(Top Posts - Science - 110905)

- - -

Transcript of some key excerpts from a
series originally broadcast in 1980 [inserts,
not part of the original series, added in

Inspiring, provocative, enlightening, enrich-
ing, these are but a few of the many acco-
lades describing Carl Sagan's greatest
work in a life cut far too short by the natur-
alistic forces Carl went to great lengths to
explain in this series.

Beyond that, Carl tried to bridge the gap
between the intricacies and complexities
of the naturalistic world and the limited
understanding that most humans have,
most often, regarding them.

- - -

"Shores of the Cosmic Ocean"

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 fall-
ing from a height. We know we are ap-
proaching the greatest of mysteries.

The size and age of the Cosmos are be-
yond normal human understanding. Lost
somewhere between immensity and etern-
ity is our tiny planetary home.


In the last few millennia we have made the
most astonishing and unexpected discov-
eries about the Cosmos and our place
within it, explorations that are exhilerating
to consider. They remind us that humans
have evolved to wonder, that understand-
ing is a joy, that knowledge is prerequisite
to survival.

I believe our future depends on how well
we know this Cosmos in which we float
like a mote of dust in the morning sky.


The Cosmos is rich beyond measure
-- in elegant facts, in exquisite interrela-
tionships, in the subtle machinery of awe.

The dimensions of the Cosmos are so
large that using familiar units of distance,
such as meters or miles, chosen for their
utility on Earth, would make little sense.

Instead, we measure distance [within the
part of the Cosmos we have been able to
explore with telescopes] with the speed
of light.

In one second a beam of light travels
186,000 miles ... or seven times around
the Earth. In eight minutes it will travel
from the Sun to the Earth. We can say
that the Sun is eight light-minutes away.
In a year ... it crosses about six trillion
miles ... a light-year.


If we were randomly inserted into the
Cosmos [not speaking of the infinite and
unknown expanse of all that is, but instead
referring only to the particular space-time
continuum that we are a part of], the odds
that we would find ourselves on or near
a planet would be less than one in a
billion trillion trillion (10 to the 33rd power,
a one followed by 33 zeroes).


- - -

"Travels in Space and Time"

Matter is much older than life. Billions
of years before the Sun and Earth even
formed, atoms were being synthesized
in the insides of hot stars, and then re-
turned to space when the stars blew
themselves up. Newly formed planets
were made of this stellar debris. The
Earth and every living thing are made
of star stuff.

But how slowly, in our human perspec-
tive, life evolved, from the molecules of
the early oceans to the first bacteria.

The reason evolution is not immedi-
ately obvious to everybody [in addition
to the basic underlying reason being
the ignorance promoted by ancient
religions which were, themselves,
founded upon ignorance of almost all
that we've discovered about our natur-
alistic Cosmos in the last 150 years]
is because it moves so slowly, and
takes so long.

How can creatures who live for only
70 years detect events that take 70
million years to unfold, or 4 billion?

By the time one-celled animals had
evolved, the history of life on Earth
[to-date] was half over. Not very far
along to us, you might think, but by
now, almost all the basic chemistry
of life had been established.

Forget our human time perspective,
from the point of view of a star, evo-
lution was weaving intricate new pat-
terns from the star stuff from the
planet Earth, and very rapidly, most
evolutionary lines became extinct.
Many lines became stagnant.

If things had gone a little differently,
a small change of climate, say, or
a new mutation, or the accidental
death of a different humble organ-
ism, the entire future history of life
[on Earth] might have been very


We might not have evolved.


But that's not what happened.


As a result, the dominant organisms
on the planet today come from fish
[of course, Carl is referring to humans
as the dominant organism, and he may
be correct in referring to humans being
the dominant *multi-cellular* organism,
but point in fact, the most dominant
organisms on Earth, by both weight
and number, are the longest-lived org-
anisms, those that evolved *first*, that
being the smallest organisms on Earth,
that being bacteria].

Along the way, many more species be-
came extinct than now exist. If history
had a slightly different weave, some of
those extinct organisms might have
survived, and prospered.


For three and a half billion years, life
had lived exclusively in the water, but
now, in a great breathtaking adventure,
it took to the land.


From our ancestors, the reptiles, there
developed many successful lines, in-
cluding the dinosaurs. Some were fast,
dexterous, and intelligent. A visitor from
another world or time might have thought
them the wave of the future. But after
nearly 200 million years, they were sud-
denly all wiped out.


The successors of the dinosaurs came
from the same reptilian stock, but they
were able to survive the catastrophe
that destroyed their cousins.

Again, there were many branches which
became extinct, and again, had events
been only a little different, those branches
might have lived to be the dominant form

For 40 milliion years, a visitor would not
have been much impressed by these
timid little creatures, but they led to all
the familiar mammals of today. And that
includes the Primates.

About 20 million years ago, a space-time
traveller might have recognized these
guys as promising. Bright, quick, agile,
sociable, curious. Their ancestors were
once atoms made in stars. Then, simple
molecules, single cells, polyps stuck to
the ocean floor, fish, amphibians, reptiles,

But then, they came down from the trees,
and stood upright. They grew an enor-
mous brain. The developed culture, in-
vented tools, domesticated fire. They
discovered language and writing. They
developed agriculture. They built cities,
and forged metal.

And ultimately, they set out for the stars
from which they had come, 5 billion years

We are star stuff which has taken its
destiny into its own hands.

The loom of time and space works the
most astonishing transformations of

Our own planet is only a tiny part of the
vast cosmic tapestry, a starry fabric
of worlds yet untold.

Those worlds in space are as count-
less as all the grains of sand on all the
beaches of the Earth.

Each of those worlds is as real as ours.

In every one of them, there is a succes-
sion of incidents, events, occurrences
which influence its future.

Countless worlds, numberless moments,
an immensity of space and time.


It is well within our power to destroy our
civilization, and perhaps, our species as
well. If we capitulate to superstition, or
greed, or stupidity, we can plunge our
world into a darkness deeper than the
time between the collapse of classical
civilization and the Italian Renaissance.

But we're also capable of using our com-
passion and our intelligence, our tech-
nology and our wealth, to make an
abundant and meaningful life for every
inhabitant of this planet, to enhance
enormously our understanding of the
universe, and to carry us to the stars.

- - - end excerpts - - -