Generation Terrorists

Quotes [new quotes]
Carl Sagan

My heart trembles like a poor leaf.
The planets whirl in my dreams.
The stars press against my window.
I rotate in my sleep.
My bed is a warm planet.

P.S. 153, Fifth Grade, Harlem
New York City, N.Y. (1981)

Little fly,
Thy summer's play
My thoughtless hand
Has brushed away.

Am not I
A fly like thee?
Or art not thou
A man like me?

For I dance
And drink and sing,
Till some blind hand
Shall brush my wing.

Songs of Experience
"The Fly," Stanzas 1-3

As she had suspected, there were no tiny orchestras and miniature announcers quietly living out their small lives in anticipation of the moment when the toggle switch would be clicked to "on."

Are all those tubes really necessary? What would happen if you removed them one at a time? Her father had once called them vacuum tubes. What was happening inside a vacuum tube? Was there really no air in there? How did the music of the orchestras and the voices of the announcers get in the radio? They liked to say, "On the air." Was radio carried by the air? What happens inside the radio set when you change stations? What was "frequency"? Why do you have to plug it in for it to work? Could you make a kind of map showing how the electricity runs through the radio? Could you take it apart without hurting yourself? Could you put it back together again

Across the lake, a bright star was twinkling between the topmost branches. If you squinted your eyes you could make rays of light dance out of it. Squint a little more, and the rays would obediently change their length and shape. Was she just imagining it, or... the star was now definitely above the trees. Just a few minutes ago it had been poking in and out of the branches. Now it was higher, no doubt about it. That's what they meant when they said a star was rising, she told herself. The Earth was turning in the other direction. At one end of the sky the stars were rising. That way was called East. At the other end of the sky, behind her, the cabins, the stars were setting. That way was called West. Once every day the Earth would spin completely around, and the same stars would rise again in the same place.

Could you teach the alphabet to the ants? And would you want to? Down there with hundreds of scurrying insects who might crawl all over your skin, or even sting you? What could ants know, anyway?

You could calculate pi as accurately as you wanted. If you knew something called calculus, you could prove formulas for pi that would let you calculate it to as many decimals as you had time for. The book listed formulas for pi divided by four. Some of them she couldn't understand at all. But there were some that dazzled her: ?/4, the book said, was the same as 1 - 1/3 + 1/5 - 1/7..., with the fractions continuing on forever. Quickly she tried to work it out, adding and subtracting the fractions alternately. The sum would bounce from being bigger than ?/4 to being smaller than ?/4, but after a while you could see that this series of numbers was on a beeline for the right answer. You could never get there exactly, but you could get as close as you wanted if you were very patient. It seemed to her a miracle that the shape of every circle in the world was connected with this series of fractions. How could circles know about fractions? She was determined to learn calculus.

Since I first gained the use of reason my inclination toward learning has been so violent and strong that neither the scoldings of other people... nor my own reflections... have been able to stop me from following this natural impulse that God gave me. He alone must know why; and He knows too that I have begged Him to take the light of my understanding, leaving only enough for me to keep His law, for anything else is excessive in a woman, according to some people. And others say it is even harmful.

Reply to the Bishop of Puebla (1691), who had attacked her scholarly work as inappropriate for her sex

I wish to propose for the reader's favourable consideration a doctrine which may, I fear, appear wildly paradoxical and subversive. The doctrine in question is this: that it is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true. I must, of course, admit that if such an opinion became common it would completely transform our social life and our political system; since both are at present faultless, this must weigh against it.

Skeptical Essays, I (1928)

For all the tenure of humans on Earth, the night sky had been a companion and an inspiration. The stars were comforting. They seemed to demonstrate that the heavens were created for the benefit and instruction of humans. This pathetic conceit became the conventional wisdom worldwide. No culture was free of it. Some people found in the skies an aperture to the religious sensibility. Many were awestruck and humbled by the glory and scale of the cosmos. Others were stimulated to the most extravagant flights of fancy.

At the very moment that humans discovered the scale of the universe and found that their most unconstrained fancies were in fact dwarfed by the true dimensions of even the Milky Way Galaxy, they took steps that ensured that their descendants would be unable to see the stars at all. For a million years humans had grown up with a personal daily knowledge of the vault of heaven. In the last few thousand years they began building and emigrating to the cities. In the last few decades, a major fraction of the human population had abandoned a rustic way of life. As technology developed and the cities were polluted, the nights became starless. New generations grew to maturity wholly ignorant of the sky that had transfixed their ancestors and that had stimulated the modern age of science and technology. Without even noticing, just as astronomy entered a golden age most people cut themselves off from the sky, a cosmic isolationism that ended only with the dawn of space exploration.

Ellie had never seriously read the Bible before and had been inclined to accept her father's perhaps ungenerous judgment that it was "half barbarian history, half fairy tales." So over the weekend preceding her first class, she read through what seemed to be the important parts of the Old Testament, trying to keep an open mind. She at once recognized that there were two different and mutually contradictory stories of Creation in the first two chapters of Genesis. She did not see how there could be light and days before the Sun was made, and had trouble figuring out exactly who it was that Cain had married. In the stories of Lot and his daughters, of Abraham and Sarah in Egypt, of the betrothal of Dinah, of Jacob and Esau, she found herself amazed. She understood that cowardice might occur in the real world--that sons might deceive and defraud an aged father, that a man might give craven consent to the seduction of his wife by the King, or even encourage the rape of his daughters. But in this holy book there was not a word of protest against such outrages. Instead, it seemed, the crimes were approved, even praised.

When they came to the New Testament, Ellie's agitation increased. Matthew and Luke traced the ancestral line of Jesus back to King David. But for Matthew there were twenty-eight generations between David and Jesus; for Luke forty-three. There were almost no names common to the two lists. How could both Matthew and Luke be the Word of God? The contradictory genealogies seemed to Ellie a transparent attempt to fit the Isaianic prophecy after the event--cooking the data, it was called in chemistry lab. She was deeply moved by the Sermon on the Mount, deeply disappointed by the admonition to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and reduced to shouts and tears after the instructor twice sidestepped her questions on the meaning of "I bring not peace but the sword." She told her despairing mother that she had done her best, but wild horses wouldn't drag her to another Bible class.

Ellie had done spectacularly well on the standardized college entrance examinations and found to her surprise her teachers telling her that she was likely to be offered scholarships by well-known universities. She had guessed on a number of multiple-choice questions and considered her performance a fluke. If you know very little, only enough to exclude all but the two most likely answers, and if you then guess at ten straight questions, the is about one chance in a thousand, she explained to herself, that you'll get all then correct. For twenty straight questions, the odds were one in a million. But something like a million kids probably took this test. Someone had to get lucky.

"Misanthrope" is someone who dislikes everybody, not just men. And they certainly had a word for someone who hates women: "misogynist." But the male lexicographers had somehow neglected to coin a word for the dislike of men. They were almost entirely men themselves, she thought, and had been unable to imagine a market for such a word.

She would spend her days with the other students: boys with the final generation of slide rules hanging like trophies from their belts; boys with plastic pencil holders in their breast pockets; precise, stilted boys with nervous laughs; serious boys spending all their waking moments becoming scientists. Absorbed in training themselves to plumb the depths of nature, they were almost helpless in ordinary human affairs, where, for all their knowledge, they seemed pathetic and shallow. Perhaps the dedicated pursuit of science was so consuming, so competitive, that no time was left to become a well-rounded human being. Or perhaps their social disabilities had led them to fields where the want would not be noticed.

The extraterrestrials and their technology had to conform strictly to the laws of nature, a fact that severely crimped many a charming prospect. But what emerged from this sieve, and survived the most skeptical physical and astronomical analysis, might even be true. You couldn't be sure, of course. There were bound to be possibilities that you had missed, that people cleverer than you would one day figure out.

Valerian would emphasize how we are trapped by our time and our culture and our biology, how limited we are, by definition, in imagining fundamentally different creatures or civilizations. And separately evolved on very different creatures or civilizations. And separately evolved on very different worlds, they would have to be very different from us. It was possible that beings much more advanced than we might have unimaginable technologies--this was, in fact, almost guaranteed--and new laws of physics. It was hopelessly narrow-minded... to imagine that all significant laws of physics had been discovered at the moment our generation began contemplating the problem. There would be a twenty-first-century physics and twenty-second-century physics, and even a Fourth-Millennium physics. We might be laughably far off in guessing how a very different technical civilization would communicate.

But then, he always reassured himself, the extraterrestrials would have to know how backward we were. If we were any more advanced, they would know about us already. Here we were, just beginning to stand up on our two feet, discovering fire last Wednesday, and only yesterday stumbling on Newtonian dynamics, Maxwell's equations, radio telescopes, and hints of Superunification of the laws of physics. Valerian was sure they wouldn't make it hard for us. They would try to make it easy, because if they wanted to communicate with dummies they would have to have a fighting chance if a message ever came.

His lack of brilliance was in fact his strength. He knew, he was confident, what dummies knew.

A time to get and a time to lose; a time to keep and a time to cast away; a time for love and a time to hate; a time of war and a time of peace.

"Let's see if I've got this right," she would say to herself. "I've taken an inert gas that's in the air, made it into a liquid, put some impurities into a ruby, attached a magnet, and detected the fires of creation."

She also hoped to examine a few nearby stars for possible signals of intelligent origin. With her detector system it would be possible to hear the radio leakage from a planet like Earth even if it was a few light-years away. And an advanced society, intending to communicate with us, would doubtless be capable of much greater power transmissions than we were. If Arecibo, used as a radar telescope, was capable of transmitting one megawatt of power to a specific locale in space, then a civilization only a little bit in advance of ours might, she thought, be capable of transmitting a hundred megawatts or more. If they were intentionally transmitting to the Earth with a telescope as large as Arecibo but with a hundred-megawatt transmitter, Arecibo should be able to detect them virtually anywhere in the Milky Way Galaxy.

Look at enough stars, and sooner or later terrestrial interference or the concatenation of random noise will produce a pattern that for a moment makes your heart palpitate. You calm down and check it out. If it doesn't repeat itself, you consider it spurious.

"I've just examined some forty-odd nearby stars of roughly solar spectral type. I've looked in the twenty-one centimeter hydrogen line, which everybody says is the obvious beacon frequency--because hydrogen is the most abundant atom in the universe, and so on. And I've done it with the highest sensitivity ever tried. There's not a hint of a signal. Maybe there's no one out there. Maybe the whole business is a waste of time."

"... there's hundreds of billions of stars in the Galaxy. You've looked at only a handful. Wouldn't you say it's a little premature to give up? You've done one-billionth of the problem. Probably much less than that, if you consider other frequencies."

"But don't you have the sense that if they're anywhere, they're everywhere? If really advanced guys live a thousand light-years away, shouldn't they have an outpost in our backyard? You could do the SETI thing forever, you know, and never convince yourself that you'd completed the search."

