I’ve never doubted there was life on other planets. Common sense suggests it (as well as every science fiction book I’ve read since I was twelve). But as one planetary probe after another turned up nothing but rocks or swirling, poisonous gases — no life and no evidence of any ancient civilizations, at least in our own solar system — I lost interest. Either “they” would find us, or it would be quite a while before we could extend the search to other stars.
Planetary Mysteries by Richard Grossinger has rekindled my interest, to put it mildly. It now appears that one of those probes may have turned up something after all — a discovery so improbable, so controversial, so mind-boggling, that NASA and the scientific establishment have disclaimed it, and it’s been left to a group of maverick scientists to sort through the scanty but highly suggestive data that points to the existence of a carved, mile-high, upward-looking human “face” on Mars and an adjoining “city” of pyramids.
Science fiction? Maybe. Perhaps even more extraordinary than this “proof” of extraterrestrial intelligence is the capacity of humankind to deceive itself. Certainly many reputable scientists have dismissed the “face” as a play of light and shadow. Perhaps they’re right. And I’ll confess to some ambivalence about printing this: I’m sure the “face” isn’t a hoax, but it may turn out to be a big joke, just another pile of rocks, about as historic a discovery as the man in the moon. If so, no one will be laughing but us lonely humans. If not, if the “face” is artificial — left behind, perhaps, by intelligent beings from outside the solar system — now isn’t too soon to start asking why.
What follows is an edited version of Grossinger’s interview — which appears in its entirety in Planetary Mysteries — with Richard Hoagland, reporter and science writer and former consultant to Walter Cronkite and CBS News. Hoagland, who helped design the Pioneer 10 Plaque — humankind’s first interstellar message — is as knowledgeable as he is impassioned about Mars. His own book, Monuments on Mars: A City on the Edge of Forever (to be published next year by Grossinger’s North Atlantic Books) is a voluminous study of the search for life on Mars since the nineteenth century, the various space missions and their discoveries, and the different scenarios and interpretations of the “face.”
Planetary Mysteries contains, in addition to the interview with Hoagland, an article by Rolling Stone writer Jeff Greenwald on the social and political issues involving Mars, as well as other provocative essays on megaliths and glaciers. The revised edition is available for $12.95 plus $1.00 for postage and handling from North Atlantic Books, 2320 Blake Street, Berkeley, California 94704.
[Grossinger was co-editor of Nuclear Strategy and the Code of the Warrior, an excerpt of which appeared in Issue 125 of The Sun.]
Another book on Mars has just been written by anthropologist Randolfo Rafael Pozos. The Face on Mars: Evidence for a Lost Civilization is a chronicle of the computer conference which Hoagland and Pozos convened in order to have an interdisciplinary team of scientists look more closely at the “face” and the “city.” It’s available from the Chicago Review Press, 814 North Franklin, Chicago, Illinois 60610, for $12.95 plus $1.00 for postage and handling.
GROSSINGER: Could you describe the history of the Mars project?
HOAGLAND: For the last twenty-five years this culture has been mesmerized with the idea that there is, or could be, someone out there. We have looked at everything from Mercury out to Saturn, and in the back of everyone’s mind, at least most of the lay public, there was this hope that with every new picture they would see a city, or a McDonald’s, or something that would indicate that we weren’t alone.
Simultaneously, there has been this idea that some narrow-band radio signal would stream into someone’s dish one day, that it would be decoded, and that there would be an announcement that They Are Out There.
If you look at the Gallup Poll, you find that sixty to seventy percent of the people think there is someone out there, and that it’s only a matter of time before we find them. Meanwhile, what has happened is that we have, on certain unpublicized photographs from the Viking spacecraft in 1976, come across a set of objects which may in fact be that evidence. And we are having a devil of a time getting anyone to pay attention to them.
The gap between the myth and the reality is so vast that if I had not gone through this experience, I would not have believed it possible: if someone had said to me that on such and such a day the data will arrive and no one will listen. . . . The story of the non-listening, and the tortuous path whereby these images and this data have made their way from NASA, which took the pictures, to this investigation, which is now trying to resolve the question, would fill volumes.
In the summer of 1976, as sort of a last-gasp effort to find out whether we are alone, we sent four Viking spacecraft to Mars as part of the bicentennial celebration. They took an awful lot of pictures; something like 60,000 pictures were taken in orbit in the three or four years the orbiters survived. The initial objective of those pictures was to find a landing site for the Viking craft; after that had been accomplished the mission went basically to mapping, to map Mars with as much detail as possible, and we now have pictures of the entire surface of Mars down to about one-hundred-meters resolution, which is not too bad, and selected areas down to about ten-meters resolution.
It was on July 25, as part of one of these mapping sequences, that the first Viking orbiter took a frame in the northern region of the planet called Cydonia at about 41 degrees North Latitude. And it went through various processes — from the spacecraft to the ground antennas through the computers and into the imaging area to be examined by scientists with all the others. A guy named Toby Owen, who was a member of the imaging team, on a Sunday afternoon, on his hands and knees with a magnifying glass looking at a set of mosaic polaroids, found on this one frame, 35A72, a very peculiar-looking mesa, which looked like a human face. He said, “Oh my God, look at this!” — a reasonable reaction. One does not expect to find a human face on Mars, needless to say, and certainly not one that’s a mile wide. After a few moments of, “Gee whiz, isn’t that weird,” it was very quietly forgotten. It obviously could not be real. It just didn’t fit any paradigm that one could whomp up even in the wildest science fiction. No one had ever written about a mile-wide face on Mars — although I did find a few days ago a story from Arthur C. Clarke.
