The fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.
- The fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.
- Imagine, a room, awash in gasoline. And there are two implacable enemies in that room. One of them has 9,000 matches. The other has 7,000 matches. Each of them is concerned about who’s ahead, who’s stronger. Well, that’s the kind of situation we are actually in. The amount of weapons that are available to the United States and the Soviet Union are so bloated, so grossly in excess of what’s needed to dissuade the other that if it weren’t so tragic, it would be laughable.
- About the nuclear arms race, on ABC News Viewpoint — “The Day After” (20 November 1983)
- It seems to me what is called for is an exquisite balance between two conflicting needs: the most skeptical scrutiny of all hypotheses that are served up to us and at the same time a great openness to new ideas … If you are only skeptical, then no new ideas make it through to you … On the other hand, if you are open to the point of gullibility and have not an ounce of skeptical sense in you, then you cannot distinguish the useful ideas from the worthless ones.
- In science it often happens that scientists say, “You know that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken,” and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn’t happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion.
- Keynote address at CSICOP conference (1987), as quoted in Do Science and the Bible Conflict? (2003) by Judson Poling, p. 30
- The idea that God is an oversized white male with a flowing beard who sits in the sky and tallies the fall of every sparrow is ludicrous. But if by God one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God. This God is emotionally unsatisfying… it does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity.
- As quoted in “Scientists & Their Gods” in U.S. News & World Report Vol. 111 (1991)
- Humans — who enslave, castrate, experiment on, and fillet other animals — have had an understandable penchant for pretending animals do not feel pain. A sharp distinction between humans and ‘animals’ is essential if we are to bend them to our will, make them work for us, wear them, eat them — without any disquieting tinges of guilt or regret. It is unseemly of us, who often behave so unfeelingly toward other animals, to contend that only humans can suffer. The behavior of other animals renders such pretensions specious. They are just too much like us.
- “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors” (1992) (co-written with Dr. Ann Druyan)
The truth may be puzzling. It may take some work to grapple with. It may be counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held prejudices. It may not be consonant with what we desperately want to be true. But our preferences do not determine what’s true.
- The truth may be puzzling. It may take some work to grapple with. It may be counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held prejudices. It may not be consonant with what we desperately want to be true. But our preferences do not determine what’s true. We have a method, and that method helps us to reach not absolute truth, only asymptotic approaches to the truth — never there, just closer and closer, always finding vast new oceans of undiscovered possibilities. Cleverly designed experiments are the key.
- If you take a look at science in its everyday function, of course you find that scientists run the gamut of human emotions and personalities and character and so on. But there’s one thing that is really striking to the outsider, and that is the gauntlet of criticism that is considered acceptable or even desirable. The poor graduate student at his or her Ph.D. oral exam is subjected to a withering crossfire of questions that sometimes seem hostile or contemptuous; this from the professors who have the candidate’s future in their grasp. The students naturally are nervous; who wouldn’t be? True, they’ve prepared for it for years. But they understand that at that critical moment they really have to be able to answer questions. So in preparing to defend their theses, they must anticipate questions; they have to think, “Where in my thesis is there a weakness that someone else might find—because I sure better find it before they do, because if they find it and I’m not prepared, I’m in deep trouble.”
- We live in a society absolutely dependent on science and technology and yet have cleverly arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. That’s a clear prescription for disaster.
- with Anne Kalosh (October 1994), “Bringing Science Down to Earth“, Hemispheres
- I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking.
The world is so exquisite with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there’s little good evidence. Far better it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides.
- “In the Valley of the Shadow”, Parade, 10 March 1996
- That kind of skeptical, questioning, “don’t accept what authority tells you” attitude of science — is also nearly identical to the attitude of mind necessary for a functioning democracy. Science and democracy have very consonant values and approaches, and I don’t think you can have one without the other.
- Talk of the Nation (3 May 1996)
- Who is more humble? The scientist who looks at the universe with an open mind and accepts whatever it 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?
- Interview with Charlie Rose (1996)
- An atheist has to know a lot more than I know. An atheist is someone who knows there is no god. By some definitions atheism is very stupid.
Essay as “Mr. X” (1969)
There is a myth about such highs: the user has an illusion of great insight, but it does not survive scrutiny in the morning. I am convinced that this is an error, and that the devastating insights achieved when high are real insights; the main problem is putting these insights in a form acceptable to the quite different self that we are when we’re down the next day.
- I had become friendly with a group of people who occasionally smoked cannabis, irregularly, but with evident pleasure. Initially I was unwilling to partake, but the apparent euphoria that cannabis produced and the fact that there was no physiological addiction to the plant eventually persuaded me to try. My initial experiences were entirely disappointing; there was no effect at all, and I began to entertain a variety of hypotheses about cannabis being a placebo which worked by expectation and hyperventilation rather than by chemistry. After about five or six unsuccessful attempts, however, it happened.
- There’s a part of me making, creating the perceptions which in everyday life would be bizarre; there’s another part of me which is a kind of observer. About half of the pleasure comes from the observer-part appreciating the work of the creator-part. I smile, or sometimes even laugh out loud at the pictures on the insides of my eyelids. In this sense, I suppose cannabis is psychotomimetic, but I find none of the panic or terror that accompanies some psychoses. Possibly this is because I know it’s my own trip, and that I can come down rapidly any time I want to.
- The cannabis experience has greatly improved my appreciation for art, a subject which I had never much appreciated before. The understanding of the intent of the artist which I can achieve when high sometimes carries over to when I’m down. This is one of many human frontiers which cannabis has helped me traverse. There also have been some art-related insights — I don’t know whether they are true or false, but they were fun to formulate.
- Cannabis also enhances the enjoyment of sex — on the one hand it gives an exquisite sensitivity, but on the other hand it postpones orgasm: in part by distracting me with the profusion of image passing before my eyes. The actual duration of orgasm seems to lengthen greatly, but this may be the usual experience of time expansion which comes with cannabis smoking.
- I do not consider myself a religious person in the usual sense, but there is a religious aspect to some highs. The heightened sensitivity in all areas gives me a feeling of communion with my surroundings, both animate and inanimate. Sometimes a kind of existential perception of the absurd comes over me and I see with awful certainty the hypocrisies and posturing of myself and my fellow men. And at other times, there is a different sense of the absurd, a playful and whimsical awareness. Both of these senses of the absurd can be communicated, and some of the most rewarding highs I’ve had have been in sharing talk and perceptions and humor. Cannabis brings us an awareness that we spend a lifetime being trained to overlook and forget and put out of our minds. A sense of what the world is really like can be maddening; cannabis has brought me some feelings for what it is like to be crazy, and how we use that word “crazy” to avoid thinking about things that are too painful for us. In the Soviet Union political dissidents are routinely placed in insane asylums. The same kind of thing, a little more subtle perhaps, occurs here: “did you hear what Lenny Bruce said yesterday? He must be crazy.”
