Carl Sagan Quotes

Carl Edward Sagan, 1934 – 1996

Died: 20 December 1996, Seattle, Washington

Bort to a Russian immigrant textile worker, the family moved to Rahway, New Jersey where Carl graduated from Rahway High School in 1951. Unable to learn about the stars from his family, his mother got him a library card at age five. He was similarly inspired by visiting the 1939 World’s Fair at about the same time and at age six or seven he was going to the American Museum of Natural History, enjoying the planetarium and displays of dinosaurs and space objects. He attended the University of Chicago where he was a member of the Ryerson Astronomical Society and earned his B.A., B.S., M.S. in physics, and Ph.D. in astronomy and astrophysics (1954, 1955, 1956, and 1960).He was a Miller Fellow at the University of California at Berkeley for two years, then worked at the Smithsonian Observatory and lectured at Harvard from 1962 to 1968. He moved to Cornell University, becoming a full professor in 1971, and associate director of the Center for Radio Physics and Space Research there from 1972 to 1981, and taught a course on critical thinking at Cornell until his death.

Sagan was an advisor to NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for many years, he was responsible for the plaques on the Pioneer and Voyager spacecraft that have now left the solar system, designed to reveal something about mankind to some spacefaring race thousands of years from now, should there be any. He correctly predicted the surface temperature of Venus, that there were liquid seas on Saturn’s moon Titan, and subsurface water on Jupiter’s moon Europa, all later confirmed by probes. In addition to significant planetary science, he became the nations best-known popularizer of science, making an appearance on the cover of Time magazine following the thirteen-part Cosmos: A Personal Voyage which co-wrote, co-produced, and hosted on PBS. He was fond of large numbers, often saying “billions and billions”, leading to the sagan, a unit of measurement, meaning at least four billion objects. For the last years of his life he fought myelodysplasia, including three bone marrow transplants, and had learned that he was in remission when he died of pneumonia at the Fred Hutchins Cancer Research Center.

Carl Sagan quotes:

A celibate clergy is an especially good idea, because it tends to suppress any hereditary propensity toward fanaticism.
    Carl Sagan – Contact (1985)

A central lesson of science is that to understand complex issues (or even simple ones), we must try to free our minds of dogma and to guarantee the freedom to publish, to contradict, and to experiment. Arguments from authority are unacceptable.
    Carl Sagan – Billions and Billions (1997)

A galaxy is composed of gas and dust and stars�billions upon billions of stars.
    Carl Sagan – Cosmos (1980)

A googolplex is precisely as far from infinity as is the number 1… no matter what number you have in mind, infinity is larger.
    Carl Sagan – Cosmos (1980)

Advances in medicine and agriculture have saved vastly more lives than have been lost in all the wars in history.
    Carl Sagan – The Demon-Haunted World (1995)

As the ancient myth makers knew, we are children equally of the earth and the sky.
    Carl Sagan – Cosmos (1980)

Books permit us to voyage through time, to tap the wisdom of our ancestors.
    Carl Sagan – Cosmos (1980)

Cleverly designed experiments are the key.
    Carl Sagan – “Wonder and Skepticism”, Skeptical Enquirer (January-February 1995)

Credulity kills.
    Carl Sagan – The Demon-Haunted World (1995)

Eratosthenes was the director of the great library of Alexandria, the Centre of science and learning in the ancient world. Aristotle had argued that humanity was divided into Greeks and everybody else, whom he called barbarians and that the Greeks should keep themselves racially pure. He thought it was fitting for the Greeks to enslave other peoples. But Erathosthenes criticized Aristotle for his blind chauvinism, he believed there was good and bad in every nation.
    Carl Sagan – Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (TV series, 1990 update)
  Episode 13: Who Speaks for Earth?

Every one of us is precious in the cosmic perspective. If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another.
    Carl Sagan

Every thinking person fears nuclear war and every technological nation plans for it. Everyone knows it’s madness, and every country has an excuse.
    Carl Sagan – Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (TV series, 1990 update)
  Episode 13: Who Speaks for Earth?

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
    Carl Sagan – Cosmos (1980)

Finding the occasional straw of truth awash in a great ocean of confusion and bamboozle requires intelligence, vigilance, dedication and courage. But if we don’t practice these tough habits of thought, we cannot hope to solve the truly serious problems that face us – and we risk becoming a nation of suckers, up for grabs by the next charlatan who comes along.
    Carl Sagan – “The Fine Art of Baloney Detection” The Demon-Haunted World (1995)

For all our conceits about being the center of the universe, we live in a routine planet of a humdrum star stuck away in an obscure corner … of an unexceptional galaxy which is one of about 100 billion galaxies…. That is the fundamental fact of the universe we inhabit, and it is very good for us to understand that.
    Carl Sagan

For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.
    Carl Sagan – The Demon-Haunted World (1995)

For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.
    Carl Sagan – Contact (1985)

For the first time, we have the power to decide the fate of our planet and ourselves. This is a time of great danger, but our species is young, and curious, and brave. It shows much promise.
    Carl Sagan – Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (TV series, 1990 update)
  Episode 1: The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean

History is full of people who out of fear or ignorance or the lust for power have destroyed treasures of immeasurable value which truly belong to all of us. We must not let it happen again.
    Carl Sagan – Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (TV series, 1990 update)
  Episode 13: Who Speaks for Earth?

