Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Carl Sagan - An anniversary, a memorial

Ten years ago today, a great of science, astronomy, and skepticism died - Carl Sagan. A science blogger in New York suggested a memorial blog a thon, and with the sanction of Carl's son, Nick, I'm participating on my blogs here and here.



Personally, hungry for anything "star" related after Star Wars came out in 1977, I eagerly awaited every episode of Cosmos, hosted by Dr. Sagan. But it wasn't until July 4, 1997, that he really changed me, after he had passed away. I didn't know he had even died until I saw the movie "Contact", and saw the end credit, "For Carl". The questions in the movie about God and Science, and the conflict (or not) between the two left me really anxious to read the book, but in an airport, I picked up another book of his, "The Demon Haunted World - Science as a Candle in the Dark", when Contact wasn't available.

Wow. I felt my eyes open and an epiphany began that didn't stop. I read everything he wrote. I re-read several religious texts that I hadn't read for a while, and even searched out some "new age" literature to read, as well as developing a voracious appetite for science books. I began to write again. I began to notice how persistent biology was on Earth, how the stars shine so brightly at night, why stars burn and why the sky is blue, almost for the first time. I saw the scientific method as it truly is - an unappreciated golden gift to mankind, that has left us with longer lifespans, magical technology, a way of thinking and approaching everything, and a great understanding of how huge and ancient our universe is, and leads us to questions of who we are, where we came from, and how humble we have to be in face of all we haven't known for centuries, and all we do not yet know.

Ironically, scientists were his biggest critics. Yes, there are people that hate him for popularizing science, and he was punished professionally for that (is science really supposed to be only for the ivory tower elite and not for the rest of us?), by denial of fellowships and rewards. Some scientists still feel like arguing with him. I have felt in the past that his alliance to liberal politics, like nuclear war protests, and his miscalculation of the effects of a nuclear winter, often interferered with his otherwise unflinching respect for the facts, no matter where those facts lead.

But, as Sagan said repeatedly, when you're in love with something, you want to tell the whole world. And he was in love with science.

So, Dr. Sagan, from the boy who saw you on television week after week, to the critical thinking adult I've become, I want to thank you. Your respect for humanity and people that didn't agree with you is especially admirable. I hear scientists left and right introduced as "the next Carl Sagan", but the sad truth is that none of them can hold a candle (in the dark or otherwise) to your gift of communication, your writing style and command of how best to express your love for the scientific method and all we can learn from it.

As Dr. Sagan said repeatedly, over and over, if you want to make your life meaningful, you have to be willing to do something meaningful. He made much of science not only meaningful, but beautiful, humbling, even poetic.

"We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and by the depth of our answers."

4 Comments:

Anonymous poojitha said...

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9:54 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi,

I saw your comments are Carl and enjoyed them very much. Regarding the numbers on Nuclear Winter, Carl was one of several scientists who worked on that. Purportedly, Carl was the least involved in the research, and most involved in using his science celebrity to make citizens aware of the secondary threat. While the Kuwait oil fires seemed to indicate to some that perhaps the TAPS nucler winter hypethesis was overly gloomy, we still don't know the how valid their numbers are. We'll only know if and when there's a large exchange.

SaganGathering _at_ yahoo DOT com

9:05 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi,

I saw your comments on Carl and enjoyed them very much. Regarding the numbers on Nuclear Winter, Carl was one of several scientists who worked on that. Purportedly, Carl was the least involved in the research, and most involved in using his science celebrity to make citizens aware of the secondary threat. While the Kuwait oil fires seemed to indicate to some that perhaps the TAPS nuclear winter hypothesis was overly gloomy, we still don't know how valid their numbers are. We'll only know if and when there's a large exchange.

SaganGathering _at_ yahoo DOT com

9:07 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can you remove my first (9:05 am) posting? There are lots of typos in it.

9:08 AM

 

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