I bought a small eBook recently chock-a-block full of Sagan’s best quotes. I wanted to highlight some of my favourites. I haven’t read all of Sagan’s books (some 30-odd) but I haven’t yet met a Sagan book that I didn’t like… a lot! If anyone was ever going to be my hero, Carl Sagan would be one of them:
(1) – “The cure for a fallacious argument is a better argument, not the suppression of ideas.”
(2) – “You have to know the past to understand the present.”
(3) – “Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception.”
(4) – “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.”
(5) – “You are worth about 3 dollars in chemicals.“
(6) – “We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and the depth of our answers.“
(7) – “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.“
(8) – “The library connects us with the insight 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 our history, to instruct us without tiring, and to inspire us to make our own contribution to the collective knowledge of the human species. 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 libraries.“
I man-love Carl Sagan…
Favourites? Mine are (1) and (6). Has anyone read more than one Sagan book? If so, which one of those are your favourites? I can’t decide between Broca’s Brain and Pale Blue Dot. Both marvelous insights in science, skepticism, and astronomy with the added delight of them being beautifully written english.
“In a very real sense human beings are machines constructed by the nucleic acids to arrange for the efficient replication of more nucleic acids. In a sense our strongest urges, noblest enterprises, most compelling necessities, and apparent free wills are all an expression of the information coded in the genetic material: We are, in a way, temporary ambulatory repositories for our nucleic acids. This does not deny our humanity; it does not prevent us from pursuing the good, the true, and the beautiful. But it would be a great mistake to ignore where we have come from in our attempt to determine where we are going.” — Carl Sagan
The title of this post: “Not all scientific statements have equal weight” was written by Carl Sagan in his brilliant book Broca’s Brain. It is a statement you should write on a post-it to keep by your monitor as you browse, if that is your cup of tea, the online intellectual fight on such nerve touching issues as the safety of genetically modified organisms (GMO), evolution vs. creationism, climate change, and many other topics that are, at the end of the day, empirically verifiable. It should sound in your brain after each and every scientific claim you read on the Internet. (In Carl Sagan’s voice too.)
Just three days until Random Rationality is released. Until then, here are twenty random and awesome quotes!
“How fortunate that men do not think.”
“Universal truth is not measured in mass appeal.”
“The time will come when you will see, we are all one.”
“We fear things in proportion to our ignorance of them.”
“In the end we discover the only condition for living is to die.”
“I am only responsible for what I say, not for what you understand.”
“You cannot reason a man out of that which he was not reasoned into.”
“The first principle is you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”
“The greatest tragedy in mankind’s entire history may be the hijacking of morality by religion.”
Arthur C. Clarke
“We long to be here for a purpose, even though despite much self-deception. None is evident.”
“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.”
“As long as you still experience the stars as something above you, you still lack a viewpoint of knowledge.”
“Depressions and mass unemployment are not caused by the free market but by government interference in the economy.”
Ludwig von Mises
“Our species needs, and deserves, a citizenry with minds wide awake and a basic understanding of how the world works.”
“There are many things given to us in this life for the wrong reasons. What we do with such blessings, that is the true test of a man.”
“For me, I am driven by two main philosophies, know more today about the world than I knew yesterday. And lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.”
Neil deGrasse Tyson
“There is no such thing as a self-made man. We are made up of thousands of others. Every one who has ever done a kind deed for us, or spoken one word of encouragement to us, has entered into the make-up of our character and of our thoughts, as well as our success.”
George Matthew Adams
“Many people, especially ignorant people, want to punish you for speaking the truth, for being correct, for being you. Never apologize for being correct, or for being years ahead of your time. If you’re right and you know it, speak your mind. Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is still the truth.”
“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of poison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
“You see, one thing is, I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing, then to have answers that might be wrong. I have approximate answers, and possible beliefs and different degrees of certainty about different things, and I’m not absolutely sure about everything, and there are many things I know nothing about. I don’t have to know an answer, I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in the mysterious universe without having any purpose, which is the way it is as far as I can tell, and so all together I can’t believe the special stories that are made up about our relationship to the Universe.”
Do You Know the Meaning of Life?
I do. There isn’t one! Shocked? Now that that’s out of the way. Let me explain why. The Universe was created from nothing, or quite possibly something. We don’t know what there was before it happened, multiple theories abound about parallel universes, 11 dimensions but I digress.
What we do know is that since the Big Bang, the Universe has followed a predictable rulebook that repeats itself ad infinitum and will continue to do so until maximum entropy (heat death) of the Universe. This predictable rule is an increase in the complexity of matter. From Hydrogen through to the other 91 naturally occurring elements on the periodic table.
This same increase in complexity is how evolution has also progressed; from single-celled organisms to the 50 trillion celled Ape cousin writing this. So the question remains, if everything around us is predictable to a certain extent, how can there be a meaning of life? It wasn’t magic or spontaneous, but inevitable, and with an estimated 2 billion Earth-like planets in our Milky Way galaxy alone, and at least 100 billion other galaxies in the observable Universe, you can bet a fat kid some cake that there is life elsewhere.
Life just is. The Universe doesn’t operate on our needs or wants, or biases and prejudices, or our hopes and aspirations. It just does, and it just is. We can try to make sense of how the Universe operates, the hows and the whats, but never the why. We will never get a 3rd party perspective on the Universe because we can never go out and look back in. Even if we could, we might only find other Universes further pushing the question into the realm of impossibility.
Therefore, the question may as well not exist.
Now just because there isn’t a general meaning of life, doesn’t mean there can’t be a personal meaning of life. In the words of Carl Sagan “We are the custodians of Life’s meaning”. Life is not without meaning provided you see in yourself, a purpose to your own life.