I have always admired the work of Carl Sagan since I first saw “Cosmos.” He also wrote the story to the film “Contact“, which I think of as great Science Fiction. Many people in the Corvair world know that the one car he owned was a 1964 Corvair convertible, which has been restored since his passing. Above all else, Sagan was a first order observer of the human condition.
I do not like conspiracy theories generated by the internet. I detest that stuff, it often shows how poorly educated people are to believe things that defy physics and simple observation. That stream of BS cries wolf all the time and often has the effect of numbing people to real issues that need to be considered, understood and addressed.
My first year in College was going to night classes at Kean in NJ, about a million years ago. Most of the students were in their 30s and 40s and took the work seriously. I had a class on the Philosophy of Science in the 20th century. The professor started out by showing us how many of the scientists that had worked on the initial atomic weapons later morally regretted it, feeling that they had unwittingly played a role in making the end of life a real possibility. He then said this subject in 20th century was well worth studying, because it was just the opening round, a prelude of what was to come in the next 50 years. He brought up human cloning, artificial intelligence and the end of privacy and the restriction of choice. He pointed out that all of those things would be done by scientists or with tools provided by them, and we had damn well do a better job on the following rounds than we did on developing atomic weapons without considering where it almost lead. 32 years later, I am not so sure we have.
The class largely was studying the work of four very influential writers. Jacob Bronowski http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacob_Bronowski, (who wrote the Ascent of Man), C.P. Snow http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C._P._Snow ( who wrote The Two Cultures). Author Koestler http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Koestler,( who wrote Darkness at noon) and Sagan. The quote below fits in with the type of concept that we looked at. Snows book spoke of how few people in society understood what science was working on, and it was published in 1947! Koesler stood next to Orwell as the greatest anti-totalitarian of his day. If you are a fan of the 1980s band The Police, you may be surprised that their song titles, Ghost in the Machine, synchronicity, Invisible Sun and others were chapter titles in Koestler’s books.
Bronoski was widely thought of as the last man who had full mastery of most of the branches of science, but his strongest attachment was to examining its morality. He filmed a segment about how science was about questions, not certainty of answers. To make his point, he contrasted the quest for knowledge with the Fascist certainty that they alone had all the answers. When the camera drew back he was standing knee-deep in the pond at Auschwitz where his families ashes were flushed.
Get a good read on the Sagan quote below, it isn’t a pretty thought, but it is undeniable that things have shifted in the direction of his warning. We all have friends who send us warnings in the form of forwarded emails about Mexico taking Texas back, Idaho going to Sharia law, albino pythons that live in septic tanks and how the government hid the aliens at area 51. What Sagan was warning about is reality, and one way you can tell he was right is by the percentage of people who actually believe most of the garbage in internet stories.
One Reply to “Carl Sagan, Corvair Owner, Practical Philosopher, Individual.”
William, I am really thankful for your introducing these Gems. But awful to realize we are in the midst of these predictions.