This coming December 20th marks the tenth anniversary of the passing of Carl Sagan, and upon reflection the importance of the event is less a memorial to the life of the man himself but to the memorial of what he has come to represent, if only to a few. Sagan was a theorist, a scientist—indeed, an unqualified genius by any measure. But geniuses come in many varieties and have a strong tendency to lose perspective—to be unable to see the forest because the fucking trees are in the way. Sagan’s legacy—what his life represents—is the comforting fact that a man of his brilliance will inevitably ally himself for the causes of peace, knowledge, and earnest exploration.
Most of us are resigned to a life without fame or notable accomplishment, and if we are an exception, our glory is fleeting by comparison. Carl Sagan was one of the few—those who come only every couple of centuries—who look at the world and see something that no one else has ever seen before. These are the few who look at the world and actually see it as it is. While his contemporaries saw only atoms or stars or people, Sagan saw stars occupied by people who were comprised of atoms, and it was that balance that he felt across the cosmos that he endeavored to explain to the rest of the world. That, in essence is his legacy. That is the thing that he saw that we can never hope to see, but through the lens of his life and his work.
The distillation of his logic, as I interpret it, is that we cannot live without each other, we cannot thrive without the other, and that we are mutually dependent on each other, just as the proton is mutually dependent on the electron, and the sun mutually dependent on the planets. The lesson in our time is that there is no human without place and worth, and as a logical conclusion each must be preserved in order to preserve the other—and, most importantly, to preserve the human spirit of exploration and discovery.
Carl Sagan may well be said to have discovered the meaning of life—to live and to see others live on, in order to allow future generations to answer the questions we so longed to answer ourselves.
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