Help Us Remember
Carl gave me the permission to believe that there was something else out there bigger than this earth and its humans. At a time when I was desperate for anything other than those two things,
Carl offered the universe and its infinite potential. I didn’t need to understand it all, or even pursue it in any way. Just knowing it was there, beautiful, powerful and limitless was perspective enough.
I was ten years old.
Cynthia, Ipswich, MA
It was a great loss when Dr. Sagan passed away. His voice of reason and clarity, and his thoughtfulness are very much needed today.
I took a course in Planetary Astronomy from Carl, as a 2nd Year student, and that lead to publishing 2 papers with Carl as co-author, on the microwave spectrum of Venus. In order to get that research approved, Carl had to personally ‘go to bat’ for me, with a major governing committee within the Astronomy dept. That really impressed me.
Little did I know at the time, but Carl was in the process of being forced out of the Astronomy Department at Harvard – a story that many at Harvard are still not willing to acknowledge. That fall, Carl was denied Tenure at Harvard, and left for Cornell where he was immediately appointed a Full Professor, and named Director of the Center for Planetary Studies.
I almost followed him to Cornell, but ultimately chose to stay at Harvard, and received my PhD in 1972.
Carl was a superb teacher and mentor, and I will always remember the year and half that I studied and learned under his tutelage.
Former Sagan Student
Harvard University 1966-1972
PhD, Astronomy, 1972
Bill Brantley, Winchester, Kentucky
I still miss him.
Carl Sagan… that you may be eternally resting in peace… in the Cosmos...
Herbert Erdmenger, Guatemala
Little did the PR person know that Johnny's favorite hobby, besides tennis at the time, was astronomy. And my instincts told me that Carson would enjoy a visit on the air with Sagan. Well the rest is history. Dr. Sagan made numerous visits back to the show and would often go out to dinner with our star afterwards.
Once, while going over the notes with Carl on the phone the day before an appearance on the show, he asked me who else had been booked. "Oh we've got a terrific show," I replied. "Tony Bennett will be on, along with..." He interrupted me before I could say another word. "I should know who Tony Bennett is, shouldn't I?" he queried. That's when I realized that brilliant scientists don't necessarily know what's going on in show business!
We laughed about this often on succeeding visits to the show and he never failed to ask who the other guests were going to be. Interestingly he seemed to recognize all their names. Obviously he had begun to do his "entertainment other-world" research.
"The Tonight Show" was an entertainment vehicle but, from time to time, we invited guests on who had something very important to share with the viewer. I'm proud that I was responsible for adding Dr. Carl Sagan to that list.
- Howard Papush
Fortunately, two interviews from the last two years of Sagan's life are available to watch on Video.Google.
Or, if you prefer, you can check out the audio from these interviews on the Sounds of Sagan, on the sidebar.
You knew he felt it too: the hairs-stand-up-on-your-neck wonder of the night sky, of thinking of the (yes,) billions of stars, of the worlds to be discovered. Of knowing that we were part of something bigger. Of being made of starstuff.
When I was at university, we had a Space party: everyone dressed up as aliens, Princess Leia, wookies, you name it. My brother beat us all, wearing a blazer and a smart fawn turtleneck. He came as Carl Sagan.Michael Honey, Australia
James W. Shaw, Falmouth,MA
My favorite DVD set that I own is his PBS documentary Cosmos. While I already loved astronomy, after I discovered Sagan, my interest increased even more.
In a nutshell, I think it is Sagan's eloquent, yet simple explanations of astronomy that make him so unique. He is excellent at helping to comprehend a science that is, often times, incomprehensible.
RIP Carl Sagan. You taught us so much.
- Mike Postiglione, Kansas
Production of Amino Acids from Gaseous Mixtures Using Ultraviolet Light.
Christopher Niebylski, The World Bank.
Here is an excerpt:
Generally speaking, I'm pretty opposed to marking a death anniversary. This is something that came about as I worked at a tattoo shop and people ritualistically attempted to immortalize a loved one by having either their death date or an image of death (i.e., an angel) marked into their skin for all their conscious eternity. I spent years around this well-meaning but misguided tradition, so I feel qualified to criticize it...Please read the rest at The Bean Mines.
Right now I am looking down at my arm, which is completely sleeved in a random science-fiction/space theme, and which I started about ten years ago. I'd be lying if I didn't say that I felt Carl Sagan was somewhat responsible for my having these tattoos. Are they a memorial tattoo? No, and yes a little.