- When I’m high I can penetrate into the past, recall childhood memories, friends, relatives, playthings, streets, smells, sounds, and tastes from a vanished era. I can reconstruct the actual occurrences in childhood events only half understood at the time. Many but not all my cannabis trips have somewhere in them a symbolism significant to me which I won’t attempt to describe here, a kind of mandala embossed on the high. Free-associating to this mandala, both visually and as plays on words, has produced a very rich array of insights.
There is a myth about such highs: the user has an illusion of great insight, but it does not survive scrutiny in the morning. I am convinced that this is an error, and that the devastating insights achieved when high are real insights; the main problem is putting these insights in a form acceptable to the quite different self that we are when we’re down the next day.
- Incidentally, I find that reasonably good insights can be remembered the next day, but only if some effort has been made to set them down another way. If I write the insight down or tell it to someone, then I can remember it with no assistance the following morning; but if I merely say to myself that I must make an effort to remember, I never do.
I find that most of the insights I achieve when high are into social issues, an area of creative scholarship very different from the one I am generally known for.
- I can remember the night that I suddenly realized what it was like to be crazy, or nights when my feelings and perceptions were of a religious nature. I had a very accurate sense that these feelings and perceptions, written down casually, would not stand the usual critical scrutiny that is my stock in trade as a scientist. If I find in the morning a message from myself the night before informing me that there is a world around us which we barely sense, or that we can become one with the universe, or even that certain politicians are desperately frightened men, I may tend to disbelieve; but when I’m high I know about this disbelief. And so I have a tape in which I exhort myself to take such remarks seriously. I say “Listen closely, you sonofabitch of the morning! This stuff is real!” I try to show that my mind is working clearly; I recall the name of a high school acquaintance I have not thought of in thirty years; I describe the color, typography, and format of a book in another room and these memories do pass critical scrutiny in the morning. I am convinced that there are genuine and valid levels of perception available with cannabis (and probably with other drugs) which are, through the defects of our society and our educational system, unavailable to us without such drugs. Such a remark applies not only to self-awareness and to intellectual pursuits, but also to perceptions of real people, a vastly enhanced sensitivity to facial expression, intonations, and choice of words which sometimes yields a rapport so close it’s as if two people are reading each other’s minds.
- My high is always reflective, peaceable, intellectually exciting, and sociable, unlike most alcohol highs, and there is never a hangover. Through the years I find that slightly smaller amounts of cannabis suffice to produce the same degree of high, and in one movie theater recently I found I could get high just by inhaling the cannabis smoke which permeated the theater.
There is a very nice self-titering aspect to cannabis. Each puff is a very small dose; the time lag between inhaling a puff and sensing its effect is small; and there is no desire for more after the high is there.
- I think the ratio, R, of the time to sense the dose taken to the time required to take an excessive dose is an important quantity. R is very large for LSD (which I’ve never taken) and reasonably short for cannabis. Small values of R should be one measure of the safety of psychedelic drugs. When cannabis is legalized, I hope to see this ratio as one of the parameters printed on the pack. I hope that time isn’t too distant; the illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world.
- In the vastness of space and the immensity of time, it is my joy to share a planet and an epoch with Annie.
- The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be. Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us — there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation of a distant memory, as if we were falling from a great height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries.
- p. 4
- The size and age of the Cosmos are beyond ordinary human understanding. Lost somewhere between immensity and eternity is our tiny planetary home. In a cosmic perspective, most human concerns seem insignificant, even petty. And yet our species is young and curious and brave and shows much promise. In the last few millennia we have made the most astonishing and unexpected discoveries about the Cosmos and our place within it, explorations that are exhilarating to consider. They remind us that humans have evolved to wonder, that understanding is a joy, that knowledge is prerequisite to survival. I believe our future depends powerfully on how well we understand this Cosmos in which we float like a mote of dust in the morning sky.
- p. 4
- Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere.
- p. 4
- We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it’s forever.
- p. 20 
- The fossil record implies trial and error, an inability to anticipate the future, features inconsistent with an efficient Great Designer.
- p. 29
- If a marker were to be erected today, it might read, in homage to his scientific courage: “He preferred the hard truth to his dearest illusions.”
- On the character of Johannes Kepler, p. 67
- It is all a matter of time scale. An event that would be unthinkable in a hundred years may be inevitable in a hundred million.
- p. 73
- The suppression of uncomfortable ideas may be common in religion and politics, but it is not the path to knowledge; it has no place in the endeavor of science.
- p. 91
- With insufficient data it is easy to go wrong.
- p. 94
- 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 the Earth? Or will we think on longer time scales, with concern for our children and our grandchildren, to understand and protect the complex life-support systems of our planet? The Earth is a tiny and fragile world. It needs to be cherished.
- p. 103
- Human beings have a demonstrated talent for self-deception when their emotions are stirred.
- p. 135
- For a long time the human instinct to understand was thwarted by facile religious explanations.
- p. 173
- They (i. e., the Pythagoreans) did not advocate the free confrontation of conflicting points of view. Instead, like all orthodox religions, they practised a rigidity that prevented them from correcting their errors.
- p. 184
- The Platonists and their Christian successors held the peculiar notion that the Earth was tainted and somehow nasty, while the heavens were perfect and divine. The fundamental idea that the Earth is a planet, that we are citizens of the Universe, was rejected and forgotten.
- p. 188
- For as long as there been humans we have searched for our place in the cosmos. Where are we? Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a hum-drum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people. This perspective is a courageous continuation of our penchant for constructing and testing mental models of the skies; the Sun as a red-hot stone, the stars as a celestial flame, the Galaxy as the backbone of night.
- p. 193
- If we long for our planet to be important, there is something we can do about it. We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and by the depth of our answers.
- p. 193
- We embarked on our journey to the stars with a question first framed in the childhood of our species and in each generation asked anew with undiminished wonder: What are the stars? Exploration is in our nature. We began as wanderers, and we are wanderers still. We have lingered long enough on the shores of the cosmic ocean. We are ready at last to set sail for the stars.
- p. 193
- Astronomically, the U. S. S. R. and the United States are the same place.
- p. 196
- Relativity does set limits on what humans can ultimately do. But the universe is not required to be in perfect harmony with human aspirations.
