I imagine that a lot of folks who read my blog have already seen this, but just in case: go read Carl Sagan and his fully armed spaceship of the imagination. One panel is here, and the rest is really funny.
And if you don’t understand the last two panels, this might help.
I have long said that science fiction on television, even when it’s bad, can serve as inspiration for a budding scientist. Heck, I watched some pretty phenomenally bad scifi TV and movies and a kid, and it fueled the fire of interest and love I had for science. Do I wish the quality of science in the entertainment media were better? Sure! But that doesn’t mean it’s not serving a purpose.
Science in other media, like the news, is another matter. There, it’s critical that it be accurately represented. And it gets worse when someone makes a documentary that’s actually a polemic – a persuasive piece meant to change or guide opinions.
That’s why I really like this talk by scientist Brian Cox, who makes science documentaries for the BBC and is becoming a science celebrity in the UK. It was the Royal Television Society Huw Wheldon Memorial Lecture which he gave earlier this month on BBC2. he has a lot to say about the difference between documentaries and polemicals, and it’s worth your time to watch.
John Boswell, a musician from Washington State, is famous on the web for creating the Symphony of Science — musically autotuned talks by scientists and skeptics discussing the nature of science, reality, and wonder. These are impossibly catchy videos, worth watching over and again. The first, featuring Carl Sagan, was called A Glorious Dawn, and was simply amazing. It quickly went viral, becoming huge on the web.
John has just released his seventh in the SoS series, called A Wave of Reason, and like all of them is profound and lovely. And you may recognize one or two of the people in it…
So yeah, that’s me at about 1:26, saying "Teach a man to reason and he’ll think for a lifetime." It’s from my "Don’t Be A Dick" speech that I gave at TAM 8, and I think it’s worth putting it into context. Here’s some more from that part of the speech (starting at about ten minutes in):
November 9 is the 76th anniversary of Carl Sagan’s birth, and is celebrated across the globe as Carl Sagan Day (in general, places that celebrate the day do so on the Saturday previous; so, today!). He did more to bring the wonders of the Universe to the world than any other human being, alive or otherwise, and this day should be a holiday.
In honor of that, I present to you my friend Sara Mayhew’s idea of what she plans to do:
Sounds like a good idea to me. If you’re curious about the apple pie thing, try here. It’s Sagan’s best quote, hands down.
I attended a Carl Sagan Day last year in Broward County, Florida and wrote about the experience. Everything I need to say about Carl and his influence is there, so go read it. Also, that same group in Broward is holding an event this year which will be streamed live.
The world may be a poorer place without him, but it’s much, much better place for having had him once in it.
I’ll be at SETIcon, a celebration of 50 years of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, August 13 – 15. It’ll be a lot of fun, featuring some famous scientists and actors from Star Trek.
Part of the festivities will be a night of Rock Band hosted by me. If people pander enough, then I might take the stage as well. Can I sing or play drums? Come and find out.
They’ve also announced some new guests, including my friends Robert Sawyer (who wrote the novel Flash Forward) and astronomer Gibor Basri, who was a panelist on the recent Quest for a Living World event I moderated last month. Gibor is actively involved in the Kepler mission, which is looking for new Earths orbiting other stars.
Also — and this is very cool — there will be a copy of the novel Contact signed by Carl Sagan, Jodie Foster, and Jill Tarter auctioned at the event. Cripes, I may bid on that myself.
I plan on having a blast. I wind up working hard at these meetings a lot of the time, but for this one I think there will be some kicking back and actually enjoying it. You should come, too.
Apparently Stephen Hawking read my book, but not very carefully, because he thinks aliens will come here ala "Independence Day"* and eat up all our resources and move on.
I disagree with him. I think in fact it’s more likely that an aggressive alien race would create self-replicating robot probes that will disperse through the galaxy and destroy all life that way.
But more likely still doesn’t equate to likely. I’ve been thinking about this on and off for a few days, in fact, and I suspect a likely answer to Fermi’s Paradox — "Where are they?" — is simply that intelligent life that is capable of interstellar flight doesn’t last long enough to colonize other stars. That would neatly explain why, if stars with planets are common (which we know is almost certainly true), and the conditions for life to arise are relatively common (again, that seems very likely), the galaxy isn’t overrun with life. It should be by now; it’s had billions of years to have space-faring races evolve and colonize the whole shebang.
So in reality, Hawking’s idea and the one I go over in my book are probably wrong. But I’m an optimist, and I can hope that the reason the galaxy isn’t softly humming with life (that’s Carl Sagan’s poetic phrase) is that we’re the first, or at least the first in a while. That would mean we still get our chance. It’s a big responsibility, really.
And to be clear, that’s not snark, even if this post started out a bit snarky. I’m serious. We may be utterly, entirely alone in a galaxy filled with planets that outnumber people on our own planet 50 to 1. That idea gives me the creeps more than the idea of hostile aliens bent on sterilizing each of those planets. But at least it gives us a good chance to spread and see the place a bit. I’d like to think that in a hundred generations, this arm of the Milky Way will boast a thousand human planets. It’s a nice thought.
John Boswell, the musician and producer of the wonderful Symphony of Science remixes, has created a new one, the fourth in the series: The Unbroken Thread. It features our man Carl Sagan, with David Attenborough and Jane Goodall. I like this one quite a bit.
