Sound on Mars?

March 18, 2021 – 10:46 am

Today the Guardian reports that sounds on Mars have been recorded and sent back to Earth. You can listen to the sounds yourself. The robot Perseverance makes the sounds itself with its wheels, and it sounds in need of a drop of oil.

But wait a moment! Sounds on Mars? In what sense are there sounds on Mars?

A sculptor stands before a block of marble. The sculptor knows there is a Goddess in there and all he has to do is chip away the extraneous lumps of marble to reveal her. The casual bystander might be forgiven for expressing scepticism. The sculptor will, of course, be proved right, in a fashion, but in taking him at his word, we are ignoring his skill, art, workmanship, expertise, and talent, all of which seem to be rather important elements in this story.

In asserting the presence of sounds on Mars, we are ignoring the rather important fact that these sounds can only be brought forth through our ingenuity, engineering, and concerted effort. The microphone that plays an important role here is a human artifact, engineered using norms derived from human hearing, sensitive to the kind of things that our ears happen to be sensitive to. Absent the microphone, Mars is rather more like a block of uncarved marble. Yes, you can listen to the sounds. They are real. They are the Goddess revealed by the skill of the engineers, technicians, and everybody else who worked hard to parse the continuum of Mars in this way, and not another.

There are no sounds on Mars, or Goddesses in marble, until we bring them forth.

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