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A Tribute to Carl Sagan: the Hero of the Non-Scientist

Sabrina Artusa

Posted on June 3, 2021 17:36

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Carl Sagan is renowned for his work in promoting science. Through his many books and television series, Sagan is responsible for educating millions on scientific topics. Cosmos, arguably his most popular book, demonstrates Sagan's expertise not only in his field, but also in his ability to write and teach others.

I’m not good at math. I never took advanced science classes. In fact, simply hearing the word “calculus” makes me anxious. I just couldn’t force myself to enjoy it, despite my best efforts. So, I essentially dismissed the sciences as “not my thing”.

It wasn’t until I read The Martian that I began to grasp the importance of having an understanding of the world; and it wasn’t until I read Cosmos by Carl Sagan that I started to become intrigued by the universe. 

In The Martian, Andy Weir doesn't do the reader any favors. The book is overflowing with complex technical lingo that goes right over the average reader’s head, leading to how I came to pick up Cosmos by Carl Sagan. 

Carl Sagan is a well-known astronomer and cosmologist who devoted several books and a television series to teaching subjects that are usually thought of as too recondite to be understood by the common non-scientific audience. He tackles astronomy, history, biology, anthropology, cosmology, and more--all in 384 pages. And he does so brilliantly.

He’s an amazing writer and explains abstract principles without the esoteric verbiage or excessively academic prose that is often utilized by scholars. Sagan's style is eloquent, clear, and even artful at times; there were sentences that felt poetic. To add, it’s conversational-- there was no pretense of superiority because of his higher knowledge. He even shares some of his own theories and opinions, which opened my mind to different perspectives and possibilities. 

Not to mention, he is wildly and unexpectedly funny.  For example, one of my favorite lines of his: “The suicide rate among galaxies is high.” There is also his more iconic line: “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”

Sagan is also aware of his audience, never losing sight that he’s more knowledgeable than those he’s writing for. By including many analogies, metaphors, and anecdotes, he ensures that readers are able to conceptualize the principles he is teaching.

In addition to supplying readers with a more thorough knowledge of their universe, he makes sense of the topics he is describing and explains why they are important to understand. For instance, he states that “The neutron star teaches us respect for the commonplace.” Through comments like this, he invites us to question what we think we know and to wonder and learn about what we don’t. 

Throughout the book, readers are reminded of our temporality but also of our remarkability. Sagan shows us how we are minute compared to the immensity of our universe but miraculous in the fact of our mere existence. 

I’ve tried for years to make myself interested in math or science, yet it was Carl Sagan who succeeded in doing so. I approached the book intimidated and hesitant, but Sagan showed me that science can be for anyone who wants to learn. As one enthused reviewer says,  “If I had a religion, I would be a Carl Saganian.”

Sabrina Artusa

Posted on June 3, 2021 17:36

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Source: NYT

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