History is full of people who out of fear, or ignorance, or lust for power have destroyed knowledge of immeasurable value which truly belongs to us all. We must not let it happen again.
    Carl Sagan – Cosmos (1980)

I believe our future depends powerfully on how well we understand this Cosmos in which we float like a mote of dust in the morning sky.
    Carl Sagan – Cosmos (1980)

I think the health of our civilization, the depth of our awareness about the underpinnings of our culture and our concern for the future can all be tested by how well we support our libraries.
    Carl Sagan – Cosmos (1980)

I try not to think with my gut. If I’m serious about understanding the world, thinking with anything besides my brain, as tempting as that might be, is likely to get me into trouble.
    Carl Sagan – Talk of the Nation (3 May 1996)

I went to the librarian and asked for a book about stars…. And the answer was stunning. It was that the Sun was a star but really close. The stars were suns, but so far away they were just little points of light…. The scale of the universe suddenly opened up to me. It was a kind of religious experience. There was a magnificence to it, a grandeur, a scale which has never left me. Never ever left me.
    Carl Sagan

If we are to survive, our loyalties must be broadened further, to include the whole human community, the entire planet Earth. Many of those who run the nations will find this idea unpleasant.
    Carl Sagan – Cosmos (1980)

If we crave some cosmic purpose, then let us find ourselves a worthy goal.
    Carl Sagan – Pale Blue Dot (1994)

If we long for our planet to be important, there is something we can do about it. We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and by the depth of our answers.
    Carl Sagan – Cosmos (1980)

If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.
    Carl Sagan – Cosmos (1980)

Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere.
    Carl Sagan – Cosmos (1980)

In the fabric of space and in the nature of matter, as in a great work of art, there is, written small, the artist’s signature.
    Carl Sagan – Contact (1985)

It is sometimes said that scientists are unromantic, that their passion to figure out robs the world of beauty and mystery. But is it not stirring to understand how the world actually works: that white light is made of colors, that color is the way we perceive the wavelengths of light, that transparent air reflects light, that in so doing it discriminates among the waves, and that the sky is blue for the same reason that the sunset is red? It does no harm to the romance of the sunset to know a little bit about it.
    Carl Sagan – Pale Blue Dot (1994)

It seems to me what is called for is an exquisite balance between two conflicting needs: the most skeptical scrutiny of all hypotheses that are served up to us and at the same time a great openness to new ideas.
    Carl Sagan – “The Burden of Skepticism” (1987)

Modern science has been a voyage into the unknown, with a lesson in humility waiting at every stop. Many passengers would rather have stayed home.
    Carl Sagan – Pale Blue Dot (1994)

My parents were not scientists. They knew almost nothing about science. But in introducing me simultaneously to skepticism and to wonder, they taught me the two uneasily cohabiting modes of thought that are central to the scientific method.
    Carl Sagan

Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.
    Carl Sagan

The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
    Carl Sagan

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
    Carl Sagan – Pale Blue Dot (1994)

The fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.
    Carl Sagan – Broca’s Brain (1979)

The idea that God is an oversized white male with a flowing beard who sits in the sky and tallies the fall of every sparrow is ludicrous. But if by God one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God. This God is emotionally unsatisfying… it does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity.
    Carl Sagan

The illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world.
    Carl Sagan

The library connects us with the insights and knowledge, painfully extracted from Nature, of the greatest minds that ever were, with the best teachers, drawn from the entire planet and from all of our history, to instruct us without tiring, and to inspire us to make our own contribution to the collective knowledge of the human species.
    Carl Sagan – Cosmos (1980)

The nuclear arms race is like two sworn enemies standing waist deep in gasoline, one with three matches, the other with five.
    Carl Sagan – Debate with William F. Buckley (1983)

The size and age of the Cosmos are beyond ordinary human understanding. Lost somewhere between immensity and eternity is our tiny planetary home. In a cosmic perspective, most human concerns seem insignificant, even petty. And yet our species is young and curious and brave and shows much promise.
    Carl Sagan – Cosmos (1980)

The sky calls to us. If we do not destroy ourselves, we will one day venture to the stars.
    Carl Sagan – Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (TV series, 1990 update)
  Episode 7: The Backbone of Night

The truth may be puzzling. It may take some work to grapple with. It may be counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held prejudices. It may not be consonant with what we desperately want to be true. But our preferences do not determine what’s true.
    Carl Sagan – “Wonder and Skepticism”, Skeptical Enquirer (January-February 1995)

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