September 28, 2009

I miss Carl Sagan.

I miss Carl Sagan. I miss Carl Sagan.

***

For one thing, I don't see Tyson writing something like this:

There is a very nice self-titering aspect to cannabis. Each puff is a very small dose; the time lag between inhaling a puff and sensing its effect is small; and there is no desire for more after the high is there. I think the ratio, R, of the time to sense the dose taken to the time required to take an excessive dose is an important quantity. R is very large for LSD (which I've never taken) and reasonably short for cannabis. Small values of R should be one measure of the safety of psychedelic drugs. When cannabis is legalized, I hope to see this ratio as one of he parameters printed on the pack. I hope that time isn't too distant; 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.
(Read the whole thing — and don't assume I'm endorsing it. I'm not.)

***

Oh my God, Becky
Look at his cerebellum, it is so big!...

62 comments:

garage mahal said...

astronomy, Carl Sagan, intelligence, marijuana

Perfect.

Revenant said...

"Demon-Haunted World" was a really good book.

bagoh20 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
traditionalguy said...

The intelligences that cometh to the mind blanked out drug user is not valuable except to affirm to the other mind blanked out drug users that they are on to some thing profoundly valuable from the spiritual realm. Beat advice is not to waste your time on them when there are astrologers, psychics and pendulem swingers available so cheap.

bagoh20 said...

All things that lead one to ponder the stars.

bagoh20 said...

One should not avoid exploring something unless the risk is great, and even then, only when the reward is small.

Original Mike said...

I never liked Sagan all that much, but I'm willing to entertain the hypothesis that I was just jealous.

I think his notion of R-value is pretty insightful. Large-R drugs can really rear up and bite you.

miller said...

He had some moments of popular insight, but he just came across as a geek.

My opinion, of course. I wish him no ill will; I just didn't find him interesting.

Lem said...

billions and billions billions and billions billions and billions billions and billions billions and billions billions and billions billions and billions of stars.

peter hoh said...

Another public TV series from about the same time: James Burke's Connections. They don't make 'em like that any more.

John Lynch said...

Right about weed, wrong about nuclear winter.

Montagne Montaigne said...

Lem, that's not billions, it's pronounced BEEEELEEEYOOONS.

I tried to find the Bloom County strip where this first became clear to me but I had no luck.

ricpic said...

I, Carl Sagan, took hundred of thousand of tokes and lost billions and billions of brain cells. I was stupid to the nth degree as befit a g-g-g-genius like me.

bagoh20 said...

"Connections" was a great show. thanks for reminding me.

edutcher said...

One thing that struck me about Sagan, his intellect notwithstanding. When Johnny Carson once asked him if he believed in God, he answered, "Define God".

A simple, "No", would have sufficed. He came off as either intellectually dishonest or intellectually gutless.

WV "trychini" zucchini you don't want.

Chris said...

I'm not sure I agree with the reasons but I agree that pot being illegal is pretty silly. It isn't really illegal here in CA though. I'm pretty glad the kind of drugs I like are illegal (heroin, speed). If heroin was legal I'd probably be dead.

David said...

Sagan was wonderful because he was simultaneously interesting and ridiculously easy to parody.

Original Mike said...

@edutcher: Seems like an astute answer, to me.

John said...

edutcher,

A simple "No" would definitely NOT have sufficed. Unless you are fine with offering a terse and definitive opinion on a complete abstraction to a large number of people who have each adopted a different interpretation of that same abstraction.

"Do you believe in God?" is a dumb question, like "What do you think of food?" I think Sagan answered the question with an entirely appropriate request for clarification.

Or, more briefly, what Original Mike said...

Jimmy said...

Sagan's essay was an extended flashback for me. Back then we lived by the maxim that "dope will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no dope" (hat tip to the Furry Freak Brothers).

Of course today six figure incomes get us through times of no dope quite well, thank you.

chuck b. said...

"'Demon-Haunted World' was a really good book."


Only the first couple of chapters were good (and by good I mean vital, necessary reading), after that it's a long, repetitive rant about UFO abduction and sexual abuse.

His argument about using science vs. praying by candlelight to deities for mercy and guidance exerted a strong influence on me for sure.

daubiere said...

i guarantee that Sagan didn't smoke marijuana that much. a little relaxation is one thing but chronic pot use is not conducive to a scientific brain.

its the culture of marijuana I find so distasteful. if everyone just did it alone in their rooms without bullshit spiritual justifications or silly social crap wed all be better off.

daubiere said...