"We're just beginning SETI. You know how many possibilities there are. This is the time to leave every option open. This is the time to be optimistic. If we lived in any previous time in human history, we could wonder about this all our lives, and we couldn't do a thing to find the answer. But this time is unique. This is the first time when anybody's been able to look for extraterrestrial intelligence. You've made the detector to look for civilizations on the planets of millions of other stars. Nobody's guaranteeing success. But can you think of a more important question? Imagine them out there sending us signals, and nobody on Earth is listening. That would be a joke, a travesty. Wouldn't you be ashamed of your civilization if we were able to listen and didn't have the gumption to do it?"

"What worries me the most is the possibility that they're not trying. They could communicate with us, all right, but they're not doing it because they don't see any point to it. It's like..."--she glanced down at the edge of the tablecloth they had spread over the grass--"like the ants. They occupy the same landscape that we do. They have plenty to do, things to occupy themselves. On some level they're very well aware of their environment. But we don't try to communicate with them. So I don't think they have the foggiest notion that we exist."

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter.

"Ode on a Grecian Urn" (1820)

The cruelest lies are often told in silence.

Virginibus Puerisque (1881)

The pulses had been journeying for years through the great dark between the stars. Occasionally, they would intercept an irregular cloud of gas and dust, and a little of the energy would be absorbed or scattered. The remainder continued in the original direction. Ahead of them was a faint yellow glow, slowly increasing in brightness among the other unvarying lights. Now, although to human eyes it would still be a point, it was by far the brightest object in the black sky. The pulses were encountering a horde of giant snowballs.

Now the Sirens have a still more fatal weapon
than their song, namely their silence...
Someone might possibly have escaped from
their singing;
but from their silence, certainly never.

Parables of Franz Kafka

Radio astronomy can be performed during daylight, because the air does not scatter radio waves from the Sun as it does ordinary visible light. To a radio telescope pointing anywhere but very close to the Sun, the sky is pitch black.

... the origin of life now seemed to be so easy--and there were so many planetary systems, so many worlds and so many billions of years available for biological evolution--that it was hard to believe the Galaxy was not teeming with life and intelligence.

Radio waves traveled with the speed of light, faster than which nothing, it seemed, could go. They were easy to generate and easy to detect. Even very backward technological civilizations, like that on Earth, would stumble on radio early in their exploration of the physical world. Even with the rudimentary radio technology available--now, only a few decades after the invention of the radio telescope--it was nearly possible to communicate with an identical civilization at the center of the Galaxy.

Humans are good, she knew, at discerning subtle patterns that are really there, but equally so at imagining them when they are altogether absent.

It was a repeated single note, high-pitched and raucous around the edges.

"If we fail, we learn something of the rarity of intelligent life--or at least intelligent life that thinks like we do and wants to communicate with backward civilizations like us. And if we succeed, we hit the cosmic jackpot. There's no greater discovery you can imagine."

What would the intentions be of fundamentally different kinds of beings on physically different worlds hundreds or thousands of light-years away? Some believed that the signal would not be transmitted in the radio spectrum at all but in the infrared or the visible or somewhere among the gamma rays. Or perhaps the extraterrestrials were signaling avidly but with a technology we would not invent for a thousand years.

If we had accomplished so much in only a few thousand years of high technology, what must a truly advanced species be capable of? They should be able to move stars about, to reconfigure galaxies. And yet, in all of astronomy there was no sign of a phenomenon that could not be understood by natural processes, for which an appeal to extraterrestrial intelligence had to be made.

... one of the Argus astronomers asked about the Zoo Hypothesis, the contention that the extraterrestrials were out there all right but chose not to make their presence known, in order to conceal from humans the fact that there were other intelligent beings in the cosmos--in the same sense that a specialist in primate behavior might wish to observe a troop of chimpanzees in the bush but not interfere with their activities. In reply, Drumlin asked a different question: Is it likely that with a million civilizations in the Galaxy--the sort of number he said was "bandied about" at Argus--there would not be a single poacher? How does it come about that every civilization in the Galaxy abides by an ethic of noninterference? Is it probable that not one of them would be poking around on the Earth?

"But on Earth," Ellie replied, "poachers and game wardens have roughly equal levels of technology. If the game warden is a major step ahead--with radar and helicopters, say--then the poachers are out of business."

Alpha Centauri was a triple system, two suns tightly orbiting one another, and a third, more remote, circling them both. From Earth, the three stars blended together to form a solitary point of light.

What would it be like to live on a world with three suns in the sky?

If we like them, they're freedom fighters, she thought. If we don't like them, they're terrorists. In the unlikely case we can't make up our minks, they're temporarily only guerrillas.

What if an interstellar message were being received by Project Argus, but very slowly--one bit of information every hour, say, or every week, or every decade? What if there were very old, very patient murmurs of some transmitting civilization, which had no way of knowing that we get tired of pattern recognition after seconds or minutes? Suppose they lived for tens of thousands of years. And taaaaalked verrrry slooooowwwwly. Argus would never know. Could such long-lived creatures exist? Would there have been enough time in the history of the universe for creatures who reproduced very slowly to evolve to high intelligence? Wouldn't the statistical breakdown of chemical bonds, the deterioration of their bodies according to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, force them to reproduce about as often as human beings do? And to have lifespans like ours? Or might they reside on some old and frigid world, where even molecular collisions occur in extreme slow motion, maybe only a frame a day.

The opposite was possible as well: the fast talkers, manic little creatures perhaps, moving with quick and jerky motions, who transmitted a complete radio message--the equivalent of hundreds of pages of English text--in a nanosecond. Of course, if you had a very narrow bandpass to your receiver, so you were listening only to a tiny range of frequencies, you were forced to accept the long time-constant. You would never be able to detect a rapid modulation. It was a simple consequence of the Fourier Integral Theorem, and closely related to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.

There were so many pieces of the sky to look at, so many hundreds of billions of stars to search out. You couldn't spend all your time on only a few of them. She was troubled that in their haste to do a full sky survey in less than a human lifetime, to listen to all of the sky at a billion frequencies, they had abandoned both the frantic talkers and the laconic plodders.

So why had we received no signal? Could Dave possibly be right? No extraterrestrial civilizations anywhere? All those billions of worlds going to waste, lifeless, barren? Intelligent beings growing up only in this obscure corner of an incomprehensibly vast universe? No matter how valiantly she tried, Ellie couldn't make herself take such a possibility seriously. It dovetailed perfectly with human fears and pretentions, with unproved doctrines about life-after-death, with such pseudosciences as astrology. It was the modern incarnation of the geocentric solipsism, the conceit that had captured our ancestors, the notion that we were the center of the universe.

This is the first moment in human history when it's possible to search for the inhabitants of other worlds. If we fail, we've calibrated something of the rarity and preciousness of life on our planet--a fact, if it is one, very much worth knowing. And if we succeed, we'll have changed the history of our species, broken the shackles of provincialism.

The cold black vacuum had been left behind. The pulses were now approaching an ordinary yellow dwarf star and had already begun spilling over the retinue of worlds in this obscure system. They had fluttered by planets of hydrogen gas, penetrated into moons of ice, breached the organic clouds of a frigid world on which the precursors of life were stirring, and swept across a planet a billion years past its prime. Now the pulses were washing against a warm world, blue and white, spinning against the backdrop of the stars.

There had been solemn agreements to safeguard at least some radio frequencies for astronomy. But precisely because these frequencies represented a clear channel, the military found them occasionally irresistible. If global war ever came, perhaps the radio astronomers would be the first to know, their windows to the cosmos overflowing with orders to battle-management and damage-assessment satellites in geosynchronous orbit, and with the transmission of coded launch commands to distant strategic outposts.

By this time there were many "dark" satellites with low radar cross sections, designed to orbit Earth unannounced and undetected until an hour of need. Then they would serve as backups for launch detection or communications in a nuclear war, in case the first-line military satellites dedicated to these purposes were suddenly missing in action.

"But there's a problem with the idea that this is a message from guys who evolved on some planet around Vega, because they would have had to evolve very fast. The entire lifetime of the star is only about four hundred million years. It's an unlikely place for the nearest civilization."

"I may be the President's Science Adviser," he had said, "but I'm only a biologist. So please explain it to me slowly. I understand that if the radio source is twenty-six light-years away, then the message had to be sent twenty-six years ago. In the 1960s, some funny-looking people with pointy ears thought we'd want to know that they like prime numbers. But prime numbers aren't difficult. It's not like they're boasting. It's more like they're sending us remedial arithmetic. Maybe we should be insulted."

"No, look at it this way," she said, smiling. "This is a beacon. It's an announcement signal. It's designed to attract our attention. We get strange patterns of pulses from quasars and pulsars and radio galaxies and God-knows-what. But prime numbers are very specific, very artificial. No even number is prime, for example. It's hard to imagine some radiating plasma or exploding galaxy sending out a regular set of mathematical signals like this. The prime numbers are to attract our attention."

But why transmit prime numbers? It reminded her of an idiot savant, one of those people who might be grossly deficient in ordinary social or verbal skills but who could perform mind- boggling feats of mental arithmetic--such as figuring out, after a moment's thought, on what day of the week June first in the year 11,977 will fall. It wasn't for anything; they did it because they liked doing it, because they were able to do it.

"It doesn't make sense. We couldn't have missed it before. Everybody's looked at Vega. For years. Arroway observed it from Arecibo a decade ago. Suddenly last Tuesday Vega starts broadcasting prime numbers? Why now? What's so special about now? How come they start transmitting just a few years after Argus starts listening?"

"Maybe their transmitter was down for repairs for a couple of centuries," Valerian suggested, "and they just got it back on-line. maybe their duty cycle is to broadcast to us just one year out of every million. There are all those other candidate planets that might have life on them, you know. We're probably not the only kid on the block."

"Dr. Arroway, let me come right to the point. We're concerned about whether it's in the best interest of the United States for this information to be generally known. We were not overjoyed about your sending that telegram all over the world."

"You mean to China? To Russia? To India? You wanted to keep the first 261 prime numbers secret? Do you suppose, Mr. Kitz, the extraterrestrials intended to communicate only with Americans? Don't you think that a message from another civilization belongs to the whole world?"

"When a wave of light comes at you--visible light, radio light, any kind of light--it's vibrating at right angles to your line of sight. If that vibration rotates, the wave is said to be elliptically polarized. If it rotates clockwise, the polarization is called right-handed; counterclockwise, it's left-handed. I know it's a dumb designation. Anyway, by varying between the two kinds of polarization, you could transmit information. A little right polarization and that's a zero; a little left and it's a one. Follow? It's perfectly possible. We have amplitude modulation and frequency modulation, but our civilization, by convention, ordinarily just doesn't do polarization modulation.

"Well, the Vega signal looks as if it has polarization modulating. We're busy checking it out right now. But Dave found that there wasn't an equal amount of the two sorts of polarization. It wasn't left polarized as much as it was right polarized. It's just possible that there's another message in the polarization that we've missed so far."

Are the worlds of more advanced civilizations totally geometrized, entirely rebuilt by their inhabitants? Or would the signature of a really advanced civilization be that they left no sign at all? Would they be able to tell in one swift glance precisely which stage we were in some great cosmic evolutionary sequence in the development of intelligent beings?