In the early Seventies, Clarke wrote a short story in which he has a human face on Mars as an ineffable mystery. His face is only eight inches high — and the one we’re working with is a mile — but the fact is Arthur’s footprints are all over this story. He’s been so many places where other people then come afterwards. That may explain why Arthur can’t take this seriously yet — because his line from the story is “a human face where no human face has any business being,” or words to that effect, and I have said that so many times myself. That was what made Toby Owen and all the members of the Viking imaging team ignore it. It didn’t fit the paradigm (we’ll get into “the paradigm” in a minute, but let me finish the history of this particular photograph).
Well, Gerry Soffen, the Viking project scientist, got up in front of about a thousand reporters at a press conference on the mission and showed us this quirky face and said, “Isn’t it peculiar what tricks lighting and shadow can do?” And then he said, “When we took a picture a few hours later it all went away; it was just a trick, just the way the light fell on it.” And those of us who were there accepted this. I mean, Gerry Soffen was a very open, very careful, very engaging project scientist who really typified the spirit around Viking, which was a multidisciplinary, open, American approach to probing the unknown. And so we believed him. Well, the “face” the mesa, the frame (35A72), all got forgotten.
It wasn’t rediscovered until 1979 when two gentlemen named Vince DiPietro and Gregory Molenaar were looking, on their lunch hour, through the National Space Science Data Center files in Washington, D.C. Vince turned over a glassine envelope and there was “the face” staring back at him. And it blew his mind. Because his last impression of it had been in a 1977 “ancient astronauts” magazine, one of those Von Danikenesque things, and he had presumed that it was just a hoax. So there he is in 1979 and it suddenly is in a NASA file, and it looks real.
Well, Vince put two and two together. In one part of his mind was lurking the ringing statement of NASA that the reason for Viking was “The Search For Life.” And then in the other side of his brain he was looking at this “face” which looks very much like life, especially the sort of life that we readily recognize and understand. And the two images suddenly came together and he said to himself, “Well, why, if they were looking for life, haven’t they done anything more about this obviously lifelike image, except put it in the file?” So he went looking for the analyses and the geology and the geomorphology and the explanation of what this “face” was, and found nothing.
At this point he and his friend Greg, who between them have about thirty years of computer-imaging expertise, decided to do what no one had done before, and that was to bring computer expertise to bear on this particular picture to see if in fact they could elicit more detail, because it was a pretty cruddy picture.
They spent several months borrowing equipment and basically brought the same technique to this one image that NASA in its normal wisdom brought to the other selected pictures we’ve seen from space over the last twenty-five years. When they finished they had a picture that looks like that poster on the door.
It was a very striking countenance. It had all the interesting proportions — mouth, eyes, hair, nose, even features under the eye — that one would expect of a human face. It had a sort of beauty to it, an aesthetic quality. It’s not, as one of our analysts years later wrote, “just another face.” Artists strive for years to achieve the effect that face has as it looks out from the frame at you. But in this particular picture, because the sun angle was very low, you see only the left-hand side; the right-hand side is missing. They could not tell whether the striking albedo markings and features that looked so humanoid were in fact raised relief or merely lights and darks or splotches on the flat surface (although, since this thing had a very long shadow stretching to the southeast of it, one could tell that it had significant relief).
In science what one does in this kind of situation is look for corroborating data. Now this is where Vince and Greg, I think, really shone, over and above their image-processing talents. They took it upon themselves to contradict the official pronouncements of the project scientist of Viking, Gerry Soffen.
I realized that I was looking at something that was either a complete waste of time, or the most important discovery of the twentieth century if not of our entire existence on earth.
Remember, back in 1976, Gerry stood up in front of all of us and said, “There’s no confirmation; we took a picture a few hours later and it all went away. It was merely a trick of light and shadow.” Vince and Greg went looking for corroborating frames. And they found there was no picture from a few hours later over this region. If you think about it, it stands to reason. This picture (35A72) was taken at about six o’clock local time on Mars. The sun was very low in the summer sky, hanging just ten degrees above the northwest horizon. A “few hours later” would have put you in night in that region of Mars. So there couldn’t have been a picture a few hours later. If those of us in the press room had been smart, or on top of things, we would have figured this out and maybe asked a couple more questions. But the whole thing was too unbelievable even to consider seriously.
Vince and Greg looked through the entire Viking data set, the file, number by number and frame by frame; and they finally found, thirty-five days later, a second set of pictures taken over this area, at a different sun angle. When they blew up that frame, lo and behold, the face was still there at a lighting change of twenty degrees. There is no question that this is a remarkable bisymmetrical humanoid countenance. The question of course is: is it a trick of erosion, or did someone make it? But one can no longer, with this data, dismiss the fact that it is there.
Now you only find bisymmetry in biological systems on Earth; you rarely find it anywhere else. Then, of course, there is the degree of bisymmetry; it is very bisymmetrical. Having found all of this, Vince and Greg published their data in a monograph entitled “Unusual Martian Surface Features,” and they presented a paper to the American Astronomical Society in June of 1980 in Baltimore, Maryland. And they expected, I think slightly naively, that NASA would immediately round up the resources for a mission back to Mars to go and check it out. Nothing happened. In fact, nothing happened for about three years, except that when they tried to explain their research to a Mars conference in Boulder, Colorado, run by the “planetary community” (which is a subset of the whole NASA infrastructure), they were prevented from officially presenting their paper. They instead presented it in a clandestine meeting in a hotel room at two o’clock in the morning. Even at that point NASA’s approach to this was that it was merely a trick of light and shadow, period, closed subject.
