Thursday, March 29, 2012

Understanding is Joyous

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

Carl Sagan -- astrophysicist, author, science communicator, renowned ambient techno artist?

Sagan is one of the best science communicators of our time.   As quote above indicates, Sagan believed that approaching science openly would shape us into a more reasonable and peaceful culture.  He promoted science not as challenging bits of knowledge that one need "learn," but rather, as a way of inquiring about the "awesome machinery of nature" with a willingness to learn.

One medium through which Sagan thrived is the book, both fiction and nonfiction.  He wrote the fictional Contact, which was later made into a movie.  His nonfiction may be even more reputable, with pieces like Pale Blue Dot.  Sagan's literature attracted scientists and non-scientists alike.  His writing was eloquent and poetic; the scientific descriptions were succinct and often delivered from a philosophical perspective.

"Consider again that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar", every "supreme leader", every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there - on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam."

Perhaps Sagan is most well-known for the series, Cosmos.  (Note: Neil DeGrasse Tyson, among others, is working on a new version of the series!  see hereCosmos is a documentary series (made into a book later) in which Sagan touched upon various scientific disciplines.  For each, he described the inspiration behind the prominent scientists, the history of their discoveries, and current applications of the sciences.

"The cosmos is full beyond measure of elegant truths; of exquisite interrelationships; of the awesome machinery of nature."  (Cosmos: The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean)

Sagan lectured and researched at numerous universities, and was a full-time faculty member at Cornell.  He even co-wrote a paper on the origin of life with the well-known H.C. Urey.

Although Sagan passed away, his message still continues to reach many.   In fact, a new medium has promoted Sagan's science -- music videos.  John D. Boswell's Symphony of Science makes music by autotuning science clips, like TED talks and Cosmos, and creates a musical montage.  The project was made to "deliver scientific knowledge and philosophy in musical form."  The videos feature other prominent science figures, like Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, and Richard Feynman.

Whether it be through his films, books, lectures, or tunes, Sagan continues to reach a broad audience due to his ability to frame science as inspirational and wondrous rather than tedious. 

"The brain is like a muscle. When it is in use we feel very good. Understanding is joyous."

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