Updated: Jan 26
Science, reason, passion. No other person blended those elements so well as Carl Sagan did. He turned science into poetry with such ease, the reader cannot help but be in awe of it. His discourses were more than about science but also a reminder of its inherent beauty, which we often forget to admire.
Carl Sagan was, of course, a scientist. He was an astronomer and astrophysicist who gave notable contributions to our understanding of our planetary neighborhood. To name a few of those, Sagan suggested, for example, that Venus’ atmosphere was super hot due to the action of a greenhouse effect and alerted us of the danger of such a phenomenon here on Earth. He hypothesized the dust storms on Mars and the presence of water in Saturn’s moon Titan and Jupiter’s moon Europa. Not to mention the several space expeditions he helped to design and manage.
One of his most passionate projects was on the search for extraterrestrial intelligent life in our universe. He was a member of SETI and worked devotedly to bring attention to their cause. At the same time, he used to expose pseudosciences and fantastical “real-life” stories, such as alien abductions. This project inspired him to write a first-contact-with-aliens novel, released in 1985. Contact was later adapted to the big screen in 1997 by Robert Zemeckis and starred Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey.
“The universe is a pretty big place. If it's just us, seems like an awful waste of space.”
Among the excellent science communicators we know and love, what makes Carl Sagan unique?
His most recognizable trait is his romantic prose. Sagan was endlessly quotable, conveying intense feelings with few words. For example, he could transmit a sense of wonder, humbleness, passion,
“For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.”
or an ominous feeling, while still optimistic,
“The sky calls to us. If we do not destroy ourselves, we will one day venture to the stars.”
And those are not exceptions; it is the way he expressed himself.
I love his writings, but what I like the most about Carl Sagan is the way he argues his point.
Sagan had strong opinions, and he was not afraid of expressing them. He would talk about taboo topics like religion, war, and politics, with the same naturality as telling a fun anecdote. And yet, he was not perceived as a controversial person. It all comes down to the way he used to argue. Sagan was never confrontational. He would never be aggressive or accusatory when trying to make a point. Instead, he urged us to think for ourselves, instigating our inner critics to seriously reflect on our human nature.
“Who is more humble? The scientist who looks at the universe with an open mind and accepts whatever the universe has to teach us, or somebody who says everything in this book must be considered the literal truth and never mind the fallibility of all the human beings involved?”
Personally, after careful consideration, I do not agree with many of his opinions. But I respect them all. And it is easy to respect him. It is easy to respect those who respect us.
Sagan’s belief that every human was able to think critically and experience amazement with knowledge was admirable. I share this belief, although I recognize that today’s world seems to flow against this idea.
Carl Sagan was in love with science. And you cannot help but fall in love too, reading his work.
“The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.”
Yes, this blog post was only a pretext to share some of Sagan’s quotes. I am a huge fan, as you may have guessed. Yes, this blog post was only a pretext to share some of Sagan’s quotes. I am a huge fan, as you can see. I have a personal goal of reading at least one of his works per year to remind me to stop and admire our universe and its constituents. So far, I’ve read four of them: Billions and Billions, The Varieties of Scientific Experiences, Contact, and A Demon-Haunted World. I haven’t read Cosmos yet, but the tv series was one of my most significant influences to pursue a scientific career.
A slight spoiler, there will be a Science of Fiction about Contact. So stay tuned.
Meanwhile, tell me, which is your favorite quote by Carl Sagan? Let me know in the comments.
See you next post,
Carla Ra is a scientist by day, sci-fi writer by night.
You can check out her anthology ARTIFICIAL REBELLION here.