I saw Vince and Greg’s clandestine presentation. I was very impressed with how the “face” had changed in four or five years — 1976 to 1981; the difference between the batch-processed version that NASA had released and the version that they produced is like night and day. There’s just a whole lot more information available than had been made use of on any of the NASA versions. I was intrigued enough to get a copy of their monograph, take their card, and come home . . . and forget about it.
I didn’t think about it until the summer of 1983, when I was working on a piece for Science Digest on Saturn. I remembered that Vince and Greg had not only worked on this intriguing project and had done some really remarkable things with the Mars data, but that their process itself would be useful in many other applications. I wanted to borrow their algorithm to apply to some other NASA pictures that might fill in parts of the puzzle on the story I was working on.
So I called up Vince, and asked him to send me some of their data. And it was when the actual pictures came and I sat here looking at the glossies, particularly one five-by-five-inch full frame enhanced and processed version of 35A72, that the whole resonant mystery sort of came to a point. And I realized that I was looking at something that was either a complete waste of time, or the most important discovery of the twentieth century if not of our entire existence on earth. There is no middle ground. It either is or is not artificial. If it’s not, it is not worth worrying about. If it is, it is imperative that we figure it out, because (it comes back to the “face” itself) it does not belong there. Its presence, if it was made by someone, is trying very hard to tell us something extraordinary.
Now to understand the extraordinariness you have to understand the whole field of evolutionary biology, the paradigm that goes on in scientific discussions now about the evolution of life: punctuated equilibrium versus original Darwinian biology, the whole Scopes thing, a bit of Genesis thrown in. I mean there’s a huge paradigm having to do with the uniqueness of the human beings on this one place. And the epitome of that thinking was written by a guy named Gaylord Simpson, who was a Harvard paleontologist, back about 1964 in an article in Science called “The Non-Prevalence of Humanoids.”
Simpson, being from the old school, tried to call a halt to what he thought was silly pseudoscience about a populated galaxy filled with other human-type beings. He wrote this very definitive paper (for his time), saying basically that We Are Unique; that we are the ultimate by-product of trillions of separate decisions (I use the word in the broadest sense) made in the terrestrial biosphere, and the odds against our duplication either in form or in consciousness anywhere else in the accessible universe (and he meant accessible optically, not by travel) is infinitesimal. It was a statement as ringing in its declaration of our centricity and uniqueness as anything that has come out of the Church in the last three to five hundred years. And remember that because of that kind of certainty, Galileo had been persecuted and Copernicus didn’t say anything about us orbiting the sun until he was on his deathbed. It was the official pronouncement of the cardinal of the community, that all this nonsense about other humanoid beings or parallel evolution was just that, nonsense; that you could not be scientific and still believe it. You have to read the paper; it is the most interesting piece of scientific hubris that I have seen in probably the last twenty years. From a data point of “one,” namely the earth, it extended its way to the observable universe!
On the basis of Simpson’s rather emphatic plea, there were no more papers on the independent appearance of the humanoid form in the universe. He quashed the idea that two eyes and a mouth, bilateral symmetry, manipulable appendages up near the top of the trunk, and a very short connection path between the brain and the eye was probable. Rather you had what I called the BEM (Bug-Eyed Monster) syndrome — even though Simpson would have opposed that to a somewhat less degree. You had the idea that (intelligent) life could appear as “squid,” or “mollusks,” or “praying mantises,” or whatever, but that it would never appear (again) as humanoid.
The leading proponent of this today is Carl Sagan himself. If you read Sagan’s writings, you will find that every time there is a suggestion that “they” might be humanoid, he will dismiss it instantly with an acerbic comment and a scathing reference from Simpson, or from some of the descendants of Simpson who have written on this subject.
Now, given this twenty-some year runway, one can understand, I think, a little bit why the appearance of a humanoid face on Mars did not set the NASA community, or the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) community, or the “planetary community” on fire. It couldn’t exist; therefore, it didn’t exist.
Well, that is where I was in 1983 when I got these pictures and sat here for several nights looking at them. I was looking at something that should not exist, and yet with both frames, and both sun angles, and a few rudimentary measurements that anybody who takes the time can carry out, it does exist.
That’s an extraordinary paradox: it cannot, yet it does. It’s out of those crucibles that new insight comes. Obviously something we think we know, given that data, is wrong. Either it isn’t there, or else our paradigm that says it cannot be there is in error. And it was that which got me started on trying to figure out what became a very gripping mystery for me. But it has a real-world solution. I don’t like getting involved in things that don’t have solutions. I have shied away from the UFO thing because it does not have a solution. I have shied away from the whole metaphysical mind/brain, mind/consciousness, body/mind duality business because they are problems that do not have solutions; they are problems with opinions, but no solutions. This had a solution. This had real data, and ultimately one could go back to Mars and find out. The question, of course, was when, and how.
So I began to ask myself questions like, was it possible that one could find more data on the Viking images than had already been discovered by DiPietro and Molenaar, data which could tip the scales one way or another?
I began to realize that if this was really there and not a fluke of wind and erosion, if it had really been built and designed by somebody, there should be a lot of other clues. You don’t do something like this on a Sunday afternoon and then skip off to Alpha Centauri without leaving another trace. There was probably some other data to be found if one knew what to look for. So I set myself up to try to find it.
The thought which had crossed my mind was, if this was artificially done, it had to have a reason. Now there are two possible categories of reason. One is that it was done to be seen as we’re looking at it, from above: that would be an extrinsic reason. But my first line of reasoning about the “face” rejected that. If you know anything about anthropology, you know that cultures, with very few exceptions, hardly ever do things for other people; they do them for themselves. I mean the amount of effort this construction would have required is prodigious. To put that amount of cultural energy into a signal to other beings did not seem to me at first a viable theory. It seemed much more plausible to me, from the standpoint that someone had built this, that it was done for internal reasons, and that implied that it had a use on Mars, and that implied in turn that there could be other things that one would find that would also have been used by whoever had constructed it.
