, and embark to escape the immediate danger of another T-Rex attack by heading back toward the Park’s main headquarters. On the journey back, Grant discovers that the dinosaurs, which were genetically engineered to all be female and incapable of breeding, had somehow managed to reproduce in the park. Grant and the children are stalked by the T-Rex and attacked by Cearadactyls but eventually make it back to the park’s main building.
By now, Jurassic Park’s most intelligent and violent dinosaurs, the velociraptors, have also escaped from their cages and are hunting in packs. As employees attempt to restart the electric generators that power the park, the velociraptors manage to kill Dr. Wu and everyone else who is an expert at operating the complicated computer system. Eventually, Grant and Genarro get the generators up and running despite the velociraptors. Tim, Hammond’s grandson and now the most skilled with computers on the island, gets the security system back up just before the raptors can break through a barrier protecting Malcolm, Hammond and Sattler.
With the security system now running, Grant, Sattler, Genarro, and the park’s game warden head back out to try to find where the dinosaurs are breeding. Meanwhile, Hammond leaves Malcolm’s side to get some fresh air, but falls and breaks his ankle, and is eaten by a pack of Procompsognathids. The others find the velociraptor nest, but a National Guard helicopter that has just landed on the island scares off the dinosaurs. Everyone who has survived Jurassic Park gets on board, and the National Guard blows up Isla Nublar as the Helicopter flies away.
Once back at Costa Rica, Grant learns of suspicious “lizards” that have been destroying certain crops and moving in packs throughout the country’s jungles.
Genetic Engineering, Paleo-DNA, and Amber
So how did they do it, how did they create the dinosaurs? In the novel, it is explained that Dr. Wu, the young scientist at Jurassic Park, “[extracted] fragmented paleo-DNA belonging to an extinct prehistoric creature…from perfectly preserved insects fossilized in amber”(Crichton 111).
He would then insert the DNA fragments into, “Hamachi-Hood automated gene sequencers…run at very high speeds by Cray XMP supercomputers” (Crichton 112). Next, the computers used restriction nucleases, which are enzymes that “cut nucleic acid only at certain nucleotide sequences along a DNA chain” and allow it to be “joined together with other DNA fragments cut by the same restriction enzyme regardless of the origin of either DNA”(Orsay). The computers then made inferences as to the missing segments of DNA and filled in the gaps.
While this all might seem extremely far-fetched, Harvard Medical School graduate and author Michael Crichton knew what he was talking about.
The “Hamachi-Hood” sequencers mentioned in the novel have a real basis; an actual DNA sequencer had been created by Dr. Leroy Hood in 1986 and was cutting edge at the time Crichton was writing Jurassic Park. Crichton also alludes to applications of DNA cloning through the character of Dr. Grant, who “was aware of serious speculation in laboratories in Berkeley…that it might eventually be possible to clone an extinct animal such as a dinosaur- if you could get some dinosaur DNA to work with” (Crichton95).
What Crichton is referring to is the research done by George Poinar Jr. and his wife Roberta Hess. He even acknowledges Poinar and Hess, “who formed the Extinct DNA Study Group at Berkely… for certain ideas presented in the text about paleo-DNA, the genetic material of extinct animals” at the conclusion of the novel (Crichton 449).
Poinar and Hess’ abstract was published in Science magazine during 1982, just eight years prior to Jurassic Park being released. It reads as follows:
“ [The] examination of the ultrastructure of preserved tissue in the abdomen of a fossil fly (Mycetophilidae: Diptera) entombed in Baltic amber revealed recognizable cell organelles. Structures that corresponded to muscle fibers, nuclei, ribosomes, lipid droplets, endoplasmic reticulum, and mitochondria were identified with the transmission electron microscope. Preservation was attributed to inert dehydration as well as the presence of compounds in the original sap, which functioned as natural fixatives. This evidence of cell organelles in fossilized soft tissues represent an extreme form of mummification since Baltic amber is considered to have formed about 40 million years ago” (Poinar and Hess)
The work of Poinar and Hess is clear inspiration for how Crichton explains the creation of dinosaurs within the novel, but what he did not know is that the science surrounding amber and the insects that it has preserved would soon reach a breakthrough. In 1992, Poinar, his son Hendrick, and Raul J. Cano of California Polytechnic State University “were able to extract genetic material from the muscle tissue of a 25 million year old extinct stingless bee entombed in amber”, amplify it by polymerase chain reaction, and “[discover] the molecular sequence of the specific gene that carries the bee’s code for a protein essential to make ribosomes” (“Prehistoric Bee”).
This inclusion of relevant science in the novel is a theme that connects to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: Or, The Modern Prometheus. Both Shelley and Crichton created science fiction novels incorporating some of the leading scientific discoveries during the time they were writing.
As we discussed in class, Shelley’s novel alluded to the works of Galvani and Volta, who were prominent eighteenth century scientists that studied electricity. The theories set forth by these scientists are suggested as means by which Dr. Frankenstein was able to create life, much like how Crichton acknowledges the work of Poinar and Hess as influence toward how dinosaur life was created in Jurassic Park.