When my dad told me that Carl Sagan had finally passed away after two years of fighting a painful disease, I quietly lost it. Like people worldwide I felt he'd spoken to me -- he had been a voice, both literal and metaphorical, of the cosmos, a champion for the utterly ignored and completely spectacular universe around us. I have clear memories of being hunkered up to the television absorbing the concepts of the Doppler effect without even trying to. I opened up my tiny, spongy and nearly blank brain to him to fill, and with grace and wit he complied.
I never met him, but I viewed "Contact" again last night. Even though I knew the movie's outcome, it was still a big WOW.
My only connection with Carl was that he and my father died of the same disease: MDS (Myelodysplastic syndrome), for which there is still no cure. My father didn't do the bone marrow transplant, as Carl did.
I certainly hope that the first permanent human settlement on the moon or Mars is named after Carl. He deserves no less.
Also, as it is the holiday season, why not make a donation to SETI in commemoration of Dr. Sagan in a loved one's name? They are always desperate for funding, and it could make a nice gift to the science enthusiast in your circle.
Are you a Space enthusiast with lots of idle disk space you don't use, and are hard up for cash to make a donation? Well here's an alternative to a donation that's just as good if not better: download the BOINC client program and give a portion of your disk to research sciences. There's a few to choose from and SETI is one of them.
More flickr later.
I have added an excerpt from the May 5 (3), 1996 interview with Sagan to the Sounds of Sagan. For the whole hour of programing check out NPR's site.
I’ve never lost my love for that moment of gaining a little more understanding and becoming a little more at home in the Cosmos, and more than anything else I wanted to share it with as many people as possible. I became a high school teacher of physics upon graduating from college, and I haven’t looked back.
More than anything else, I am grateful that I was able to share with Drs. Sagan and Druyan what they were able to give to me. A book signing for Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors at Oxford Books in Atlanta, GA gave me the opportunity to personally thank Carl Sagan for giving me such inspiration and for flagging this path for me to follow.
My dream is that maybe one of my students who may never even have heard of Carl Sagan might catch the fever and pass it along themselves.
Michael Poley, Physics and AP Physics Teacher,Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School
Just wanted to give y'all my own Sagan Story:
One of my earlier memories involves my Dad dressing me in a kiddie blazer and taking me to a lecture by some scientist whose name I had never heard before. You can imagine the reaction this provoked in an child whose regular leisure consisted of lego toys and backyard wargames. I protested, my father insisted. I resigned myself to an afternoon staring at the ceiling of some auditorium.
But the crowd's reaction as Dr. Sagan walked on stage - a reception more on par with a rock star than a crusty old NASA scientist - suggested I might be in for something more interesting after all. The scientist launched straight away into a discourse on extraterrestrial life. The talk ranged from UFOs and their portrayal in Hollywood to the size of the universe and Drake equations with the lifetime of civilizations... I sat statue-still for two hours as he showed us the span of the universe on a projection screen.
During the question session a woman from the audience challenged him: "How can you look at a rainbow and not believe there's a God?" to which he replied, "Rainbows occur because of a refraction of light." He then continued with a more nuanced response, but the message was clear: our reverence should be foremost for intellectual integrity and rational experiment. Powerful ideas to hit the impressionable mind of an elementary school student.
These days I'm a PhD student studying autonomous robotic astrobiology - a.k.a. the search for life on other planets. I suspect that I owe my career choice to a conspiracy between my father and Carl Sagan.
To quote Richard:
The implication is that somehow the universe was designed with the transcendental value of pi so arranged that its digits were graphical as well as numerical. I was reading several comments about this in other blogs and one stated that actually constructing a universe and controlling the value of pi is "impossible for God." Without debating that question, I submit that if one searches long and hard enough, one will, indeed, find the "message" in the digits of pi. Consider: As far as anyone knows, pi is random and infinite. Should that not mean that any pattern, including the one above, will eventually appear?To read the entire entry, visit RikLBlog.
Carl explained that programs that are outside of just hardcore science that might be socially positive are often forgone because the science teams usually "blow their wad" on doing science first.
Jennifer then became irate, stating that this nature of the science world was bad and male-centric, as evidenced by Carl's use of "blow their wad".
The host disconnected, and asked Carl for his response. He simply said, "Hmmmm.. I wonder what Jennifer thought I meant by 'wad'."
They went to commercial, and I almost drove off the road for laughter.
At least that's how I remember it. What grace.
Stephen, Woodstown, NJ
I plan to pass the book, DVD collection, and whatever else I can on to my children.
Thanks, Carl. You will always been remembered as my first non-fictional childhood hero.
Jeff, Jacksonville, FL
The last few years have driven home how religious extremism is dangerous and backwards. There's no creativity or imagination in it. It's a symptom of the fear and distrust that millions of people live with every day. It takes courage to speak out against religion and it's excesses but Carl showed me that it has to be done. Religion is a sacred cow that needs to be challenged by all rational people.
