Thursday, December 20, 2007

What Carl Sagan gave us

11th anniversary of
Carl Sagan's death post

Whether you know it or not, everyday you use what Aristotle, Hypatia, Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Einstein, etc. gave us. They gave us knowledge.

Carl Sagan stood on the shoulders of these giants of science and saw further. He gave us much more than knowledge, coalescing their science into one inescapable result; love. Do you use it everyday?

Sagan’s legacy is a love unadulterated by dogma, superstition, authority, and fear. It is literally Universal; accessible to anyone who opens their eyes, heart, and mind.

If you think of the relentless advance of science as a “great human demotion,” please, think again. Through science, Sagan courageously revealed an overlooked but wonderful paradox of humility. One that turns the "demotion" upside down. By taking us out of the center of the universe, Sagan put us back in - for truer reasons. He showed that our value is intrinsic to the universe, and that our story, is the universe’s story.

Sagan lit the way to a love rooted in truth, even if some of those truths hurt at first (which is the reason some find it difficult to accept). But the reward for courage is a new way to love ourselves, our lot in life, our planet, our place in space and time, and perhaps most importantly, each other. Sagan showed us that love does not come from outside this universe, it comes from within - from within the youniverse.

As the battle between religion and science rages on, why isn't it clear that love without knowledge is lame, and that knowledge without love is dangerous? Alone they are equally meaningless. It's such a shame that science and love are divorced in the minds of most. As a scientist, I know how gushy and sentimental this sounds. So let me try to express it in a way you critical thinkers are accustomed to:
Knowledge is power.
Love of knowledge.
To know the power of love.
I’m not sure if this is a formally valid syllogism. But no matter your stripe, that’s what Carl Sagan gave all of us; truthful, transcendent, pure, poetic, powerful, love. I'd say he gave more, but how could anyone give more than that?

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Sunday, May 06, 2007

Love, courage, and apathy on the Jersey Turnpike

The northern stretches of the New Jersey Turnpike are a couple of 5-lane wide strips of gray asphalt meandering through what used to be marshlands but now a dreary concrete landscape. A relentless barrage of trucks, buses, and cars roar along at 75 miles per hour.
This morning, I was one of many barreling along when, in the narrow strip at the base of the concrete barriers, I noticed something out of place. On the left hand side of the highway, a Canada Goose lay dead, it’s feathers ruffing from a passing truck.

Road-kill is always sad for me, but a fairly common sight. But what I saw next was absolutely heart-wrenching and inspiring. A second goose was waddling up to its fallen mate and I could see it vocalizing.

The story was clear. This mated pair were on their way north when one of them was struck, and landed in the median. The other circled around faithfully, and bewildered, returned to its mate's side in great distress.

Whoever can’t see that animals feel emotions is blind. This is a form of love. What else but love could possibly encourage ANY animal to act so thoroughly against it's own self-interests and land in such an obviously unnatural and terrifying patch of pavement?

I understand that accidents happen and organisms die all the time. And I’m certainly not one for anthropomorphizing (projecting human emotions onto animals). I’m one who never feels bad for the gazelle in the jaws of a lion. I see this as nature in action and I celebrate it as much as I would the birth of a giraffe. Death is not a tragedy but simply the price paid for life - and well worth it.

But this was different.

What really made this scene so sad was when I looked around, at all the other drivers with their cigarettes, cell phones, and mega-sized McDonalds cups, not one of the occupants of the black BMW’s, monster SUV’s, or tricked-out Toyotas seemed to care, or even notice the courageous drama unfolding in the dusty turbulence. If I thought I could help I certainly would have. But all I could do was notice, and be thoroughly overwhelmed.

Tonight, one sad bird sleeps alone. I’m sorry goose. And to all geese, I’m sorry for what we’ve done to your habitats. I’m sorry for not being more effective at helping us humans appreciate you. We really do care, we've just lost sight of what's truly important. I’ll try harder. I hope you made it out of New Jersey to find a beautiful and fecund new mate on the breeding grounds in Canada.
Happier times for a mated-pair of Canada Geese (Branta canadensis)

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Love... what sets us humans apart... and what keeps us together.

(5000 year-old skeletons unearthed in Italy. Story here, Photos here)

Look closley at these photos. The flesh is long gone. The eyes and brains replaced by lowly dirt. But somehow, fixed in a stare and the subtle tangle of old bones, their Love lithified transcends death, dust, and decades.

So went the past, I hope goes the future.

* Reposted for Valentines Day

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