Carl Sagan

With each year that passes my life becomes more and more defined by the loss of those special people who have made a real difference in my life.

Carl Sagan will always be remembered for his work to relate the fruits of science to the most important human concerns.
Sagan Memorial PageThe Demon-Haunted World
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Carl Sagan worked as a physical scientist, but his SETI work required that he also be very interested in the human mind. Some scientists have reasoned that life must be common in the universe, but not everyone thinks that SETI is good science. In an article in Science magazine (See the January 14 issue, 2000), Steve Gould tried to assure us that the human mind, human society, and modern science are all crazy freaks of nature that need never have happen. SETI scientists are interested in such claims because it IS inevitable that SETI researchers will WONDER:

"how densely is the universe populated with technological civilizations?"

This question is an important part of the famous Drake Equation that SETI scientists make use of for trying to make educated guesses about how deep we should have to listen into our galaxy for signals from another civilization. If you take a pessimistic stance with respect to the difficulty of evolving human-like brains, then you conclude that technological civilizations are probably VERY rare in the universe, and you are a short step away from depriving people like Carl Sagan of the tiny amounts of money that are required to fund a SETI program.

There are many scientists like Gould who hold religious and political views that are in conflict with ideas such as "progress", "skepticism", and "wonder". In his book dealing with the evolution of humans (The Dragons of Eden), Carl Sagan clearly stated his reasoned (the reasons are spelled out in the book) view:

"....once life has started in a relatively benign environment and billions of years are available, the expectation of many of us is that intelligent beings would develop."

There are, of course, many steps from the origin of life to brains like ours, but we now know enough about biology to understand that there is no magic involved. A major part of science is making educated guesses. You go out and learn as much as you can about the world and then you make guesses about the unknowns. You can call such a guess an "hypothesis" but the fact remains that it is a guess. You then go out and try to find evidence that either supports or refutes your guess. Columbus guessed that it might be useful to see what can be reached by sailing to the West from Europe. Carl Sagan guessed that it might be useful to see what can be heard by listening for signals from civilizations on other planets. It is up to each of us to educate ourselves and then decide for ourselves if SETI is wise or a waste.

After you read a few of Sagan's books, and in particular you should read The Demon-Haunted World, strap on your crapola detection kit and visit this web site.

It is inevitable that Carl Sagan will always function as a target for the many people who prefer fantasy to fact. We can truly honor Carl by having the intellectual balance that is required to keep our minds open, but not so open that our brains fall out of our heads.

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