Science isn't perfect but it still offers the best way of explaining the world and our place in it. If there is an afterlife it's in our hearts and minds, and that's where Carl resides.
Timothy Hatt, Vancouver, B.C.
The conference was great. It had been sponsored by CSICOP (the Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal) and its title theme was “Controversies in Science and Fringe Science.” Sagan spoke in his usual engaging and enlightening manner, suggesting that skepticism had an important role to play in evaluating the words and policies of our political leaders, as well as judging controversies in science. (Oh, Carl, if you could see how things are today!) James Randi gave a presentation at lunch. Penn & Teller had provided the after-dinner entertainment on the second (and final) evening. A good time was had by all.To read the whole account please visit Halfway There.
I was staying at the Pasadena Hilton, which was within easy walking distance of the convention center where the CSICOP meeting had been held. Ending the conference with the perfect tired but happy cliché, I caught the elevator to head up to my room. The elevator doors opened, and there was Carl Sagan.
He was in his trademark turtleneck and blazer, looking calm and relaxed. Next to him stood a young boy who looked like Carl's clone, complete with matching turtleneck. I assumed it was his son.
I gave a small, nonchalant smile (at least, I think that's what I did) and stood to one side in the elevator car as it rose in its shaft. Although I was pleased that I was not acting goofy and gushy (at least, I didn't think I was acting goofy and gushy), it wasn't like I was going to get many more opportunities to spend time in the company of Carl Sagan. I made up my mind to seize the day. Or the moment, at least.
“Dr. Sagan, it was a pleasure to attend the conference and hear your speech. I came down from Sacramento for it. I told my boss you were going to be the keynote speaker, and you might be amused to learn that she said, ‘Who is Carl Sagan?’”
I don't know if Carl was actually amused, but the boy appeared to be on the point of convulsing with laughter. Carl's expression, in fact, was nearly as blank as Laura's had been. He considered my remark for a long moment, and then gave a small smile. In his roundest oratorical tones, Sagan said, “Please give my best to your boss.”
I have no idea what I said in return. I hope it was something cool like “I will indeed” or “It will be my pleasure,” but I don't remember. The elevator stopped at my floor and I got off. I presume I gave a polite and dignified nod as I stepped off. I'm fairly certain I would have remembered if my exit line had been, “Oh, golly gee, Dr. Sagan, you bet. I will for sure. Gosh. Thanks! Good night.” And somewhere halfway through all that the elevator doors would have closed between us and I'd be babbling at a blank wall. Pretty sure that didn't happen.
Unlike modern atheists -- Dawkins, Harris, and Dennet (for a brief example please look to Wired magazine) -- Sagan's skepticism about the existence of god did not leave him with ill feelings for religion. He believed that religion could be graceful and was once useful, but he was frustrated when religion put superstition before rational thought.
In his only fictional work, Contact, the action in the novel hangs on two beliefs. The first is that it is possible to teach science, skepticism, and rational thought through fiction. Second is the idea that, as human organizations both religion and science are flawed. Sagan saw that there is an unexplored space between faith and rational thought. As I read it Contact is an exercise in coming to terms with that gap.
The best example is the novel / movie in its entirety. However, since I don't have the ability to post the entire film, this excerpt gets to the point -- here we see rational thought break down and faith step in.
To hear Dr. Sagan speak briefly on religion, listen to the Peter Gzowski interview with Sagan, found in the Sounds of Sagan on the sidebar.
As a side I would also like to point out that the people who have contributed to Celebrating Sagan hold different takes on god and religion. I believe that it is a testament to Sagan's vision that people who have oppositional beliefs can come together underneath the umbrage of his world view.
El día de mañana se cumplen 10 años desde que el astrónomo y divulgador científico Carl Sagan, mejor conocido por su famosísima serie de TV de los ochenta: “COSMOS”, moría al lado de su esposa y sus hijos. Sagan representó en mi vida un hito formativo, el cual me transmitió el amor por la ciencia y la astronomía, junto a la valoración de un conjunto de temas-problemas los cuales desarrolló en su vida académica (y podríamos decir que en la totalidad de su vida) que me han atraído desde ese entonces. Era un niño cuando vi por primera vez COSMOS, y desde ese momento veía dicha serie cada vez que la repetían. En mi adolescencia me regalaron el libro y lo leí con gran pasión, impregnándome de lo que podríamos llamar “el espíritu Sagan”. La admiración por dicho espíritu fue compartido con un amigo de infancia y adolescencia (Miguel Edgardo), reforzándolo y haciéndolo vida. Miguel seguramente es más fiel a dicho espíritu, yo en cambio lo he combinado con la espiritualidad cristiana. Sagan era un agnóstico, pero al final de su vida señaló que las grandes religiones (salvo relativamente el Islam) habían evolucionado en el respeto por la ciencia y podrían ayudar en la lucha por la preservación del medio ambiente (idea que el autor sostiene en su libro: Billions and Billions (1997) y para desenmascarar a la pseudociencia (The Demond-haunted World, 1995). Incluso llegó a hablar de la integración de la ciencia y religión en algunos aspectos, apoyando la siguiente frase de Juan Pablo II: “La ciencia puede purificar la religión del error y la superstición; la religión puede purificar la ciencia de la idolatría y los falsos absolutos.”
