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so what is this? How do you read this thing.? Unlike any
ETs that might come across it, you can click on the thumbnail.
Voyager missions were the logical extension of the Pioneers.
Like the Pioneers, the two Voyager craft used the slingshot technique
to reach the outer reaches of the Solar System and attained speeds
that flung them into interstellar space. But because they were
larger craft, it was possible to go the Pioneer probes one better and
include a proper record of man's civilisation.
In fact, that is
exactly what was sent along; a record. Bolted to the spacecraft
was a gold-plated copper LP behind an aluminium cover plate inscribed
with instructions on how to play the record and a needle cartridge
just in case Victrolas are hard to come by in the Andromeda galaxy.
Records imply sounds and those carried by Voyager carried a selection
of tunes that is now used for NPR bumper music, wildlife
noises, and kiddies giving the usual vapid greetings. But in
addition, the record also includes photographs with a remarkable
emphasis on biology , a disturbing fascination with reproduction that
reflects a lot of hidden assumptions about biology, and National Geographic pictorials;
all formatted for
things had changed since the '60s-- not to mention the '30s, and it
wasn't just that this time capsule was being blasted into space.
This wasn't a message from an
exuberant people eager to present their credentials. This was a
cautiously compiled catalogue from a people who had become trapped in
the grip of self-doubt. It isn't pessimistic; just not
optimistic. The 1939 Westinghouse Time Capsule and its 1964
brother described the 20th century for the benefit of the
70th. Their message reflected, at
least in the beginning, a people who saw themselves as occupying a
real place in history and wanted to tell their descendants as much as
they could about their civilisation. If the 1939 or ‘64
capsules had been fired into space, their message, allowing for the
language barrier, would have been
“This is who we are, this is what we have accomplished for all our
faults, and we will be shortly following this capsule, which is our
calling card.” In other words, the capsule would have been an embassy
to other races, much as the time capsules were an embassy to the
The Voyager records, on the other hand, lack any
real confidence. The committee that put together the records
weren't even certain what their civilisation was beyond a massy dough
of humanity that was indescribably insignificant when measured against
the Cosmos or any beings that might find that Voyager doohicky.
The contents were carefully chosen not to be American or even Western,
nor to reflect any ideology; at least, not any ideology that didn't
sit comfortably with the Berkeley faculty lounge (sexism was a big no
no). The images and sounds turned their backs on the culture that
created them. They are in the Western tradition, but they are not
Western. They are certainly not American. They are Internationalist;
not of the confident FDR or JFK type meant to civilise the world, but of an insecure, Carteresque,
"What do you guys think," UN sort. The committee's message was more
along the lines of “Hello. We’re here. We look like this, except some
of us look like that, and here’s some kids, trees, leaves, and things,
and the UN General Secretary will be along in a moment to say ‘hi’.
Sorry to bother you.”
For them, man was an animal to be studied,
not their brethren to be understood. So, the record has pictures
of Thai craftsmen, Portuguese fishermen, New England frame houses,
African huts, Indian traffic jams, the Great Wall of China,
and chimpanzees (which the committee felt ETs would regard as "identical"
to humans)-- all as different as chalk and cheese and all very
multicultural, but with nothing in the selection to explain what one
had to do with the other.
The record is a remarkable piece of work, but it is
also an indication that the time of Future Past was gone. By the late
'70s, the focused concept of who we were and where we were going was in
the process of full collapse. This was a message of self-doubt
from a committee whose most influential member habitually phrased his
remarks about man's future with "if we don't destroy ourselves."
Reading Sagan's remarks about the making of the record, I often wonder
if he meant it as a message or a funeral marker. Otherwise, why
all the concern about avoiding anything that could be even vaguely
construed as negative even though no one was likely to see the thing
for a couple of billion years? In the Westinghouse capsule there
was room for newsreel footage of the rape of Nanking.
It could be argued that the Westinghouse capsule
was Chauvinistic because it dealt with Western civilisation and only
gave passing reference to other cultures on the planet. There
are reasonable arguments against this approach, which I heard a lot of
when I taught history, but against this it must be pointed out that the
capsules were the product of Western civilisation and since it
was our civilisation that paid for the mike, we deserve centre stage--
not to mention that since the West has proven itself the single
greatest influence on world history, wanting to concentrate on it is
not an exercise in parochialism. At the very
least, such an approach lends itself to telling a coherent story
and that is vital when one has limited time for telling the tale.
The Voyager committee cleaved to the post-modern
idea that to include one means to include all. So, out goes
Debussyand in come Pygmy tunes and Mozart gets three minutes.
Paradoxically, that was their
excuse for not including anything about religion, though why at least
the four or five major faiths couldn't be depicted is beyond me.