"
His argument about using science vs. praying by candlelight to deities for mercy and guidance exerted a strong influence on me for sure."

why the either/or? why not both? the problem with so much science today is that it lacks candlelight and cantatas.

chuck b. said...

"why the either/or? why not both?"

That's fine. But having both at the same time is rather recent and relatively rare in the long stretch of human history. It could become rare again, which is terrifying.

chuck b. said...

(tweet out)

John said...

"the problem with so much science today is that it lacks candlelight and cantatas."

Wha-?

Science doesn't say you can't enjoy cantatas. Science neither endorses nor attacks the aesthetic of candlelight. It's just that, when some crystal bedecked squishy-brain says "this cantata makes my pot grow faster" or "candlelight is better for your health than flourescents," science says "Prove it."

Which is a very good thing.

WV - bledic: medieval doctor

Chip Ahoy said...

My dad taped that series and we owned the book. I tore the thing up. Not literally, of course, I just read it so much the pages fell out.

I liked the Ship of the Imagination that allows us to explore the universe. A dandelion seed puff ball taken by the wind. In the next moment you're inside the dandelion sailing through the cosmos. Recall the glee as a child of spreading those seeds in the wind before becoming aware of what a drag dandelions are to careful lawn owners.

Sagan takes special effort to exalt scientific study and to ridicule superstition and religion. He uses a segment to describe early descriptions of the universe as a clockwork mechanism. Insufficient in his view because "clockwork implies a clock maker." Why not save a step and remove the clock maker from the equation?

Cosmos displays an animation of a line drawing that depicts evolution from simple organelles to single cell organisms, to multicellular organisms, to complex organisms that lift themselves from the water and crawl on land, then stand erect, and finally become human, set to inspirational new-age electronic music.

I loved every second of it, but I had to wonder …

If Sagan dismissed religion completely, then why did he lift elements of Christianity, the church specifically, to convey his splendid scientific ideas and to create a division between religion (superstition) and science? Inside the Ship of the Imagination is just a little too much like the apse of a tabernacle, heavenly white, his control center an altar, the viewing screen resembled closely stained glass windows of a church, his text like a sermon, and of course, the uplifting inspiring electronic music brought to crescendo. I mean, come on. Either you're against religion and the church or you accept it. If you're against it, then you forfeit the use of its propagandistic elements.

But in my view, counter to Sagan, I believe there need be no argument between the two spheres of human existence. One instructs us about the material universe in which we live, and the other instructs on what to do with that awareness.

edutcher said...

Disagree, Mike and John. He was ducking the question. I'll grant you that the question was a bit facile (this was the Carson show, after all), but, in Western civilization, God is a fairly specific and familiar construct and he could have said what he thought, even if it wasn't an anthropomorphic, patriarchal, omnipotent Being.

I think he just liked being the resident late night guru.

EDH said...

Okay. That means that... our whole solar system... could be, like... one tiny atom in the fingernail
of some other giant being.

This is too much! That means... one tiny atom in my fingernail could be--

Could be one little... tiny universe.

Professor Sagan, can I buy some pot from you?

wv - "heavac" = vacuum cleaner that cleans up puke

Bissage said...

We watched “Bored to Death” last night on HBO.

There was a fairly decent vein of anti-pot humor, aimed at people who know something about pot, although there was a whiff of plausible deniability about it, of course.

If you liked Woody Allen in “Manhattan,” then it’s worth catching an episode of “Bored to Death,” as I expect they will tighten things up soon enough, the way that sitcoms tend to do.

There you have it!

Roger Sweeny said...

I like big brains and I cannot lie.

Original Mike said...

I liked the Ship of the Imagination that allows us to explore the universe.

Those frequent shots of Sagan staring out the window of his ship, mouth agape, at the wonders of the universe were a bit more than I could handle.

Original Mike said...

He was ducking the question.

Yeah, he was.

BJM said...

@ EDH

Yeah, it's those damned turtles again.

Revenant said...

When Johnny Carson once asked him if he believed in God, he answered, "Define God". A simple, "No", would have sufficed. He came off as either intellectually dishonest or intellectually gutless.

A guy once asked me "hey, do you know Fred?".

"Fred who?", I asked.

Then the guy called me dishonest and gutless and stormed off. I never did find out if he meant Fred Smith, Fred Jones or Fred Thompson.

Original Mike said...

Or maybe Freder.

Richard Fagin said...

A heck of an astronomer but a big, fat zero as an earth scientist. I'm still waiting for the nuclear winter equivalent we were supposed to suffer when Saddam Hussein ordered all those Kuwaiti oil wells to be set on fire.