El “espíritu Sagan” sostiene que la persona posee un anhelo natural por la verdad y el conocimiento; e incluso siguiendo a Bertrand Russell (La conquista de la felicidad, 1930) la búsqueda del conocimiento representa una de las principales fuentes de alegría y gozo; y así lo sostiene Sagan al decir que “la ciencia no sólo es compatible con la espiritualidad sino que es una fuente de espiritualidad profunda” usando como ejemplo la sensación de regocijo y humildad que nos transmite cuando la ciencia reconoce nuestro lugar en la inmensidad del COSMOS. Sagan dedicó su vida a popularizar la ciencia, a transmitir este “espíritu”; debido a su firme creencia en el papel que esta ha tenido en los últimos 300 años los cuales han representado un progreso nunca visto, éxito que se debe fundamentalmente a su mecanismo de análisis e investigación el cual se basa la ciencia. La ciencia para Sagan“es una manera de pensar imaginativa y disciplinada al mismo tiempo (...) que nos invita a aceptar los hechos, aunque no se adapten a nuestras ideas preconcebidas. Nos aconseja tener hipótesis alternativas en la cabeza y ver cuál se adapta mejor a los hechos. Nos insta a un delicado equilibrio entre una apertura sin barreras a las nuevas ideas, por muy heréticas que sean, y el escrutinio escéptico más riguroso: nuevas ideas y sabiduría tradicional. Esta manera de pensar también es una herramienta esencial para una democracia en una era de cambio” (The Demond-haunted World, 1995, págs. 45-46).
La viuda de Sagan: Ann Druyan, sostiene que Carl “sigue vivo” en las miles de personas que se han visto inspiradas por el espíritu Sagan, y esto es cierto. Su ejemplo como hombre de ciencia, enamorado de la búsqueda del conocimiento y preocupado por el destino de la humanidad y del planeta Tierra, perduran en cada uno de nosotros los que fuimos “tocados” por COSMOS; por ese mecanismo maravilloso que integra armónicamente las diferencias con el orden. ¡Gracias Sagan!.
Both myself, and my son shared the whole series together several times. It is true to say that never a week goes by when at least one episode isn't repeated. Despite the hundreds of books I read for my degree, other courses I have attended, and the countless documentaries I have watched, it is a tribute to Carl that absolutely nothing has so profoundly changed my perspectives on life , than Cosmos. More importantly, the series continues to inspire a new generation, witnessed by my son. I obtained the book, and am currently awaiting "Pale Blue Dot" (it has to be imported from the US).
Carl Sagan was quite simply to science, what Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was to music. Nothing less than a genius. Cosmos, for example is exquisite, captivating and inspirational, due in no small part to Carl's enthusiasm and passion for science. He masterfully took complex scientific concepts, and explained them in understandable terms to ordinary people, in which I count myself. If there is one person in this world I would have wished to meet, and talk to, it would have been Carl Sagan.
However, happily Carl is still very much alive today in the millions of hearts and more importantly, minds he touched and changed by his amazing work. The best tribute to Carl we could possibly make is to ensure that his work continues - and that our civilisation does not re-enter the Dark Ages, clouded with superstition, and religious/racial hatred, bigotry and intolerance. All too relevant following the events of 9/11. We must all ensure we are not victims of mass deception, in any subjects, but especially in political, economic and religious matters, we must make it our business to apply that scientific methodology, rigorously, and that verifiable evidence is available, in all claims. We must not take extraordinary claims at face value in our search for "the truth" about the Cosmos, and we must ensure that these ideas are propagated with our peers. Show them Cosmos, get them to buy the book and Carl's other work.
For it is through keeping Carl alive in our brains, and ensuring his ideas become the prevailing paradigm of all of those in authority, that we may avert making that ultimate mistake of destroying our own civilisation. In so doing we will through science, I am certain, eventually discover what we all long for - "the big truth" about the Cosmos. Star stuff and the Cosmos fully conscious and aware of how it created itself.
Andy Fleming, Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham, United Kingdom