- p. 201
- I have…a terrible need…shall I say the word?…of religion. Then I go out at night and paint the stars.
- p. 217 (quoting Vincent van Gogh)
- If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.
- p. 218
- Matter is composed chiefly of nothing.
- p. 218
- A googolplex is precisely as far from infinity as is the number 1… no matter what number you have in mind, infinity is larger still.
- p. 220
- The universe seems neither benign nor hostile, merely indifferent to the concerns of such puny creatures as we are.
- p. 250
- Nobody listens to mathematicians.
- p. 262
- The neurochemistry of the brain is astonishingly busy, the circuitry of a machine more wonderful than any devised by humans. But there is no evidence that its functioning is due to anything more than the 1014 neural connections that build an elegant architecture of consciousness.
- p. 278
- Books permit us to voyage through time, to tap the wisdom of our ancestors. The library connects us with the insights and knowledge, painfully extracted from Nature, of the greatest minds that ever were, with the best teachers, drawn from the entire planet and from all of our history, to instruct us without tiring, and to inspire us to make our own contribution to the collective knowledge of the human species. 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.
- p. 282
- Other things being equal, it is better to be smart than to be stupid.
- p. 284
- The choice is with us still, but the civilization now in jeopardy is all humanity. As the ancient myth makers knew, we are children equally of the earth and the sky. In our tenure on this planet we’ve accumulated dangerous evolutionary baggage — propensities for aggression and ritual, submission to leaders, hostility to outsiders — all of which puts our survival in some doubt. But we’ve also acquired compassion for others, love for our children and desire to learn from history and experience, and a great soaring passionate intelligence — the clear tools for our continued survival and prosperity. Which aspects of our nature will prevail is uncertain, particularly when our visions and prospects are bound to one small part of the small planet Earth. But up there in the immensity of the Cosmos, an inescapable perspective awaits us. There are not yet any obvious signs of extraterrestrial intelligence and this makes us wonder whether civilizations like ours always rush implacably, headlong, toward self-destruction. National boundaries are not evident when we view the Earth from space. Fanatical ethnic or religious or national chauvinisms are a little difficult to maintain when we see our planet as a fragile blue crescent fading to become an inconspicuous point of light against the bastion and citadel of the stars. Travel is broadening.
- p. 318
- War is murder writ large.
- p. 326
- We have heard the rationales offered by the nuclear superpowers. We know who speaks for the nations. But who speaks for the human species? Who speaks for Earth?
- p. 329
- Those afraid of the universe as it really is, those who pretend to nonexistent knowledge and envision a Cosmos centered on human beings will prefer the fleeting comforts of superstition. They avoid rather than confront the world. But those with the courage to explore the weave and structure of the Cosmos, even where it differs profoundly from their wishes and prejudices, will penetrate its deepest mysteries.
- p. 332
- There is no other species on the Earth that does science. It is, so far, entirely a human invention, evolved by natural selection in the cerebral cortex for one simple reason: it works. It is not perfect. It can be misused. It is only a tool. But it is by far the best tool we have, self-correcting, ongoing, applicable to everything. It has two rules. First: there are no sacred truths; all assumptions must be critically examined; arguments from authority are worthless. Second: whatever is inconsistent with the facts must be discarded or revised. We must understand the Cosmos as it is and not confuse how it is with how we wish it to be.
- p. 333
- Human history can be viewed as a slowly dawning awareness that we are members of a larger group. Initially our loyalties were to ourselves and our immediate family, next, to bands of wandering hunter-gatherers, then to tribes, small settlements, city-states, nations. We have broadened the circle of those we love. We have now organized what are modestly described as super-powers, which include groups of people from divergent ethnic and cultural backgrounds working in some sense together — surely a humanizing and character building experience. If we are to survive, our loyalties must be broadened further, to include the whole human community, the entire planet Earth. Many of those who run the nations will find this idea unpleasant. They will fear the loss of power. We will hear much about treason and disloyalty. Rich nation-states will have to share their wealth with poor ones. But the choice, as H. G. Wells once said in a different context, is clearly the universe or nothing.
- p. 339
- Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another.
- p. 339
- Contact : a novel. New York: Simon and Schuster. 1985. LCC PS3569.A287 C6 1985. ISBN 0671434004.
- For quotes from the motion picture based on this novel, see: Contact (film)
- All page numbers from the mass market paperback edition published by Pocket Books
- I wish to propose a doctrine which may, I fear, appear wildly paradoxical and subversive. The doctrine in question is this: that it is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true. I must, of course, admit that if such an opinion became common it would completely transform our social life and our political system; since both are at present faultless, this must weigh against it.
- Chapter 2 (p. 15, quoting Bertrand Russell)
- Humans are good, she knew, at discerning subtle patterns that are really there, but equally so at imagining them when they are altogether absent.
- Chapter 3 (p. 44)
- We could not guess how different from us they (extraterrestrials) might be. It was hard enough to guess the intentions of our elected representatives in Washington.
- Chapter 3 (p. 48)
- If we like them, they’re freedom fighters, she thought. If we don’t like them, they’re terrorists. In the unlikely case we can’t make up our minds, they’re temporarily only guerrillas.
- Chapter 3 (p. 55)
- If the press descended, the science would surely suffer.
- Chapter 5 (p. 75)
- It’s hard to kill a creature once it lets you see its consciousness.
- Chapter 9 (p. 147)
- “Let’s see if I’ve got this straight,” he returned. It was a phrase of hers that he had adopted “It’s a lazy Saturday afternoon, and there’s this couple lying naked in bed reading the Encyclopaedia Britannica to each other, and arguing about whether the Andromeda Galaxy is more ‘numinous’ than the Resurrection. Do they know how to have a good time or don’t they?”
- Chapter 9 (p. 154)
- Do we, holding that the gods exist,
deceive ourselves with insubstantial dreams
and lies, while random careless chance and
change alone control the world?
- Chapter 10 (p. 157, quoting Euripides)
- The major religions on the Earth contradict each other left and right. You can’t all be correct. And what if all of you are wrong? It’s a possibility, you know. You must care about the truth, right? Well, the way to winnow through all the differing contentions is to be skeptical. I’m not any more skeptical about your religious beliefs than I am about every new scientific idea I hear about. But in my line of work, they’re called hypotheses, not inspiration and not revelation.
- Chapter 10 (p. 162)
- What I’m saying is, if God wanted to send us a message, and ancient writings were the only way he could think of doing it, he could have done a better job.
