Monday, November 09, 2009

Happy birthday, Carl Sagan

By way of my "old" company's blog SUNFiltered, and specifically Matt Rodriguez who found this, which I hadn't seen before:

There's one more video like this at Symphony of Science.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the lack of curiosity among people today; the tunnel vision we've all gotten, the feeling that we're all stuck wherever we are, and that's all there is. When I was younger, I remember there was more of a sense that man's destiny was inextricably linked to the universe, and that all of the answers to the important questions lay out there. I felt like there was hope for us in that, a perpetual future of quest and discovery, whereas we're all dead-enders if we think our lot in life ends here. I've been wondering where that feeling has gone, and why we aren't even asking those same questions anymore.

I think a big part of it is that we don't have guys like Carl Sagan around to teach us about why these things matter. (I like Bill Nye, but he doesn't invoke the same kind of wonder as Sagan did.) And I miss having people like that in our popular culture, people who are not just really smart, but who can connect these huge concepts to our everyday lives. Carl Sagan had a populist poetry about him, as you can hear in the video above - a way of putting things that put complex and intricate mathematical theories and laws into words we could not just understand, but feel.

He captured in words the way I always feel when I see this:

Credit: Larry Landolfi

That's a view you don't get in a city, or anywhere near one. I still remember the first time I saw our galaxy, sitting on Holden Beach in North Carolina, a private beach that's quiet during the day, and so still at night during summer that, with the waves gently breaking and a clear sky showing the Milky Way's majesty above you, there's nothing to do but sit and ponder your place in the universe. And the first time I saw that view, I sat in awe, staring at it for about four hours. It's impossible not to.

These days, as we all increasingly move to cities where we can't even see the stars, we no longer seem to have the time or desire to think about these things. And I miss that.

Today would have been Carl Sagan's 75th birthday.

About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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