Space Madness and the Anthropology of Aliens?

Over at the Mindhacks  blog, the authors have a great post on the Rise and Fall of Space Madness. The post discusses how during the 1950’s the popular belief regarding space travel was that it would have a negative affect on the mental health of astronauts. It was thought that long stretches of time, along with space stress and loneliness would inevitably traumatize the mind. What NASA scientists found was the opposite and what seems to be even more interesting (at least to me) is how Hollywood was able to profit on a culturally created “space madness disease”  that in actuality-never happened. What’s even more clear is that this perceived madness is still popular today.

A great example of this popularity  is seen in the movie Moon with actors Sam Rockwell and Kevin Spacey, in which Sam Rockwell plays a Lunar Industries employee contracted for 3 years to dig for elements on the moon. His only company is an automated machine named Gerty.

Since I don’t want to give away the entire plot, I will only say that throughout the film you’re intrinsically caught up in Sam’s mind and start to wonder if you’re hallucinating  The film captures some of the stresses that can be imagined during space travel and with it’s minimal set design and musical accompaniment, you can easily commiserate with Sam’s loneliness in space.

The Mindhack’s blog post and a recent lecture from my Ethnology class had me thinking about space anthropology. My Ethnology professor brought up the word “saturation” and it got me thinking that if as cultural anthropologists we saturate the process of learning and exchanging all that we can from the cultures on earth  (I highly doubt this), then where would it leave our profession? Would we encounter life on other planets? And what would it be like to study other beings and their rituals, modes of livelihood, etc?

Of course I can go on and on with imagining these unknown “space cultures” but then we get back to the age old question of, “are we alone in the universe?”. I think more and more that the answer to this question is becoming blurred as technology evolves. We end up reexamining what it means to be alone in the world and of course, what it means to be human.

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