On Cosmos

I recently finished reading Cosmos by the late Carl Sagan. This book is an accompaniment to the wildly famous TV show of the same name: “At this writing it has an estimated worldwide viewing audience of over 200 million people, or almost 5 percent of the human population of the planet Earth. It is dedicated to the proposition that the public is far more intelligent than it has generally been given credit for; at the deepest scientific questions on the nature and origin of the world excite the interests and passions of enormous numbers of people. The present epoch is a major crossroads for our civilization and perhaps for our species. Whatever road we take, our fate is indissolubly bound up with science. It is essential as a matter of simple survival for us to understand science. In addition. science is a delight; evolution has arranged that we take pleasure in understanding—those who understand are more likely to survive. The Cosmos television series and this book represent a hopeful experiment in communicating some of the ideas, methods and joys of science.”

Below are a few highlighted excerpts from this masterpiece:

On Science:

Science is an ongoing process. It never ends. There is no single ultimate truth to be achieved, after which all the scientists can retire. And because this is so, the world is far more interesting. both for the scientists and for the millions of people in every nation who, while not professional scientists, are deeply interested in the methods and findings of science. So, while there is little in the Cosmos book that has become obsolete since its first publication. there have been many significant new findings.

On Biology, History and Physics:

Biology is more like history than it is like physics. You have to know die past to understand the present. And you have to know to know the past to understand the present. And you have to know just as there is not yet a predictive theory of history. The reasons are the same: both subjects are still too complicated for us. But we can know ourselves better by understanding other cases. The study of a single instance of extraterrestrial life, no matter how humble, will deprovincialize biology. For the first time, the biologists will know what other kinds of life are possible. When we say the search for life elsewhere is important, we are not guaranteeing that it will be easy to find—only that it is very much worth seeking.

On Kepler and Newton’s contributions to science:

Kepler and Newton represent a critical transition in human history, the discovery that fairly simple mathematical laws pervade all of Nature; that the same rules apply on Earth as in the skies; and that there is a resonance between the way we think and the way the world works. They unflinchingly respected the accuracy of observational data, and their predictions of the motion of the planets to high precision provided compelling evidence that, at an unexpectedly deep level, humans can understand the Cosmos. Our modem global civilization, our view of the world and our present exploration of the Universe are profoundly indebted to their insights.

Humans as wanderers:

We embarked on our cosmic voyage with a question first framed in the childhood of our species and in each generation asked anew with undiminished wonder: What are the stars? Exploration is in our nature. We began as wanderers, and we are wanderers still. We have lingered long enough on the shores of the cosmic ocean. We are ready at last to set sail for the stars.

On our loyalty:

For we are the local embodiment of a Cosmos grown to self-awareness. We have begun to contemplate our origins: starstuff pondering the stars; organized assemblages of ten billion billion billion atoms considering the evolution of atoms; tracing the long journey by which, here at least, consciousness arose. Our loyalties are to the species and the planet. We speak for Earth. Our obligation ancient and vast, from which we spring.

A must read for anyone and everyone!


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