He was another ignorant pontificator in the mold of William Shockley and Linus Pauling and that should have stuck to his area of expertise.

John Lynch said...

Chip Ahoy--

Yeah, Sagan is a mystic. He isn't really a scientist.

Note all his apocalyptic warnings about us "destroying ourselves."

I still have his Comet book. Cosmos fell apart decades ago.

edutcher said...

Chip Ahoy said...

If Sagan dismissed religion completely, then why did he lift elements of Christianity, the church specifically, to convey his splendid scientific ideas and to create a division between religion (superstition) and science? Inside the Ship of the Imagination is just a little too much like the apse of a tabernacle, heavenly white, his control center an altar, the viewing screen resembled closely stained glass windows of a church, his text like a sermon, and of course, the uplifting inspiring electronic music brought to crescendo. I mean, come on. Either you're against religion and the church or you accept it. If you're against it, then you forfeit the use of its propagandistic elements.

But in my view, counter to Sagan, I believe there need be no argument between the two spheres of human existence. One instructs us about the material universe in which we live, and the other instructs on what to do with that awareness.


I have no problem with that, Chip. I was just a little perplexed at the good doctor is all.

John Lynch said...

Oh, nuclear winter was a sham. It was scientifically discredited almost immediately.

That wasn't the point. It was propaganda to scare us out of nuclear war. The people who came up with it knew that, and they knowingly published false information. They didn't even feel bad about it. They've never had to account for it.

When it comes to stopping nuclear war, facts don't matter.

Nuclear weapons aren't nearly as dangerous as people think (which doesn't minimize the fact they are the most powerful weapons ever forged). That's not to say the damn things couldn't end this civilization, but they definitely wouldn't end life on earth. They probably wouldn't even kill all of us.

There's been a 50 year propaganda campaign to make use of nuclear weapons unthinkable. That's probably a good thing, but the weapons aren't as powerful as commonly believed nor is life on earth as delicate as we are told.

Sagan was one of the people who began to put science in the service of political causes. SETI, environmentalism, and nuclear disarmament aren't scientific imperatives.

They are philosophical, ethical, or even theological demands. Who else is out there? Why are we destroying our home? Why are we building weapons that can kill all of us? Those aren't scientific questions.

That's why I think of Sagan as a mystic and not a scientist. Science is about observing the world, not finding the right thing to do.

Matt said...

John Lynch
Nuclear weapons aren't nearly as dangerous as people think

You're kidding right?

Oligonicella said...

edutcher --

"... in Western civilization, God is a fairly specific and familiar construct ..."

Compare and contrast Christian, Judaic and Islamic views of what God is and get back to us. Then, of course, factor in all the Buddhist, Wiccan and other religions, whose adherents are participants in Western Civilization.

wv: joice - what you do before redoing it.

Matt - I don't think he is. Most people think if you set off a significant fraction of the arsenal, life on Earth would end. It not only wouldn't, it definitely wouldn't.

Lem said...

Bill Buckley smoked pot.

Revenant said...

Oh, nuclear winter was a sham. It was scientifically discredited almost immediately.

Um, it was? Could you provide some support for that claim?

SETI, environmentalism, and nuclear disarmament aren't scientific imperatives.

Well of course not, because there are no scientific imperatives beyond things like "a theory which does not match with observation needs to be modified or discarded".

But the question "is there life on other planets" is certainly a legitimate and interesting question for a scientist to ask. You could argue that it isn't a worthwhile use of research dollars, but you could argue that about anything. :)

Matt said...

Oligonicella & John Lynch

The basis of John's comment isn't a refutation of Nuclear Winter as much as it is a refutation of Nuclear War.
I can agree that Nuclear Winter may indeed have been an overstatement on the part of some politicians and scientists.

But let's not underestimate the horror that would be a nuclear war.
There were around 120,000 deaths in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That was two bombs that are only a fraction of the megatones nuclear bombs have now [and had at the height of the nuclear scare].

A nuclear war that, lets say, releases 20 nuclear bombs [all 1000's of times more powerful than Fat Man and Little Boy] dropped on a major city and you would have deaths in the millions. A full scale nuclear war would not be good in any way. And, yes, it could end civilization. Is that not reason enough to never want to have a nuclear war?
I mean, if we have bombs to destroy civilization as we know it does it matter if they maybe aren't strong enough to also end all life on the planet? It seems sort of trivial to make a distinction. It's like putting a positive spin on nuclear war.

I see no reason NOT to scare people from a nuclear war.

Henry said...

Did Carl Sagan and Dr. Ruth ever appear on the same show? Just wondering.

