Curiosity is not unique to us. Watch all manner of species (including crows and monitor lizards) in action applying themselves to the world around them, and you get the feeling that we’re no great shakes in that department and that clearly it is not what distinguishes us from our planet mates. So when you look at the latest Mars Rover, Curiosity, that made its soft-landing debut on Gale Crater this Sunday following a 352 million–mile voyage that began November 26 last year, you have to revisit what it is that differentiates us from the billions of creatures who have inhabited the planet in the 13 billion or so years since its formation.
Rather than curiosity alone, the difference lies in a multitude of attributes that lead to what we assume is rational thought, and beyond that the ability to develop and build wonderful lattices of rational systems…the kind that can take a dream—I want to go to Mars, for instance—and iteratively turn it into reality. At this moment, you can consider we are on the red planet in a virtual sense, but can you doubt that someday, perhaps in your lifetime and certainly in that of your grandchildren, humans will set foot on, explore, and return to report those things that only the living vessel of curiosity can see?
If you read my previous newsletter web log in which I talked about one of the shortcomings of the human brain—its predisposition for overconfidence—well, here’s the flip side at work. If we weren’t drawn to what lies beyond the limits of our experience, Mars would be a red dot in the sky around which wonderful but useless myths would revolve.
Thank you, NASA, JPL, Roscosmos, and all the thousands of rational spirits who have turned risks into such wonderful rewards.