Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008) The Celebrated Space Visionary - PDF

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					                    ARTHUR C. CLARKE: THE CELEBRATED SPACE VISIONARY                      757




                              Arthur C. Clarke
                                         (1917-2008)
                    The Celebrated Space Visionary




     The death of Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008), the science fiction writer, recently
received much prominence in the media. Almost all magazines had a special page extolling
the predictions of this somewhat eccentric man who chose to settle in Colombo, preferring
the serene atmosphere of the hills and the blue expanse of the sea, which he dearly loved.
Although familiar with and greatly attracted by the writers of fiction like Asimov, Hallan,
Arthur Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells and Olaf Stapleton, I had missed reading any of the scientific
predictions of Arthur Clarke, as his books were not best sellers in India.


     I am a subscriber to ccNet, a scholarly electronic network edited by Benny Peiser who
sends an abundance of readable matter everyday about unusual happenings in various parts
of the globe, with refreshingly interesting comments in electronic form from a cross section
of intelligent people, on matters of current scientific interest. Reading of the ccNet has
become a part of my retired life and helps to keep me young at the age of 90. A recent
number was wholly devoted to Arthur Clarke and his contributions to science fiction.
Ashamed to admit that I had not read any of his books, I have, since the arrival of the
special edition of ccNet, been busy collecting all available information on this remarkable
personality. I was gratified to learn that Clarke was also a subscriber to ccNet and found

JOUR.GEOL.SOC.INDIA, VOL.71, JUNE 2008
758                                  B. P. RADHAKRISHNA


going through the same, good clean fun and that just before his death he gave a glowing
tribute to Benny Peiser for the remarkable service he was doing.


     The memorable feature about Clarke was that although born of a English farming
family in the seaside town of Minehead, Somerset, on 16 December, 1917, he developed
an interest in space science, joined the British Interplanetary Society, and started indulging
in writing science fiction. When war started, he joined the RAF, his mind ranged the
vast open spaces of the sky and he wrote his first technical paper, “Extraterrestrial Relays”,
and ventured to speculate on satellites in geostationary orbit. What started as an intelligent
speculation was soon put to test and found to work! This happened nearly 36 years ago and
attracted immediate attention. He soon became a visionary and science fiction writer. His
book ‘2001 Space Odyssey” became famous, and he started producing a television
version of strange space voyages. Visiting Colombo in 1956, he was so charmed with
the scenic splendour of Sri Lanka, that he decided to make it his home and adopted the
Indian ideal of simple living and high thinking. Clad in a loose fitting lungi and surrounded
by shelves brimming with books he spent his time in reading and writing futuristic and
fantastic fiction stories connected with space. All his predictions had a firm factual
base and what is astonishing is that quite a few of them, which appeared fantastic at
first, proved to be correct and led to great advances in space science. His fame was
made. Despite being afflicted with polio from his childhood, he remained very active,
using a wheel-chair, and even developed a hobby of diving to see for himself the
wonderful world of the sea. He grew to be 90, but his enthusiasm never faded, nor
did he think of leaving Sri Lanka, his adopted home. The ethnic troubles of the island
did not affect him and the worst event that happened in his placid life was the tsunami in
2004 which hit Sri Lanka with devastating effect, killing hundreds of people and rendered
millions homeless. The tragedy did not directly affect him but he exerted himself,
disabled as he was, in helping the survivors. His optimism, however, was never dented by
the harrowing experience and he went about his humanitarian work as usual with a broad
grin till the very end.

                        Forecasts of Clarke which have Come True

     Among his several main visionary forecasts, the launching of geostationary satellites,
global broadcasting and a world-wide television network became a reality within a short
time, adding to his fame as a visionary and remarkable fiction writer who could predict
things which had the potential of becoming real within the foreseeable future. In his stories
he put man in space and made man colonise Jupiter!