So I began to think along the lines of: where would you stand on the surface if you wanted to see this, and what would it look like from the surface? And I realized that the best view would be from the left or the right, where you would see it as a profile (if you looked from the top or the bottom what you would see would be a sort of lumpy mess under the chin, or a rounded brow above the head, but you wouldn’t get any kind of effect). So I looked to the left and right and I was immediately struck by the fact that to the left, just a few miles away, there was a collection of pyramidal-looking objects. In fact, the more I looked, the more pyramidal they became, and as I began to measure them, their shape and location were even more provocative. They were not just approximately to the left, they were precisely to the left, on lines running from the mouth and the eyes. There was an order and symmetry about this complex which, as you began to apply straight edges and measurements and protractors, became more and more obvious. This was not a random collection of junk; it had an internal order and there appeared to be a specific relationship between that order and the “face” lying out there a few miles in front of it.
That was two years ago, and as time has gone by, and more and more measurements have been made, more and more order has been discovered. There is an exquisite geometrical and mathematical system that connects the complex, which I call the “city,” a pyramid to the south of it (which DiPietro and Molenaar were actually the first to notice), the “face” itself, and an object which lies about twenty-five miles on the other side of it which is a funny-looking wall on the edge of a crater and appears to be a perfect backdrop. This is a blatantly intelligently designed complex.
How can I make that assertion with such certitude? It’s because if you look at each of the relationships, the coincidence factor of one to the other, and you begin to multiply the probability of the first coincidence (there being a right angle here) by the probabilities of subsequently discovered coincidences (that right angle being in a particular position in terms of a right angle from the base, and so on), you end up multiplying the probabilities of each new coincidence by the combined probability of all the preceding coincidences, and, since we have maybe fifty to a hundred discrete relationships, the probability factor is well up in the trillions just on a very cursory level (by the time you get to six coincidences, just figuring each one in ten, you’re at one million). This much “coincidence” just cannot be coincidence.
To telescope the story — these coincidences and my calculations and the discovery of these relationships were brought to the attention of a number of people, including Dr. C. West Churchmann (at the University of California, Berkeley), who is one of the giants in the field of systems science. He said, “It’s obvious this stuff is compelling and must be investigated.” He saw enough of a data base. Leaping far ahead now, that is why there is currently a team of forty scientists and six imaging groups and a lot of work going on all over the country to try to figure out if in fact we have stumbled across the first real evidence that we are not alone. And instead of that evidence coming to us via a slender radio link, it is appearing as an inexplicable and epistemologically extraordinary pattern on the surface of another planet. And that has made the task of figuring it out and coming to some kind of social pronouncement not only much more difficult, but frankly, I think, much more interesting.
In this pattern (of objects on Mars) we are forced to confront the basic question that every human being has to confront, and that is: how do we know what we know? And I’ve gotten almost as intrigued with that question as I have with the question of who was there, why were they there, what did they do there, and what is their connection to us? Because it is a non-trivial problem to take this stuff and try to figure out if in fact someone did it. It brings up all kinds of questions about pattern recognition, (psychological) projection, probability theory, the recognition of geometries, the exquisiteness of nature as opposed to the exquisiteness of intelligence — it is a non-trivial problem of the first order.
We need to begin putting numerical probability to the question of whether we’re dealing with chance or design. Because the bottom line question is: when you see this kind of order, anywhere, how do you know whether it is merely geology or in fact intelligence?
This isn’t the way it was supposed to happen, and perhaps that’s why the “planetary community” is unable to see it. . . . The first artifact we find in space was never supposed to be “us,” a mirror. It was supposed to be “them,” the alien. And the fact that it is us is certainly trying to tell us something, whether we will listen or not.
GROSSINGER: What about the pyramid to the south?
HOAGLAND: Oh, it’s remarkable! The first set of images taken over the “face” photographed the pyramid, but at such a low sun angle that it wasn’t really possible to see what it was. The second set of images taken thirty-five days later at the higher sun angle showed this very strange-looking massive pyramid southwest of the “face,” about ten miles away. DiPietro and Molenaar thought it was four-sided, rectangular, with erosional sloping and degradation. When I got hold of the photographs and we did some blow-ups and contrast work in the darkroom I realized that, no, it was not four- but five-sided — five-side bisymmetrical. It has three short sides — imagine the Chrysler symbol and lengthen two of its sides. What we have here is a bisymmetrical five-sided figure with buttresses in each of the five corners — three short sides, two long sides, with a ratio between them of 1:1.6, proportions which can fit perfectly into Da Vinci’s “Man” standing with his arms outstretched and his feet apart, which was his way of describing a discovery by an earlier Italian that the human proportions fit into a relation between the circle and the square. This, of course, goes back to a whole group of sacred geometrical discoveries that are very, very ancient, at least Greek and Egyptian, possibly Sumerian or earlier.
And DiPietro an Molenaar’s pyramid wasn’t just plopped down randomly on the Martian landscape. It sits there aimed precisely at the “face.” The center trilon, the central buttress, which would represent the head of this bisymmetrical figure, is aimed directly at the “face” ten miles to the north, as if someone were trying to underscore the presence on the Martian landscape, within ten miles of each other, of a humanoid face to exquisite perfection and then a ratioed representation, a schematic, as it were, of the human form.