- Chapter 10 (p. 164)
- Anything you don’t understand, Mr. Rankin, you attribute to God. God for you is where you sweep away all the mysteries of the world, all the challenges to our intelligence. You simply turn your mind off and say God did it.
- Chapter 10 (p. 166)
- Jingoistic rhetoric and puerile self-congratulatory nationalism.
- Chapter 11 (p. 181)
- Many harebrained interpretations were also widely available, especially in weekly newspapers.
- Chapter 13 (p. 216)
- Skepticism is the chastity of the intellect, and it is shameful to surrender it too soon or to the first comer; there is nobility in preserving it coolly and proudly through long youth, until at last, in the ripeness of instinct and discretion, it can be safely exchanged for fidelity and happiness.
- Chapter 14 (p. 231, quoting George Santayana)
- A celibate clergy is an especially good idea, because it tends to suppress any hereditary propensity toward fanaticism.
- Chapter 14 (p. 244)
- The chiliasts made an atheist out of me.
- Chapter 15 (p. 258)
- You see, the religious people—most of them—really think this planet is an experiment. That’s what their beliefs come down to. Some god or other is always fixing and poking, messing around with tradesmen’s wives, giving tablets on mountains, commanding you to mutilate your children, telling people what words they can say and what words they can’t say, making people feel guilty about enjoying themselves, and like that. Why can’t the gods leave well enough alone? All this intervention speaks of incompetence. If God didn’t want Lot’s wife to look back, why didn’t he make her obedient, so she’d do what her husband told her? Or if he hadn’t made Lot such a shithead, maybe she would’ve listened to him more. If God is omnipotent and omniscient, why didn’t he start the universe out in the first place so it would come out the way he wants? Why’s he constantly repairing and complaining? No, there’s one thing the Bible makes clear: The biblical God is a sloppy manufacturer. He’s not good at design, he’s not good at execution. He’d be out of business if there was any competition.
- Chapter 16 (p. 285)
- In Mozambique, the story goes, monkeys do not talk, because they know if they utter even a single word some man will come and put them to work.
- Chapter 18 (p. 313)
- “Do you understand what’s going on?”
“Not at all,” he shouted back. “I can almost prove this can’t be happening.”
- Chapter 19 (p. 330)
- Humans are very good at dreaming, although you’d never know it from your television.
- Chapter 20 (p. 359)
- In the long run, the aggressive civilizations destroy themselves, almost always. It’s their nature. They can’t help it.
- Chapter 20 (p. 359)
- That it will never come again
Is what makes life so sweet.
- Chapter 22 (p. 393, quoting Emily Dickinson)
- This planet is run by crazy people. Remember what they have to do to get where they are. Their perspective is so narrow, so…brief. A few years. In the best of them a few decades. They care only about the time they are in power.
- Chapter 23 (p. 403)
- She too had found the experience transforming. How could she not? A demon had been exorcised. Several. And just when she felt more capable of love than she had ever been, she found herself alone.
- Chapter 23 (p. 407)
- For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.
- Chapter 24 (p. 430)
- In the fabric of space and in the nature of matter, as in a great work of art, there is, written small, the artist’s signature.
- Chapter 24 (p. 431)
(Quotes that need to be located)
- Science fiction. You’re right, it’s crazy. In fact, it’s even worse than that, it’s nuts. You wanna hear something really nutty? I heard of a couple guys who wanna build something called an airplane, you know you get people to go in, and fly around like birds, it’s ridiculous, right? And what about breaking the sound barrier, or rockets to the moon? Atomic energy, or a mission to Mars? Science fiction, right? Look, all I’m asking is for you to just have the tiniest bit of vision. You know, to just sit back for one minute and look at the big picture. To take a chance on something that just might end up being the most profoundly impactful moment for humanity, for the history…of history.
- You can’t convince a believer of anything; for their belief is not based on evidence, it’s based on a deep seated need to believe. [This is from Dr. Arroway in Carl Sagan’s Contact (New York: Pocket Books, 1985]
Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (1990 Update)
The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean [Episode 1]
- The surface of the earth is the shore of the cosmic ocean. … Recently, we’ve managed to wade a little way out, maybe ankle-deep, and the water seems inviting.
- 03 min 55 sec
- For the first time, we have the power to decide the fate of our planet and ourselves. This is a time of great danger, but our species is young, and curious, and brave. It shows much promise.
- 05 min 20 sec
- Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return. And we can. Because the cosmos is also within us. We’re made of star-stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.
- 06 min 04 sec
- We wish to pursue the truth no matter where it leads. But to find the truth, we need imagination and skepticism both. We will not be afraid to speculate, but we will be careful to distinguish speculation from fact. The cosmos is full beyond measure of elegant truths; of exquisite interrelationships; of the awesome machinery of nature.
- 53 min 15 sec
- The cosmic calendar compresses the local history of the universe into a single year. If the universe began on January 1st it was not until May that the Milky Way formed. Other planetary systems may have appeared in June, July and August, but our Sun and Earth not until mid-September. Life arose soon after.
- 56 min 20 sec
- We humans appear on the cosmic calendar so recently that our recorded history occupies only the last few seconds of the last minute of December 31st.
- 57 min 0 sec
- We on Earth have just awakened to the great oceans of space and time from which we have emerged. We are the legacy of 15 billion years of cosmic evolution. We have a choice: We can enhance life and come to know the universe that made us, or we can squander our 15 billion-year heritage in meaningless self-destruction. What happens in the first second of the next cosmic year depends on what we do, here and now, with our intelligence and our knowledge of the cosmos.
One Voice in the Cosmic Fugue [Episode 2]
All my life, I’ve wondered about life beyond the earth. On those countless other planets that we think circle other suns, is there also life? Might the beings of other worlds resemble us, or would they be astonishingly different? What would they be made of? In the vast Milky Way galaxy, how common is what we call life? The nature of life on earth and the quest for life elsewhere are the two sides of the same question: the search for who we are.
- 0 min 45 sec
The Harmony of the Worlds [Episode 3]
- As a boy Kepler had been captured by a vision of cosmic splendour, a harmony of the worlds which he sought so tirelessly all his life. Harmony in this world eluded him. His three laws of planetary motion represent, we now know, a real harmony of the worlds, but to Kepler they were only incidental to his quest for a cosmic system based on the Perfect Solids, a system which, it turns out, existed only in his mind. Yet from his work, we have found that scientific laws pervade all of nature, that the same rules apply on Earth as in the skies, that we can find a resonance, a harmony, between the way we think and the way the world works.
When he found that his long cherished beliefs did not agree with the most precise observations, he accepted the uncomfortable facts, he preferred the hard truth to his dearest illusions. That is the heart of science.
