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5 Quotes that make Carl Sagan Unforgettable

sagan love quote universe

If you haven’t heard of Carl Sagan then you are missing out. Not only was the renowned astrophysicist a pioneering scientist, but a leader in the field of public science communication. And personally, one of the greatest people to have ever lived.

Without him, it is unlikely that many of us would know much about the universe beyond basic education. And without his television show Cosmosa generation of scientists may have never come to be.  But Carl’s greatest contribution to humanity was his unending patience, empathy and personal charge toward empowering people with knowledge.

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On his ‘ship of the imagination’, Sagan traversed the stars. Image courtesy of Flickr

Even now, his profound insights into human life ring true in arenas ranging from politics to social reform. So let’s count down our top list of his most enduring quotes, perhaps you will find something that you love.

1. On understanding and knowledge.

People are not stupid. They believe things for reasons. The last way for skeptics to get the attention of bright, curious, intelligent people is to belittle or condescend or to show arrogance toward their beliefs.

Throughout his career, Carl was persistent in his pursuit of public empowerment. By treating us all as friends, capable of the greatest feats, he established a paradigm of education by right.

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Carl Sagan’s Universe was one we could all explore, and he tried to be the greatest guide. Image courtesy of Flickr.

But with some controversy, he took what was privy only to a select few in academia and made it not just palatable, but wondrous to the rest of us. For Carl, you were not just deserving of the universe but enriched for understanding it.

And as an avowed skeptic of common wisdom and conspiracy, he approached each subject with evidence, understanding, and compassion. Simply, he forgave people human mistakes, where others would simply dismiss them.

We should do the same.

2. On the transience of human life and the immortality of words.

One glance at a book and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for 1,000 years. To read is to voyage through time.

During one episode of his poetic homage to humanity, Cosmos, Sagan visited the ancient library of Alexandria. It was here, for a short while, that the world’s greatest minds came together in a shared mission of understanding.

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Books are nothing less than a voyage of discovery, be they history. science or fiction. Our words stay behind when we leave. Image courtesy of Flickr.

And although much of Alexandria’s history was lost, small amounts remain in collected writings. An enduring legacy of another time. But for Carl words were more than just communication between friends and colleagues, but a version of immortality.

Through the written word we learned to overcome death, share the wisdom of our time with those who would come after. The ‘information-organism’ of humanity finds feet in ink over millennia.

3. On the fragility of understanding and the wonder of creation

If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.

In this short epithet, Sagan reflects on the vast gulf between human knowledge and the nature of the universe. And depending on your interpretation, he is either jocularly revealing a comedy of nature, or providing a deep insight into the linearity of thought.

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All that we are was formed in ancient furnaces. Including apple pie. Image courtesy of Flickr.

To make an apple pie requires the ingredients created from the formation of our universe. All that is once was in the bellies of ancient stars, cast into our universe and eventually mealtimes by cosmic forces and eons of time.

But to understand the world we must first invent a way of understanding, and for that the best we have is science. It is through a skeptic and imaginative mind that we may create our universe.

4. On the humility of human life in an infinite universe (see video.)

In his famous soliloquy, Sagan reduces human accomplishment, greatness, cruelty and misunderstanding to the tiny significance it has in the greater universe.

Within his poetic testament he not only shows us just how small we are, but hints at how pointless our self destruction is.

And at the same time he conveys a message of hope disguised in a eulogy. He warns us that our future is down to us, and that hopefully by realising what we have, as tiny as it is, that we may create a better future.

Earth is our only home.

5. On the saving grace of companionship.

For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.

For all his poetry, lessons and foretelling, Sagan hits on something truly profound. Upon recognising the inescapable truths that are our mortality and ineffectual existence beyond a pale blue dot, he returns to what unites us all.

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In the infinite abyss of a dark universe hides rare moments of light and love. Image courtesy of Flickr.

By embracing love we can overcome any distance. And in that the paucity of meaning is rendered mute, bearable and even empowering, as through love we can find meaning in an ocean of irrelevance. Where science can bring humility, love can bring back purpose.

Throughout his career it appears to me that Sagan’s underlying driving force must have been a deep and powerful love for the universe and his fellow man. To continuously fight for public empowerment, against governments, critics and even himself, Sagan had a heart much greater than even his ‘ship of the imagination’ could explore

But to encapsulate Sagan in five quotes is impossible, so we encourage you to explore his work further.

So which was your favourite? What have we missed and what did you take away? Let us know in the comments below. And if you found yourself touched, please help us reach out  by sharing.

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The opinions expressed in this article are those of Dr Janaway alone and may not represent those of his affiliates. Featured image courtesy of Flickr.

R.I.P Carl.

Feeling Despair At The World? Don’t Worry, We Have You Covered.

It’s easy to turn on the news and find nothing but gloom. From warfare to injustice, our minds are continuously saturated by the inane and sad. But its not all bad. Just think about it for the moment. We exist, and regardless of our failures, it is a multitude of unlikely triumphs that have led us here. So take a moment away from the macabre, and join me in a celebration of hope.

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” – Roald Dahl, Author.

Suspended in a Sunbeam

Astronomer and Science Communicator Carl Sagan once uttered a soliloquy of such grand insight that the whole of our existence can be reduced to a moment in space. In his polemic, he refers to our ‘Pale Blue Dot’, (a musing on a photograph taken by the Voyager 1 Space Probe,) as the epitome of all we have ever been. In just this small snippet, he says;

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam. – Carl Sagan (view the rest here.)

Hidden within Sagan’s prose is a simple message. Every evil, every good, is played out on one stage. And like every yin must have its yang, the good is only ever hidden, not lost. And it is quite a wonder, that we live on a miraculous planet cast asunder in a tiny corner of a plain galaxy, in an average cluster, in universe grander than our imaginations, lucky to be in a time and level of entropy so fertile to life.

A Unique Journey

A peace above all earthly dignities, A still and quiet conscience.  – William Shakespeare, Playwright

Eons ago life began. First as a mute congregation of molecules, tuned by chance and selection, dressed by chemistry and choreographed by physics, it evolved into the complex tapestry of life we see today. From the furnaces of long dead stars the very atoms that comprise us tell a story 13 billion years old, and those same atoms allow you to read, comprehend, and share. It is quite an accomplishment.

It has not been an easy road. Mass extinctions, whether by giant rock, disease or climate change, have forged our ecology into today’s nature. Humans are just one branch of an epic tree, and all our mistakes and noble deeds have helped our tender leaves reach for the very stars that formed them. But we are transient beneficiaries, nomadic wanderers of time and space, left to ponder our purpose in it all.

A Bright Future

What you had yesterday is only memories; what you will have tomorrow is your dreams and what you will do today, let it be love.” – Santosh Kalwar

The world of tomorrow is unwritten. Whether it be scorched in Nuclear Fire, or elucidated by the dance of particles beneath Switzerland, the empty pages are ours to write. The ink we use is formed of our judgement, the cursive language our hope and the full stop our dreams. There is little to hold us back, as we have traversed so far. To be sentient, an unlikely biological machine, formed of dead stars in a forgotten corner of the universe, is a blessing.

So, next time you find yourself in despair at the world, remember that you are part of something wonderful, unexpected, and most importantly, unfinished.

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The views above are those of Dr Janaway alone and do not necessarily represent those of his affiliates.  Image courtesy of Pixabay.