What else could they tell? From the blueness of the sky, they could make a rough estimate of Loschmidt's Number, how many molecules there were in a cubic centimeter at sea level. About three times ten to the nineteenth. They could easily tell the altitudes of the clouds from the length of their shadows on the ground. If they knew that the clouds were condensed water, they could roughly calculate the temperature lapse rate of the atmosphere, because the temperature had to fall to about minus forty degrees Centigrade at the altitude of the highest clouds she could see. The erosion of landforms, the dendritic patterns and oxbows of rivers, the presence of lakes and battered volcanic plugs all spoke of an ancient battle between land-forming and erosional processes. Really, you could see at a glance that this was an antique planet with a brand new civilization.

Most of the planets in the Galaxy would be venerable and pretechnical, maybe even lifeless. A few would harbor civilizations much older than ours. Worlds with technical civilizations just beginning to emerge must be spectacularly rare. It was probably the only quality fundamentally unique about the Earth.

"The signals spread out from the Earth in spherical waves, a little like ripples in a pond. They travel at the speed of light--186,000 miles a second--and essentially go on forever. The better some other civilization's receivers are, the farther away they could be and still pick up our TV signals. Even we could detect a strong TV transmission from a planet going around the nearest star."

"What if the Nazis didn't have television in 1936? Then what would have happened?"

"Well, then I suppose it would be the coronation of George the Sixth, or one of the transmissions about the New York World's Fair in 1939, if any of them were strong enough to be received on Vega. Or some programs from the late forties, early fifties. You know, Howdy Doody, Milton Berle, the Army- McCarthy hearings--all those marvelous signs of intelligent life on Earth."

"Those goddamn programs are our ambassadors into space... the Emissary from Earth." She paused a moment to savor the phrase. "With an ambassador, you're supposed to put your best foot forward, and we've been sending mainly crap to space for forty years. I'd like to see the network executives come to grips with this one. And that madman Hitler, that's the first news they have about Earth? What are they going to think of us?"

It's an intricate and complex Message. The transmitting civilization is eager for us to receive it. Maybe all this is one small volume of the Encyclopedia Galactica. The star Vega is about three times more massive than the Sun and about fifty times brighter. Because it burns its nuclear fuel so fast, it has a much shorter lifetime than the Sun--"

"Yes. Maybe something's about to go wrong on Vega," the Director of Central Intelligence interrupted. "Maybe their planet will be destroyed. Maybe they want someone else to know about their civilization before they're wiped out."

"Or," offered Kitz, "maybe they're looking for a new place to move to, and the Earth would suit them just fine. Maybe it's no accident they chose to send us a picture of Adolf Hitler."

"Hold on," Ellie said, "there are a lot of possibilities, but not everything is possible. There's no way for the transmitting civilization to know whether we've received the Message, much less whether we're making any progress in decoding it. If we find the Message offensive we're not obliged to reply. And even if we did reply, it would be twenty-six years before they received the reply, and another twenty-six years before they can answer it. The speed of light is fast, but it's not infinitely fast. We're very nicely quarantined from Vega. And if there's anything that worries us about this new Message, we have decades to decide what to do about it. Let's not panic quite yet."

"At least the Hitler story hasn't broken yet. I'm waiting for those headlines: 'Hitler Alive and Well in Space, U.S. Says.' And worse. Much worse."

The Berkeley buttons were different. Vaygay had bought dozens of them, but delighted in wearing one in particular. It was the size of his palm and read, "Pray for Sex." He even displayed it at scientific meetings. When asked about its appeal, he would say, "In your country, it is offensive in only one way. In my country, it is offensive in two independent ways."

Sputnik 1, the first orbital spacecraft; Sputnik 2, the first spacecraft to carry an animal, the dog Laika, who died in space; Luna 2, the first spacecraft to reach another celestial body; Luna 3, the first spacecraft to photograph the far side of the Moon; Venera 7, the first spacecraft to land safely on another planet; and Vostok 1, the first manned spacecraft, that carried Hero of the Soviet Union Cosmonaut Yuri A. Gagarin on a single orbit of the Earth.

The large Soviet island in the Arctic Sea was called Novaya Zemlya, New Land. It was there in 1961 that they had detonated a fifty-eight-megaton thermonuclear weapon, the largest single explosion so far contrived by the human species.

"We call the man who drinks without a toast an alcoholic."

"What has science really done for us? Are we really happier? I don't mean just holographic receivers and seedless grapes. Are we fundamentally happier? Or do the scientists bribe us with toys, with technological trinkets, while they undermine our faith?"

Monarch of Violence, rolling on clouds,
I toss wide waters, and I fell huge trees...
Possessed of daemon-rage, I penetrate,
Sheer to the utmost caverns of old Earth;
And straining, up from those unfathomed deeps,
Scatter the terror-stricken shades of Hell;
And hurl death-dealing earthquakes throughout the world!

Ovid, Metamorphoses

"The scientists keep their findings to themselves, give us little bits and pieces--enough to keep us quiet. They think we're too stupid to understand what they do. They give us conclusions without evidence, findings as if they were holy writ and not speculations, theories, hypotheses--what ordinary people would call guesses. They never ask if some new theory is as good for people as the belief that it tries to replace. They overestimate what they know and underestimate what we know. When we ask for explanations, they tell us it takes years to understand. I know about that, because in religion also there are things that take years to understand. You can spend a lifetime and never come close to understanding the nature of Almighty God. But you don't see the scientists coming to religious leaders to ask them about their years of study and insight and prayer. They never give us a second thought, except when they mislead us and deceive us.

"And now they say they have a Message from the star Vega. But a star can't send a message. Someone is sending it. Who? Is the purpose of the Message divine or satanic? When they decode the Message, will it end `Yours truly, God'... or `Sincerely, the Devil'? When the scientists get around to telling us what's in the Message, will they tell us the whole truth? Or will they hold something back because they think we can't understand it, or because it doesn't match what they believe? Aren't these the people who taught us how to annihilate ourselves?"

Joss began to preach that science didn't have all the answers either. He found inconsistencies in the theory of evolution. The embarrassing findings, the facts that don't fit, the scientists just sweep under the rug, he said. They don't really know that the Earth is 4.6 billion years old, any more than Archbishop Ussher knew that it was 6,000 years old. Nobody has seen evolution happen, nobody has been marking time since the Creation...

And Einstein's theory of relativity was also unproved. You couldn't travel faster than light no matter what, Einstein had said. How could he know? How close to the speed of light had he gone? Relativity was only a way of understanding the world. Einstein couldn't restrict what mankind could do in the far future. And Einstein sure couldn't set limits on what God could do. Couldn't God travel faster than light if He wanted to? Couldn't God make us travel faster than light if He wanted to? There were excesses in science and there were excesses in religion. A reasonable man wouldn't be stampeded by either one. There were many interpretations of Scripture and many interpretations of the natural world. Both were created by God, so both must be mutually consistent. Wherever a discrepancy seems to exist, either a scientist or a theologian--maybe both--hasn't been doing his job.

"Maybe we haven't explained the methods of science as well as we should have. I worry about that a lot these days. And Ellie, can you really be sure that it isn't a message from--"

"From God or the Devil? Ken, you can't be serious."

"Well, how advanced beings committed to what we might call good or evil, who somebody like Joss would consider indistinguishable from God or the Devil?"

"Ken, whoever those beings are in the Vega system, I guarantee they didn't create the universe. And they're nothing like the Old Testament God. Remember, Vega, the Sun, and all the other stars in the solar neighborhood are in some backwater of an absolutely humdrum galaxy. Why should I Am That I Am hang out around here? There must be more pressing things for him to do."

"We guess," he said, "that the Message is the instructions for building a machine."

"... when you look at the patterns of cross-references, I think you'll agree it looks more like the instruction manual for building a machine. God knows what the machine is supposed to do."

Wonder is the basis of worship.

Sartor Resartus (1833-34)

I maintain that the cosmic religious feeling is the strongest and noblest motive for scientific research.

Ideas and Opinions (1954)

"What'll you do with it now?"

"I'll put it back down in the grass, I guess. What else would you do with it?"

"Some people might kill it."

"It's hard to kill a creature once it lets you see its consciousness."

"Every government that prepares for war paints its adversaries as monsters," she said. "They don't want you thinking of the other side as human. If the enemy can think and feel, you might hesitate to kill them. And killing is very important. Better to see them as monsters."

"Here, look at this beauty. Really. Look closely. Watch what it does. If it was as big as you or me, it would scare everybody to death. It would be a genuine monster, right? But it's little. It eats leaves, minds its own business, and adds a little beauty to the world."

Could we possibly manage the next phase of human history without first dealing with this penchant for dehumanizing the adversary?

"Ellie, why do people say `make the same mistake again'? What does `again' add to the sentence? And am I right that `burn up' and `burn down' mean the same thing? `Slow up' and `slow down' mean the same thing? So if `screw up' is acceptable, why not `screw down'?"

"And take this phrase `head over heels in love,'" he continued. "This is a common expression, yes? But it's exactly backward. Or, rather, upside down. You are ordinarily head over heels. When you are in love you should be heels over head. Am I right? You would know about falling in love. But whoever invented this phrase did not know about love. He imagined you walk around in the usual way, instead of floating upside down in the air..."

She was not going to repeat her mother's mistake. A little deeper was a fear of falling in love without reservation, of committing herself to someone who might then be snatched from her. Or simply leave her;. But if you never really fall in love, you can never really miss it. (She did not dwell on this sentiment, dimly aware that it did not ring quite true.) Also, if she never really fell in love with someone, she could never really betray him...

"The theologians seem to have recognized a special, nonrational aspect of the feeling of sacred or holy. They call it `numinous.' The term was first used by somebody named Rudolph Otto in a 1923 book, The Idea of the Holy. He believed that humans were predisposed to detect and revere the numinous. He called it the misterium tremendum...

"In the presence of the misterium tremendum, people feel utterly insignificant but not personally alienated. He thought of the numinous as a thing `wholly other,' and the human response to it as `absolute astonishment.' Now, if that's what religious people talk about when they use words like sacred or holy, I'm with them. I felt something like that just in listening for a signal, never mind in actually receiving it. I think all of science elicits that sense of awe."

The Almighty Lecturer, by displaying the principles of science in the structure of the universe, has invited man to study and to imitation. It is as if He had said to the inhabitants of this globe that we call ours, "I have made an earth for man to dwell upon, and I have rendered the starry heavens visible, to teach him science and the arts. he can now provide for his own comfort, and learn from my munificence to all to be kind to each other.

The Age of Reason (1794)

Do we, holding that gods exist,
deceive ourselves with insubstantial dreams
and lies, while random careless chance and
change alone control the world?


