Intrepid astronomer and science advocate Carl Sagan envisioned society’s potential as peaceful, compassionate, curious, awe-inspired, and, yes, even skeptical. In his PBS series Cosmos, Sagan explored a rarely talked-about perspective regarding our place in the vast universe, bringing mind-bending concepts about life and space to popular culture. In honor of the science writer’s cosmic legacy — this weekend marks Sagan’s birthday — we’re looking back on several thought-provoking quotes about our planet and beyond.
“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.”
“We’ve tended in our cosmologies to make things familiar. Despite all our best efforts, we’ve not been very inventive. In the West, Heaven is placid and fluffy, and Hell is like the inside of a volcano. In many stories, both realms are governed by dominance hierarchies headed by gods or devils. Monotheists talked about the king of kings. In every culture we imagined something like our own political system running the Universe. Few found the similarity suspicious.”
“Once we overcome our fear of being tiny, we find ourselves on the threshold of a vast and awesome Universe that utterly dwarfs — in time, in space, and in potential — the tidy anthropocentric proscenium of our ancestors.”
“If we long for our planet to be important, there is something we can do about it. We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and by the depth of our answers.”
“The universe seems neither benign nor hostile, merely indifferent to the concerns of such puny creatures as we are.”