- 55 min 0 sec
Heaven and Hell [Episode 4]
- There are many hypotheses in science that are wrong. That’s perfectly alright; it’s the aperture to finding out what’s right. Science is a self-correcting process. To be accepted, new ideas must survive the most rigorous standards of evidence and scrutiny. The worst aspect of the Velikovsky affair is not that many of his ideas were wrong or silly or in gross contradiction to the facts; rather, the worst aspect is that some scientists attempted to suppress Velikovsky’s ideas. The suppression of uncomfortable ideas may be common in religion or in politics, but it is not the path to knowledge and there is no place for it in the endeavor of science. We do not know beforehand where fundamental insights will arise from about our mysterious and lovely solar system, and the history of our study of the solar system shows clearly that accepted and conventional ideas are often wrong and that fundamental insights can arise from the most unexpected sources.
- 33 min 20 sec
Blues For a Red Planet [Episode 5]
- The beauty of a living thing is not the atoms that go into it, but the way those atoms are put together. Information distilled over 4 billion years of biological evolution. Incidentally, all the organisms on the Earth are made essentially of that stuff. An eyedropper full of that liquid could be used to make a caterpillar or a petunia if only we knew how to put the components together.
- 44 min 50 sec
Traveller’s Tales [Episode 6]
- A tiny blue dot set in a sunbeam. Here it is. That’s where we live. That’s home. We humans are one species and this is our world. It is our responsibility to cherish it. Of all the worlds in our solar system, the only one so far as we know, graced by life.
- 58 min 56 sec
The Backbone of Night [Episode 7]
The fifth solid they mystically associated with the Cosmos. Perhaps it was the substance of the heavens. This fifth solid was called the dodecahedron.
- The sky calls to us. If we do not destroy ourselves, we will one day venture to the stars.
- 0 min 40 sec
- There can be an infinite number of polygons, but only five regular solids. Four of the solids were associated with earth, fire, air and water. The cube for example represented earth. These four elements, they thought, make up terrestrial matter. So the fifth solid they mystically associated with the Cosmos. Perhaps it was the substance of the heavens. This fifth solid was called the dodecahedron. Its faces are pentagons, twelve of them. Knowledge of the dodecahedron was considered too dangerous for the public. Ordinary people were to be kept ignorant of the dodecahedron. In love with whole numbers, the Pythagoreans believed that all things could be derived from them. Certainly all other numbers.
So a crisis in doctrine occurred when they discovered that the square root of two was irrational. That is: the square root of two could not be represented as the ratio of two whole numbers, no matter how big they were. “Irrational” originally meant only that. That you can’t express a number as a ratio. But for the Pythagoreans it came to mean something else, something threatening, a hint that their world view might not make sense, the other meaning of “irrational”.
- 37 min 45 sec
- Instead of wanting everyone to share and know of their discoveries the Pythagoreans suppressed the square root of two and the dodecahedron. The outside world was not to know. The Pythagoreans had discovered, in the mathematical underpinnings of nature, one of the two most powerful scientific tools, the other of course is experiment, but instead of using their insight to advance the collective voyage of human discovery they made of it little more than the hocus-pocus of a mystery cult. Science and mathematics were to be removed from the hands of the merchants and the artisans.
- 38 min 10 sec
- But why had science lost its way in the first place? What appeal could these teachings of Pythagoras and Plato have had for their contemporaries? They provided, I believe, an intellectually respectable justification for a corrupt social order. The mercantile tradition that had led to Ionian science also led to a slave economy. You could get richer if you owned a lot of slaves. Athens in the time of Plato and Aristotle had a vast slave population. All that brave Athenian talk about democracy applied only to a privileged few.
- 40 min 35 sec
Journeys in Space and Time [Episode 8]
- Those worlds in space are as countless as all the grains of sand on all the beaches of the earth. Each of those worlds is as real as ours and every one of them is a succession of incidents, events, occurrences which influence its future. Countless worlds, numberless moments, an immensity of space and time. And our small planet at this moment, here we face a critical branch point in history, what we do with our world, right now, will propagate down through the centuries and powerfully affect the destiny of our descendants, it is well within our power to destroy our civilization and perhaps our species as well. If we capitulate to superstition or greed or stupidity we could plunge our world into a time of darkness deeper than the time between the collapse of classical civilization and the Italian Renaissance. But we are also capable of using our compassion and our intelligence, our technology and our wealth to make an abundant and meaningful life for every inhabitant of this planet.
- 54 min 55 sec
“The Edge of Forever” [Episode 10]
- But we don’t yet know wherther the Universe is open or closed. More than that, there are a few astronomers who doubt that the redshift of distant galaxies is due to the doppler effect, who are skeptical of the expanding Universe and the Big Bang. Perhaps our descendants will regard our present ignorance with as much sympathy as we feel to the ancients for not knowing the Earth went around the Sun. If the general picture, however, of a Big Bang followed by an expanding Universe is correct, what happened before that? Was the Universe devoid of all matter and then the matter suddenly somehow created, how did that happen? In many cultures, the customary answer is that a God or Gods created the Universe out of nothing. But if we wish to pursue this question courageously, we must of course ask the next question, where did God come from? If we decide that this is an unanswerable question, why not save a step and conclude that the origin of the Universe is an unanswerable question? Or, if we say that God always existed, why not save a step, and conclude that the Universe always existed? There is no need for a creation, it was always here. These are not easy questions. Cosmology brings us face to face with the deepest mysteries, questions that were once treated only in religion and myth.
The Persistence of Memory [Episode 11]
- What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.
- 42 min 33 sec
Encyclopedia Galactica [Episode 12]
- In the vastness of the Cosmos there must be other civilizations far older and more advanced than ours.
- 0 min 45 sec
- What counts is not what sounds plausible, not what we would like to believe, not what one or two witnesses claim, but only what is supported by hard evidence rigorously and skeptically examined. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
- 1 min 10 sec
- For all I know we may be visited by a different extraterrestrial civilization every second Tuesday, but there’s no support for this appealing idea. The extraordinary claims are not supported by extraordinary evidence.
- 7 min 25 sec
- Back reference to UFO abduction claims
Who Speaks for Earth? [Episode 13]
- The old man made himself look hard at the Raven and saw that it was not a great bird from the sky but the work of men like himself. This first encounter turned out to be peaceful. The men of the La Pérouse expedition were under strict orders to treat with respect any people they might discover, an exceptional policy for its time and after.