"You scientists are so shy," Rankin was saying. "You love to hide your light under a bushel basket. You'd never guess what's in those articles from the titles. Einstein's first work on the Theory of Relativity was called `The Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies.' No E=mc2 up front. No sir. `The Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies.' I suppose if God appeared to a whole gaggle of scientists, maybe at one of those big Association meetings, they'd write something all about it and call it, maybe, `On Spontaneous Dendritoform Combustion in Air.' They'd have lots of equations; they'd talk about `economy of hypothesis'; but they'd never say a word about God.

"Y'see, you scientists are too skeptical." From the sidewise motion of his head, Ellie deduced that der Heer was also included in this assessment. "You question everything, or try to. You never heard about `Leave well enough alone,' or `If it ain't broke, don't fix it.' You always want to check out if a thing is what you call `true.' And `true' means only empirical, sense data, things you can see and touch. There's no room for inspiration or revelation in your world. Right from the beginning you rule out of court almost everything religion is about. I mistrust the scientists because the scientists mistrust everything."

"You're uncomfortable with scientific skepticism. But the reason it developed is that the world is complicated. It's subtle. Everybody's first idea isn't necessarily right. Also, people are capable of self- deception. Scientists, too. All sorts of socially abhorrent doctrines have at one time or another been supported by scientists, well-known scientists, famous brand-name scientists. And, of course, politicians. And respected religious leaders. Slavery, for instance, or the Nazi brand of racism. Scientists make mistakes, theologians make mistakes, everybody makes mistakes. It's part of being human. You say it yourselves: `To err is.'

"So the way you avoid the mistakes, or at least reduce the chance that you'll make one, is to be skeptical. You test the ideas. You check them out by rigorous standards of evidence. I don't think there is such a thing as a received truth. But when you let the different opinions debate, when any skeptic can perform his or her own experiment to check some contention out, then the truth tends to emerge. That's the experience of the whole history of science. It isn't a perfect approach, but it's the only one that seems to work."

"Now, when I look at religion, I see lots of contending opinions. For example, the Christians think the universe is a finite number of years old. From the exhibits out there, it's clear that some Christians (and Jews, and Muslims) think that the universe is only six thousand years old. The Hindus, on the other had--and there are lots of Hindus in the world--think that the universe is infinitely old, with an infinite number of subsidiary creations and destructions along the way. Now they can't both be right. Either the universe is a certain number of years old or it's infinitely old. Your friends out there ought to debate Hindus. God seems to have told them something different from what he told you. But you tend to talk only to yourselves.

"The major religions on the Earth contradict each other left and right. You can't all be correct. And what if all of you are wrong? It's a possibility, you know. You must care about the truth, right? Well, the way to winnow through all the differing contentions is to be skeptical. I'm not any more skeptical about your religious beliefs than I am about every new scientific idea I hear about. But in my line of work, they're called hypotheses, not inspiration and not revelation."

"The revelations, the confirmed predictions by God in the Old Testament and the New are legion. The coming of the Saviour is foretold in Isaiah fifty-three, in Zechariah fourteen, in First Chronicles seventeen. That He would be born in Bethlehem was prophesied in Micah five. That He would come from the line of David was foretold in Matthew one and--"

"In Luke. But that ought to be an embarrassment for you, not a fulfilled prophecy. Matthew and Luke give Jesus totally different genealogies. Worse than that, they trace the lineage from David to Joseph, not from David to Mary. Or don't you believe in God the Father?"

"And the Bible speaks to our own time. Israel and the Arabs, Gog and Magog, American and Russia, nuclear war--it's all there in the Bible. Anybody with an ounce of sense can see it. You don't have to be some fancy college professor."

"Your trouble," she replied, "is a failure of the imagination. These prophecies are--almost ever one of them--vague, ambiguous, imprecise, open to fraud. They admit lots of possible interpretations. Even the straightforward prophecies direct from the top you try to weasel out of--like Jesus' promise that the Kingdom of God would come in the lifetime of some people in his audience. And don't tell me the Kingdom of God is within me. His audience understood him quite literally. You only quote the passages that seem to you fulfilled, and ignore the rest. And don't forget there was a hunger to see prophecy fulfilled.

"But imagine that your kind of god--omnipotent, omniscient, compassionate--really wanted to leave a record for future generations, to make his existence unmistakable to, say, the remote descendants of Moses. It's easy, trivial. Just a few enigmatic phrases, and some fierce commandment that they be passed on unchanged..."

"Such as...?"

"Such as `The Sun is a star.' Or `Mars is a rusty place with deserts and volcanos, like Sinai.' Or `A body in motion tends to remain in motion.' Or--let's see now"--she quickly scribbled some numbers on a pad--"`The Earth weighs a million million million million times as much as a child.' Or--I recognize that both of you seem to have some trouble with special relativity, but it's confirmed every day routinely in particle accelerators and cosmic rays--how about `There are no privileged frames of reference'? Or even `Thou shalt not travel faster than light.' anything they couldn't possible have known three thousand years ago."

"Any others?" Joss asked.

"Well, there's an indefinite number of them--or at least one for every principal of physics. Let's see... `Heat and light hid in the smallest pebble.' Or even `The way of the Earth is as two, but the way of the lodestone is as three.' I'm trying to suggest that the gravitational force follows an inverse square law, while the magnetic dipole force follows an inverse cube law. Or in biology"--she nodded toward der Heer, who seemed to have taken a vow of silence--"how about `Two strands entwined is the secret of life'?"

"Now that's an interesting one," said Joss. "You're talking, of course, about DNA. But you know the physician's staff, the symbol of medicine? Army doctors wear it on their lapels. It's called the caduceus. Shows two serpents intertwined. It's a perfect double helix. From ancient times that's been the symbol of preserving life. Isn't this exactly the kind of connection you're suggesting?"

"Well, I thought it's a spiral, not a helix. But if there are enough symbols and enough prophecies and enough myth and folklore, eventually a few of them are going to fit some current scientific understanding purely by accident. But I can't be sure. Maybe you're right. Maybe the caduceus is a message from God. Of course, it's not a Christian symbol, or a symbol of any of the major religions today. I don't suppose you'd want to argue that the gods talked only to the ancient Greeks. what I'm saying is, if God wanted to send us a message, and ancient writings were the only way he could think of doing it, he could have done a better job. And he hardly had to confine himself to writings. Why isn't there a monster crucifix orbiting the Earth? Why isn't the surface of the Moon covered with the Ten Commandments? Why should God be so clear in the Bible and so obscure in the world?"

"Also, why would you think that God has abandoned us? He used to chat with patriarchs and prophets every second Tuesday, you believe. He's omnipotent, you say, and omniscient. So it's no particular effort for him to remind us directly, unambiguously, of his wishes at least a few times in every generation. So how come, fellas? Why don't we see him with crystal clarity?"

"We do." Rankin put enormous feeling in this phrase. "He is all around us. Our prayers are answered. Tens of millions of people in this country have been born again and have witnessed God's glorious grace. the Bible speaks to us as clearly in this day as it did in the time of Moses and Jesus."

"Oh, come off it. You know what I mean. Where are the burning bushes, the pillars of fire, the great voice that says `I am that I am' booming down at us out of the sky? Why should God manifest himself in such subtle and debatable ways when he can make his presence completely unambiguous?"

"If that signal is from God, why does it come from just one place in the sky--in the vicinity of a particularly bright nearby star? Why doesn't it come from all over the sky at once, like the cosmic black-body background radiation? Coming from one star, it looks like a signal from another civilization. Coming from everywhere, it would look much more like a signal from your God."

"God can make a signal come from the bunghole of the Little Bear if He wants... Excuse me, but you've gotten me riled up. God can do anything."

"Anything you don't understand, Mr. Rankin, you attribute to God. God for you is where you sweep away all the mysteries of the world, all the challenges t our intelligence. You simply turn you mind off and say God did it."

"I'd like to punch out that cocksure, know-it-all, holier-than-thou..."

"Why, exactly, Ellie? Aren't ignorance and error painful enough?"

"Yes, if he'd shut up. But he's corrupting millions."

"Sweetheart, he thinks the same about you."

"I was struck by one or two things you said this morning. You called yourself a Christian. May I ask? In what sense are you a Christian?"

"You know, this wasn't the job description when I accepted the directorship of the Argus Project." She said this lightly. "I'm a Christian in the sense that I find Jesus Christ to be an admirable historical figure. I think the Sermon on the Mount is one of the greatest ethical statements and one of the best speeches in history. I think that `Love your enemy' might even be the long-shot solution to the problem of nuclear war. I wish he was alive today. It would benefit everybody on the planet. But I think Jesus was only a man. A great man, a brave man, a man with insight into unpopular truths. But I don't think he was God or the son of God or the grandnephew of God."

"You don't want to believe in God." Joss said it as a simple statement. "You figure you can be a Christian and not believe in God. Let me ask you straight out: Do you believe in God?"

"The question has a peculiar structure. If I say no, do I mean I'm convinced God doesn't exist, or do I mean I'm not convinced he does exist? Those are two very different statements."

"You believe in Occam's Razor, isn't that right? If you have two different, equally good explanations of the same experience, you pick the simplest. The whole history of science supports it, you say. Now, if you have serious doubts about whether there is a God--enough doubts so you're unwilling to commit yourself to the Faith--then you must be able to imagine a world without God: a world that comes into being without God, a world where people die without God. No punishment. No reward. All the saints and prophets, all the faithful who have ever lived--why, you'd have to believe they were foolish. Deceived themselves, you'd probably say. That would be a world in which we weren't here on Earth for any good reason--I mean for any purpose. It would all be just complicated collisions of atoms--is that right? Including the atoms that are inside human beings.

"To me, that would be a hateful and inhuman world. I wouldn't want to live in it. But if you can imagine that world, why straddle? Why occupy some middle ground? If you believe all that already, isn't it much simpler to say there's on God? You're not being true to Occam's Razor. I think you're waffling. How can a thoroughgoing conscientious scientist be an agnostic if you can even imagine a world without God? Wouldn't you just have to be an atheist?"

"I thought you were going to argue that God is the simpler hypothesis," Ellie said, "but this is a much better point. If it were only a matter of scientific discussion, I'd agree with you, Reverend Joss. Science is essentially concerned with examining and correcting hypotheses. If the laws of nature explain all the available facts without supernatural intervention, or even do only as well as the God hypothesis, then for the time being I'd call myself an atheist. Then, if a single piece of evidence was discovered that doesn't fit, I'd back off from atheism. We're fully able to detect some breakdown in the laws of nature. The reason I don't call myself an atheist is because this isn't mainly a scientific issue. It's a religious issue and a political issue. The tentative nature of scientific hypothesis doesn't extend into these fields. You don't talk about God as a hypothesis. You think you've cornered the truth, so I point out that you may have missed a thing or two. But if you ask, I'm happy to tell you: I can't be sure I'm right."

"I've always thought an agnostic is an atheist without the courage of his convictions."