The result is less the Story of Man than the Humankind Dolly's
The musical selections read like a music ethnologist’s
shopping list with a track of whale songs proposed to avoid being too
"humano-centric" (I'm not kidding). It includes incredibly obscure
bits of folk music that the committee had a heck of a time tracking
down, but no hymns, or martial or patriotic music. It is notable,
however, that Carl Sagan went to great lengths to vet his
Russian selection with the Soviets because he didn't wish to give
offence by including something that was too "capitalist." Had it
been forty years earlier would he have run his Bach selection by the
Nazis for their okay, I wonder?
No doubt about it. The Voyager records were
the product of a decade that had come loose from its moorings.
Voyager Record Contents
Calibration circle, Jon Lomberg
Solar location map, Frank Drake
Mathematical definitions, Frank Drake
Physical unit definitions, Frank Drake
Solar system parameters, Frank Drake
Solar system parameters, Frank Drake
The Sun, Hale observatories
Solar spectrum, National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center, Cornell
Egypt, Red Sea, Sinai Peninsula and the Nile, NASA
Chemical definitions, Frank Drake
DNA Structure, Jon Lomberg
DNA Structure magnified, light hit, Jon Lomberg
Cells and cell division, Turtox/Cambosco
Anatomy 1, World Book
Anatomy 2, World Book
Anatomy 3, World Book
Anatomy 4, World Book
Anatomy 5, World Book
Anatomy 6, World Book
Anatomy 7, World Book
Anatomy 8, World Book
Human sex organs, Sinauer Associates, Inc.
Diagram of conception, Jon Lomberg
Conception , Albert Bonniers; Forlag, Stockholm
Fertilized ovum, Albert Bonniers; Forlag, Stockholm
Fetus diagram, Jon Lomberg
Fetus, Dr. Frank Allan
Diagram of male and female, Jon Lomberg
Birth, Wayne Miller
Nursing mother, UN
Father and daughter (Malaysia), David Harvey
Group of children, Ruby Mera, UNICEF
Diagram of family ages, Jon Lomberg
Family portrait, Nina Leen, Time, Inc.
Diagram of continental drift, Jon Lomberg
Structure of Earth, Jon Lomberg
Heron Island (Great Barrier Reef of Australia), Dr. Jay M. Pasachoff
Seashore, Dick Smith
Snake River and Grand Tetons, Ansel Adams
Sand dunes, George Mobley
Monument Valley, Shostal Associates, Inc.
Forest scene with mushrooms, Bruce Dale
Leaf, Arthur Herrick
Fallen leaves, Jodi Cobb
Snowflake over Sequoia, Josef Muench, R. Sisson
Tree with daffodils, Gardens Winterthur, Winterthur Museum
Flying insect with flowers, Borne on the Wind, Stephen Dalton
Diagram of vertebrate evolution, Jon Lomberg
Seashell (Xancidae), Harry N. Abrams, Inc.
Dolphins, Thomas Nebbia
School of fish, David Doubilet
Tree toad, Dave Wickstrom
Crocodile, Peter Beard
Eagle, Donona, Taplinger Publishing Co.
Waterhole, South African Tourist Corp.
Jane Goodall and chimps, Vanne Morris-Goodall
Sketch of bushmen, Jon Lomberg
Bushmen hunters, R. Farbman, Time, Inc.
Man from Guatemala, UN
Dancer from Bali, donna Grosvenor
Andean girls, Joseph Scherschel
Thailand craftsman, Dean conger
Elephant, Peter Kunstadter
Old man with beard and glasses (Turkey), Jonathon Blair
Old man with dog and flowers, Bruce Baumann
Mountain climber, Gaston Rebuffat
Gymnast, Philip Leonian, Sports Illustrated
Sprinters (Valeri Borzov of the U.S.S.R. in lead), History of the
Olympics, Picturepoint, London
Children with globe, UN
Cotton harvest, Howell Walker
Grape picker, David Moore
Underwater scene with diver and fish, Jerry Greenberg
Fishing boat with nets, UN
Cooking fish, Cooking of Spain and Portugal, Time-Life Books
Chinese dinner party, Time-Life Books
Demonstration of licking, eating and drinking, NAIC
Great Wall of China, H. Edward Kim
House construction (African), UN
Construction scene (Amish country), William Albert Allard
House (Africa), UN
House (New England), Robert Sisson
Modern house (Cloudcroft, New Mexico), Frank Drake
House interior with artist and fire, Jim Amos
Taj Mahal, David Carroll
English city (Oxford), C.S. Lewis, Images of His World, William B.
Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Boston, Ted Spiegel
UN Building Day, UN
UN Building Night, UN
Sydney Opera House, Mike Long
Artisan with drill, Frank Hewlett
Factory interior, Fred Ward
Museum, David Cupp
X-ray of hand, NAIC
Woman with microscope, UN
Street scene, Asia (Pakistan), UN
Rush hour traffic, India, UN
Modern highway (Ithaca), NAIC
Golden Gate Bridge, Ansel Adams
Train, Gordon Gahan
Airplane in flight, Frank Drake
Airport (Toronto), George Hunter
Antarctic Expedition, Great Adventures with the National Geographic
Radio telescope (Westerbork, Netherlands), James Blair