- 4 min 40 sec
- Unlike the La Pérouse expedition the Conquistadors sought not knowledge but Gold. They used their superior weapons to loot and murder, in their madness they obliterated a civilisation. In the name of piety, in a mockery of their religion, the Spaniards utterly destroyed a society with an Art, Astronomy and Architecture the equal of anything in Europe. We revile the Conquistadors for their cruelty and shortsightedness, for choosing death. We admire La Pérouse and the Tlingit for their courage and wisdom, for choosing life. The choice is with us still, but the civilisation now in jeopardy is all humanity. As the ancient myth makers knew we’re children equally of the earth and the sky. In our tenure on this planet we’ve accumulated dangerous evolutionary baggage, propensities for aggression and ritual, submission to leaders, hostility to outsiders, all of which puts our survival in some doubt. But we’ve also acquired compassion for others, love for our children, a desire to learn from history and experience and a great soaring passionate intelligence, the clear tools for our continued survival and prosperity. Which aspects of our nature will prevail is uncertain, particularly when our visions and prospects are bound to one small part of the small planet Earth. But up there in the Cosmos an inescapable perspective awaits. National boundaries are not evident when we view the Earth from space. Fanatical ethnic or religious or national identifications are a little difficult to support when we see our Earth as a fragile blue crescent fading to become an inconspicuous point of light against the bastion and the citadel of the stars. There are not yet obvious signs of extraterrestrial intelligence and this makes us wonder whether civilisations like ours rush inevitably headlong into self-destruction.
- 6 min 10 sec
- Every thinking person fears nuclear war and every technological nation plans for it. Everyone knows it’s madness, and every country has an excuse.
- 17 min 40 sec
- Our global civilisation is clearly on the edge of failure and the most important task it faces, preserving the lives and well-being of its citizens and the future habitability of the planet. But if we’re willing to live with the growing likelihood of nuclear war shouldn’t we also been willing to explore vigorously every possible means to prevent nuclear war. Shouldn’t we consider in every nation major changes in the traditional ways of doing things, a fundamental restructuring of economic political social and religious institutions. We’ve reached a point where there can be no more special interests or special cases, nuclear arms threaten every person on the Earth. Fundamental changes in society are sometimes labelled impractical or contrary to human nature, as if nuclear war were practical or as if there’s only one human nature. But fundamental changes can clearly be made, we’re surrounded by them. In the last two centuries abject slavery which was with us for thousands of years has almost entirely been eliminated in a stirring worldwide revolution. Women, systematically mistreated for millennia are gradually gaining the political and economic power traditionally denied them and some wars of aggression have recently been stopped or curtailed because of a revulsion felt by the people in the aggressor nations. The old appeals to racial sexual religious chauvinism and to rabid nationalist fervor are beginning not to work. A new consciousness is developing which sees the earth as a single organism and recognizes that an organism at war with itself is doomed. We are one planet. One of the great revelations of the age of space exploration is the image of the earth finite and lonely, somehow vulnerable, bearing the entire human species through the oceans of space and time.
- 22 min 35 sec
- Eratosthenes was the director of the great library of Alexandria, the Centre of science and learning in the ancient world. Aristotle had argued that humanity was divided into Greeks and everybody else, whom he called barbarians and that the Greeks should keep themselves racially pure. He thought it was fitting for the Greeks to enslave other peoples. But Eratosthenes criticized Aristotle for his blind chauvinism, he believed there was good and bad in every nation.
- 25 Min 10 Sec
- Imagine how different our world would be if those discoveries had been explained and used for the benefit of everyone, if the humane perspective of Eratosthenes had been widely adopted and applied. But this was not to be. Alexandria was the greatest city the Western world had ever seen. People from all nations came here to live to trade to learn, on a given day these harbours were thronged with merchants and scholars and tourists, it’s probably here that the word Cosmopolitan realised its true meaning of a citizen not just of a nation but of the Cosmos, to be a citizen of the Cosmos. Here were clearly the seeds of our modern world, but why didn’t they take root and flourish why instead did the Western world slumber through a 1000 years of darkness until Columbus and Copernicus and their contemporaries rediscovered the work done here? I cannot give you a simple answer but I do know this, there is no record in the entire history of the library that any of the illustrious scholars and scientists who worked here ever seriously challenged a single political or economic or religious assumption of the society in which they lived. The permanence of the stars was questioned, the justice of slavery was not.
- 28 min 30 sec
- History is full of people who out of fear or ignorance or the lust for power have destroyed treasures of immeasurable value which truly belong to all of us. We must not let it happen again.
- 36 min 20 sec
- And we who embody the local eyes and ears and thoughts and feelings of the cosmos we’ve begun, at last, to wonder about our origins. Star stuff, contemplating the stars organized collections of 10 billion-billion-billion atoms contemplating the evolution of matter tracing that long path by which it arrived at consciousness here on the planet Earth and perhaps, throughout the cosmos.
- 53 min 54 sec
- Our loyalties are to the species and the planet. We speak for Earth. Our obligation to survive and flourish is owed not just to ourselves, but also to that Cosmos, ancient and vast, from which we spring.
- 54 min 25 sec
- Since this series’ maiden voyage, the impossible has come to pass: Mighty walls that maintained insuperable ideological differences have come tumbling down; deadly enemies have embraced and begun to work together. The imperative to cherish the Earth and protect the global environment that sustains all of us has become widely accepted, and we’ve begun, finally, the process of reducing the obscene number of weapons of mass destruction. Perhaps we have, after all, decided to choose life. But we still have light years to go to ensure that choice. Even after the summits and the ceremonies and the treaties, there are still some 50,000 nuclear weapons in the world — and it would require the detonation of only a tiny fraction of them to produce a nuclear winter, the predicted global climatic catastrophe that would result from the smoke and the dust lifted into the atmosphere by burning cities and petroleum facilities.
The world scientific community has begun to sound the alarm about the grave dangers posed by depleting the protective ozone shield and by greenhouse warming, and again we’re taking some mitigating steps, but again those steps are too small and too slow. The discovery that such a thing as nuclear winter was really possible evolved out of the studies of Martian dust storms. The surface of Mars, fried by ultraviolet light, is also a reminder of why it’s important to keep our ozone layer intact. The runaway greenhouse effect on Venus is a valuable reminder that we must take the increasing greenhouse effect on Earth seriously.
Important lessons about our environment have come from spacecraft missions to the planets. By exploring other worlds we safeguard this one. By itself, I think this fact more than justifies the money our species has spent in sending ships to other worlds. It is our fate to live during one of the most perilous and, at the same time, one of the most hopeful chapters in human history.
