1998-08-22: Contact

Contact (1985)

by Carl Sagan (1934-1996)

This science fiction novel suffers from over-emphasis on science and rather unbelievable fiction. Still, it addresses an interesting theme: the reaction of humankind to evidence that we have been contacted by an apparently vastly more advanced extraterrestrial intelligence.

Sagan is concerned about the global nuclear confrontation that was still a great threat in 1985, and part of his purpose is to expose an alternative possibility. Also, he seems to enjoy making religion appear as ridiculous as possible.

The book contains many interesting epigrams, some of which I have copied to the “Quotes” file.

In addition, Sagan inserts an interesting passage, when one of the extraterrestrials, in the guise of a human, responds to a prompt of one of the humans (at the Galactic Center):

“I want to know what you think of us, what you really think.”

“All right. I think its amazing that you’ve done as well as you have. You’ve got hardly any theory of social organization, astonishingly backward economic systems, no grasp of the machinery of historical prediction, and very little knowledge about yourselves. Considering how fast your world is changing, its amazing you haven’t blown yourselves to bits by now. That’s why we don’t want to write you off just yet. You humans have a certain talent for adaptability—at least in the short term.

The interesting thing to me is that I think (hope) that memetics can address some of the shortcomings that Sagan saw in our state of knowledge. As far as I know, he did not address these shortcomings in his popular TV series; it might be interesting to look a little closer.

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