"You could just as well say that an agnostic is a deeply religious person with at least a rudimentary knowledge of human fallibility. When I say I'm an agnostic, I only mean that the evidence isn't in. There isn't compelling evidence that God exists--at least your kind of god--and there isn't compelling evidence that he doesn't. Since more than half the people on the Earth aren't Jews or Christian or Muslims, I'd say that there aren't any compelling arguments for your kind of god. Otherwise, everybody on Earth would have been converted. I say again, if your God wanted to convince us, he could have done a much better job."

"Look at how clearly authentic the Message is. It's being picked up all over the world. Radio telescopes are humming away in countries with different histories, different languages, different politics, different religions. Everybody's getting the same kind of data from the same place in the sky, at the same frequencies with the same polarization modulation. The Muslims, the Hindus, the Christians, and the atheists are all getting the same message. Any skeptic can hook up a radio telescope--it doesn't have to be very big--and get the identical data."

"You're not suggesting that your radio message is from God," Rankin offered.

"Not at all. Just that the civilization on Vega--with powers infinitely less than what you attribute to your God--was able to make things very clear. If your God wanted to talk to us through the unlikely means of word-of-mouth transmission and ancient writings over thousands of years, he could have done it so there was no room left for debate about its existence."

"But beyond its being one of the brightest stars in the sky, is there anything special about it?" Joss wanted to know. "Or anything that connects it up with Earth?"

"Well, in terms of stellar properties, anything like that, I can't think of a thing. But there is one incidental fact: Vega was the Pole Star about twelve thousand years ago, and it will be again about fourteen thousand years from now."

"I though the polestar was the Pole Star." Rankin, still doodling, said this to the pad of paper.

"It is, for a few thousand years. But not forever. The Earth is like a spinning top. Its axis is slowly precessing in a circle." She demonstrated, using her pencil as the Earth's axis. "It's called the precession of the equinoxes."

"Discovered by Hipparchus of Rhodes," added Joss. "Second century B.C." This seemed a surprising piece of information for him to have at his fingertips.

"Exactly. So right now," she continued, "an arrow from the center of the Earth to the North Pole points to the star we call Polaris, in the constellation of the Little Dipper, or the Little Bear. I believe you were referring to this constellation just before lunch, Mr. Rankin. As the Earth's axis slowly precesses, it points in some different direction in the sky, not toward Polaris, and over 26,000 years the place in the sky to which the North Pole points makes a complete circle. The North Pole points right now very near Polaris, close enough to be useful in navigation. Twelve thousand years ago, by accident, it pointed to Vega. But there's no physical connection. How the stars are distributed in the Milky Way has nothing to do with the Earth's axis of rotation being tipped twenty-three and a half degrees."

"So if folks were navigating ten thousand years ago, sailing the Mediterranean, say, or the Persian Gulf, Vega would have been their guide?"

That's still in the last Ice Age. Probably a little early for navigation. But the hunters who crossed the Bering land bridge to North America were around then. It must have seemed an amazing gift-- providential, if you like--that such a bright star was exactly to the north. I'll bet a lot of people owed their lives to that coincidence."

"It amazes me that you don't think it was Divine Providence, Vega being the Pole Star. My faith is so strong I don't need proofs, but every time a new fact comes along it simply confirms my faith."

"Well then, I guess you weren't listening very closely to what I was saying this morning. I resent the idea that we're in some kind of faith contest, and you're the hands-down winner. So far as I know you've never tested your faith? I'm willing to do it for mine. Here, take a look out that window. There's a big Foucault pendulum out there. The bob must weigh five hundred pounds. My faith says that the amplitude of a free pendulum--how far it'll swing away from the vertical position--can never increase. It can only decrease. I'm willing to go out there, put the bob I front of my nose, let go, have it swing away and then back toward me. If my beliefs are in error, I'll get a five-hundred-pound pendulum smack in the face. Come on. You want to test my faith?"

"Truly, it's not necessary. I believe you," replied Joss. Rankin, though, seemed interested. He was imagining, she guessed, what she would look like afterward.

"But would you be willing," she went on, "to stand a foot closer to this same pendulum and pray to God to shorten the swing? What if it turns out that you've gotten it all wrong, that what you're teaching isn't God's will at all? Maybe it's the work of the Devil. Maybe it's pure human invention. How can you be really sure?"

"Faith, inspiration, revelation, awe," Rankin answered. "Don't judge everyone else by your own limited experience. Just the fact that you've rejected the Lord doesn't prevent other folks from acknowledging His glory."

"Look, we all have a thirst for wonder. It's a deeply human quality. Science and religion are both bound up with it. What I'm saying is, you don't have to make stories up, you don't have to exaggerate. There's wonder and awe enough in the real world. Nature's a lot better at inventing wonders than we are."

"Perhaps we are all wayfarers on the road to truth," Joss replied.

The world is nearly all parceled out, and what there is left of it is being divided up, conquered, and colonized. To think of these stars that you see overhead at night, these vast worlds which we can never reach. I would annex the planets if I could; I often think of that. It makes me sad to see them so clear and yet so far.

Last Will and Testament (1902)

"Meera says American professional men are sexually repressed and have gnawing doubts and guilt."

"Really. And what does Meera say about Russian professional men?"

"Ah, in that category she knows only me. So, of course, she has a good opinion."

"Michael," she said, "the world is both better and worse than you imagine."

"You can probably beat me on `better,' " he replied, "but you can't hold a candle to me on `worse.'"

"Now the beings on Vega, they are not sending us these instructions for their amusement. They want us to build a machine. Perhaps they will tell us what the machine is supposed to do. Perhaps not. But even if they do, why should we believe them? So I raise my own fantasy, my own dream. It is not a happy one. What if this machine is a Trojan Horse? We build the machine at great expense, turn it on, and suddenly an invading army pours out of it. Or what if it is a Doomsday Machine? We build it, turn it on, and the Earth blows up. Perhaps this is their way to suppress civilizations just emerging into the cosmos. It would not cost much; they pay only for a telegram, and the upstart civilization obediently destroys itself."

"You think there is a danger in building the machine," Sukhavati replied. "I think there is a danger in not building the machine. I would be ashamed of our planet if we turned our back on the future. Your ancestors were not so timid when they first set sail for India or America."

"If we are frightened, we will do nothing. That will delay them a little. But remember, they know we are here. Our television arrives at their planet. Every day they are reminded of us. Have you looked at our television programs? They will not forget us. If we do nothing and if they are worried about us, they will come to us, machine or no machine. We cannot hide from them. If we had kept quiet, we would not face this problem. If we had cable television only and no big military radar, then maybe they would not know about us. But now it is too late. We cannot go back. Our course is set.

"If you are seriously frightened about this machine destroying the Earth, do not build it on the Earth. Build it somewhere else. Then if it is a Doomsday Machine and blows up a world . . . it will not be our world. But this will be very expensive. Probably too expensive. Or if we are not so frightened, build it in some isolated desert. You could have a very big explosion in the Takopi Wasteland in Xinjing Province and still kill nobody. And if we are not frightened at all, we can build it in Washington. Or Moscow. Or Beijing. Or in this beautiful city."

"In Ancient China, Vega and two nearby stars were called Chih Neu. It means the young woman with the spinning wheel. It is an auspicious symbol, a machine to make new clothes for the people of the Earth. "We have received an invitation. A very unusual invitation. Maybe it is to go to a banquet. The Earth has never been invited to a banquet before. It would be impolite to refuse."

"If you want to worry about Doomsday Machines," Drumlin was saying, "you have to worry about energy supplies. If it doesn't have access to an enormous amount of energy, it can't be a Doomsday Machine. So as long as the instructions don't ask for a gigawatt nuclear reactor, I don't think we have to worry about Doomsday Machines."

"Look, Vaygay, they know from our television transmissions that the Earth rotates, and that there are many different nations. The Olympic broadcast alone might have told them that. Subsequent transmissions from other nations would have nailed it down. So if they're as good as we think, they could have phased the transmission with the Earth's rotation, so only one nation got the Message. They chose not to do that. They want the Message to be received by everybody on the planet. They're expecting the Machine to be built by the whole planet. This can't be an all-American or an all-Russian project. It's not what our... client wants."

"I don't know why you think the primer has to be in the Message. Maybe they left it on Mars or Pluto or in the Oort Comet Cloud, and we'll discover it in a few centuries. Right now, we know there's this wonderful Machine, with design drawings and thirty thousand pages of explanatory text. But we don't know whether we'd be able to build the thing if we could read it. So we wait a few centuries, improving our technology, knowing that sooner or later we'll have to be ready to build it. Not having the primer binds us up with future generations. Human beings are sent a problem that takes generations to solve. I don't think that's such a bad thing. Might be very healthy. Maybe you're making a mistake looking for a primer. Maybe it's better not to find it."

"No matter how smart they are, it's gonna be tough to land the Machine. Too many things are moving. God knows what the propulsion system is. If you pop out of space a few meters below ground, you've had it. And what's a few meters in twenty-six light-years? It's too risky. When the Machine comes back it'll pop out--or whatever it does--in space, somewhere near the Earth, but not on it or in it. So they have to be sure we have spaceflight, so the five people can be rescued in space. They're in a hurry and can't sit tight until the 1957 evening news arrives on Vega. So what do they do? They arrange so part of the Message can only be detected from space. What part is that? The primer. If you can detect the primer, you've got spaceflight and you can come back safe. So I imagine the primer is being sent at the frequency of the oxygen absorptions in the microwave spectrum, or in the near-infrared-- some part of the spectrum you can't detect until you're well out of the Earth's atmosphere..."

"There are huge advertising budgets only when there's no difference between the products. If the products really were different, people would buy the one that's better. Advertising teaches people not to trust their judgment. Advertising teaches people to be stupid."

"I've got more money than I know what to do with, my wife can't stand me, and I've got enemies everywhere. I want to do something important, something worthy. I want to do something so that hundreds of years from now people will look back and be glad I was around."

"You want--"

"I want to build the Machine."

Scepticism is the chastity of the intellect, and it is shameful to surrender it too soon or to the first comer: there is nobility in preserving it coolly and proudly through long youth, until at last, in the ripeness of instinct and discretion, it can be safely exchanged for fidelity and happiness.

Scepticism and Animal Faith, IX

"We're picking somebody to enter the Olympics, and we don't know what the events are. I don't know why we're talking about sending scientists. Mahatma Gandhi, that's who we should send. Or, while we're at it, Jesus Christ. Don't tell me they're not available, der Heer. I know that."

"When you don't know what the events are, you send a decathlon champion."

"And then you discover the event is chess, or oratory, or sculpture, and your athlete finishes last."

"And for really top-rate people, you say that reduces the field to three."

Again she consulted her notes. "Arroway, Drumlin, and... the one who thinks he's a Roman general."

"Dr. Valerian, Ms. President. I don't know that he thinks he's a Roman general; it's just his name."

"Valerian wouldn't even answer the Selection Committee's questionnaire. He wouldn't consider it because he won't leave his wife? Is that right? I'm not criticizing him. He's no dope. He knows how to make a relationship work. It's not that his wife is sick or anything?"

"No, as far as I know, she's in excellent health."

