"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The universe is a pretty big place. If it's just us, seems like an awful waste of space." ~ Carl Sagan

Astronomer Carl Sagan, 11/09/1934 - 12/20/1996

Carl Sagan was an astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist, author, science popularizer, science communicator, in astronomy and natural sciences, and a Pulitzer prize winner. He spent most of his career as a professor of astronomy at Cornell University where he directed the Laboratory for Planetary Studies. He published more than 600 scientific papers and articles and was author, co-author or editor of more than 20 books. He advocated scientifically skeptical inquiry and the scientific method, pioneered exobiology and promoted the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI).

Here's the gist of what he stated in a 1966 interview. "Many of the stars in the sky have planetary systems. We know enough now about the origin of life to appear likely that life arises naturally on the vast bulk of these planets. It's possible but by no means certain that life, on many of these planets, evolves into beings which are advanced as we, or more advanced. I don't see any reason why we can't imagine that there's civilizations thousands or millions of years in advance of ourselves, capable of technical feats that we can hardly imagine."

"The real belief in flying-saucers is much easily obtained if you look at the contact myths. Several hundred people in the U.S. who claimed to have had personal contact with the inhabitants of flying saucers that have landed. If you examine these myths you will find there are some peculiar regularities. The inhabitants of saucers are benevolent, really concerned for our well-being, they are omnipotent - extremely powerful; omniscient - extremely knowledgeable, and they often wear long white robes. This combination is something you hear in other contexts; this isn't science, this is religion. What I suspect is happening is this: we live in very unsettled times. It used to be possible to believe in a personal, benevolent, powerful, all-knowing God, who cared about individuals, who you could pray to. But now, there are very few people who believe that."

"Science, for good or for ill, has destroyed a lot of the traditional theologies. Yet people have the same need to believe that they always did, perhaps more so, because of the times we live in. The flying saucer myths are a really clever compromise, it's a way of having beings that come from the sky, that are worried about us, that are powerful, that are going to step in and prevent us from destroying ourselves, as we very well might. And yet have the cloak of science, so that no one can say, 'nonsense, that doesn't match science'. It's all very pseudo-scientific. I would think that, at least for the contact myths and probably for the people that just see things that they don't understand flying overhead, that what's involved is psychology and theology, and not so much the physical sciences."

Carl Sagan Quotes

  • Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people.

  • It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.

  • We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.

  • The universe seems neither benign nor hostile, merely indifferent.

  • I am often amazed at how much more capability and enthusiasm for science there is among elementary school youngsters than among college students.

  • I can find in my undergraduate classes, bright students who do not know that the stars rise and set at night, or even that the Sun is a star.

  • Our species needs, and deserves, a citizenry with minds wide awake and a basic understanding of how the world works.

  • We've arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements - transportation, communications, and all other industries; agriculture, medicine, education, entertainment, and protecting the environment... 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.

  • Long ago, when an early galaxy began to pour light out into the surrounding darkness, no witness could have known that billions of years later some remote clumps of rock and metal, ice and organic molecules would fall together to make a place called Earth; or that life would arise and thinking beings evolve who would one day capture a little of that galactic light, and try to puzzle out what had sent it on its way. And after the earth dies, some 5 billion years from now, after it's burned to a crisp, or even swallowed by the Sun, there will be other worlds and stars and galaxies coming into being -- and they will know nothing of a place once called Earth.

  • The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of star-stuff.

  • 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.

  • The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. 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. 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.

  • Our posturing, 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.

  • 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.

  • Who is more humble? The scientist who looks at the universe with an open mind and accepts whatever the universe 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?

  • Frederick Douglas taught that literacy is the path from slavery to freedom. There are many kinds of slavery and many kinds of freedom, but reading is still the path.

  • One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If weve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. Were no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. Its simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that weve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.

  • The nuclear arms race is like two sworn enemies standing waist deep in gasoline, one with three matches, the other with five.

  • It is of interest to note that while some dolphins are reported to have learned English - up to fifty words used in correct context - no human being has been reported to have learned dolphinese.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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. In every one of them, there's a succession of incidence, 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 the 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 can plunge our world into a darkness deeper than 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. To enhance enormously our understanding of the Universe, and to carry us to the stars.