Henry said...

Freeman Dyson pointed out that Carl Sagan was likely wrong on the theory of nuclear winter. Sagan thought of particulate clouds as blocking sunlight. Dyson knew that particulate clouds trapped heat. The problem, Dyson surmised, was that Sagan was more used to thinking about Martian dust storms than London smog.

Pastafarian said...

Sagan was a great pop scientist, and brought astrophysics to millions. Broca's Brain, A Demon-Haunted World, and Cosmos are all classics, up there with anything by Asimov.

And he faced his own mortality (real mortality, not tempered with the hope of an afterlife) with dignity. He was neither a coward nor intellectually dishonest, despite the fact that he didn't give as facile an answer to Johnny Carson as edutcher had hoped he would.

Of course, he had his faults, as we all do. He was a leftist, and he allowed some of his work to be used by the left to advance some hair-brained politicized science, like allowing people to extend his work on Venus to Earth, giving us the theory of Anthropogenic Global Warming (err, climate change, or whatever they're calling it this week. Hey Montana Urban Legend, how about that hockey-stick graph being completely discredited last week? Hooda thunket.)

I was always a little disappointed that he didn't use his popularity very much to push for more funding for prediction and prevention of comet and asteroid collisions with Earth. That's something that we don't spend much money on, that could wipe out civilization, and Sagan knew it.

Gabriel Hanna said...

My favorite Bloom County / Carl Sagan moment: Oliver Wendell Jones's disappointment at not getting a Carl Sagan action figure with latex expanding ego for Christmas.

I've known a lot of stoners, and they always think drugs are "expanding their mind". It's not as though Sagan did a tremendous amount of scientific work, though he was good at popularizing science.

John Lynch said...

There's an old Foreign Affairs article that came out back in the mid 80s condemning the TTAPS model (which had no oceans) and the nuclear winter research. Since then no one has taken it seriously except the general public, and some anti nuclear activists. It's just too powerful a meme to stop.

The root of the problem is that there's no evidence that nuclear explosions would put soot in the stratosphere. Even if they set a lot of cities and trees on fire, the soot would stay in the lower atmosphere, like it did with the Kuwaiti oil fires in 1991. Volcanoes can put soot in the stratosphere, but they are more powerful than most nukes.

And I'm not saying nuclear war is a good thing. It would be horrible--- the worst thing to happen to humanity. But it's possible for something to be horrible but not as horrible as we think.

For instance, the worst war in history didn't end human civilization, despite every weapon available being used, including atomic bombs. Many people in the 30s DID think that we could exterminate ourselves with modern technology (HG Wells wrote "The Time Machine" and "Things to Come" on these themes). It didn't happen. I'd hardly regard World War 2 as a good thing, but it was not as bad as many in the 1930s predicted.

Anyway, it's interesting to me that any sign of doubt about nuclear war being the end of the world gets the reaction it does. People have an emotional investment in nukes being the end of everything. They'd certainly be the end of most of us (if we detonated enough of them over our cities), but life would go on. I think people regard any attempt to dispute this as being for nuclear war. Uh, no.

montana urban legend said...

You are so high on Percocets right now.

John Lynch said...

I'd rather talk about drugs anyway.

montana urban legend said...

Dude, Sagan had a bong made in the shape of The Bubble Nebula, and it was 1.02 X 10-5674998 times the size of the Orion constellation - which, for all you amateurs, is still pretty fucking huge. He used to puff rings of smoke in the shape of barred spiral galaxies in his office at SETI, albeit with a bunch of towels shoved under the door. It was pretty cool.

montana urban legend said...

Weed's got some oncolytic components in it. Wonder if it helped him stave off the ravages of his MDS for as long as he did.

Oligonicella said...

Matt -

"It's like putting a positive spin on nuclear war."

Nope. It's saying that exaggeration is unwarranted when the facts are good enough. Nothing more.

Revenant said...

There's an old Foreign Affairs article that came out back in the mid 80s condemning the TTAPS model (which had no oceans) and the nuclear winter research.

Um, John... did you read the article summary you linked? Because it argues that nuclear winter is a real threat, not that nuclear winter research is bogus. Thompson's model predicted *less* cooling than TTAPS, but it still predicted a serious temperature drop.

Since then no one has taken it seriously except the general public, and some anti nuclear activists.

I noted, above, that you were wrong about the content of the article. But let me just add that even if you had been right about it, the idea of a climate theory being debunked for all time by an article in a non-peer-reviewed foreign policy journal is ridiculous on its face.