"Good. Good for them. Send her a personal note from me--something about how she must be some woman for an astronomer to give up the universe for her. But fancy up the language, der Heer. You know what I want. And throw in some quotation. Poetry, maybe. But not too gushy." She waved her index finger at him. "Those Valerians can teach us all something. Why don't we invite them to a state dinner? The King of Nepal's here in two weeks. That'll be about right."

"What do I think of `the world population crisis'?" Ellie was saying. "You mean am I for it or against it? You think this is a key question I'm going to be asked on Vega, and you want to make sure I give the right answer? Okay. Overpopulation is why I'm in favor of homosexuality and a celibate clergy. A celibate clergy is an especially good idea, because it tends to suppress any hereditary propensity toward fanaticism."

"Yes, I know we all have emotions," he was saying, "but let's bear in mind exactly what emotions are. They're motivations for adaptive behavior from a time when we were too stupid to figure things out. But I can figure out that if a pack of hyenas are headed toward me with their fangs bared there's trouble ahead. I don't need a few cc's of adrenaline to help me understand the situation. I can even figure out that it might be important for me to make some genetic contribution to the next generation. I don't really need testosterone in my bloodstream to help me along. Are you sure that an extraterrestrial being far in advance of us is going to be saddled with emotions? I know there are people who think I'm too cold, too reserved. But if you really want to understand the extraterrestrials, you'll send me. I'm more like them than anyone else you'll find."

"You've decided that prayer can stop a pendulum?" She smiled.

`That would be an abuse of faith," he replied.

"If you could have a seat in that Machine, if you could ride it back to its Sender, what do you think you would see?"

"Evolution is a stochastic process. There are just too many possibilities to make reasonable predictions about what life elsewhere might be like. If you had seen the Earth before the origin of life, would you have predicted a katydid or a giraffe?"

"I have seen God face to face."

About the depth of his commitment there seemed no doubt. "Tell me about it." So he did.

"Okay," she said finally, "you were clinically dead, then you revived, and you remember rising through the darkness into a bright light. You saw a radiance with a human form that you took to be God. But there was nothing in the experience that told you the radiance made the universe or laid down moral law. The experience is an experience. You were deeply moved by it, no question. But there are other possible explanations."

"Such as?"

"Well, like birth. Birth is rising through a long, dark tunnel into abrilliant light. Don't forget how brilliant it is--the baby has spent nine months in the dark. Birth is its first encounter with light. Think of how amazed and awed you'd be in your first contact with color, or light and shade, or the human face--which you're probably preprogrammed to recognize. Maybe, if you almost die, the odometer gets set back to zero for a moment. Understand, I don't insist on this explanation. It's just one of many possibilities. I'm suggesting you may have misinterpreted the experience."

"Don't you ever feel... lost in your universe? How do you know what to do, how to behave, if there's no God? Just obey the law or get arrested?"

"You're not worried about being lost, Palmer. You're worried about not being central, not the reason the universe was created. There's plenty of order in my universe. Gravitation, electromagnetism, quantum mechanics, superunification, they all involve laws. And as for behavior, why can't we figure out what's in our best interest--as a species?"

"That's a warmhearted and noble view of the world, I'm sure, and I'd be the last to deny that there's goodness in the human heart. But how much cruelty has been done when there was no love of God?" "And how much cruelty when there was? Savonarola and Torquemada loved God, or so they said. Your religion assumes that people are children and need a boogeyman so they'll behave. You want people to believe in God so they'll obey the law. That's the only means that occurs to you: a strict secular police force, and the threat of punishment by an all-seeing God for whatever the police overlook. You sell human beings short."

"Palmer, you think if I haven't had your religious experience I can't appreciate the magnificence of your god. But it's just the opposite. I listen to you, and I think. His god is too small! One paltry planet, a few thousand years--hardly worth the attention of a minor deity, much less the Creator of the universe."

"You're confusing me with some other preacher. That museum was Brother Rankin's territory. I'm prepared for a universe billions of years old. I just say the scientists haven't proved it."

"And I say you haven't understood the evidence. How can it benefit the people if the conventional wisdom, the religious 'truths,' are a lie? When you really believe that people can be adults, you'll preach a different sermon."

"Think of what consciousness feels like, what it feels like this minute. Does that feel like billions of tiny atoms wiggling in place? And beyond the biological machinery, where in science can a child learn what love is?"

"... What is there in the precepts of science that keeps a scientist from doing evil?"

The earth, that is sufficient, I do not want the constellations any nearer, I know they are very well where they are, I know they suffice for those who belong to them.

Leaves of Grass
"Song of the Open Road" (1855)

The God whom science recognizes must be a God of universal laws exclusively, a God who does a wholesale, not a retail business. He cannot accommodate his processes to the convenience of individuals.

The Varieties of Religious
Experience (1902)

AT A FEW hundred kilometers altitude, the Earth fills half your sky, and the band of blue that stretches from Mindanao to Bombay, which your eye encompasses in a single glance, can break your heart with its beauty. Home, you think. Home. This is my world. This is where I come from. Everyone I know, everyone I ever heard of, grew up down there, under that relentless and exquisite blue. You race eastward from horizon to horizon, from dawn to dawn, circling the planet in an hour and a half. After a while, you get to know it, you study its idiosyncrasies and anomalies. You can see so much with the naked eye. Florida will soon be in view again. Has that tropical storm system you saw last orbit, swirling and racing over the Caribbean, reached Fort Lauderdale? Are any of the mountains in the Hindu Kush snow-free this summer? You tend to admire the aquamarine reefs in the Coral Sea. You look at the West Antarctic Ice Pack and wonder whether its collapse could really inundate all the coastal cities on the planet.

In the daylight, though, it's hard to see any sign of human habitation. But at night, except for the polar aurora, everything you see is due to humans, humming and blinking all over the planet. That swath of light is eastern North America, continuous from Boston to Washington, a megalopolis in fact if not in name. Over there is the burnoff of natural gas in Libya. The dazzling lights of the Japanese shrimp fishing fleet have moved toward the South China Sea. On every orbit, the Earth tells you new stories. You can see a volcanic eruption in Kamchatka, a Saharan sandstorm approaching Brazil, unseasonably frigid weather in New Zealand. You get to thinking of the Earth as an organism, a living thing. You get to worry about it, care for it, wish it well. National boundaries are as invisible as meridians of longitude, or the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. The boundaries are arbitrary. The planet is real. Spaceflight, therefore, is subversive. If they are fortunate enough to find themselves in Earth orbit, most people, after a little meditation, have similar thoughts. The nations that had instituted spaceflight had done so largely for nationalistic reasons; it was a small irony that almost everyone who entered space received a startling glimpse of a transnationalperspective, of the Earth as one world.

"You see, the religious people--most of them--really think this planet is an experiment. That's what their beliefs come down to. Some god or other is always fixing and poking, messing around with tradesmen's wives, giving tablets on mountains, commanding you to mutilate your children, telling people what words they can say and what words they can't say, making people feel guilty about enjoying themselves, and like that. Why can't the gods leave well enough alone? All this intervention speaks of incompetence. If God didn't want Lot's wife to look back, why didn't he make her obedient, so she'd do what her husband told her? Or if he hadn't made Lot such a shithead, maybe she would've listened to him more. If God is omnipotent and omniscient, why didn't he start the universe out in the first place so it would come out the way he wants? Why's he constantly repairing and complaining? No, there's one thing the Bible makes clear: The biblical God is a sloppy manufacturer. He's not good at design, he's not good at execution. He'd be out of business if there was any competition.

"That's why I don't believe we're an experiment. There might be lots of experimental planets in the universe, places where apprentice gods get to test out their skills. What a shame Rankin and Joss weren't born on one of those planets. But on this planet there isn't any microintervention. The gods don't drop in on us to fix things up when we've botched it. You look at human history and it's clear we've been on our own."

"... the lower the oxygen content in the air, the longer you live. At least that's what the doctors tell us. So we all get to pick the amount of oxygen in our rooms. In daytime you can't bring it much below twenty percent, because you get groggy. It impairs mental functioning. But at night, when you're sleeping anyway, you can lower the oxygen partial pressure. There's a danger, though. You can lower it too much."

"Why do I get the feeling that sex is high on the list of imports from Earth?" she asked a little reluctantly.

"Oh, it is, it is. There's lots of reasons. The clientele, the location. But the main reason is zero g. In zero g you can do things at eighty you never thought possible at twenty."

"It looks great, I admit. I've been up here for years and it still looks great. But doesn't it bother you that there's a spaceship around you? See, there's an experience no one's ever had yet. You're in a space suit, there's no tether, no spacecraft. Maybe the Sun is behind you, and you're surrounded on all sides by stars. Maybe the Earth is below you. Or maybe some other planet. I kind of fancy Saturn myself. There you are, floating in space, like you really are one with the cosmos. Space suits nowadays have enough consumables to last you for hours. The spacecraft that dropped you off could be long gone. Maybe they'll rendezvous with you in an hour. Maybe not.

"The best would be if the ship wasn't coming back. Your last hours, surrounded by space and stars and worlds. If you had an incurable disease, or if you just wanted to give yourself a really nifty last indulgence, how could you top that?"

Human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars.

Madame Bovary (1857)

The ancients who wished to illustrate illustrious virtue throughout the Kingdom first ordered well their own states. Wishing to order well their states, they first regulated their families. Wishing to regulate their families, they first cultivated their persons. Wishing to cultivate their persons, they first rectified their hearts. Wishing to rectify their hearts, they first sought to be sincere in their thoughts. Wishing to be sincere in their thoughts, they first extended to the utmost their knowledge. Such extension of knowledge lay in the investigation of things.

Xi had arranged for massive excavations at Xian. Gradually, he became convinced that the Emperor Qin himself was also lying in wait, perfectly preserved, in some great tomb near the disinterred terracotta army. Nearby, according to ancient records, was also buried under a great mound a detailed model of the nation of China in 210 B.C., With every temple and pagoda meticulously represented. The rivers, it was said, were made of mercury, with the Emperor's barge in miniature perpetually navigating his underground domain.

"Do Buddhists believe in God, or not?" Ellie asked on their way to have dinner with the Abbot.

"Their position seems to be," Vaygay replied dryly, "that their God is so great he doesn't even have to exist."

"I can communicate with a flower, I can talk to a stone. You would have no difficulty understanding the beings--that is the proper word?--of some other world."

"I am perfectly prepared to believe that the stone communicates to you," Lunacharsky said... "But I wonder about you communicating to the stone. How would you convince us that you can communicate with a stone? The world is full of error. How do you know you are not deceiving yourself?"

"Ah, scientific skepticism." The Abbot flashed a smile that Ellie found absolutely winning; it was innocent, almost childlike. "To communicate with a stone, you must become much less... preoccupied. You must not do so much thinking, so much talking. When I say I communicate with a stone, I am not talking about words. The Christians say. `In the beginning was the Word.' But I am talking about a communication much earlier, much more fundamental than that."

