Have you ever, as a child, slept on the roof of your home? I used to - there was a time when frequent power cuts in my locality during summer nights forced me to do so. Lying still in complete darkness, I used to stare up at the skies and wonder why the stars shone, why they didn't fall on my head, who made the splotches on the moon, whether you could stand on the clouds and a hundred other things. Later, as I learnt more about the solar system (through Flash Gordon comics, Russian magazines and books, and our own "Bala Vijnana"), my fondest dream was space travel.
I always dreamt of being "Scotty Scott" - the chief engineer of Star Trek. I'd be navigating my ship through the open vastness of space, then upon sighting the Milky Way, would swoop down to its outermost spiral, and then fly past Orion, be warmed by Proxima Centauri, and finally, see Pluto, Uranus and Neptune, before wondering at the rings of Saturn, the blazes of Jupiter's red spot, then announce to the crew to be prepared to gun down any asteroid that got too close, and finally, peek beside Mars to see a bluish-white Earth. I'd then announce to the crew that we were nearing home, and I'd then call "Hassan" - where the ISRO Master Control Facility is located, to guide me in, to land at, where else? HAL Airport! I knew then that my ambition in life was to become a space scientist, building FTL (Faster-Than-Light) ships, powered by anti-gravity.
Whew. If you're wondering why I'm delirious, let me say that this is the after-effect of reading Carl Sagan's "Cosmos". An extremely well-written book, Cosmos is a great mix of History, Science, and Philosophy - a most honest attempt to explain the human fascination with the Cosmos. Beyond the science though, Cosmos raises a few relevant questions regarding our fascination with God, our arrogance to imagine life as being mainly carbon-based, the importance of arousing scientific curiosity amongst children and also of the importance of democracy and free thinking in progress. The last point to me was most interesting. Sagan points out that all the societies that reached high levels of scientific sophistication were some form of democracies - ancient Greece, medieval Holland, today's America. While the evidence he supplies is rather sketchy, it is interesting to see that Tom Friedman, in his "The World is Flat" refers to modern India in the same vein. So, is that true? What do you think?
I'll write more about Cosmos and Carl Sagan's other book, Contact in the coming weeks. Oh, and if you haven't seen Star trek, you can see some pix, videos and get an overall picture of the series at: http://www.startrek.com/startrek/view/index.html. Also,