What are the odds that the ratios would be humanoid for that pyramid? What are the odds that a humanoid pyramid would be aligned with a humanoid face? This isn’t the way it was supposed to happen, and perhaps that’s why the “planetary community” is unable to see it. It fits no scenario; even most science-fiction writers are ignoring this because it does not fit into even their wildest plots of contact. The first artifact we find in space was never supposed to be “us,” a mirror. It was supposed to be “them,” the alien. And the fact that it is us is certainly trying to tell us something, whether we will listen or not.
GROSSINGER: You have handled the seeming impossibility of the “face” by integrating it into the etiology of a larger mystery. When I first read about this, I thought — something on Mars, okay, perhaps a putative structure, a rectangle, straight lines, canals, a circle of circles, a wall, but not a face. You didn’t need a face for there to be life, or even intelligence, on Mars. In fact, a face is virtually the only artificial construction that would seem to cancel out its own possible existence for exactly the reasons you raised. It is the one symmetrical object which would evince denial because, as you say, it shouldn’t be there. No humanoid should. It’s like a flaw in the plot. So the face brings not one problem but two into being, simultaneously, and in doing that, it creates a series of epistemological issues much more complex than the original one of finding intelligence on another planet. I think that’s why we get this combination of disinterest and denial: no one in the “planetary community” wants to deal with the larger implications.
We kid ourselves that scientists are by definition neutral. They’re not. Those who are professionally “scientists” are very often not scientific. They are advocates of various disciplines, which makes them no different, in the long run, from politicians or advertising executives promoting Coca-Cola over Pepsi-Cola. Scientists support the companies that pay their salaries, which means they often wave the flag instead of doing science. It may go even deeper than that. Theories determine how people identify themselves, who they think they are, what daily activities they are capable of carrying out. We all have difficulty integrating disturbing information. In that sense, scientists are just as biased and prejudiced as the average unscientific person.
When you bring up the matter of extraterrestrial life, especially intelligent life, people tend to dig into their most conservative values and belief systems, because the terms of any extraterrestrial intelligence we contact will have an enormous impact on appropriate agendas for life on Earth. To this point, until we meet an extrinsic intelligence, the “aliens” tell us more about ourselves, and maybe not always things we want to hear. We have already politicized “them.” For reasons running the full ideological spectrum from liberal to conservative, many people have already determined what the alien must not be.
I think the nonhumanoid hypothesis, for instance, has become the unacknowledged imperative of the progressive liberal scientific establishment, the guys who want a universal humanizing tendency (to use that word in the largest sense) — and this is Sagan’s company. His concern over nuclear winter, legitimate and crucial as it may be, is actually bedfellow to a universe populated with infinitely diverse creatures. I am entirely sympathetic with that universe. Humanist progressive science identifies with the vastness of possibility of life in all forms throughout the universe. Nature, free of human prejudice, is tolerant, unbiased, multicultural. That’s fine.
But progressive science doesn’t want to see the “face,” because the humanoid-populated universe has been specifically appropriated by the Chariots-of-the-Gods/Lost Continent-of-Mu contingent in what is implicitly a fascist and white-supremacist scenario, at least as portrayed by them. The invaders from outer space become the explanation, after the fact, for why non-Western cultures could not have built their own temples and statues or even created their own languages and number systems. The humanoid scenario, with it post-fascist associations, is simply bad company; no one wants to hang out there.
So the face on Mars is not free to be like the Easter Island statues or the Sphinx, or any other artificial megalith; instead, it has to be like the Von Daniken legend behind those structures — that is, a mirage, a fabrication. The additional fact that the structure in question is on another planet means that not only do its makers have to be explained away but its very artificiality has to be denied first in order to do so.
I think there’s also another problem with the whole humanoid thing — and that is that it suggests an archetypal force at work in the universe, a force that’s quite out of fashion. If humanoids also evolved elsewhere, then there must be some basic humanoid structure in nature. The force need not suggest only the psychologically archetypal, as with Carl Jung; in fact, it is far closer to something biologically or astrophysically archetypal, going right into the heart of the creative process of the universe itself. It suggests a possible translation from basic atomic morphology to biomorphology to psychomorphology, a route that is the earmark of a whole vitalistic science the abandonment of which is one of the axioms of this century.
So to have a humanoid, and a humanoid on the very next planet over from Earth, suggests one of two things, both of them very disturbing to progressive liberal scientific mentalities. You are suggesting either that there is an intrinsic “humanoidizing” force in the universe (which goes against the atheistic basis of science itself), or that humanoids have come from elsewhere and been associated with this planet, this solar system. If it’s the former, then you are very close to spiritualizing the universe. If it’s the latter, then you are giving aid and comfort to the whole ancient-astronaut fringe which is so distasteful to modern astronomers. There is also a hint here of Francis Crick’s theory that we ourselves, because of the particular chemistry of our molecules, are more like the offspring of outer-space people than indigenous evolved creatures of the Earth.
The “face” is not allowed to be a concrete thing, an episode, even if it is there, because it contradicts abstract generalities. But I’m not trying to prove anything. There are lots of other possible explanations. I’m just trying to show why people jump to certain conclusions about what a face might imply, and so why they prefer not to find one.
HOAGLAND: I can think of a scenario where not only is Simpson still preserved, but you’re not walking the line between neo-fascism and white supremacy and liberal versus conservative philosophies. If I can do that, I’m sure some of these people can do that. The fact that no one is even willing to entertain that way out of this apparent paradox implies to me a whole other level of things. And I’m not quite sure what these things are. They can be personal agendas, political agendas, societal agendas, or whatever.
