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Tag Archives: Carl Sagan
If you haven’t watch it yet this video, Wanderers, is a must. And it is well worth watching full screen. It’s a science-inspired short film imagining human exploration of our solar system.
The voice-over is very recognisable – Carl Sagan reading from Pale Blue Dot.
This is what Phil Plait said about the film:
“This is one of the most wondrous and moving paeans to space exploration I have ever seen. The words of Sagan are magnificent, of course. And the effects are stunning, photo-realistic, and very compelling.
But take a moment and let this sink in: Nearly every location depicted in this video is real. These aren’t just fanciful places made up in the head of a special-effects artist; those are worlds in our solar system that actually exist. And many were based on images taken through telescopes, or probes that have physically visited these distant locales.
Sunset on Mars. The weird ridge wrapped around Saturn’s moon Iapetus. The ice fields of Jupiter’s moon Europa. Even those cliff divers? Yup: That’s Uranus’ moon Miranda, with the highest cliffs known in the solar system.
Every time the scene changed in the video, my jaw dropped a little further and my brain soared to a new height. Nothing in there is impossible; no faster than light travel, no wormholes. Even the space elevator shown towering over Mars and the huge cylindrical rotating colony in space (did you notice the Red Sea in it?) are problems in engineering, not physics. We can build them.”
All this is fantasy today but realistically possible in the not too distant future.
Here’s something to look forward to. Next year a new version of the classic series Cosmos will be available. The trailer below gives and idea of its likely quality – watch it full screen. the quality is great.
Phil Plait, writing on the Bad Astronomy blog, gives his view on what the series may be like (see Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey: Carl Sagan’s show updated with Neil Tyson).
It will be called Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey. Hosted by renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and writers Ann Druyan (Carl Sagan’s widow) and Steven Soter. The executive producers are Seth MacFarlane and Ann Druyan.
Phil Plait warns agains prejudging a show a show only on the evidence of the trailer but feels it will be successful. And needed. Sagan’s original series, while still very effective, need updating to use new media and knowledge. Also, there is need for more pro-science public media which can help counter current anti-science and pseudoscience attitudes. As Plait says:
“We live in a time when the denial of reality is as prevalent (or more) than the acceptance of it. Much of that denial comes from a provincial view of the Universe, a narrowly constrained frame of mind that not just disallows but actively discourages doubt, questions, exploration, and freedom of discovery. The original Cosmos was all about those things, and not in a dry, documentary style, but from a very human viewpoint. This is why Cosmos endures, and why it needs to continue for a new generation.”
All the reports from the inquiries into the climategate issue are worth reading. It is the nature of thoughtful inquiries that not only are problems identified, claims checked and unjustified accusations refuted. There are also usually some suggestions for improvements.
I think the attention that has been paid to issues like peer review, importance of statistical analysis, making public data available and the handling of freedom of information requests has been worthwhile. Hopefully scientific institutes, professional bodies and scientific journals will pay attention.
The Independent Climate Change email Review which reported last week made interesting comments on the communication of science and the role of scientists in this. Mike at Watching the Deniers has written a thoughtful article on lessons we can draw from this report on this and other matters. It’s well worth a read – I recommend it (see The chief lesson of Climategate: the depths of our naivety).
Book review: Am I Making Myself Clear?: A Scientist’s Guide to Talking to the Public by Cornelia Dean
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Harvard University Press; 1 edition (October 30, 2009)
They stand out, don’t they? Probably because the rest of us are bad science communicators. We picture scientists as ponderous, given to continual qualification, lovers of jargon, bad speakers (as well as bad dressers) and not interested in communicating with the non-expert anyway. We don’t even want to communicate effectively with fellow scientists for a different speciality or research area.
Perhaps that’s a bit harsh. There are many scientists, particularly younger ones, who recognise science communication is important. Some of these probably consciously try to pick up relevant communication skills, and/or practise these in internet and other public settings.
Perhaps more importantly, there are many scientists who recognise science communication is important.
In this talk given at the AAI 2009 Convention she covers some interesting topics (see video below). These include the question of science and atheism, can science determine if a god exists and the contribution of Galileo to the scientific method. I think the latter subject is very important in the International Year of Astronomy. We keep being distracted from it by religious apologists whose only motive is to find excuses for the Church’s treatment of Galileo, in the process often distorting or denying Galileo’s scientific contributions. Porco also discusses problems with the modern-day public attitudes towards science.
Carl Sagan’s 1985 Gifford lectures are really interesting. They have been edited and published in The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God.
I highly recommend this book.
Massimo Pigliucci recently commented on the book at his blog Rationally Speaking (see Good point, Dr. Sagan!). He points out that Sagan effectively issued a challenge to theologians in his lectures. It’s a challenge they have not taken up.
Michael Nugent has posted an informal survey (using Twitter and Facebook) of favouritism atheist-related books 77 Favourite Atheist Books. Richard Dawkins’ The God DelusionGod Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything came out on top. Interestingly, though, Christopher Hitchens’ was relegated to 3rd place by the bible. Well, actually there was a rider – “the bible (or holy book of choice).”
Comment on the bible include:
“Hard to beat the Bible itself as a cornerstone for fundamental atheist belief!… It deconstructs itself… If only more Christians would read it… It has a bit of everything: genocide, incest, child murder, rape pillage, incurable knee botches… Best reason to reject theism… Makes it a whole lot easier to disbelieve in a god… My favorite is Leviticus… It’s really the only one you’ll ever need… It’s the best example of the ludicrousness of religion.”
I have heard of this atheist use for the bible before. There is a website somewhere which uses the bible to proselytise for atheism.
Other books ranking high on the list include Sam Harris’s Letter to a Christian Nation and The End of Faith, Phillip Pullman’s Dark Materials Trilogy, Christopher Hitchens’ The Portable Atheist, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams and Why People Believe Weird Things by Michael Shermer.
Most of us living in a democracy appreciate our pluralist society. We are used to relating to others who have different religious, political and other beliefs. We accept that our employers, employees, teachers, students, doctors, patients, customers, shop-owners, etc., may think differently to us. This is usually not a problem – providing people are respectful to one another.
But what about the individuals who are so sensitive they cannot tolerate relationships with those holding different beliefs to theirs? Life must be very difficult.
At one stage our institute took part in a scheme for the temporary employment of unemployed people. One guy we had was a real problem. He was an extreme Christian and took offence at nearly everything that went on in the workplace. Some of it related to what he considered blasphemy but I also wonder if he was also offended by the scientific research that went on there. I could see how his attitude made it difficult to maintain employment.
This podcast from Science and the City – from the New York Academy of Sciences – is a gem.
Hayden Planetarium director Neil deGrasse Tyson, Carl Sagan’s widow Ann Druyan, and Sagan’s former colleague Steve Soter discuss the astrobiologist’s perspective on science, the spiritual experience, and the search for God.
It’s quite long but worth every minute
listen (57.1 MB) | running time 01:23:02