I hope Boswell keeps making these. They’re very well done! The music is pleasant, the meaning is deep, and the words, of course, are beautiful and something everyone should hear.
Today is Carl Sagan’s 75th birthday. It would be nice if he were still around to send him the greeting personally, but sadly, he died too young: in 1996 he succumbed to complications of myleodysplasia. As he himself noted, though, the progress of science — medical science in this case — kept him alive far longer than would otherwise have been possible. Up to the end, he was an evangelist of science.
And his legacy continues. His TV show "Cosmos" continues to inspire people, and the generation of astronomers who took up the cause due to Sagan’s exhortations are still looking up, looking out, and seeking what’s around the next corner. Because of Carl Sagan, we have many more scientists who not only love the field itself, but strive to express it to others. I include myself among the latter.
That’s why we celebrated Carl Sagan Day on Saturday, to honor the man and, in my opinion just as if not more importantly, to continue his work. James Randi knew Sagan personally; they were friends for many years, and so at the celebration Randi was the keynote speaker, relating stories about the man whom Randi knew as simply Carl. Below is video of Randi’s talk. It’s an hour long, but it’s more than worth your time. This was recorded off a live stream, so go ahead and click forward to about the 9:00 minute mark to get started.
This first Carl Sagan Day was a great success. We had a great audience at every talk, kids playing outside in the inflatable rocket ship bounce room, pictures from Hubble adorning the windows and walls of Broward College, and an overall sense that there is great work that has been done, with still a vast amount yet to do.
But that’s where the fun is. Sagan knew that, and I hope that you do too. And if you don’t — if you think science is stodgy, uninteresting, and doesn’t affect your life — then hopefully you have an amazing moment lying in wait for you. Maybe it’ll be a Cassini image of Saturn, or a tiny cell undergoing mitosis under your scrutiny through a microscope, or the sudden understanding from a news article about the Large Hadron Collider. There’s no way to know what precisely that trigger will be. But at some point there will come something that will jolt you, will shake you out of your complacence, and the scales will fall from your eyes.
At that moment you’ll experience what Carl Sagan did every moment of his life, that same sense of wonder and pure, undiluted joy about the Universe. I feel it too. It’s the blood in my veins, the calcium in my bones, the electricity of my eyes and ears as they relay what they detect to my brain. It’s the sense of connectedness with everything, and it’s real.
That’s what Carl Sagan taught us.
Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.
– Carl Sagan, 1934 – 1996
Looking for something to do this weekend, and for the next month? Are you anywhere near New York City?
Then I am very pleased to let you know that a group of artists there have created an exhibit based on my book, Death from the Skies! The exhibit is hanging at the ABC No Rio site, and runs from now until November 25 (actually it started last week). The viewing times are Sundays 1:00 – 3:00pm and Wednesdays & Thursdays 4:00pm – 7:00pm.
This is very cool, and I am deeply honored they based their work on my book. I was contacted by artist Brian George about it some time ago. Just recently he sent me some snapshots, and I was totally blown away by this:
I recognized this poor sot right away, and if you’ve read the first few pages of the book you will too. He’s the first guy killed by the Universe, straight away in Chapter 1. But don’t fret too much about him: everyone dies in the book. Over and over again, even.
I love the shadows of the trees in that drawing. Read the book to find out why. <Mwuahahahaha!>
The artwork on display is eclectic and interesting, and if you’re into astronomy and mayhem you want to go! The artists include Michael Estabrook, Brian George, Jacob Hashimoto, HC Noel (who drew Mark, above), Kevin Pyle, Kelly Savage ("Galaxies" over there on the left), William Stamos, Es Muss Sein Quartet & B-Cat and C-Town.
There’s a Facebook group for the exhibit, too.
And as an aside, if you happen to be in NYC Friday November 6, why not pay my friend, the wonderful flame-haired chanteuse Marian Call, a visit at her east coast debut? Her voice and music are really good, and she sings about cool scifi stuff, and even has a song the title of which I suggested to her. She’s awesome.
Of course, if you’re not in NYC, but instead are in Florida, that’s OK, because then you can go to Carl Sagan Day on Saturday, November 7!
If you’re anywhere near southern Florida on Saturday, November 7, then you need to get yourself over to the Broward College, which is holding the very first celebration of Carl Sagan Day!
It’s in honor of Sagan’s birthday, which is on November 9th. He would’ve been 75 this year. Sagan inspired a generation of astronomers, and in reality a whole generation of people to look at the sky and appreciate the — yes, I’ll say it — cosmos.
Celebrating his life is a great idea, and the folks at BCCC have a full day planned (the schedule is online in PDF and Word formats). A lot of good speakers will be giving talks, including my friend Jeffrey Bennett (who wrote Max goes to the Moon series of kids’ books), skeptic and "Point of Inquiry" podcast host D. J. Grothe, and NASA astrobiologist and impact expert David Morrison (via satellite). I’ll be giving my Death from the Skies! talk at 4:00 (with David there, I’ll have to be on my toes). They’ll be showing "Cosmos" continuously in one room, with kids’ activities in another. There’s a planetarium show in the evening, too.
And this will be very special: James Randi will be there, talking about Sagan. The two were friends. Randi has a lot of personal insight on the man and will have wonderful things to say. This is a don’t-miss opportunity, folks. I think I’m looking forward to that part most of all.
This really will be a fun and wonderful tribute to Sagan. I’m very pleased and honored to be a part of this great day for a great man.