If you want to draw someone’s attention to something and you know any human psychology, the quickest way to get their attention is to put an image of themselves somewhere. It’s an attention-getting device of the first order.
GROSSINGER: And most of them unexamined, for instance in the case of Sagan. I’m not even sure what the agendas could be, unless you were to take a benign point of view that he’s trying to discourage fringe mystique about the “face” because he does want it explored. But you don’t seem to be suggesting that. Is he just upset about not finding it first, back in 1976? Is he upset he overlooked it?
HOAGLAND: I don’t really want to pursue Sagan’s motivations much further because, frankly, it would be speculation.
What I’m saying is that at one level the problem comes back to, “It’s humanoid and it should not be.” Let me give you my way out of the trap.
Now Eric Burgess and I were creators of the concept of our own messages to the stars, the Pioneer 10 plaque. We took it to Carl, and he got it done politically in the time that it had to be done, and Linda Sagan drew it, and Frank Drake and Arthur Cameron and others worked on it. So messages to other beings is something that I think I have a slight right to talk about.
When I first saw this stuff on Mars it occurred to me that we were looking at a message, albeit a very large message — but think for a minute. If you want to draw someone’s attention to something and you know any human psychology, the quickest way to get their attention is to put an image of themselves somewhere. It’s an attention-getting device of the first order. One can argue about circles — I mean Mars is covered with circles, we call them craters. One can argue about geometry. But it’s very hard to ignore an image that looks like you. Particularly if you back it up with the redundancy of an additional mathematical substructure which will be evident once your curiosity has been intrigued enough to begin to look.
I can propose a scenario where the “face” is there simply to get our attention. And it certainly did that. It didn’t do it in a big way; it didn’t do it in the official billion-dollar NASA way, but it did to Vince and Greg and then myself.
Now why are we supposed to be convinced that this is real? Well, it’s obvious: we’re supposed to go there and land, and we will only find out the content of the message then. There are “very few bits” in what we are looking at (the Viking pictures), but by the same token, they are the few bits one could extrapolate that a developing technical culture would first come across.
GROSSINGER: Actually, a face is perfect. Compared to it, the Pioneer plaque is a lot of talk, a rather showy song and dance. Clarke thought of a monolith, and that was a good idea. But a face is even better. A face says: if you are smart enough to find me, then you are smart enough to know I don’t belong here. And if you know I don’t belong here, then you know I’m not them, I’m you. There couldn’t be any more clear statement of come and see me. I mean there’s an aesthetic perfection to the message as well as to the form. It is a statement in cosmic language that crosses the immense barrier between us and them, and does so with subtlety and connotation.
HOAGLAND: But it only works if you know who your audience is.
If you sort of imagine the scenario of life evolving on a planet, developing technology, reaching up — this sounds very Saganesque, right? — reaching out into its neighborhood stellar system, exploring its neighborhood worlds, the first thing it’s going to do is take a lot of pictures. If you wanted to communicate something to this nascent species, the most cost-effective way to do it is to leave something in a place where they will eventually stumble across it, on a scale big enough a) for them to find it from space (because covering a whole planet is no triviality, it takes a lot of pictures to cover a planet, so the scale has got to be big enough for one to see it); and b) for it to last. Even on Mars there is erosional degradation. The scale of this has preserved it from the elements for a long time.
GROSSINGER: Were you trying to date the period at which the solstice of the sun would have been exactly over the center of the “face?”
HOAGLAND: Not over the center, over the eyes. And that particular geometry was simple to calculate. It was half a million years ago.
GROSSINGER: So half a million years ago, if you stood in the center of the city . . .
HOAGLAND: . . . you would see sunrise right out of the eyes, at the tip of that cliff behind the “face.”
GROSSINGER: Did you have any feeling that this could possibly date the structures?
HOAGLAND: Well, at the moment, it’s a singular date. All it says is that the last time that this geometry works, for that alignment, is half a million years ago. It could work a million and a half years ago, or two and a half million years ago, or three and a half million — it works in multiples of a million years. The last time it works is half a million years ago.
Now when you look at these objects with a magnifier, the way I have been doing for two years, you see that there is significant degradation. It is consistent with a degradation of “millions of years” under the current conditions on Mars, as opposed to “thousands.” The Martian atmosphere at present is so thin that even during the dust storms there is no significant erosion. As one investigator phrased it, “There has been no significant rock erosion in the history of the planet” — given the assumption that the current atmosphere has always been the way it is, as thin as it is. That means that whatever degradation we are seeing takes a long period of time to manifest, and that pushes it back to millions of years as opposed to thousands. I mean the oldest artifacts we have on the Earth are only thousands of years old. And of course the atmosphere is much different — thicker, more turbulent, more erosive. Mars is like a planetary Smithsonian; it preserves and will preserve things a long, long time.
Then there was one other provocative element, which is much more speculative. The high sun angle of the “face” looks very primitive. And we’ve done superpositions of the skull reconstructions of Homo erectus — who was running around here half a million years ago — with the high sun angle face. The two are very, very close — measured from the extent of the brow, the forehead down to the brow, the length of the chin, the placement of side-features — you can actually do an overlay and see an amazing congruence. I find that provocative. Homo erectus was the most intelligent animal here the last time the sun on Mars rose out of the eyes of the “face.” Is that merely chance association, or is something more implied?
To find that answer out we’re going to have to go back to Mars.
But if you had monitored the solar system half a million years ago, and you had looked at the Earth and those developing humanoids (which we now call Homo erectus), it probably wouldn’t take too much imagination to see that of all the species on the Earth they had the best shot of maybe making it to something called “consciousness” and “intelligence.” If you had monitored the solar system a few million years ago and looked at the Earth then, your attention would still have been attracted by humanoids, but they would have been somewhat more primitive humanoids (which we now call Australopithecus). Do you realize the implications? These artifacts are older than anything on the Earth. They antedate all culture, all myth. They may hold the answers to some big questions. They may tell us something about who we are as a species and what we are doing on this planet.