                         Importance of Study of Impact Structures

      He became deeply interested in meteorite impacts and flying objects in space which

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                    ARTHUR C. CLARKE: THE CELEBRATED SPACE VISIONARY                       759


itself has now become big science, with more and more impact structures being identified
on earth’s surface. There is a view that the almost circular outline of the western margin of
the Cuddapah Basin is the effect of an impact! Impact cratering was probably more frequent
in the early history of the earth and the wholesale extinction of life forms especially of
dinosaurs, is believed to be the result of meteorite impact. There is also a school of thought
which believes that meteorite bombardment of matter from space introduced and planted
early life on earth. Fact or fiction, it will be no wonder that many interesting things will
emerge through a closer scanning of satellite pictures from space. The concentration of
metal deposits to narrow belts and hot spots may possibly prove to be a bounty from space!
Some deposits of diamonds also are believed to be of meteorite origin. Adi Shankara, the
great Indian philosopher is predicted to have induced a shower of gold nuggets praising
the almighty in his Kanakadhara stotra for this special bounty. It is also said that the iron
first discovered by early man was of meteoritic origin! We must look to the heavens for
precious gifts!


     Indian mythology refers to periodic catastrophies destroying the old order (pralaya)
and heralding a newer (Srsti) era. This is in a way reflected in the geological record which
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points to abrupt termination of sedimentary sequences with their fossil content, thus
enabling students of geology to calibrate the geological record through punctuated events.
It is possible that visitors from heaven may at a future date put an end to the interminable
wars between nations and nations and ushering in an age of vishwa manava (universal man)
and universal peace. If the earth is destroyed through asteroid impact, life can then move on
to other planets, as space travel has made this possible and according to a science fiction
writer, ‘the Dinosaurs became extinct because they didn’t have a space programme’.
Clarke had the conviction (as described in a letter to Benny) that the study of astronomy
was the most inspiring of all intellectual activities – and the solar system would be the
next frontier of the human race!


     Clarke was an incorrigible optimist and despite all the handicaps he was suffering
from, wrote to Benny on his birthday – ‘I really have nothing to grumble about, even my
memory seems un-impaired”. His last email to his friend Benny makes poignant reading.
He wrote, “shortly after my 90th birthday, I entered hospital with back pain….. I am now
surviving on 16 hours of sleep everyday, and getting used to some reading and light
work from my semi-reclined position…… I have had another good year……I send you my
greeting and best wishes for 2008”. Having suffered from intense back pain myself, I can
well understand the extent to which Clarke concealed his pain and misery in writing a few
cheerful words to his friend. Clarke was indeed a noble character and well deserved his
knighthood.



JOUR.GEOL.SOC.INDIA, VOL.71, JUNE 2008
760                                   B. P. RADHAKRISHNA

                                Selected Predictions of Clarke

     Here are a few of Clarke’s predictions made in August, 1999, which should interest
our readers.

      2006    World’s last coal mines closed in India
      2007    A city in North Korea is devastated by an accidental explosion of a A-bomb.
              After a brief debate in the UN all nuclear weapons are destroyed.
      2008    Electronic monitoring virtually removes professional criminals from society.
      2009    The first humans land on Mars
      2010    Neurological research finally leads to an understanding of all the senses, and
              direct inputs become possible bypassing eyes, ears, skin etc.
      2011    The ‘Universal replicator’ based on nano-technology is perfected; any object
              however complex can be created…. Agriculture and industry are phased out.
      2012    Life is omnipresent throughout space

     Many other similar breathtaking forecasts were made, setting mankind thinking. He
was totally against the use of armaments, especially weapons of mass destruction.


      There can be no doubt that Arthur Clarke was more than a mere writer of science
fiction – he was a practical philosopher – par excellence. Our libraries would do well to
order and keep a shelf full of science fiction as reading these, our sterile unthinking minds
may be infected with the myriad possibilities of space exploration. It is good to see that men
like Arthur Clarke commanding the world’s attention and respect.


      Reading these science fiction stories of the modern era my mind was carried back to
my younger days when we flocked around our grandmother, who would regale us with
fantastic stories which appeared to have neither a beginning nor an end and went on and
on with characters performing wonderful feats of valour. With advancing civilization,
grandmothers of the old type have disappeared and present day youth is no longer interested
in old people and shun their company. The charming world of fantasy has no attraction for
the modern generation.

