“The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be. Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us — there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation as if a distant memory, of falling from a height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries.”
Happy Birthday to Carl Sagan, who would have witnessed his 78th revolution around the sun had he not lost his battle with cancer.
Though his life was cut short, he continues to inspire me in a way I never could have imagined, and for that, I am grateful.
Posts tagged Carl Sagan.
The Pioneer Plaque
The original idea, that the Pioneer spacecraft should carry a message from humankind, was first mentioned by Eric Burgess when he visited the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California during the Mariner 9 mission. He approached Carl Sagan, who had lectured about communication with extraterrestrial intelligences at a conference in Crimea.
Sagan was enthusiastic about the idea of sending a message with the Pioneer spacecraft. NASA agreed to the plan and gave him three weeks to prepare a message. Together with Frank Drake he designed the plaque, and the artwork was prepared by Sagan’s then-wife Linda Salzman Sagan.
[Definitely click through to read everything this seemingly simple image is communicating. Absolutely astounding.
Pale Blue Dot: Reflections on a Mote of Dust
The earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and in triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.
Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity — in all this vastness — there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us.
Common fallacies of logic and rhetoric
- Ad hominem - attacking the arguer and not the argument.
- Argument from “authority”.
- Argument from adverse consequences (putting pressure on the decision maker by pointing out dire consequences of an “unfavourable” decision).
- Appeal to ignorance (absence of evidence is not evidence of absence).
- Special pleading (typically referring to god’s will).
- Begging the question (assuming an answer in the way the question is phrased).
- Observational selection (counting the hits and forgetting the misses).
- Statistics of small numbers (such as drawing conclusions from inadequate sample sizes).
- Misunderstanding the nature of statistics (President Eisenhower expressing astonishment and alarm on discovering that fully half of all Americans have below average intelligence!)
- Inconsistency (e.g. military expenditures based on worst case scenarios but scientific projections on environmental dangers thriftily ignored because they are not “proved”).
- Non sequitur - “it does not follow” - the logic falls down.
- Post hoc, ergo propter hoc - “it happened after so it was caused by” - confusion of cause and effect.
- Meaningless question (“what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?).
- Excluded middle - considering only the two extremes in a range of possibilities (making the “other side” look worse than it really is).
- Short-term v. long-term - a subset of excluded middle (“why pursue fundamental science when we have so huge a budget deficit?”).
- Slippery slope - a subset of excluded middle - unwarranted extrapolation of the effects (give an inch and they will take a mile).
- Confusion of correlation and causation.
- Straw man - caricaturing (or stereotyping) a position to make it easier to attack.
- Suppressed evidence or half-truths.
- Weasel words - for example, use of euphemisms for war such as “police action” to get around limitations on Presidential powers. “An important art of politicians is to find new names for institutions which under old names have become odious to the public”
These are great to know. Learn ‘em, practice detecting ‘em, read Demon Haunted World if you haven’t yet.
Will we learn to use the tools with wisdom and foresight before it’s too late? Will we see our species through this difficult passage, so that our children and grandchildren will continue the great journey of discoveries into the mystery of the Cosmos?
Carl Sagan Reflects: 10 Years After COSMOS - Achievements And Future Of Humankind.
In a life short and uncertain, it seems heartless to do anything that might deprive people of the consolation of faith when science cannot remedy their anguish. Those who cannot bear the burden of science are free to ignore its precepts. But we cannot have science in bits and pieces, applying it where we feel safe and ignoring it where we feel threatened - again, because we are not wise enough to do so.
Except by sealing the brain off into separate air-tight compartments, how is it possible to fly in airplanes, listen to the radio or take antibiotics while holding that the Earth is around 10,000 years old or that all Sagittarians are gregarious and affable?
Have I ever heard a sceptic wax superior and contemptuous? Certainly. I’ve even sometimes heard, to my retrospective dismay, that unpleasant tone in my own voice. There are human imperfections on both sides of this issue. Even when it’s applied sensitively, scientific scepticism may come across as arrogant, dogmatic, heartless and dismissive of the feelings and deeply held beliefs of others. And, it must be said, some scientists and dedicated sceptics apply this tool as a blunt instrument, with little finesse. Sometimes it looks as if the sceptical conclusion came first, that contentions were dismissed before, not after, the evidence was examined. All of us cherish our beliefs. They are, to a degree, self-defining. When someone comes along who challenges our belief system as insufficiently well based - or who, like Socrates, merely asks embarrassing questions that we haven’t thought of, or demonstrates that we’ve swept key underlying assumptions under the rug - it becomes much more than a search for knowledge. It feels like a personal assault.
The scientist who first proposed to consecrate doubt as a prime virtue of the inquiring mind made it clear that it was a tool and not an end in itself. Rene Descartes wrote,
‘I did not imitate the sceptics who doubt only for doubting’s sake, and pretend to be always undecided; on the contrary, my whole intention was to arrive at a certainty, and to dig away the drift and the sand until I reached the rock or the clay beneath.’
In the way that scepticism is sometimes applied to issues of public concern, there is a tendency to belittle, to condescend, to ignore the fact that, deluded or not, supporters of superstition and pseudoscience are human beings with real feelings, who, like the sceptics, are trying to figure out how the world works and what our role in it might be. Their motives are in many cases with science. If their culture has not given them all the tools they need to pursue this great quest, let us temper our criticism with kindness. None of us comes fully equipped.
Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World (via mohandasgandhi)
It bears repeating:
…let us temper our criticism with kindness. None of us comes fully equipped
We on Earth have just awakened to the great oceans of space and time from which we have emerged. We are the legacy of 15 billion years of cosmic evolution. We have a choice: We can enhance life and come to know the universe that made us, or we can squander our 15 billion-year heritage in meaningless self-destruction. What happens in the first second of the next cosmic year depends on what we do, here and now, with our intelligence and our knowledge of the cosmos.Carl Sagan (via starsinhereyes)
The major religions on the Earth contradict each other left and right. You can’t all be correct. And what if all of you are wrong? It’s a possibility, you know. You must care about the truth, right? Well, the way to winnow through all the differing contentions is to be skeptical. I’m not any more skeptical about your religious beliefs than I am about every new scientific idea I hear about. But in my line of work, they’re called hypotheses, not inspiration and not revelation.
Constantly. If someone would give some I’d gladly return the favor with some of mine.
reblogging for my friend anna.
I’m not sure Monsieur Sagan would put it quite that way