"Your question is made of words. You ask me to use words to describe what has nothing to do with words. Let me see. There is a Japanese story called The Dream of the Ants.' It is set in the Kingdom of the Ants. It is a long story, and I will not tell it to you now. But the point of the story is this: To understand the language of the ants, you must become an ant."

"The language of the ants is in fact a chemical language," said Lunacharsky, eyeing the Abbot keenly. "They lay down specific molecular traces to indicate the path they have taken to find food. To understand the language of the ants, I need a gas chromatograph, or a mass spectrometer. I do not need to become an ant."

"Probably, that is the only way you know to become an ant," returned the Abbot...

"I asked him, If he could talk with a stone, could he communicate with the dead?" Xi told her.

"And what did he say?"

"He said the dead were easy. His difficulties were with the living."

In Mozambique, the story goes, monkeys do not talk, because they know if they utter even a single word some man will come and put them to work.

She asked Eda if he had ever had a transforming religious experience. "Yes," he said.


"When I first picked up Euclid. Also when I first understood Newtonian gravitation. And Maxwell's equations, and general relativity. And during my work on superunification. I have been fortunate enough to have had many religious experiences."

"No," she returned. "You know what I mean. Apart from science."

"Never," he replied instantly. "Never apart from science."

"This is not a briefing, and not a farewell. It's just a so long. Each of you makes this journey on behalf of a billion souls. You represent all the peoples of the planet Earth. If you are to be transported to somewhere else, then see for all of us--not just the science, but everything you can learn. You represent the entire human species, past, present, and future. Whatever happens, your place in history is secure. You are heroes of our planet. Speak for all of us. Be wise. And... come back."

So I walk on uplands unbounded,
and know that there is hope
for that which Thou didst mold out of dust
to have consort with things eternal.

--The Dead Sea Scrolls

It is not impossible that to some infinitely superior being the whole universe may be as one plain, the distance between planet and planet being only as the pores in a grain of sand, and the spaces between system and system no greater than the intervals between one grain and the grain adjacent.


Black hole, she thought. Black hole. I'm falling through the event horizon of a black hole toward the dread singularity. Or maybe this isn't a black hole and I'm headed toward a naked singularity. That's what the physicists called it, a naked singularity. Near a singularity, causality could be violated, effects could precede causes, time could flow backward, and you were unlikely to survive, much less remember the experience.

Vaygay asked, "Did anyone see a naked singularity?"

"I don't know what one looks like," Devi replied. "I beg your pardon. It probably wouldn't be naked. Did you sense any causality inversion, anything bizarre--really crazy--maybe about how you were thinking, anything like scrambled eggs reassembling themselves into whites and yolks...?"

Devi looked at Vaygay through narrowed lids. "It's okay," Ellie quickly interjected. Vaygay's a little excited, she added to herself. "These are genuine questions about black holes. They only sound crazy."

The motion of the black hole around Vega was creating a visible ripple in the bands of debris immediately adjacent The dodecahedron was doubtless producing some more modest wake. She wondered if these gravitational perturbations, these spreading rarefactions and condensations, would have any long-term consequence, changing the pattern of subsequent planetary formation. If so, then the very existence of some planet billions of years in the future might be due to the black hole and the Machine . . . and therefore to the Message, and therefore to Project Argus. She knew she was overpersonalizing; had she never lived, some other radio astronomer would surely have received the Message, but earlier, or later. The Machine would have been activated at a different moment and the dodec would have found its way here in some other time. So some future planet in this system might still owe its existence to her. Then, by symmetry, she had snatched out of existence some other world that was destined to form had she never lived. It was vaguely burdensome, being responsible by your innocent actions for the fates of unknown worlds.

All things are artificial, for nature is the art of God.

"On Dreams"
Religio Media (1642)

"... space is topologically non-simply connected. It's like a flat two-dimensional surface, the smart surface, connected by some maze of tubing with some other flat two-dimensional surface, the dumb surface. The only way you can get from the smart surface to the dumb surface in a reasonable time is through the tubes. Now imagine that the people on the smart surface lower a tube with a nozzle on it. They will make a tunnel between the two surfaces, provided the dumb ones cooperate by making a little pucker on their surface, so the nozzle can attach itself."

"Don't think of us as some interstellar sheriff gunning down outlaw civilizations. Think of us more as the Office of the Galactic Census. We collect information. I know you think nobody has anything to learn from you because you're technologically so backward. But there are other merits to a civilization."

"What merits?"

"Oh, music. Lovingkindness. (I like that word.) Dreams. Humans are very good at dreaming, although you'd never know it from your television. There are cultures all over the Galaxy that trade dreams."

"In the long run, the aggressive civilizations destroy themselves, almost always. It's their nature. They can't help it. In such a case, our job would be to leave them alone. To make sure that no one bothers them. To let them work out their destiny."

"I want to know what you think of us," she said shortly, "what you really think."

He did not hesitate for a moment. "All right. I think it's 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, it's 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 skies were made brilliant by millions of nearby young stars; but the stars, the gas, and the dust were being eaten up by the entrance black hole. "It goes somewhere, right?" she asked.

"Of course."

"Can you tell me where?"

"Sure. All this stuff winds up in Cygnus A." Cygnus A was something she knew about. Except only for a nearby supernova remnant in Cassiopeia, it was the brightest radio source in the sides of Earth. She had calculated that in one second Cygnus A produces more energy than the Sun does in 40,000 years. The radio source was 600 million light-years away, far beyond the Milky Way, out in the realm of the galaxies. As with many extragalactic radio sources, two enormous jets of gas, fleeing apart at almost the speed of tight, were making a complex web of Rankine-Hugoniot shock fronts with the thin intergalactic gas--and producing in the process a radio beacon that shone brightly over most of the universe. All the matter in this enormous structure, 500,000 light-years across, was pouring out of a tiny, almost inconspicuous point in space exactly midway between the jets.

"You're making Cygnus A?"

"Oh, it's not just us. This is a... cooperative project ofmany galaxies. That's what we mainly do--engineering. Only a... few of us are involved with emerging civilizations."

"There are cooperative projects between galaxies?" she asked. "Lots of galaxies, each with a kind of Central Administration? With hundreds of billions of stars in each galaxy. And then those administrations cooperate. To pour millions of suns into Centaurus . . . sorry, Cygnus A? The . . . Forgive me. I'm just staggered by the scale. Why would you do all this? Whatever for?"

"You mustn't think of the universe as a wilderness. It hasn't been that for billions of years," he said. "Think of it more as . . . cultivated."

"The problem is that the universe is expanding, and there's not enough matter in it to stop the expansion. After a while, no new galaxies, no new stars, no new planets, no newly arisen lifeforms--just the same old crowd. Everything's getting run-down. It'll be boring. So in Cygnus A we're testing out the technology to make something new. You might call it an experiment in urban renewal. It's not our only trial run. Sometime later we might want to close off a piece of the universe and prevent space from getting more and more empty as the aeons pass. Increasing the local matter density's the way to do it, of course. It's good honest work."

If Cygnus A was 600 million light-years away, then astronomers on Earth--or anywhere in the Milky Way for that matter--were seeing it as it had been 600 million years ago. But on Earth 600 million years ago, she knew, there had hardly been any life even in the oceans big enough to shake a stick at. They were old. Six hundred million years ago, on a beach like this one... except no crabs, no gulls, no palm trees. She tried to imagine some microscopic plant washed ashore,securing a tremulous toehold just above the water line, while these beings were occupied with experimental galactogenesis and introductory cosmic engineering.

"You've been pouring matter into Cygnus A for the last six hundred million years?"

"Well, what you've detected by radio astronomy was just some of our early feasibility testing. We're much further along now."

"I want to know about your myths, your religions. What fills you with awe? Or are those who make the numinous unable to feel it?"

"You make the numinous also. No, I know what you're asking. Certainly we feel it. You recognize that some of this is hard for me to communicate to you. But I'll give you an example of what you're asking for. I don't say this is it exactly, but it'll give you a flavor of our numinons. It concerns pi, the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. You know it well, of course, and you also know you can never come to the end of pi. There's no creature in the universe, no matter how smart, who could calculate pi to the last digit--because there is no last digit, only an infinite number of digits. Your mathematicians have made an effort to calculate it out to... none of you seem to know.. Let's say the ten-billionth place. You won't be surprised to hear that other mathematicians have gone further. Well, eventually--let's say it's in the ten-to-the-twentieth-power place--something happens. The randomly varying digits disappear, and for an unbelievably long time there's nothing but ones and zeros."

"And the zeros and ones finally stop? You get back to a random sequence of digits? And the number of zeros and ones? Is it a product of prime numbers?"

"Yes, eleven of them."

"You're telling me there's a message in eleven dimensions hidden deep inside the number pi? Someone in the universe communicates by... mathematics? But... help me, I'm really having trouble understanding you. Mathematics isn't arbitrary. I mean pi has to have the same value everywhere. How can you hide a message inside pi? It's built into the fabric of the universe."


"It's even better than that. Let's assume that only in base-ten arithmetic does the sequence of zeros and ones show up, although you'd recognize that something funny's going on in any other arithmetic. Let's also assume that the beings who first made this discovery had ten fingers. You see how it looks? It's as if pi has been waiting for billions of years for ten-fingered mathematicians with fast computers to come along. You see, the Message was kind of addressed to us."

As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods--They kill us for their sport.

Lear, IV, i, 36

Who is all-powerful should fear everything.

Cinna (1640), Act IV,
Scene II

"The problem is you people are too clever. Too clever. Look at it from the point of view of a skeptic. Step back and look at the big picture. There's a bunch of bright peopie in different countries who think the world is going to hell in a handbasket. They claim to receive a complex Message from space.

"... They decrypt the Message and announce instructions on how to build a very complicated Machine at a cost of trillions of dollars. The world's in a funny condition, the religions are all shaky about the oncoming Millennium, and to everybody's surprise the Machine gets built. There's one or two slight changes in personnel, and then essentially these same people then get to sit down in the Machine. Because of the way the thing is designed, no one can see them and no one can talk to them after the thing is activated. So the Machine is turned on and then it turns itself off. Once it's on, you can't make it stop in less than twenty minutes. Okay. Twenty minutes later, these same people emerge from the Machine, all jaunty-jolly, with some bullshit story about traveling faster than light inside black holes to the center of the Galaxy and back. Now suppose you hear this story and you're just ordinarily cautious. You ask to see their evidence. Pictures, videotapes, any other data. Guess what? It's all been conveniently erased. Do they have artifacts of the superior civilization they say is at the center of the Galaxy? No. Mementos? No. A stone tablet? No. Pets? No. Nothing. The only physical evidence is some subtle damage done to the Machine. So you ask yourself, couldn't people who were so motivated and so clever arrange for what looks like tension stresses and radiation damage, especially if they could spend two trillion dollars faking the evidence?"

"The Message stopped the moment we activated the Machine. The moment the benzels reached cruising speed. To the second. All over the world. Every radio observatory with a line-of-sight to Vega saw the same thing. We've held back telling you about it so we wouldn't distract you from your debriefing. The Message stopped in mid-bit. Now that was really foolish of you."

