Today marks the 10th anniversary of Carl Sagan’s death, and in celebration of his life, many bloggers are writing down their thoughts.
The thought that he is gone still shocks me. He is the person in the public sphere (I hesitate to write “celebrity” because his public face was so much more solid) who influenced me more than anyone else. He influenced the way I speak, the choices I make for passtimes, the way I look at the world around me. He introduced me to marvels of evolution like the samurai crab, marvels of earth’s history by showing me how small human time was compared to the vast prehistoric times of dinosaurs, early life, and the “primordial soup” before life came.
This was all through Cosmos, which I watched with complete awe, devouring every episode. I was nearly crushed if I missed even a few minutes. The “primordial soup” he spoke of, and the experiment he showed with the electric charges in the sealed glass filled with the chemicals in the atmosphere before life influenced me into creating a story for an assignment in my 5th grade class… a story about a similar experiment (including diagrams) that actually did create life in the form of a blobby, intelligent creature who befriends the scientist who created him. My first science fiction story.
He introduced me to scientific history, including charactors who facinated me, like Tycho Brahe, Galileo, and my favorite, Christiaan Huygens. To consider Carl Sagan’s life, I picked up my battered, yellowed, well read paperback copy of Cosmos, and I opened it to the bookmark (a receipt stub from a restaurant which is no longer there) and found that it marked a page in the middle of the Christiaan Huygens section, and I read again how amazingly gifted he was and how many gifts he gave to scientific thought and fact.
Carl Sagan brought all of these things to me, in ways a 5th grader could understand, and left me astounded at the size of our universe and work in cosmology, the intensity of human endeavors to figure out how nature works and put it to use productive to human advancement, at how increadible the truths about where we are and how we got here are.
I’ve not gone much beyond Cosmos. I know there’s a ton of work out there he did, but Cosmos shot me out in so many directions that I’ve been devouring other things, inspired by him, that I never got back to reading his other works. Cosmos was enough to set a hungry mind out into a world filled with delicious facts and ideas.
I miss Carl Sagan and I wish I could see what I imagine he would have done these last 10 years. I wonder how he might have influenced my kids with new insights, perhaps in a new television show, a sort of Cosmos 2. Others have taken up much of the slack (Bill Nye, Brian Greene to name a couple) but I don’t think anyone will ever achieve the complete inspiration Carl Sagan was able to create, even with just a few words.
We are all missing out on Carl Sagan’s ability to transfer a love of science. I miss you, Carl.