On a Tribute to the Cosmos Giant

Image from the Center for Inquiry

Image from the Center for Inquiry

Friday afternoon I stumbled across an interesting tidbit – that is, this weekend is Carl Sagan Day – marked by the his birthday (November 9) – thus, this unplanned post.

We can put many tags on Dr. Sagan – take your pick – scientist, astronomer, author, philosopher, cosmologist, astrophysicist, professor, television personality, and others. To me, and no matter the role, there are two facts that stand above others: he was a tireless promoter of science, plus he stood in awe of universe.

The article that sparked this post was this small collection of his inspirational quotes. To celebrate this day, I’ve taken two of the quotes from the article, plus two others, and then supported them in my style of adding videos … or maybe I simply needed an excuse to display one of my all-time favorites.

Enjoy … which was your favorite? Do you know my favorite?

I am a collection of water, calcium and organic molecules called Carl Sagan. You are a collection of almost identical molecules with a different collective label. But is that all? Is there nothing in here but molecules? Some people find this idea somehow demeaning to human dignity. For myself, I find it elevating that our universe permits the evolution of molecular machines as intricate and subtle as we.

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What distinguishes our species is thought. The cerebral cortex is in a way a liberation. We need no longer be trapped in the genetically inherited behavior patterns of lizards and baboons: territoriality and aggression and dominance hierarchies. We are each of us largely responsible for what gets put in to our brains. For what as adults we wind up caring for and knowing about. No longer at the mercy of the reptile brain, we can change ourselves. Think of the possibilities.

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A blade of grass is a commonplace on Earth; it would be a miracle on Mars. Our descendants on Mars will know the value of a patch of green. And if a blade of grass is priceless, what is the value of a human being?

Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

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49 thoughts on “On a Tribute to the Cosmos Giant

  1. “There is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves”–interesting. Does he not believe in the Creator God who saves us, if we choose to believe on and accept Him–or is the hidden mystery of God implied? Just curious, not trying to start an argument.

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    • Many years ago, I read a letter to an editor written by Carl Sagan’s wife. I believe the letter was inspired by an article on the movie Contact.

      Effectively, his wife said Carl had been misrepresented by whatever article had been written; he hadn’t seen irrefutable evidence of any kind of universal creator(s), but sought that evidence–versus trying to refute it–throughout his life. How she said it was so lovely I often wish I could find the letter, but my Google-fu has not proven strong enough to locate it all these years later.

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  2. I think ‘Pale Blue Dot’ is your favourite Frank. I remember almost a year ago seeing that video here for the first time, on one of my early visits to your blog. I have shared it around a number of times since. This is also my first time seeing the work of ‘Symphony of Science’. I especially enjoyed the Neil De Grasse Tyson one. Very clever way of getting the message across. I believe that the message that we can [and must] take responsibility for our thoughts, our emotions and our actions is the work of being human, it is the highest form of personal and collective freedom.

    I did not know Nov 9th was Carl Sagan Day so thank you for sharing and for this whole post.

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    • Pauline,
      Good memory as Pale Blue Dot is my favorite. I discovered it in early in my first year blogging, thus have used it on various occasions. There are many versions out there, but the visuals in this one captivate me.

      Symphony of Science videos are wonderful … and surprise, surprise … I’ve used many of them. I think I’ve used these here before, but I can’t find both … but here’s the post of one … https://afrankangle.wordpress.com/2013/01/14/on-a-speck/

      Wow to your statement about personal and collective freedom!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. My “What Hit Me In The Face First” test didn’t work with your four Carl Sagan quotes because each one qualified for first place as soon as I read it. Same thing happened when I went back and re-read them. Could this be a “space-time continuum?”

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  4. Carl Sagan, in my estimation, was to science what William Manchester was to history and what Robert Frost was to poetry, clearly seminal in his field. Pale Blue Dot endures all these years later as succinct wisdom that, sadly, has been praised for elegance but ignored in action.

    I think the recent ebola scare would prompt him, were he still alive, to point out both how far we have come and how far we have yet to go. The irony would not be lost on him, but it would not discourage him.

    So glad you posted this nice memoir, Frank.