"I don't know anything about it, Michael. But so what if the Message stopped? It's fulfilled its purpose. We built the Machine, and we went to... where they wanted us to go."

"It puts you in a peculiar position," he went on. Suddenly she saw where he was headed. She hadn't expected this. He was arguing conspiracy, but she was contemplating madness. If Kitz wasn't mad, might she be? If our technology can manufacture substances that induce delusions, could a much more advanced technology induce highly detailed collective hallucinations? Just for a moment it seemed possible.

"Let's imagine it's last week," he was saying. `The radio waves arriving on Earth right now are supposed to have been sent from Vega twenty-six years ago. They take twenty-six years to cross space to us. But twenty-six years ago, Dr. Arroway, there wasn't any Argus facility, and you were sleeping with acid-heads, and moaning about Vietnam and Watergate. You people are so smart, but you forgot the speed of light. There's no way that activating the Machine can turn the Message off until twenty-six years pass-- unless in ordinary space you can send a message faster than light. And we both know that's impossible. I remember you complaining about how stupid Rankin and Joss were for not knowing you can't travel faster than light. I'm surprised you thought you could get away with this one."

"This is wholly unexplored territory. You know, it's not called a space-time continuum for nothing. If they can make tunnels through space, I suppose they can make some kind of tunnels through time. The fact that we got back a day early shows that they have at least a limited kind of time travel. So maybe as soon as we left the Station, they sent a message twenty-six years back into time to turn the transmission off. I don't know."

"You see how convenient it is for you that the Message stops just now. If it was still broadcasting, we could find your little satellite, capture it, and bring back the transmission tape. That would be definitive evidence of a hoax. Unambiguous. But you couldn't risk that. So you're reduced to black hole mumbo-jumbo. Probably embarrassing for you."

"... even if you believed every detail of your story," he was saying, "don't you think the extraterrestrials treated you badly? They take advantage of your tenderest feelings by dressing themselves up as dear old Dad. They don't tell you what they're doing, they expose all your film, destroy all your data, and don't even let you leave that stupid palm frond up there. Nothing on the manifest is missing, except for a little food, and nothing that isn't on the manifest is returned, except for a little sand. So in twenty minutes you gobbled some food and dumped a little sand out of your pockets. You come back one nanosecond or something after you leave, so to any neutral observer you never left at all.

"Now, if the extraterrestrials wanted to make it unambiguously clear you'd really gone somewhere, they would've brought you back a day later, or a week. Right? If there was nothing inside the benzels for a while, we'd be dead certain that you'd gone somewhere. If they wanted to make it easy for you, they wouldn't have turned off the Message. Right? That makes it look bad, you know. They could've figured that out. Why would they want to make it bad for you? And there's other ways they could've supported your story. They could've given you something to remember them by. They could've let you bring back your movies. Then nobody could claim all this is just a clever fake. So how come they didn't do that? How come the extraterrestrials don't confirm your story? You spent years of your life trying to find them. Don't they appreciate what you've done?"

That it will never come again
Is what makes life so sweet.

Poem Number 1741

In two years, this flying sarcophagus would fall into the gravitational potential well of Jupiter, just outside its radiation belt, be slingshot around the planet and then flung off into interstellar space. For a day he would have a view still more spectacular than that out the window of his study on Methuselah--the roiling multicolored clouds of Jupiter. the largest planet. If it were only a matter of the view. Hadden would have opted for Saturn and the rings. He preferred the rings. But Saturn was at least four years from Earth and that was, all things considered, taking a chance. If you're stalking immortality, you have to be very careful.

At these speeds it would take ten thousand years to travel even the distance to the nearest star. When you're frozen to four degrees above absolute zero, though, you have plenty of time. But some fine day--he was sure of it, though it be a million years from now--Gilgamesh would by chance enter someone else's solar system. Or his funeral bark would be intercepted in the darkness between the stars, and other beings-- very advanced, very far-seeing--would take the sarcophagus aboard and know what had to be done. It had never really been attempted before. No one who ever lived on Earth had come this close. Confident that in his end would be his beginning, he closed his eyes and folded his arms experimentally across his chest, as the engines flared again, this time more briefly, and the burnished craft was sleekly set on its long journey to the stars.

Look and remember. Look upon this sky;
Look deep and deep into the sea-clean air,
The unconfined, the terminus of prayer.
Speak now and speak into the hallowed dome.
What do you hear? What does the sky reply?
The heavens are taken; this is not your home.

Travelogue for Exiles

"Forgive me. I know this is impertinent," she said after a while, "but the fact that of all of us, you alone met someone who... In all your life, wasn't there anyone you loved?"

She wished she had phrased the question better. "Everyone I ever loved was taken from me. Obliterated. I saw the emperors of the twentieth century come and go," he answered. "I longed for someone who could not be revised, or rehabilitated, or edited out. There are only a few historical figures who cannot be erased."

"I think the tunnels are Einstein-Rosen bridges," he said. "General Relativity admits a class of solutions, called wormholes, similar to black holes, but with no evolutionary connection--they cannot be generated, as black holes can, by the gravitational collapse of a star. But the usual sort of wormhole, once made, expands and contracts before anything can cross through; it exerts disastrous tidal forces, and it also requires--at least as seen by an observer left behind--an infinite amount of time to get through."

"Pi starts out 3.1415926... You can see that the digits vary pretty randomly. Okay, a one appears twice in the first four digits, but after you keep on going for a while it averages out. Each digit--0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9--appears almost exactly ten percent of the time when you've accumulated enough digits. Occasionally you'll get a few consecutive digits that are the same--4444, for example-- but not more than you'd expect statistically. Now, suppose you're running merrily through these digits and suddenly you find nothing but fours. Hundreds of fours all in a row. That couldn't carry any information, but it also couldn't be a statistical fluke. You could calculate the digits in pi for the age of the universe and, if the digits are random, you'd never go deep enough to get a hundred consecutive fours."

"I still don't understand," he confessed. "We know there's a mathematical order to the universe. The law of gravity and all that. How is this different? So there's order inside the digits of pi. So what?"

"No, don't you see? This would be different. This isn't just starting the universe out with some precise mathematical laws that determine physics and chemistry. This is a message. Whoever makes the universe hides messages in transcendental numbers so they'll be read fifteen billion years later when intelligent life finally evolves. I criticized you and Rankin the time we first met for not understanding this. If God wanted us to know that he existed, why didn't he send us an unambiguous message?' I asked. Remember?"

"You think God is a mathematician."

"Something like that. If what we're told is true. If this isn't a wild-goose chase. If there's a message hiding in pi and not one of the infinity of other transcendental numbers. That's a lot of ifs."

"You're looking for Revelation in arithmetic. I know a better way."

"Palmer, this is the only way. This is the only thing that would convince a skeptic. Imagine we find something. It doesn't have to be tremendously complicated. Just something more orderly than could accumulate by chance that many digits into pi That's all we need. Then mathematicians all over the world can find exactly the same pattern or message or whatever it proves to be. Then there are no sectarian divisions. Everybody begins reading the same Scripture. No one could then argue that the key miracle in the religion was some conjurer's trick, or that later historians had falsified the record, or that it's just hysteria or delusion or a substitute parent for when we grow up. Everyone could be a believer."

"I'm not a skeptic. I'm a believer."

"Are you? The story I have to tell isn't exactly about Punishment and Reward. It's not exactly Advent and Rapture. There's not a word in it about Jesus. Part of my message is that we're not central to the purpose of the Cosmos. What happened to me makes us all seem very small."

"It does. But it also makes God very big." She glanced at him for a moment and rushed on. "You know, as the Earth races around the Sun, the powers of this world--the religious powers, the secular powers--once pretended the Earth wasn't moving at all. They were in the business of being powerful. Or at least pretending to be powerful And the truth made them feel too small. The truth frightened them; it undermined their power. So they suppressed it. Those people found the truth dangerous. You're sure you know what believing me entails?"

"I've been searching, Eleanor. After all these years, believe me, I know the truth when I see it. Any faith that admires truth, that strives to know God, must be brave enough to accommodate the universe. I mean the real universe. All those light-years. All those worlds. I think of the scope of your universe, the opportunities it affords the Creator, and it takes my breath away. It's much better than bottling Him up in one small world. I never liked the idea of Earth as God's green footstool. It was too reassuring, like a children's story... like a tranquilizer. But your universe has room enough, and time enough, for the kind of God I believe in."

"Have you ever been married?" he asked.

"No, I never have. I guess I've been too busy."

"Ever been in love?" The question was direct, matter-of-fact.

"Halfway, half a dozen times. But there was always so much noise, the signal was hard to find. And you?"

"Never," he replied flatly. There was a pause, and then he added with a faint smile, "But I have faith."

Above the table on which the chattering telefax sat was a mirror. In it she saw a woman neither young nor old, neither mother nor daughter. They had been right to keep the truth from her. She was not sufficiently advanced to receive that signal, much less decrypt it. She had spent her career attempting to make contact with the most remote and alien of strangers, while in her own life she had made contact with hardly anyone at all. She had been fierce in debunking the creation myths of others, and oblivious to the lie at the core of her own. She had studied the universe all her life, but had overlooked its clearest message: For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.

Wormholes. In the revealing jargon of theoretical physics, the universe was their apple and someone had tunneled through, riddling the interior with passageways that criss-crossed the core. For a bacillus who lived on the surface, it was a miracle. But a being standing outside the apple might be less impressed. From that perspective, the Tunnel builders were only an annoyance. But if the Tunnel builders are worms, she thought, who are we?

The anomaly showed up most starkly in Base 11 arithmetic, where it could be written out entirely as zeros and ones. Compared with what had been received from Vega, this could be at best a simple message, but its statistical significance was high. The program reassembled the digits into a square raster, an equal number across and down. The first line was an uninterrupted file of zeros, left to right. The second line showed a single numeral one, exactly in the middle, with zeros to the borders, left and right. After a few more lines, an unmistakable arc had formed, composed of ones. The simple geometrical figure had been quickly constructed, line by line, self-reflexive, rich with promise. The last line of the figure emerged, all zeros except for a single centered one. The subsequent line would be zeros only, part of the frame.

Hiding in the alternating patterns of digits, deep inside the transcendental number, was a perfect circle, its form traced out by unities in a field of noughts.

The universe was made on purpose, the circle said. In whatever galaxy you happen to find yourself, you take the circumference of a circle, divide it by its diameter, measure closely enough, and uncover a miracle--another circle, drawn kilometers downstream of the decimal point. There would be richer messages farther in. It doesn't matter what you look like, or what you're made of, or where you come from. As long as you live in this universe, and have a modest talent for mathematics, sooner or later you'll find it. It's already here. It's inside everything. You don't have to leave your planet to find it. In the fabric of space and in the nature of matter, as in a great work of art, there is, written small, the artist's signature. Standing over humans, gods, and demons, subsuming Caretakers and Tunnel builders, there is an intelligence that antedates the universe. The circle had closed. She found what she had been searching for.

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