Re: orders of magnitude

Dan Clemmensen (
Mon, 18 Aug 1997 18:39:43 -0400

Rick Knight wrote:
> Someone quoted Jodie Foster (er...Ellie Arroway, er...Robert
> Zemeckis?, Carl Sagan???)
> >
> > "There are hundreds of billions of stars in
> > the galaxy, and if only one in a million had
> > planets, and if only one in a million of those
> > had life, and if one in a million of those had
> > intelligent life, there could be millions of
> > intelligent civilizations out there."
> > -Jodie Foster in Contact
> Anton Sherwood wrote:
> This was one of the most egregious science blunders in
> an otherwise scientifically excellent movie. I turned to
> my daughter as we listened to this an said "the numbers don't
> work!" She already had a grimace on her face.
> Rick Knight responds:
> Contact is the only film I've seen more than once this summer.
> Looking forward to seeing some other "blockbusters" for their mindless
> entertainment value, I chose instead to see Contact again...and again
> (just three times, I'm not nuts! <G>). Anyway, not knowing anything
> about the math or the astronomical accuracy (and personally not
> caring), I still find the statement, regardless of its lack of
> precision, awesome as merely a metaphor. For what it's worth, I like
> to think it opened up, a little further, the minds of a few people who
> viewed it. To use the basis of empirical truth against intuitive
> faith was an ideal foundation for this film. I don't know if it was
> Sagan or Zemeckis or both who crafted the mentality of a child who,
> having lost both parents, looks to the heavens for purpose and
> meaning.
> I remember thinking when she gave that line that "millions" was much
> more than necessary for our purposes.
> Rick

I'm now readoing the book. The quote is similar in tone to
something Ellie says in the book, but in the book, Sagan uses
numbers that do make sense.

In the Book, Ellie's childhood is much more complex (Father
dies, Mother remarries, becomes weak and ineffectual, stepfather
is a male chauvinist non-supportive asshole professor) but the
movie captures the tone of the book beautifully, a free translation
to a new medium rather than an awkward transliteration. The biggest
difficulty with reading the book so far is that, being written in 1985,
the Soviet Union is assumed to still be here. It's a bit jarring.