GROSSINGER: OK, so a lot of this is simply mixing possible scenarios without one full story that ties them all together. In certain versions relationships are seen from the ground, in others from the sky. This is because we don’t have anything resembling a real story yet, so we piece together a variety of story fragments which on the surface seem to be mutually exclusive. Lacking any facts, we keep them all in wait for some unknown thread.
HOAGLAND: That’s how science proceeds: you have some observations, you develop some theories, and you try to maintain them all on co-equal status until you collect enough data to eliminate them one by one. We are just beginning the process of collecting data on this. I imagine that, in a very dramatic way, in a matter of days, once we get back to Mars we’ll be able to eliminate a lot of the theories and hone in on the story. Being there will give us so much new data that we will have a “poverty of riches.” At the moment it is entertaining speculation to try to weave together any sort of a complete and logical scenario.
Now, if we don’t go back, the Russians have announced that they are going to Mars. They published, in Soviet Life last summer, a very provocative article where they not only say that they know this stuff is there, but they propose the mechanism for going back and figuring it out. That magazine is authorized by the highest levels of the Soviet government, so you must ask the question: What are the Soviets trying to tell the West by publishing that piece? And the answers from the Soviet-watchers we have asked are a) they are curious, and b) they are telling us they are going to figure it out, and they are claiming that they discovered it first. All very standard Soviet stuff. Now whether they grok the deeper implications, no one can say. There are some other implications, because this message scenario is only a scenario. Remember, I’m not claiming that is what is going on, but that it is one way we can read the data at this point. What’s interesting is that the author of the Soviet Life article has the numbers all wrong but comes to pretty much the same conclusions we do.
Here’s where we are faced by an extraordinary opportunity, which, I think, is almost heaven-sent, and one has to wonder about the motivations of the people who don’t see the opportunity.
Now why are we supposed to be convinced that this is real? Well it’s obvious: we’re supposed to go there and land, and we will only find out the content of the message then.
GROSSINGER: One wonders about those anyway.
HOAGLAND: Let us suppose that when you look at the data you come to the conclusion that this stuff is too coincidental not to explore further. Right now there is a political groundswell, instigated by people like Carl Sagan, for a joint U.S./Soviet manned mission to Mars. It started one month following the publication of our paper at the Colorado conference last summer. The same month this appeared, Carl wrote in Discover magazine a piece in which he proposed a 180 degree switch from his previous position, which was that manned spaceflight was too expensive, we should do it all with robots. He changed his tune and he said we should go to Mars with a manned expedition with the Russians for the extraordinary geopolitical “bringing us together” that that would accomplish. He has been harping on that tune for the last year, culminating a couple of months ago in Washington with a big conference on the tenth anniversary of Apollo/Soyuz, where he sat on a dais at the National Academy of Science and, surrounded by cosmonauts he had invited over, proposed that we go together. Not to look at this; oh, no, not to look at this, just to go to Mars and “look at rocks.”
Now politically, in this Administration, with the tight fiscal constraints and all the other pressures, to try and get people to go to Mars to look at rocks — even if it will avert World War III, which is a sort of shorthand way of describing his paradigm — does not seem to have much hope. People have much more pressing concerns. However, if, as Carl believes, by going there with the Russians we can make a meaningful change, avert the nuclear confrontation toward which we are heading; if by doing something of such a magnitude as exploring another planet we can sow the seeds of a cooperative paradigm as opposed to a competitive paradigm, one would think that Carl would see this data as sent at the most opportune of times, because the quickest way to turn on the American public about going to Mars is to hold out the prospect that there was somebody there, that we have finally found It, the Holy Grail for which they have paid for every NASA foray over the last twenty-five years. And Carl is no dummy and should know that.
So I find it a little inexplicable, if for that reason alone, that he is not at least cautiously saying that this is something that should be looked at further. As a focus of exploring something of extraordinary importance, and exploring it together, standing hammer and sickle and American flag, shoulder to shoulder before the universe and the inexplicability of this, what that could do for the psyche of both sides. To turn your back on it I find truly amazing. We are dealing with something really mysterious, in which the Russians have already said they’re interested. It does not make sense. Which drives me to think that maybe your first set of psychological reasonings is correct, that maybe Sagan and others perceive a real threat to a whole set of paradigms that are so important and in which there is such vested self-interest (like a personal view of how the universe really works) that they dare not open Pandora’s box for fear of what might come tumbling out.
Frankly, I think they’re right. I think this is more than just a message, but of course I don’t have any real data to base that on. I agree it’s much more interesting than the Pioneer plaque, and I think that we as a species should go and find out. If we don’t, we will be flying in the face of every lofty thing that we have said about ourselves for the last two hundred, nay, two thousand years or longer. It actually has come at a time when, if we do it correctly, that is, together, it can not only prevent our knocking ourselves off, but it will bring us some kind of deeper understanding. And I think that we are strong enough as a species to withstand that understanding.
I will not rest until we get back to Mars. If a theory cannot be tested, it is not worth the powder and shot to blow it away. This theory can be tested. Not by someone saying the data doesn’t exist, but by going to the place where the evidence is and collecting more data. And it’s so easy and trivial, and inexpensive to do it, and the benefits socially of doing it are immeasurable.
GROSSINGER: Is it inexpensive?