Our science and our technology have posed us a profound question. Will we learn to use these tools with wisdom and foresight before it’s too late? Will we see our species safely through this difficult passage so that our children and grandchildren will continue the great journey of discovery still deeper into the mysteries of the Cosmos? That same rocket and nuclear and computer technology that sends our ships past the farthest known planet can also be used to destroy our global civilization.Exactly the same technology can be used for good and for evil. It is as if there were a God who said to us, “I set before you two ways: You can use your technology to destroy yourselves or to carry you to the planets and the stars. It’s up to you.”
- 55 min 20 sec
- Pale blue dot : a vision of the human future in space. New York: Random House. 1994. LCC QB500.262.S24 1994. ISBN 0679438416.
Look again at that dotThat’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…
- Consider again 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.The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. 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.The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.
- Ann Druyan suggests an experiment: Look back again at the pale blue dot of the preceding chapter. Take a good long look at it. Stare at the dot for any length of time and then try to convince yourself that God created the whole Universe for one of the 10 million or so species of life that inhabit that speck of dust. Now take it a step further: Imagine that everything was made just for a single shade of that species, or gender, or ethnic or religious subdivision. If this doesn’t strike you as unlikely, pick another dot. Imagine it to be inhabited by a different form of intelligent life. They, too, cherish the notion of a God who has created everything for their benefit. How seriously do you taketheir claim?
- p. 11
- It took the Church until 1832 to remove Galileo‘s work from its list of books which Catholics were forbidden to read at the risk of dire punishment of their immortal souls.
- p. 43
- We’ve tended in our cosmologies to make things familiar. Despite all our best efforts, we’ve not been very inventive. In the West, Heaven is placid and fluffy, and Hell is like the inside of a volcano. In many stories, both realms are governed by dominance hierarchies headed by gods or devils. Monotheists talked about the king of kings. In every culture we imagined something like our own political system running the Universe. Few found the similarity suspicious.
- p. 46
- In some respects, science has far surpassed religion in delivering awe. How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, “This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed”? Instead they say, “No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.”
- p. 50
- Once we overcome our fear of being tiny, we find ourselves on the threshold of a vast and awesome Universe that utterly dwarfs — in time, in space, and in potential — the tidy anthropocentric proscenium of our ancestors. We gaze across billions of light-years of space to view the Universe shortly after the Big Bang, and plumb the fine structure of matter. We peer down into the core of our planet, and the blazing interior of our star. We read the genetic language in which is written the diverse skills and propensities of every being on Earth. We uncover hidden chapters in the record of our origins, and with some anguish better understand our nature and prospects. We invent and refine agriculture, without which almost all of us would starve to death. We create medicines and vaccines that save the lives of billions. We communicate at the speed of light, and whip around the Earth in an hour and a half. We have sent dozens of ships to more than seventy worlds, and four spacecraft to the stars. We are right to rejoice in our accomplishments, to be proud that our species has been able to see so far, and to judge our merit in part by the very science that has so deflated our pretensions.
- p. 53
- It is sometimes said that scientists are unromantic, that their passion to figure out robs the world of beauty and mystery. But is it not stirring to understand how the world actually works — that white light is made of colors, that color is the way we perceive the wavelengths of light, that transparent air reflects light, that in so doing it discriminates among the waves, and that the sky is blue for the same reason that the sunset is red? It does no harm to the romance of the sunset to know a little bit about it.
- p. 159
- Those who are skeptical about carbon dioxide greenhouse warming might profitably note the massive greenhouse effect on Venus. No one proposes that Venus’s greenhouse effect derives from imprudent Venusians who burned too much coal, drove fuel-inefficient autos, and cut down their forests. My point is different. The climatological history of our planetary neighbor, an otherwise Earthlike planet on which the surface became hot enough to melt tin or lead, is worth considering — especially by those who say that the increasing greenhouse effect on Earth will be self-correcting, that we don’t really have to worry about it, or (you can see this in the publications of some groups that call themselves conservative) that the greenhouse effect is a “hoax”.
- p. 227
- A scientific colleague tells me about a recent trip to the New Guinea highlands where she visited a stone age culture hardly contacted by Western civilization. They were ignorant of wristwatches, soft drinks, and frozen food. But they knew about Apollo 11. They knew that humans had walked on the Moon. They knew the names of Armstrong and Aldrin and Collins. They wanted to know who was visiting the Moon these days.
- p. 281
- Since, in the long run, every planetary society will be endangered by impacts from space, every surviving civilization is obliged to become spacefaring — not because of exploratory or romantic zeal, but for the most practical reason imaginable: staying alive.
- p. 371
- Imagine we could accelerate continuously at 1 g — what we’re comfortable with on good old terra firma — to the midpoint of our voyage, and decelerate continuously at 1 g until we arrive at our destination. It would take a day to get to Mars, a week and a half to Pluto, a year to the Oort Cloud, and a few years to the nearest stars.
- p. 395
- The vast distances that separate the stars are providential. Beings and worlds are quarantined from one another. The quarantine is lifted only for those with sufficient self-knowledge and judgement to have safely traveled from star to star.
- p. 398
- The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
- Modern science has been a voyage into the unknown, with a lesson in humility waiting at every stop. Many passengers would rather have stayed home.
- If we crave some cosmic purpose, then let us find ourselves a worthy goal.
- The demon-haunted world : science as a candle in the dark. New York: Random House. 1995. LCC Q175.S215 1995. ISBN 039453512X.
- Advances in medicine and agriculture have saved vastly more lives than have been lost in all the wars in history.
- Ch. 1 : The Most Precious Thing
- I worry that, especially as the Millennium edges nearer, pseudo-science and superstition will seem year by year more tempting, the siren song of unreason more sonorous and attractive. Where have we heard it before? Whenever our ethnic or national prejudices are aroused, in times of scarcity, during challenges to national self-esteem or nerve, when we agonize about our diminished cosmic place and purpose, or when fanaticism is bubbling up around us-then, habits of thought familiar from ages past reach for the controls. The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir.
- Ch. 2 : Science and Hope
- If we long to believe that the stars rise and set for us, that we are the reason there is a Universe, does science do us a disservice in deflating our conceits?
- Ch. 1 : The Most Precious Thing, p. 12
- For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.
- Ch. 1 : The Most Precious Thing, p. 12
- We’ve arranged a global civilization in which the most crucial elements — transportation, communications, and all other industries; agriculture, medicine, education, entertainment, protecting the environment; and even the key democratic institution of voting — profoundly depend on science and technology. “We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology” This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.
