Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Selected Quotes from Carl Sagan’s Gifford Lectures

Click photo to enlarge to 3100 × 3100 – Hubble Ultra-Deep Field -

In 2004 the Hubble Space Telescope looked at a small piece of sky (a tenth the size of the full Moon) for eleven days to make this image of nearly ten thousand galaxies Light from the most distant galaxies took almost thirteen billion years to travel the distance to Hubble’s lens. Each galaxy contains many billions of stars, each star a potential sun to perhaps a dozen worlds.

Science lifts the curtain on a tiny piece of night and finds ten thousand galaxies hidden there. How many stories, how many ways of being in the universe are contained therein? All residing in what, to us, had been just a little patch of empty sky. – Ann Druyan

Selected Quotes from Carl Sagan’s Gifford Lectures

Bertrand Russell, from his Skeptical Essays, published in 1928 wrote:

[Of this quote Carl Sagan says, “I should warn you, this is redolent with irony.”]

“I wish to propose for the reader’s favorable consideration a doctrine which may, I fear, appear wildly paradoxical and subversive. The doctrine in question is this: that it is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true. I must of course admit that if such an opinion became common it would completely transform our social life and our political system. Since both are at present faultless this must weigh against it.”

~ ~ ~

Protagoras, in the fifth century B.C., wrote in the opening lines of his Essay on the Gods:

“About the gods I have no means of knowing either that they exist or that they do not exist or what they are to look at. Many things prevent my knowing. Among others, the fact that they are never seen.”

~ ~ ~

Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote in The Brothers Karamazov:

“So long as a man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find someone to worship.”

~ ~ ~

Pierre-Simon, the marquis de Laplace said:

“Far from us be the dangerous maxim that it is sometimes useful to mislead, to deceive, and enslave mankind to ensure their happiness.”

~ ~ ~

“Heaven” by Rupert Brooke

FISH (fly-replete in depth of June,
Dawdling away their wat’ry noon)
Ponder deep wisdom, dark or clear,
Each secret fishy hope or fear.

Fish say, they have their Stream and Pond;
But is there anything Beyond?
This life cannot be All, they swear,
For how unpleasant, if it were!

One may not doubt that, somehow, Good
Shall come of Water and of Mud;
And, sure, the reverent eye must see
A Purpose in Liquidity.

We darkly know, by Faith we cry,
The future is not Wholly Dry.
Mud unto mud! – Death eddies near –
Not here the appointed End, not here!

But somewhere, beyond Space and Time,
Is wetter water, slimier slime!
And there (they must) there swimmeth One,
Who swam ere rivers were begun,

Immense, of fishy form and mind,
Squamous, omnipotent, and kind;
And under that Almighty Fin,
The littlest fish may enter in.

Oh! never fly conceals a hook,
Fish say, in the Eternal Brook,
But more than mundane weeds are there,
And mud, celestially fair;

Fat caterpillars drift around,
And Paradisal grubs are found;
Unfading moths, immortal flies;
And the worm that never dies.

And in that Heaven of all their wish,
There shall be no more land, say fish.

~ ~ ~

Selected Q & A, chapter nine, pp. 251-252:

CS: There was one question that was sent to me in a letter to my hotel, which was signed, “God Almighty.” Probably just to attract my attention. It said that the writer’s definition of a miracle would be if I would answer the letter. So to show that miracles can happen, I thought I would answer the question. The question was a straightforward and important one, often asked: “If the universe is expanding, what’s it expanding into? Something that isn’t the universe?”

Well, the way to think of this is to remember that we are trapped in three dimensions, which constrains our perspective (although there’s not much we can do about being trapped in three dimensions). But let us imagine that we were two-dimensional beings. Absolutely flat. So we know about left/right and we know about forward/back, but we’ve never heard of up/down. It is an absolutely incoherent idea. Just nonsense syllables. And now imagine that we live on the surface of a sphere, a balloon, let’s say. But of course we don’t know about that curvature through that third dimension, because that third dimension is inaccessible to us, and we cannot even picture it. And now let’s imagine that the sphere is expanding, the balloon is being blown up. And there is a set of spots on the balloon, each of which represents, let us say, a galaxy. And you can see that from the standpoint of every galaxy all the other galaxies are running away. Now, where is the center of the expansion?

Oh the surface of the balloon, the only part of it that the flat creatures can have access to, where is the center of the expansion? Well, it isn’t on that surface. It’s at the center of the balloon in that inaccessible third dimension. And, in the same way, into what is the balloon expanding? It is expanding in that perpendicular direction, that up/down direction, that inaccessible direction, and so you cannot, on the surface of the balloon, point to the place into which it is expanding, because that place is in that other dimension.

Now up everything one dimension and you have some sense of what people are talking about when they say that the universe is expanding. I hope that that was helpful, but considering the auspices of the writer, you should have known it anyway.

~ ~ ~

Finally, another quote from Bertrand Russell:

“… what is wanted is not the will to believe, but the desire to find out, which is the exact opposite.”

~ ~ ~

These selected quotes are from a soaring book that compiles Carl Sagan’s Gifford LecturesThe Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God

[From the jacket:] … Carl Sagan sets down his detailed thoughts on the relationship between religion and science and describes his personal search to understand the nature of the sacred in the vastness of the cosmos. … The result is this delightfully intimate discussion of his views on topics ranging from the likelihood of intelligent life on other planets to the danger of nuclear annihilation of our own, on creationism and so-called intelligent design to a new concept of science as “informed worship” to manic depression and the possible chemical nature of transcendence.

Though I’ve just finished reading a copy from the public library I desperately want to own this book so that I can reference it again and again.

In conclusion, I can’t say it better than Kurt Vonnegut who wrote of it:

”Find here a major fraction of this stunningly valuable legacy left to all of us by a great human being. I miss him so.”

So do I.... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mcBV-cXVWFw

(edited by his widow and longtime collaborator, Ann Druyan),