HOAGLAND: Yeah. The next step in this direction would be a more sophisticated, unmanned probe to go into orbit and take much better pictures. That’s a couple/three MXs. All right? It’s not having pizza for one week, in terms of how much we spend on pizza. I heard the other night that the television networks are going to spend a few billion dollars on the next season’s shows. It’s one less program. It’s such a trivial investment in this extraordinarily rich country.
GROSSINGER: I was actually thinking of the expense of a manned mission.
HOAGLAND: But you only buy into the manned mission when you really know. And my feeling is, given anybody’s paradigm, we will really know with pictures that are a little better than the ones we’ve got.
I will give you a rather interesting parallel. The Titanic discovery is, I think, an extraordinary metaphor for this problem. There was an oceanographer who was interviewed the other night and he made a very intriguing comment which I had to smile about, having lived with this stuff for two years. He said, “We looked at mile after mile of barren sea-floor, and when the camera came across that boiler there was no mistaking it. Natural objects just are so different from artificial objects.” And I started to laugh, because that’s exactly the paradox we are dealing with here. How do you make the decision? Well, in the Titanic case, it’s pure number-crunching, it’s the number of “bits.” The resolution of those pictures was so much better, comparatively speaking, than the resolution we have of these objects that if we had the equivalent resolution we would know! Given that, and the fact that it’s such a minimal buy-in, it is our objective to get this Administration at least to be there with the Russians in 1988. We have got to have a spacecraft in the game, we have got to go when they go; otherwise, we will lose an extraordinary geopolitical opportunity; namely, the Russians are going to walk in the front door. They will walk in the front door and confirm this, and we are going to be left sitting here with our mouths open and the McCarthyites saying, “Who lost Mars?”
If we’re there together and taking pictures together in 1988, we will then have the political infrastructure to propose a joint manned expedition in the Nineties. If they are the ones that find it, they will go there by themselves, and our guys will play catch-up ball and we will evolve into a fierce competitive situation, which frankly could wind up killing us — because we don’t know what kinds of high technology may lurk here. And the very thought that the Russians are going to get it and we’re not. . . . There are some very weird types in the Pentagon — and I am much more concerned about our guys overreacting and knocking down the expedition coming back from Mars that has the Soviet flag on it than I am by what we’re going to find there.
So the short-term goal for me is to make sure that we have a spacecraft in the game, in orbit, in 1988-1989 to take better pictures when the Soviets are there. They are already in the game. (You get a window to Mars every two years. The next window is 1986, next May. No one is going to make that).
Given the possibilities here for going down in history as finding out We Are Not Alone, and at the same time establishing a new level of dialogue with the Soviets (and also keeping an eye on them), it makes prudent sense for Ronald Reagan to see to it that we send an unmanned probe ourselves in 1988.
So I can craft the argument from both the conservative right and the liberal left. Global television can keep everybody honest, and bring everybody a window on something extraordinary.
The key impediment to getting underway is resolving the lingering enigmas on the data. If we can do that by publishing our report, we can develop a political consensus to go back to Mars with an unmanned mission in 1988. I’m not going to say it will be easy from there, but I think it is going to be far easier in terms of what Sagan thinks is the supreme space objective for averting nuclear war, which is to do something neat and big with the Russians.
What we find when we get there, that’s of course in another dimension entirely. But I think that we’re big enough to handle what we are going to find.
In mid-December, I picked up the photographs for this interview from Richard Hoagland at his house. While I was there he talked to me about the unusual reactions people had to the “face.” “There are those who are absolutely closed to it,” he said, “and they are the ones it most upsets. They don’t want to hear about it, and if they let you tell them about it, a week later they deny they listened to you.”
“But,” he added, “those who want to believe everything uncritically are just as impossible.”
“Yeah,” I said, “they probably want to connect it to the Easter Island statues, Stonehenge, psychic photography, the Shroud of Turin, the Kennedy assassinations, and E.T.”
“And anything else they can think of. This ‘face’ has a strange impact on people. Those who really get it, who see what’s at stake, are tremendously moved. Their lives aren’t quite the same afterward. They feel suddenly they might be something they hadn’t thought of, that human life might be different from what they had imagined. There’s a profound mystery arising from this complex at Cydonia, a mystery that goes beyond the obvious mystery of the artifacts.”
“We’re not only looking across space. We’re looking across time. And, because it’s our face, we’re looking into ourselves.”
“We’re involved in a major paradigm shift now, but it hasn’t really happened. It needs something to strike us on a more emotional level. . . .”
“An archetypal level. . . .” I suggested.
“Yes, something to shock us, something unexpected. I can’t say how or why, but this face may be like the drop into the solution that causes its cystallization.”
When I was driving home, I fiddled with the radio and passed an FM station on which, the announcer said, they were going to play a very old version of “Silent Night” — how it might have sounded in a Germanic dialect of proto-Indo-European with tribal instruments. He paused; I turned up the volume. Then I heard the bells, the panpipes, the lute . . . and an ancient Christian, pre-Christian melody from the snowy north. I imagined were lights, stars. . . . Then the words. When I reached my driveway, I sat there in the car listening. I opened the envelope and took out the pictures. Then the real oldness of the “face” struck me — even before the Ice Age, our image in stone, on the Martian tundra. The Shroud of Turin was not so wrong. For being both human and prehuman, for being stone and suggesting compassion, sentience, the “face” was archetypally Christian, bringing our fragmented and warring planet together in a single mask, in a unity beyond our history, outside of ordinary time. “Silent Night, Holy Night” for sure, but on another world, perhaps even another dimension of creation, the deep night inside us as well. The snow . . . and the bells. . . .
© Copyright 1986 Richard Grossinger