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  5. After many days of gray wetness the sun is shining in Portland this Saturday today, aFA, and your tribute to Carl Sagan has brought a sturdy contentment of warmth. The Blue Dot: It truly is about us…all of us…doing better….achieving a small portion (or large) of individual greatness by doing small (or large) good works.
    Wouldn’t that be the toots-potatoes?
    Wouldn’t that just be great?

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    • Raye,
      Cheers to the sun making an appearance in your wonderful city. We had good weather for this time of the year, but oh my … a strong dose of cold is currently scheduled for later this week. YIKES!

      Kindness, respect, and doing better is a wonderful agenda for all to follow … and yes, I think Dr. Sagan would agree with and smile at your perspective of the video and his words.

      … and thanks for the “toots potatoes” as it made me smile … after all, I wonder how long it has been since I’ve encountered that one. πŸ™‚

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  6. I cannot say what the greatness of Carl Sagan is, in the field of science, but in the realm of poetic and philosophic thought, he is as mystified as any of us. I used to watch late night Johnny Carson and saw/heard Sagan there as a guest several times. I was always put off by what he had to say and didn’t quite know why. I think I know now, as I watch the blue dot video….it is belief, clothed in poetry, impersonated by scientism. Sagan floats like a deity in the cosmos telling us just how large and how small everything measures, then implies how we should think and feel about it.

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    • . . . it is belief, clothed in poetry, impersonated by scientism.

      With respect, Cynthia, I submit that what Sagan professed was not “belief”, but rather an appreciation for the complexity of nature as revealed by science. “Belief”, at least to me and in the context you used, implies making up facts in which to invest, something he would never do.

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      • Well, Jim, I’m pretty sure you’re right in saying that he would never “make up” facts…but, is it a FACT that Carl Sagan BELIEVED we ought to behave in certain ways toward our fellow humans, that we need to be “saved” but there’s no help for us, out there in the cosmos where we are just a metaphorical blue dot, so IT is up to us….? πŸ™‚

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        • Well, I suppose you could say that he believed those things, but to avoid any confusion with religiosity, I would say he advocated them based on logical conclusions. Even more, I submit that he would have been open to discussion of the details. At its root, I think his ethos was founded on the perception that human beings have a unique ability through sense of self to transcend mere survival in favor of some humanitarian potential, not fully defined. Good thing he didn’t experience the last election though – he might have had second thoughts. I am.

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  7. As for the elections, I will abstain from comment. It is a rather odd, though not uncomfortable,
    experience, to find oneself commenting on a sacred carl while among so many worshipers. I’ve enjoyed our sparring, Jim. Thanks!

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  8. I’m not sure Sagan’s logic in Clear Blue Dot is valid. If I was a bad guy/government/corporation, then the fact that the earth is all we have might make me think it’s all the more valuable for me to capture a chunk of it.

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    • Malcolm,
      You’ve given me something to think about … and I hope to watch the video again with this in mind, and then comment again … I’m simply attempting to catch up at the moment.

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  9. Whether one agrees with him or not, I think Carl Sagan’s legacy was to make us think about our existence and what it means to live. I can certainly identify with his explorations. “Contact,” in my opinion, is a brilliant book because in the end, the main characters don’t really go anywhere physically but travel to different dimensions. I think Sagan was a mystic in disguise…

    Similarly, you challenge us, your readers, to think, Frank. And I always appreciate that.

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    • Cathy,
      So many good things to say about Dr. Sagan. Oh yes … he stimulating thinking … and in such a simple and articulate way … that is, easy for layman to understand. … Thanks for the kind words.

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  10. β€œFor small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.” ~ Carl Sagan
    Loved watching ‘The Pale Blue Dot’ again, Frank; better than any sermon. Carl was a great thinker and orator. Thanks for sharing this on his birthday. πŸ™‚

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  11. I think Sagan was a fascinating man. Brilliant, but able somehow to bring the mysteries of the universe to a general audience–and even then, I was mesmerized by his enthusiasm and just did my best to keep up! I can’t say I have a favorite quote, but I think it’s wonderful a weekend was devoted to remembering him.

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