Tuesday, January 24, 2006


April 8, 1998

Non-suprise #1: The images sent back by NASA's Mars Global Surveyor make it abundantly clear that the "face" on Mars is a natural formation. The appearance of a face resulted from the low resolution of the original Viking image, combined with the particular angle of the sun at the time it was taken.

Non-suprise #2: True believers are groping like mad for excuses not to abandon their beloved misconceptions.

One argument I've heard is that NASA is lying about the two images they've released (the new image as transmitted by MGS, and an enhanced image which brings out the shape of the mountain better). Some believers are claiming that the enhanced image is the original, and that the other image has been doctored to *remove* its facelike qualities. But since the image they're claiming to be the original already makes it clear that the formation is natural, this is nothing more than a cheap attempt to keep the issue alive by injecting needless controversy.

Viking image

Original MGS image

Enhanced MGS image

The other argument I've heard is that NASA's new image can be interpreted as an honest to goodness giant stone face, only it's been weathered by harsh Martian dust storms for a few millenia. But if you're willing to argue that any old hunk of stone that looks kind of vaguely like something really *is* something, and invoke aeons of erosion to explain why it doesn't really look a whole lot like anything, then pretty much every hunk of rock in the universe acquires the potential to have been carved by ancient aliens. Is this idea really worthy of serious consideration? No. Not unless we abandon all reasonable standards of evidence.

Folks, the point to pursuing knowledge is that knowledge can be used to help us get things done. If we want to have air travel, we have to know how aerodynamics work. If we want to cure viral diseases, we have to understand how viruses work. When you've got hold of an idea that turns out to be false, the thing to do is abandon it - as we did with the idea that the Earth was flat, that it was at the center of the universe, and that space was filled with a luminiferous ether. Ideas that are false are not "knowledge". If anything, they are "anti-knowledge". They take up time and energy and lead us nowhere.

There is no face on Mars. Let's put that behind us and get on with the business of actually trying to learn stuff. The advancement of knowledge is more important than worrying about having egg on your imaginary face.


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