- Ch. 2 : Science and Hope, p. 26
- Humans may crave absolute certainty; they may aspire to it; they may pretend, as partisans of certain religions do, to have attained it. But the history of science — by far the most successful claim to knowledge accessible to humans — teaches that the most we can hope for is successive improvement in our understanding, learning from our mistakes, an asymptotic approach to the Universe, but with the proviso that absolute certainty will always elude us.
- Ch. 2 : Science and Hope, p. 28
- Think of how many religions attempt to validate themselves with prophecy. Think of how many people rely on these prophecies, however vague, however unfulfilled, to support or prop up their beliefs. Yet has there ever been a religion with the prophetic accuracy and reliability of science? … No other human institution comes close.
- Ch. 2 : Science and Hope, p. 30
- I try not to think with my gut. If I’m serious about understanding the world, thinking with anything besides my brain, as tempting as that might be, is likely to get me into trouble. Really, it’s okay to reserve judgment until the evidence is in.
- Ch. 11 : The Dragon in My Garage, p. 180
- Appeal to ignorance — the claim that whatever has not been proved false must be true, and vice versa (e.g. There is no compelling evidence that UFOs are not visiting the Earth; therefore UFOs exist — and there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. Or: There may be seventy kazillion other worlds, but not one is known to have the moral advancement of the Earth, so we’re still central to the Universe.) This impatience with ambiguity can be criticized in the phrase: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
- Ch. 12 : The Fine Art of Baloney Detection, p. 221
- Books, purchasable at low cost, permit us to interrogate the past with high accuracy; to tap the wisdom of our species; to understand the point of view of others, and not just those in power; to contemplate — with the best teachers — the insights, painfully extracted from Nature, of the greatest minds that ever were, drawn from the entire planet and from all of our history. They allow people long dead to talk inside our heads. Books can accompany us everywhere. Books are patient where we are slow to understand, allow us to go over the hard parts as many times as we wish, and are never critical of our lapses. Books are key to understanding the world and participating in a democratic society.
- Ch. 21 : The Path to Freedom, p. 357
- Education on the value of free speech and the other freedoms reserved by the Bill of Rights, about what happens when you don’t have them, and about how to exercise and protect them, should be an essential prerequisite for being an American citizen — or indeed a citizen of any nation, the more so to the degree that such rights remain unprotected. If we can’t think for ourselves, if we’re unwilling to question authority, then we’re just putty in the hands of those in power. But if the citizens are educated and form their own opinions, then those in power work for us. In every country, we should be teaching our children the scientific method and the reasons for a Bill of Rights. With it comes a certain decency, humility and community spirit. In the demon-haunted world that we inhabit by virtue of being human, this may be all that stands between us and the enveloping darkness.
- Ch. 25 : Real Patriots Ask Questions
- When we consider the founders of our nation: Jefferson, Washington, Samuel and John Adams, Madison and Monroe, Benjamin Franklin, Tom Paine and many others; we have before us a list of at least ten and maybe even dozens of great political leaders. They were well educated. Products of the European Enlightenment, they were students of history. They knew human fallibility and weakness and corruptibility. They were fluent in the English language. They wrote their own speeches. They were realistic and practical, and at the same time motivated by high principles. They were not checking the pollsters on what to think this week. They knew what to think. They were comfortable with long-term thinking, planning even further ahead than the next election. They were self-sufficient, not requiring careers as politicians or lobbyists to make a living. They were able to bring out the best in us. They were interested in and, at least two of them, fluent in science. They attempted to set a course for the United States into the far future — not so much by establishing laws as by setting limits on what kinds of laws could be passed. The Constitution and its Bill of Rights have done remarkably well, constituting, despite human weaknesses, a machine able, more often than not, to correct its own trajectory. At that time, there were only about two and a half million citizens of the United States. Today there are about a hundred times more. So if there were ten people of the caliber of Thomas Jefferson then, there ought to be 10 x 100 = 1,000 Thomas Jefferson’s today. Where are they?
- Ch. 25 : Real Patriots Ask Questions
- Billions and billions : thoughts on life and death at the brink of the millennium. New York: Random House. 1997. LCC Q173.S24 1997. ISBN 0679411607.
- I never said it. Honest. Oh, I said there are maybe 100 billion galaxies and 10 billion trillion stars. It’s hard to talk about the Cosmos without using big numbers. I said ‘billion’ many times on the Cosmos television series, which was seen by a great many people. But I never said ‘billions and billions.’ For one thing, it’s imprecise. How many billions are ‘billions and billions’? A few billion? Twenty billion? A hundred billion? ‘Billions and billions’ is pretty vague… For a while, out of childish pique, I wouldn’t utter the phrase, even when asked to. But I’ve gotten over that. So, for the record, here it goes: ‘Billions and billions.’
- If we keep on with business as usual, the Earth will be warmed more every year; drought and floods will be endemic; many more cities, provinces, and whole nations will be submerged beneath the waves — unless heroic worldwide engineering countermeasures are taken. In the longer run, still more dire consequences may follow, including the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet, and the inundation of almost all the coastal cities on the planet.
- Chapter 11, “Ambush: The Warming of the World”
- A central lesson of science is that to understand complex issues (or even simple ones), we must try to free our minds of dogma and to guarantee the freedom to publish, to contradict, and to experiment. Arguments from authority are unacceptable.
- Chapter 14, “The Common Enemy”.
- Widespread intellectual and moral docility may be convenient for leaders in the short term, but it is suicidal for nations in the long term. One of the criteria for national leadership should therefore be a talent for understanding, encouraging, and making constructive use of vigorous criticism.
- Chapter 14, “The Common Enemy”
- If we are alone in the Universe, it sure seems like an awful waste of space.
- This is a paraphrase of Sagan quoting Thomas Carlyle: “A sad spectacle. If they be inhabited, what a scope for misery and folly. If they be not inhabited, what a waste of space.”
- Sagan delivered this quote during the symposium on “Life Beyond Earth and the Mind of Man”, held at Boston University (20 November 1972), published in Life Beyond Earth and the Mind of Man(1973) edited by Richard Berendzen; Life Beyond Earth and the Mind of Man (1975) National Archives video
- Atheism is more than just the knowledge that gods do not exist, and that religion is either a mistake or a fraud. Atheism is an attitude, a frame of mind that looks at the world objectively, fearlessly, always trying to understand all things as a part of nature.
- Emmett F. Fields, in “Atheism : An Affirmative View” (1980)
- Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
- Martin Rees
- Sagan refers to this quote in The Demon-Haunted World (1995) (see above)