Carl Sagan was a lot of things. Around the world, he is known as “the astronomer of the people.” As a television host, he gained worldwide recognition with his 1980 series “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage.”
But Sagan was so much more than that. He was also a groundbreaking scientist, bestselling author, university professor, and philanthropist. In an age that was just beginning to discover the wonders of space, he was the one who inspired everyone to think big, to challenge what we know, and to look at everything in awe.
Even now, two decades after his death, he continues to be an inspiration to the world.
Here are 50 Carl Sagan quotes that will inspire the dreamer in you.
Table of Contents
“Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge.”
“Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.”
“We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.”
“Science is based on experiment, on a willingness to challenge old dogma, on an openness to see the universe as it really is.”
“Knowing a great deal is not the same as being smart; intelligence is not information alone but also judgment, the manner in which information is coordinated and used.”
“Who is more humble? The scientist who looks at the universe with an open mind and accepts whatever the universe has to teach us, or somebody who says everything in this book must be considered the literal truth and never mind the fallibility of all the human beings involved?”
“In science it often happens that scientists say, ‘You know that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken,’ and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn’t happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion.”
“If we long to believe that the stars rise and set for us, that we are the reason there is a Universe, does science do us a disservice in deflating our conceits?”
On Exploration and The Universe
“Exploration is in our nature. We began as wanderers, and we are wanderers still. We have lingered long enough on the shores of the cosmic ocean. We are ready at last to set sail for the stars.”
“Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people.”
“There is a wide, yawning black infinity. In every direction, the extension is endless; the sensation of depth is overwhelming. And the darkness is immortal. Where light exists, it is pure, blazing, fierce; but light exists almost nowhere, and the blackness itself is also pure and blazing and fierce.
“Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”
“Imagination will often carry us into worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere.”
“If you wish to make an apple pie out of scratch, you must first invent the universe.”
“It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.”
“Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception.”
“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.”
“The prediction I can make with the highest confidence is that the most amazing discoveries will be ones we are not today wise enough to foresee.”
“Before we devised artificial lights and atmospheric pollution and modern forms of nocturnal entertainment, we watched the stars. There were practical calendrical reasons, of course, but there was more to it than that. Even today, the most jaded city dweller can be unexpectedly moved upon encountering a clear night sky studded with thousands of twinkling stars.”
“The universe seems neither benign nor hostile, merely indifferent.”
“No other planet in the solar system is a suitable home for human beings; it’s this world or nothing. That’s a very powerful perception.”
On Humanity and Love
“Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another.”
“For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.”
“You’re an interesting species. An interesting mix. You’re capable of such beautiful dreams, and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you’re not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we’ve found that makes the emptiness bearable, is each other.”
“We can judge our progress by the courage of our questions and the depth of our answers, our willingness to embrace what is true rather than what feels good.”
“The world is so exquisite, with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there’s little good evidence. Far better, it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look Death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides.”
“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there—on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”
“In general, human societies are not innovative. They are hierarchical and ritualistic. Suggestions for change are greeted with suspicion: they imply an unpleasant future variation in ritual and hierarchy: an exchange of one set of rituals for another, or perhaps for a less structured society with fewer rituals. And yet there are times when societies must change.”
“It pays to keep an open mind, but not so open your brains fall out.”“Our species needs, and deserves, a citizenry with minds wide awake and a basic understanding of how the world works.”
On Life and Purpose
“The brain is like a muscle. When it is in use we feel very good. Understanding is joyous.”
“I think if we ever reach the point where we think we thoroughly understand who we are and where we came from, we will have failed.”
“The visions we offer our children shape the future. It matters what those visions are. Often they become self-fulfilling prophecies. Dreams are maps.”
“I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But as much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking.”
“But 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.”
“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”
“In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us.”
“The universe is not required to be in perfect harmony with human ambition.”
“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
“But 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, and they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.”
“We are like butterflies that flutter for a day and think it is forever.”
“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.”
“When you make the finding yourself – even if you’re the last person on Earth to see the light – you’ll never forget it.”
“There are naive questions, tedious questions, ill-phrased questions, questions put after inadequate self-criticism. But every question is a cry to understand the world. There is no such thing as a dumb question.”
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