Contact: When science learns faith…

Following is some dialog from the film Contact, a film adaptation of Carl Sagan’s sci-fi novel of the same name.

I had… an experience. I can’t prove it. I can’t even explain it. All I can tell you is that everything I know as a human being, everything I am — tells me that it was real.

I was given something wonderful. Something that changed me. A vision of the universe that made it overwhelmingly clear just how tiny and insignificant — and at the same time how rare and precious we all are. A vision… that tells us we belong to something greater than ourselves… that we’re not — that none of us — is alone.

I wish I could share it. I wish everyone, if only for a moment — could feel that sense of awe, and humility… and hope. That continues to be my wish.

Ellie Arroway
Contact (from the screen adaptation of Carl Sagan’s novel)

Ellie Arroway, played with exacting precision by Jodie Foster in the film, is a scientist, meaning her world is constructed upon empirical evidence through reason…until now, until she lived through an experience even her exquisitely scientific mind cannot fathom. Yet, she can sense the depth of it with soul-shaking awe and the clarity of a religious vision. Epiphany.

But how do you describe to an entire world an experience so extra-ordinary that no one else in the world can possibly have shared it?

You can’t. Language cannot describe such a thing. Words, even images and sound, can only hope to evoke a sense of something shared. All words can do is invoke a curiosity in others strong enough to seek out the experience for themselves. And so we have the language of poets and mystics to rely upon where science fails us.

I like to think that in this moment Ellie learns the value of faith.

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  1. […] feel a bit like Jodie Foster’s character in the film Contact, the subject of this blog’s very first post. She’s a scientist who has been through a unique mystical experience she cannot possibly […]



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