Friday, January 11, 2008

Cosmos: Carl Sagan

Another book report. Yeah I've been reading a lot lately. I still don't have cable and my original Xbox is getting a big long in the tooth, so fuck it I've been reading. The latest book in case you didn't read the title is Cosmos by Carl Sagan. This is another great book but I would recommend it mostly for either younger people or people just beginning to become interested in science. Plus theres plenty of pretty pictures, I haven't bought a picture book in a while.

There two things that really stood out for me, one is the historical perspective, the stories of Thales and Hypatia are remarkable. Plus I like the names, if I ever have kids (or pets) I'll fight for those names. Hypatias story ends remarkably metaphorically when she is murdered by a mob of christians, possibly including Cyril who was later made a saint, thus ending the Hellenistic period. The things that people figured out with only the most basic of observation equipment boggles my mind.

As interesting as the historical information is theres something else that really makes this book amazing, and that is Sagan's unfettered optimism, you get the sense that not only does he love the science but even more so he loves sharing what he's learned. His hopes of interstellar travel, his joy in the tedious search for intelligent life, his fascination with everything, it really is addicting. As I read, I couldn't help but be saddened by what he would think of the world just ten years after his passing. As a society we have slipped away from using our cerebral cortex and instead relied on our R Complex. When we talk about Base actions, or seeking the lowest common denominator in society (generally insults anyway) were not that inaccurate in out description. The R Complex is not only physically at the base of the brain but its also the common denominator between millions of years worth of creatures. This is where Rage, Xenophobia and the "fight or flight" instinct come from or another way to say it the R Complex is the reason Bush was re-elected (well that and election fraud). Carl had such hopes that as we began stretching out into space we would look back and realize that the differences we have are petty. We're all made of star stuff, we are all citizens of the cosmos which makes national borders seem pretty silly. this book is inspiring, but I can't help but be saddened by thinking of how close we were to a modern enlightenment and instead we've plunged to the dark ages, and its going to take a lot more than just an election to bring us back out of it.

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