Both novels also express the authors’ concerns with science, or rather scientists, going too far. In Jurassic Park, this is expressed through the character Ian Malcolm, who says:
“Scientists have an elaborate line of bullshit about how they are seeking to know the truth about nature. Which is true but that’s not what drives them… Scientists are actually preoccupied with accomplishment. They are focused on whether they can do something. They never stop to ask if they should do something… If they don’t do it someone else will… So they just try to do it first” (Crichton 316).
Victor Frankenstein becomes so obsessed with creating a living being that it is not until after he is finished and the monster becomes alive that he realizes the horror of what he has done.
This parallels the way Dr. Wu and Hammond become so enthralled with recreating prehistoric creatures for an amusement park that they fail to see the flaws in their system or the dangers they created until after the fact. A connection can also be made to the Manhattan Project and the atomic bomb. In Fallout by Jim Ottaviani, it is illustrated how the mad dash to create an atomic weapon before any other country hindered some of the scientists from reflecting on the morality of their work.
Chaos Theory and Computers
The recurring theme of chaos theory is introduced in the novel by the character of Ian Malcolm, whom Crichton based off the French mathematician Ivar Ekeland and the American historian of science and author James Gleick, both of which have described this “theory of disorder in nature” (Basbanes).
Throughout the novel, Malcolm references chaos theory to support his prediction that Jurassic Park is inherently doomed for disaster. Malcolm explains chaos theory in a rant to Genarro as follows:
“ Do you know why computers were first built? [They] were built in the late 1940s because mathematicians like John von Neumann thought that if you had a computer-a machine to handle lots of variables simultaneously- you would be able to predict the weather. Weather would finally fall to human understanding… They believed that prediction was just a function of keeping track of things. If you knew enough, you could predict anything. That’s been a cherished scientific belief since Newton…Chaos theory throws [that] right out the window. It says that you can never predict certain phenomena at all. You can never predict the weather more than a few days away…its as pointless as trying to turn lead into gold…because in fact there are great categories of phenomena that are inherently unpredictable” (Crichton 177-178)
Malcolm warns that Jurassic Park will certainly fail because it tries to control nature, which is ever changing and unpredictable. As it turns out he is right. The irony is that chaos theory involves “complex systems, which are systems that contain so many different elements that computers are required to calculate all the various possibilities” yet ultimately the inability of Jurassic Park’s computer system to account for any change is what allows things to reach total chaos on the island (Uittenbogaard).
Computers are also behind why the dinosaurs are able to replicate. As mentioned, the DNA recombination techniques used on the Island were more or less dependent on large supercomputers. Dr. Wu left so much responsibility on the computers that he was not aware that amphibian DNA was incorporated into the genomes of the dinosaurs. This would eventually allow them to replicate because “In some species of amphibians, females can change into males if males are in short supply and vice-versa” (Pamboukian).
Crichton essentially sends the message that nature is unpredictable and that it is irresponsible to rely solely on science and technology to control or predict aspects of nature and life. Some things are just unpredictable.
The work of Hammond and Wu leads to disaster because “[one] cannot make an animal and not expect it to act alive. To be unpredictable. To escape. But [they] didn’t see that” (Crichton 317). This theme is consistent with aspects of H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau. In Wells’ novel, the character of Dr. Moreau moves to an uninhabited island to conduct experiments with vivisection. Really, his goal is to turn an animal into a human like creature, but he too could not predict how his creatures would come to act in the future. Both the characters of Dr. Moreau and John Hammond met their demise from creating life forms that became unpredictable. In any case, Jurassic Park could perhaps be looked at as “The Island of John Hammond”.
Chaos theory and Jurassic Park also relate to our class on the topic of nuclear disaster. In 1986, four years before the publication of Jurassic Park, “a flawed reactor design that was operated with inadequately trained personnel” led to the catastrophe at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant (“Chernobyl”).
Crichton points out that “the disaster at Chernobyl is an example of chaos theory… all the safety systems were shut off” similar to what happened with the security systems in Jurassic Park (Basbanes). More speculation as to why Crichton may have emphasized computer systems failing could be that circa 1990 and the years that followed, many feared that sophisticated computer programs would all crash with the coming of the year 2000.
I believe the purpose Jurassic Park was to criticize the dangers of the irresponsible uses of science and technology in controversial endeavors. This idea is perhaps most clearly given by the character Ian Malcolm, who states:
“Through science, billions of us live in one small world, densely packed and intercommunicating. But Science cannot help us decide what to do with that world, or how to live. Science can make a nuclear reactor, but it cannot tell us not to build it. Science can make pesticide, but cannot tell us not to use it. And our world starts to seem polluted in fundamental ways…because of ungovernable science” (Crichton 350)
This statement parallels the themes of science in the novel surrounding genetic engineering, computers, and chaos theory. Ultimately this connects Jurassic Park to our class readings of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: Or, The Modern Prometheus and H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau as well as to our discussions on the creation of the atomic bomb and nuclear disasters.
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