Go to contents

Whispers from the Outer World

Posted December. 15, 2001 13:16,   


This is the season when bright stars celebrate festival in cold winter fields covered with snow. Although cold wind is hindering, it is attractive to participate in sky festival celebrated by stars of the first magnitude, including Capella and Sirius. Moreover, it will be an additional attraction if one can find the meaning of the universe, humanity and one`s own self while looking at beautiful stars.

In order to find the meaning, one should be interested in stars and the universe. To be interested in stars and the universe is to find the universe, one`s own self, and to understand the relationship between myself and the divine. However, it is not an easy thing to do because the universe is huge and enormous, whereas our sense and thought is limited. Fortunately, however, we can participate in finding one thread of mystery of the universe with other people`s help, who have imagination, creativity, and abundant spirits.

Great astronomer Carl Sagan, who died in 1996, is one of those who led many others to the mystery of the universe. Dr. Sagan continuously asked and explained what is the universe and what is the meaning of humanity in the universe through science commentators on the solar system and the universe, television lectures, and novels. `Epilogue`, `Contact`, and `Pale Blue Dot` are a few among his well-known books.

Stephen Hawking`s `The Universe in a Nutshell`, published by Kachi, is another excellent book on the universe, which can change our perception of sky.

`Contact`, Carl Sagan`s science fiction novel, is an uncommon work in which readers can taste broad science knowledge on the universe, abundant literary imagination, and solid plot at the same time. The story line of the `Contact`, which is also widely known through the 1997 film, is that astronomer Ellie Arroway receives message from Vega and contacts aliens in Vega after making a machine according to the blueprint sent by the aliens. It is an amazing idea that electric wave of television is included in the message from Vega, and the aliens, who contact Ellie and her company, appear as the most familiar figures to Ellie and her company after searching their memories.

Carl Sagan explains Ellie`s humane anguish and worries in this book, and connects and compares the issue of the universe with that of religion. He is also successful in using broad knowledge of astronomy and the modern physics. Along with this, he succeeds in leading the story realistically, which can easily become a dry story, through decisive ellipsis. I could feel satisfaction for long time when I finished reading the last page of the `Contact`.

`Epilogue`, written by an astronomer, is a story of our surroundings. Readers can realize that the book is not only about our daily lives but it is also connected to the universe through Carl Sagan`s unique sensibility.

`The Universe in a Nutshell`, written by Stephen Hawking, unlike the two other books, is a science book that deals with the issue of the universe in full-scale. This is the book through which Stephen Hawking, who was already successful in popularizing science through `A Brief History of Time`, discusses the issue of the universe one more time. Considering the critique that only 2 percent of the people who bought `A Brief History of Time` could finish the book regardless of the popularity of the book, he helps readers understand by using many pictures and diagrams. (However, the third chapter of `The Universe in a Nutshell` is still difficult.)

Anyhow, Hawking provides a new perspective on the structure of the universe and the future of humanity, which is hard to find in other books that also deal with the same subject. Especially, theory of brain, which is an important subject in this book, offers a new possibility, which was continuously suggested by scientists who have dealt with the issue of time and space. Although it looks abstruse to non-specialists, it still makes efforts to explain difficult subjects of physics easily and interestingly. Wouldn`t stars of the winter sky look especially bright if we read these books?

Kwok Young-Jik (Professor of Physics at Suwon University)

`Contact` (Two Volumes), Written by Carl Sagan

`Epilogue`, Written by Carl Sagan

`The Universe in a Nutshell`, Written by Stephen Hawking