The root of the problem is that there's no evidence that nuclear explosions would put soot in the stratosphere.

It was observed to happen in bomb tests, so I'm not sure what "no evidence" is supposed to mean. If you mean we have no proof that a sufficient *quantity* of dust would end up in the stratosphere then, yes, that's certainly true. And short of a worldwide nuclear exchange we never will.

For instance, the worst war in history didn't end human civilization, despite every weapon available being used, including atomic bombs.

The explosive power of the existing nuclear arsenals is several orders of magnitude greater than that of all of the munitions expended in every war to date. You sound like those lefties who argue that since Bush ran deficits in the hundreds of billions, Obama's trillion-dollar deficits aren't a problem.

zefal said...

The guy had a bug up is wazoo about the manned-space program. And he also had a religious view of rocks, like Mars, and didn't want humans desecrating it by colonizing it.

I remember his widow was on PBS fund raising during the rerunning of Cosmos after he died. I don't recall how long he had been dead but you could tell she was still affected by his passing. I'm an agnostic and people close to me dying isn't fun but I would have expected her to be a little more over it (for lack of a better idiom) than she was.

Original Mike said...

And I'm not saying nuclear war is a good thing. It would be horrible--- the worst thing to happen to humanity.

The plaque was pretty bad.

Just sayin'.

Fred4Pres said...

Does anyone have any nacho chips?

Michael McNeil said...

But let's not underestimate the horror that would be a nuclear war. There were around 120,000 deaths in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That was two bombs that are only a fraction of the megatones nuclear bombs have now [and had at the height of the nuclear scare].

A nuclear war that, lets say, releases 20 nuclear bombs [all 1000's of times more powerful than Fat Man and Little Boy] dropped on a major city and you would have deaths in the millions. A full scale nuclear war would not be good in any way. And, yes, it could end civilization. Is that not reason enough to never want to have a nuclear war?


I certainly agree that an all-our nuclear war (with thousands of warheads going off)) between the U.S. and Russia might well end civilization, and also concur that one shouldn't underestimate the horror of a nuclear war — but in my view it's also important to keep a realistic perspective. I've met folks who believe that just two or three atomic bombs going off in this country would cause the nation to fall apart — which I think is greatly mistaken.

One must also object to the assertion that modern nuclear warheads are “1000's of times more powerful than Fat Man and Little Boy.” Actually, due to the ever increasing precision of so-called “smart” weaponry and intercontinental missiles, the sizes of nukes have been going down and down for decades, and by now — as physicist Freeman Dyson pointed out to me in a recent private correspondence, which he's given me permission to quote publicly:

“The main thing that has changed since the book was written [Dyson's Weapons and Hope, 1984], and is relevant to your discussion, is the retirement of all the multimegaton weapons. Both in the USA and in Russia, the military people understand that half a megaton is big enough for any conceivable military purpose. So there are no longer any weapons bigger than that in the stockpiles. The irony of this situation is that the stockpiles today are almost exactly the same as they would have been if the hydrogen bomb had never been invented. It is easy to make a pure fission bomb with a yield of half a megaton. So the whole fight of Oppenheimer and his friends against the hydrogen bomb was in the end unimportant. If they had won it would have made very little difference.”

Thus the maximum size present-day nuclear warhead — half a megaton — releases some 24 times the energy of the Nagasaki explosion, and is perhaps 33 times the size of the Hiroshima bomb — which is certainly very far from being “thousands of times more powerful” than those blasts.

Then too, it's worth noting, as Dyson has also pointed out (in his above-mentioned book), that this historical evolution towards smaller and smaller nukes is the exact opposite of what knowledgeable folks were anticipating during, say, the 1950's (when books and films like On the Beach were written and produced) — where the expectation was that gigaton nuclear weapons (thousands of megatons) would eventually be produced, possibly filling the interior of giant submarines that, were war to come, would be exploded off the coasts of enemy nations, devastating entire continents with terrific blast and huge tsunamis, whilst releasing enough radiation, perhaps, to produce an On the Beach type deadly aftermath.

Though existing nuclear weaponry is most definitely bad enough, fortunately for everybody things have not gone in the anticipated direction.

lobotomist said...

I dare say Carl would have enjoyed this video with hookah in hand:

Carl Sagan featuring Stephen Hawking - A Glorious Dawn (Cosmos Remixed)

Laika's Last Woof said...

I wonder if Sagan's bizarre belief in "Nuclear Winter" was a result of an insight that was, shall we say, cannabis-induced?
Like he closes his eyes and "flash" burning geysers of oil turn to ash ...