Remembering Carl Sagan

Today, 20th December, is the 10th anniversary of Carl Sagan’s death. As a commemoration, a blogothon is being held calling on bloggers to record their thoughts. Here are mine.

In the 1980s, the television series, Cosmos, was perhaps the first documentary series I ever watched. So when it came out on DVDs a couple of years ago, I eagerly snapped it up. It is just as fresh and as interesting as I remember. It offered a great perspective of how we came to be and, well, how pretty darn insignificant we were as individuals. (Much like Douglas Adams wanted to achieve with his machine in Hitchhikers that showed people their real place in the world. A machine invented by someone just to annoy his wife). It also has a great Vangelis led soundtrack which continues to be on my iPod today.

It is interesting to contrast that with my other childhood recollection of Sagan when he and others released two influential papers on the consequences of global thermonuclear war and introduced the concept of a nuclear winter to the world. Nuclear war could have no winners even with a successful first strike or a star wars style defense. This was the beginning of the great return to rationality that saw us rid ourselves of that specific threat. (It was either that or the movie Wargames). Again a reason why collective interest was paramount.

I saw Sagan present a lecture at Stanford around 1993. This time it was climate change and his lecture there was as influential and important as anything Al Gore is carrying on today. In fact, many of the slides seem to me to be identical.

Finally, I’ll end this post with a plug. The movie Contact was excellent but the book is much much better. If you really want to think about how contact with extraterrestrial civilizations might arise and why we might simply not yet have the answers as to how the universe got here (and that is just OK), you should read the book.