Day by Day



16 March 2007

Sic semper ignorance...


Skeptic magazine is running a tribute to one of the greatest popularizers of science and wonder of the 20th century. He is, of course, Carl Sagan. I became a Saganite in high school. When the first airing of his COSMOS series appeared on PBS, I forced the school play rehearsals for Sweeney Todd to be adjusted in order that I could see the series.
Sagan provided the necessary wonder and layman's language for the immense possibilities, discoveries and limitations of science. He gently addressed myth and its place in the human psyche and fought against "pseudoscience" and promoted a political viewpoint of humanity as a custodian of the planet (very anti-war / disarmament / etc.).
Cosmic Connie, one of my favorite writers, posted a great essay on the continual struggle between skepticism and the "unknown". I must confess to being in a similar quandry.
I want to believe in aliens, ghosts, magnetic fields, the Bermuda triangle and other amazing possibilities. I have had some strange personal experiences (seeing a "ghostly figure" on the USS LEXINGTON, recording some EVP in Charleston, etc.). However, until we can measure these things in a meaningful way, they are simply that, possibilities. What is disheartening is that there are a LOT of people who profess to "know" the answers and a lot of folks who simply believe them
I think this is an age old struggle and is unlikely to end anytime soon. For each time we unveil a new level of knowledge, there is still the next horizon to be imagined and unlocked. This is, actually, a good thing. It forces us to think of the possible while proving the probable.

11 comments:

captjackharkness said...

Rearranging play practice becauase of a television show? Not on my watch, mister. It is a wonder you were ever cast again....

Cosmic Connie said...

Hey, CD, thanks for the mention. I definitely agree with you that "the known v. the unknown" is age-old struggle and unlikely to end any time soon. Meanwhile, lots of folks are making tons of money exploiting the gullible.

Carl Sagan is one of the very people I had in mind when I wrote about folks who tried to popularize science. He always presented what I felt was an excellent balance between skepticism and wonder. He died way too soon.

Citizen Deux said...

No doubt my star quality was evident even then...perhaps it helped that I also designed the trick barber chair.

sonicfrog said...

COSMOS! Loved It!!! I was a "Saganite" ever since. Even got to see him here in Fresno in 1991(ish).

Wish PBS and especially Discovery Channel did more shows like that. Most of the stuff on DC boils down to "Catastrophe TV", showing cool life video or neat CG simulations of all sorts of stuff being destroyed by one calamity or another, but there is almost no science presented in these shows anymore.

Citizen Deux said...

Quite correct. We need some good, fundamental science. Remember the show Connections? It was also brilliant.

Major John said...

I once had a History Professor almost barf when he heard someone mentionhow they liked "Connections" - a five minute rant about what a crock it was followed...

As for Sagan - didn't his dishonest (and I believe he admitted that near the end)shilling for "nuclear winter" kind of undercut him later on?

Regardless, I liked "Cosmos" for what it was.

captjackharkness said...

oh, Major John, that was "billyoins and billyions" years agos...and really, I think nuclear winter is pretty much accepted theory....am I wrong? (AND HOW DARE YOU UNDERMINE THE CREDIBILITY OF CD? Hand Slap, man, Hand Slap!)

Citizen Deux said...

Sadly, the major is correct. Sagan was an AVID proponent of unilateral disarmament. He felt the risk to the planet was sufficient that we should essentially surrender. I disagreed with his view then, and now. The nuclear winter theory has been discredited, as has the "new ice age" theory of climate change in the 80s.

Sagan was brilliant, connected with people and smoked a LOT of dope. He advocated for the legalization of "euphoriants" until his death, from cancer.

He was an advocate of challenging one's government, and in my opinion any accepted doctrine.

I miss him.

sonicfrog said...

Nuclear Winter / Global Warming???

Freeman Dyson says it's all bunk.

sonicfrog said...

One more thing on Carl Sagan...

He was a pot-head!!!

Citizen Deux said...

Yes, Sagan and Snoop-Dog both love the Chronic...