Lots of new images coming in now from Phoenix. As I look at them, something dawns on me.
Any educated layman knows the score with Mars. We know that the atmosphere is thin, that there's no evidence of complex organic molecules, that the ground seems to lack basic nutrients. Moreover, we perceive - logically, at least - that the origin of life on Earth was a random and unlikely event, even in such a complex and fertile environment. The Anthropic Principle tells us - against our instincts but within grasp of our reason - that "surely we cannot be alone?" is a subjective fallacy.
Some observers, with more or less imagination than I, can look at the Phoenix images and say "Hmmm.... rocks." Try as I might , I can't. Something hard-coded in my being lies to me when I look at them. Something visceral and reflexive, that insists, against reason, that there is no such thing as "just rocks". Something that protests that, in a landscape so fundamentally familiar, surely to postulate the absence of all life is the extraordinary claim? And yes, the rationalist in me recoils in self-disgust.
But thankfully, reason allows me to turn this warped perspective back to my advantage, and thus to preserve the sense of wonder: While some see a disappointingly familiar, Earth-like desert, when they were secretly hoping for tangerine trees and marmalade skies - I can see an Earth-like desert, but with no life of any kind. How weirdly, wildly fantastical is that? Put that way, it's hard to imagine anything further outside the realm of Human experience. Pepperland teeming with hallucinoforms may be attractive to the imagination, but Nevada with nary a microbe? Wow; now that's something else!