Author: Carl Sagan
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Science, Non-Fiction, Cosmology
Synopsis: A companion piece to the PBS mini-series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage.
Declassified by Agent Palmer: Ever the Scientist, Sagan Connected All the Dots in the Original Cosmos
Quotes and Lines
Our ancestors were eager to understand the world but had not quite stumbled upon the method. They imagined a small, quaint, tidy universe in which the dominant forces were gods like Anu, Ea, and Shamash. In that universe humans played an important if not a central role. We were intimately bound up with the rest of nature. The treatment of toothache with second-rate beer was tied to the deepest cosmological mysteries.
The Cosmos television series and this book represent a hopeful experiment in communicating some of the ideas, methods and joys of science.
Our camera crews met innumerable kindnesses in every country we visited; but the global military presence, the fear in the hearts of the nations, was everywhere. The experience confirmed my resolve to treat, when relevant, social questions both in the series and in the book.
“The known is finite, the unknown infinite; intellectually we stand on an islet in the midst of an illimitable ocean of inexplicability. Our business in every generation is to reclaim a little more land.” –T. H. Huxley, 1887
We grow up in isolation. Only slowly do we teach ourselves the Cosmos.
The oldest of all philosophies, that of Evolution, was bound hand and foot and cast into utter darkness during the millennium of theological scholasticism. But Darwin poured new life-blood into the ancient frame; the bonds burst, and the revivified thought of ancient Greece has proved itself to be a more adequate expression of the universal order of things than any of the schemes which have been accepted by the credulity and welcomed by the superstition of 70 later generations of men.” –T. H. Huxley, 1887
The fossil record implies trial and error, an inability to anticipate the future, features inconsistent with an efficient Great Designer (although not with a Designer of a more remote and indirect temperament).
When we say the search for life elsewhere is important, we are not guaranteeing that it will be easy to find–only that it is very much worth seeking.
“The diversity of the phenomena of Nature is so great, and the treasures hidden in the heavens so rich, precisely in order that the human mind shall never be lacking in fresh nourishment.” – Johannes Kepler, Mysterium Cosmographicum
But others countered that if comets were the smoke of sin, the skies would be continually ablaze with them.
…no scientist on Earth knows how a planet might blow itself up, which is probably just as well.
…science is a self-correcting enterprise. To be accepted, all new ideas must survive rigorous standards of evidence.
Our intelligence and our technology have given us the power to affect the climate. How will we use this power? Are we willing to tolerate ignorance and complacency in matters that affect the entire human family? Do we value short-term advantages above the welfare of Earth?
Every now and then we read that the chemicals which constitute the human body cost ninety-seven cents or ten dollars or some such figure; it is a little depressing to find our bodies valued so little. However, these estimates are for human beings reduced to our simplest possible components.
What shall we do with Mars?
There are so many examples of human misuse of the Earth that even phrasing this question chills me.
The microscope and telescope, both developed in early seventeenth-century Holland, represent an extension of human vision to realms of the very small and the very large.
“If a faithful account was rendered of man’s ideas upon the Divinity, he would be obliged to acknowledge, that for the most part the word Gods has been used to express the concealed, remote, unknown causes of the effects he witnessed; that he applies this term when the spring of natural, the source of known causes ceases to be visible: as soon as he loses the thread of these causes, or as soon as his mind can no longer follow the chain, he solves the difficulty, terminates his research, by ascribing it to his gods…. When, therefore, he ascribes to his gods the production of some phenomenon… does he, in fact, do any thing more than substitute for the darkness of his own mind, a sound to which he has been accustomed to listen with reverential awe?” – Paul Heinrich Dietrick, Baron von Holbach, Systeme de la Nature, London, 1770
He felt that poverty in a democracy was preferable to wealth in a tyranny. – Democritus.
*The sixth century B.C. was a time of remarkable intellectual and spiritual ferment across the planet. Not only was it the time of Thales, Anaximander, Pythagoras and others in Ionia, but also the time of the Egyptian Pharaoh Necho who cause Africa to be circumnavigated, of Zoroaster in Persia, Confucius and Lao-tse in China, the Jewish prophets in Israel, Egypt and Babylon, and Gautama Buddha in India. It is hard to think these activities altogether unrelated.
Even today there are scientists opposed to the popularization of science: the sacred knowledge is to be kept within the cult, unsullied by public understanding.
We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and by the depth of our answers.
We have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.
– Tombstone epitaph of two amateur astronomers
In principle, such a journey, mounting the decimal points ever closer to the speed of light, would even permit us to circumnavigate the known universe in some fifty-six years ship time. We would return tens of billions of years in our future–to find the Earth a charred cinder and the Sun dead.
If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.
The form and abundance of the galaxies have a story to tell us of ancient events on the largest possible scale, a story we are just beginning to read.
The study of the galaxies reveals a universal order and beauty. It also shows us chaotic violence on a scale hitherto undreamed of.
I cannot show you are tesseract, because we are trapped in three dimensions.
Would not a good beginning be improved with communication with terrestrial intelligence, with other human beings of different cultures and languages, with the great apes, with the dolphins, but particularly with those intelligent masters of the deep, the great whales?
Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time, proof that humans can work magic.
Books are like seeds. They can lie dormant for centuries and then flower in the most unpromising soil.
Public libraries depend on voluntary contributions. I think the health of our civilization, the depth of our awareness about the underpinnings of our culture and our concern for the future can all be tested by how well we support our libraries.
Our intelligence has recently provided us with awesome powers.It is not yet clear that we have the wisdom to avoid our own self-destruction. But many of us are trying very hard. We hope that very soon in the perspective of cosmic time we will have unified our planet peacefully into an organization cherishing the life of every living creature on it and will be ready to take that next great step, to become part of a galactic society of communicating civilizations.
But what we do not consider we are unlikely to put right.
But our weapons can now kill billions. Have we improved fast enough? Are we teaching reason as effectively as we can? Have we courageously studied the causes of war?
We must understand the Cosmos as it is and not confuse how it is with how we wish it to be.
We have only the most tenuous contact with our past.
The ash of stellar alchemy was now emerging into consciousness. At an ever-accelerating pace, it invented writing, cities, art and science, and sent spaceships to the planets and the stars. These are some of the things that hydrogen atoms do, given fifteen billion years of cosmic evolution.
We are the local embodiment of a Cosmos grown to self-awareness. We have begun to contemplate our origins: starstuff pondering the stars; organized assemblages of ten billion billion billion atoms considering the evolution of atoms; tracing the long journey by which, here at least, consciousness arose. Our loyalties are to the species and the planet. We speak for Earth. Our obligation to survive is owed not just to ourselves but also to that Cosmos, ancient and vast, from which we spring.