The danger is to think that all questions are seen through a filter of
culture and language, *therefore* we don't get any closer to the truth.
This is the mistake that makes postmodernism (as a philosophy) useless, and
is of course what science is designed to avoid, as much as is humanly
possible, which is why it has had so many successes.

Schiaparelli (sp?) saw "channels" on Mars (I believe he used the Italian
"canali"= channels?) and this was distorted by popular perception into
"canals". About 20 years later "The War of the Worlds" came out, probably
influenced by the idea that there was an ancient civilisation on Mars,
which was dying and wanted a new home. This idea worked quite well as a
hypothesis, I believe...

* The nebular hypothesis said the solar system formed from a swirling cloud
and the outer planets formed first, hence Mars would be somewhat older than
Earth.

* Timescales were considered in millions of years because the only
conceivable source of power was gravitational contraction. Hence life was
assumed to arise relatively fast and a million years' difference would put
Mars well ahead.

* Mars is further from the sun, colder, smaller than earth. If the sun was
gradually cooling it would have had a golden age when Earth was a steaming
jungle but now Mars was dying, losing water and air etc (this is all
sort-of correct, I believe, over a vastly longer timescale and minus the
octopoid Martians).

* Life formed here, so why not there? Ditto for intelligent life. So why
not vast, cool, superior intellects viewing us like microbes? It's a
wonderful idea (repeated in "The Tripods" and of course on a smaller scale
with the Daleks).

* Given that Mars is civilised and dying, why not build canals to take
water from the polar ice caps to the deserts? A vast civilisation would be
able to do that, and would want to do so - and it would even be able to
colonise Earth, ignoring the microbes who currently live there (except that
turned out to be a bad decision, of course - a bug bear of Wells' perhaps?
He thought we'd conquer disease eventually, as was clearly supposed to be
the case in The Time Machine).

The Victorian view of the universe is wonderfully cosy in many ways, and
lends itself to *fin de siecle* SF - the "entropic romance" is a genre I am
rather fond of. "In the house of the worm" by George RR Martin is a great
modern example.

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