The Secret Underground Facility
The Wildfire Project occupies a five-story underground structure in Flatrock, Nevada. The four researchers enter at the top level and over the next twenty-four hours make their way down to the lowest levels. The process of progressively more stringent decontamination and sterilization procedures conveys a sense of increasing physical entrapment and isolation. As they go into Level II, for example, they look back and see a sign that says “Return to Level I is NOT Possible Through this Access” (p. 115). There is even a feeling of disorientation. Since they are not allowed to wear watches, at Level IV Hall finds he has no idea of what time it is “or even whether it was night or day” ( p. 129). It is almost as if they are descending into a tomb. This becomes almost literally true when a seal breaks in the autopsy lab and it is sealed off with Burton trapped inside. He expects to die at any minute. Then when the gaskets start to fail, Level V is contaminated and also sealed off, leaving Hall and Stone trapped. Hall has to make a desperate effort to escape and reach Level IV so he can cancel the atomic detonation. The claustrophobic atmosphere in the building and the sense of being physically isolated parallels the fact that the scientists are also boxed-in intellectually as they struggle to escape from their own ignorance of the Andromeda organism and arrive at a solution to the crisis.
Scientific Thinking by Analogy
As the scientists study the organism, first Leavitt and then Hall think in terms of analogies. An analogy is a comparison between two things that are alike in certain ways. One idea or process or object is explained by referring to its similarities with something else. Burton has a dream in which he thinks of a house, of how it is connected to a city, and how different the house would be if the city were removed. It would not have all it needed to function. It would, in effect, become a different organism altogether. Later, Leavitt imagines that the alien organism may be analogous to this house-city example, in that it may be a small part of a larger organism.
Hall also thinks in terms of analogy, when he thinks of the signs on the highway giving maximum and minimum driving speeds. People must drive within those limits. It dawns on him that in an analogous way, the organism can only grow within certain measures. If in a human being the blood level is too acid or too basic, the organism will not grow. Hall has therefore used analogical thinking, derived from an observation about traffic flow, to arrive at a new scientific understanding. However, it should be pointed out that this example, what he calls his “highway diagnosis,” says more about Hall’s ingenuity in leaping from one situation to another than to the actual strength of the analogy. All analogies will break down if they are taken too far, but this one happens to give the scientist’s mind exactly the stimulus it needs to solve a pressing problem.