                       Significance of Stories from Indian Mythology

      Of all the great civilizations of mankind, the Indian mind appears to have taken great
strides in imagination. Indian mythology is replete with stories of great pitch and moment;
it had, in fact, conceived of interplanetary travel and life on other planets long before
Clarke thought of it. India is the great homeland of popular fables, and immortal classics
Ramayana and Mahabharatha are full of remarkable people fired with gigantic ambitions.
They circulate among the lore of the common folk and have carried India’s timeless
wisdom from generation to generation. Amara Kosha (a veritable dictionary) has different
sargas (chapters) listing the names of the myriad worlds early man had recognized, populated

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                    ARTHUR C. CLARKE: THE CELEBRATED SPACE VISIONARY                         761


with Deva, Kinnara Gandharva and Kimpurusha. There were ravishing maidens (apsaras)
in these heavenly abodes ready to entertain. ‘Age would not wither or custom stale their
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infinite variety.’ The Ramayana speaks of a Vimana (an air ship) which could ferry people
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across space and it was a familiar world with Narada, the divine bard, making trips to the
different worlds. Mahabharata speaks of different types of rockets and missiles and of
devices which could destroy rockets in mid air. Wonder of wonders, poet Valmiki had
created a host of monkeys with extraordinary powers. They could change their form at
will, could lift and carry mountains. Hanuman is even now worshipped as a national hero
and his temples are found in the tiniest of villages of rural India. No one dares to embark
on an important project without seeking his blessings.

                    Unimaginative Macaulay and His Disservice to India

     Lord Macaulay lacking in imagination, deplored the absence of true history in India,
and referred contemptuously to Indian books on the subject as abounding in Kings thirty
feet high, reigning thirty thousand years long and with seas of milk and curd. He banned the
study of ancient Indian culture, the literature traditions of India, the evaluation and the
searching of their philosophical thoughts, the foundation of the work of their artists, the
music of their sons and daughters, the nobility of the religion they had evolved over thousands
of years. All these were eliminated at one stroke and India reduced to a petty village and its
people made to slave for their overlords. The backbone of India was broken, so that it may
no longer stand erect. The annihilation of the old culture was complete. It is not now possible
to understand the methods that were followed in the construction of the breathtaking
monuments of those ages, the extraordinary skills they had developed in mining and in
metallurgy. Imaginative thinking was wiped out of the Indian mind and undermining all
efforts to find out what we did in the past and whether we will ever be able to know what we
are capable of doing in the future. These conditions continue to prevail even to the present
day. While there are no doubt signs of material prosperity, there is a total lack of interest on
the part of educated youth in our spiritual and scientific heritage. Intellectual sterility has
overtaken us and in this present degenerate condition there is not even a remote possibility
of a revival of ancient thinking process. There is no wonderland for our children – Arthur
Clarke is dead to our youth.


     The life history of Clarke emphasizes how important is the role of imagination in our
intellectual make-up. “Imagination is more important than knowledge” so said Einstein,
“for knowledge is limited, while imagination embraces the entire world.”


     Thoughts like these passed through my mind when I read of the passing away of the
great thinker Arthur Clarke, who through his extended imaginative fiction-writing, enthused
a whole band of scientists to work hard to achieve what appeared at first as a mere fantasy.

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762                                  B. P. RADHAKRISHNA


Clarke helped in ringing in the space age, made space travel a distinct possibility and
warned that the human race should learn to grow together as a single family. In the present
atomic age, this is the only alternative to destroying ourselves. Our future depends on
whether we give heed to his warnings. Reading our classics will exercise the mind and
give a glimpse of what we are capable of achieving in future. Geologists should exercise
their imagination to shed new light on their problems which may possibly indicate new
approaches and solutions.


      One of the predictions of Clarke, made a long while ago is worth repeating, so that the
hysteria pervading the present world may give place to more noble thoughts. Remember he
wrote it in 1984. It is a pity we have not learnt a lesson.

                             War and Peace in the Space Age

             The only defense against the weapons of the future is to prevent
          them from being ever used. In other words, the problem is political
          and not military at all. A country’s armed forces can no longer defend
          it; the most they can promise is the destruction of the attacker.....

            Upon us, the heirs of all the past and the trustees of the future
          which our folly can slay before its birth lies a responsibility no
          other age has ever known. If we fail in our generation, those who
          come after us may be too few to build the world, when the dust of
          the cities has descended, and the radiation of the rocks has died
          away.


      Our politicians, war mongers and scientists engaged in armament manufacture, – they
do not seem to care!


Email: kkitts@gmail.com                                                    B.P. RADHAKRISHNA




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