Clarke was not interested in paranormal phenomena per se. That is, he did not automatically believe in the claims of the supernatural. What interested Clarke was a class of items that seem to represent valid pieces of evidence that have not yet been fully accounted for by rationalist, materialist, or scientific explanation. In rhetorical terms, this is called paradoxography, a category that is true but seems false. More directly relevant to Clarke is the term ‘‘Forteana,’’ named after Charles Fort, author of The Book of the Damned (1919) and other similar collections of this kind of material, which Clarke read in his youth. Fort believed that there were many verifiable facts about the natural world that science could not yet explain but that scientists purposely ignored—even suppressed—so as not to have to alter their dogmatic theories. In fact, this is the opposite of the way scientists work. Their constant aim is not to prove but rather to disprove established theories and gain recognition and career advancement in direct proportion to the degree of change they can bring about in scientific thought. Since Fort’s time, this has been clarified by Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and Arthur Koestler in The Sleepwalkers. While scientific orthodoxy is a valid concept to a greater degree than might seem likely, young scientists nevertheless make their careers by criticizing and overturning existing orthodoxies. The paradigm of scientific methodology allows new ideas to be accepted rapidly and widely once they are proven. New discoveries are frequently made accidently (for example, while working along an entirely different line of research).
In ‘‘Dog Star’’ Clarke introduces two paradoxographical ideas, namely, that animals can predict earthquakes and that dreams can similarly predict earthquakes. The narrator of Clarke’s story inevitably espouses the strictest scientific rationalism: ‘‘It is hardly necessary for me to say that I do not believe in the supernatural.’’ He nevertheless accepts as fact that his dog Laika was able to predict an earthquake, which was confirmed by additional instances: ‘‘In the second San Francisco earthquake, Laika was not the only dog to sense approaching disaster; many such cases were reported.’’ However, he attributes the prediction to natural causes, as he does his own prediction of the quake on the moon: ‘‘And on Farside, my own memories must have given me that heightened awareness, when my never-sleeping subconscious detected the first faint vibration from within the Moon.’’ The mechanism in the first case is to be understood as also operative in the second. It is often suggested that dogs can sense some minor tremor or other event leading up to an earthquake by using their nonhuman senses.
Clarke delighted in these kinds of unexplained facts and devoted a good portion of his career to promoting them. He acted as the host of three television series that did nothing but catalog such information: Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World (1980), Arthur C. Clarke’s World of Strange Powers (1985), and Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious Universe (1994). For instance, he suggested that if there were a large, apelike creature (not a single individual but rather a breeding population of at least hundreds if not thousands of individuals), like the socalled Bigfoot, living in close proximity to millions of people in the Pacific Northwest in forests thick with hunters, campers, and hikers, then there would be some physical evidence. If a living specimen could not be produced, then bones or other remains would be available. However, in many other cases Clarke appeared to believe that the phenomenon was unexplained, if not inexplicable, and did not offer commonly accepted explanations for them. The idea that dogs can predict earthquakes is a similar case. Even supposing that a dog’s superhuman hearing could feel a tremor too slight for even the most sensitive seismic equipment to detect, how could a dog that had never experienced an earthquake—and had no reason to think that houses are subject to collapse—deduce from this that the house it is in is about to come crashing down? Is it not far more likely that a human being whose life was saved by a dog barking to be let out (for the usual reason) would make a meaningful connection in his own consciousness— when that event happened to be followed by a devastating earthquake—between the two events, which were only accidentally connected in time? Clarke is correct in believing that the truth of the matter can never be known since the phenomenon cannot be tested experimentally. He is actually on firmer ground when he describes the narrator of ‘‘Dog Star’’ dreaming about the quake a few seconds before it occurs, since one function of dreams is to keep the dreamer asleep. Facts from the perceptible world that would otherwise cause one to wake up are often incorporated into dreams to delay the sleeper having to wake up to attend to them. The narrator’s dream of events related to the earthquake might well have served the purpose of keeping him asleep in the face of perceptible tremors announcing a new earthquake.
Clarke tended to view human history teleologically, that is, as if it were leading to a final, specific, predetermined goal. It was obvious to Clarke that the goal was space flight and the exploration of the solar system and beyond. Clarke pointedly describes the trip to the moon by the narrator of ‘‘Dog Star’’ as a voyage, a physical journey beset by perils and dangers. It is linked to the tradition of Atlantic exploration stretching back to Portugal’s Prince Henry the Navigator in the fifteenth century—which ultimately brought about contact between Americans and European culture—as well as the circumnavigation of the globe. However, the narrator’s purpose in undertaking his voyage is purely scientific and is aimed at discovering knowledge for its own sake. His voyage is linked even more closely to such early scientific explorers as Alexander von Humboldt and Charles Darwin, both of whom used their worldwide travels as the basis for important scientific advances.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 29, Arthur C Clarke, Published by Gale Group, 2001.