Read Life in the Universe: Essays by Carl Sagan Free Online
Book Title: Life in the Universe: Essays|
Date of issue: August 25th 1998
ISBN 13: 9781879557512
The author of the book: Carl Sagan
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 38.67 MB
Edition: Audio Scholar
Read full description of the books Life in the Universe: Essays:Ah, you've got to love Sagan. He takes a good swipe at the anthropic principle - that the fact the constants are set up in such a way that they make man inevitable and therefore this is some sort of proof of God.
But his best bit is where he talks about Chimps using those sticks to pluck out termites. I've always seen this as pretty much the lesser end of the tool making achievements of animals - always being much more impressed with birds that use stones to open eggs. Little did I know.
Sagan talks about a researcher who spent 9 months trying to learn the tick of this. In this time he never once was able to pick a stick that was 'right' for the job, never was able to find the right re-sealed hole to put the stick and was just as likely to stuff the stick up in putting it into the hole. There is much more to this than just picking up a stick and putting it in a hole - this is an art, as Sagan says, that an intelligent man with a PhD and nine months practice still was not able to learn.
I've also always thought that if life is not carbon based, the next most likely chemical would be silicon. The reason being that silicon comes directly under carbon in the periodic table and like carbon is able to make a range of bonds with other elements with its four spare electrons. But Sagan puts paid to this idea, not least because CO2 is such an essential biproduct of life and SO2 is (at any imaginable temperatures for planets in which life would seem likely) a solid - Glass, in fact. The idea of some creature respiring solid glass is somewhat difficult to imagine.
I had no idea that the whole of the SETI program costs less than a single attack helicoper - god, do we have our priorities the wrong way around! I suspect there is little chance of us ever detecting intelligent life in the universe - the chance of intelligent life evolving close enough to each other to be able to communicate and to have done so in step with each other seems remarkably unlikely. And as Steven Pinker points out in How the Mind Works there was a time when we assumed that if life evolved on a planet that would automatically mean intelligent life would evolve eventually too. There is little reason to have such confidence.
There is also an interesting discussion of whethere it is a good idea to start building the technology now to deflect or destroy asteroids from space that might threaten to distroy our civilisation. His answer, that it would be better not to build the capacity now, as it will be cheap closer to the time it is needed, we will have better technology then too and anyway, we could cause more harm than good, was not quite the answer I was expecting from Sagan.
A wonderful collection of essays - he even refers to Kant's contribution to astronomy - showing a logical reason why all planets should be on the same plane. I've always wondered why this is the case, have never received a clear statement of why it shyould be the case. Sagan doesn't give that here either, but he does mention that Newton thought the fact that all the planets were on the same plane was a clear proof for the existence of God.
Interesting stuff. Hard not to love him.
Read information about the authorin 1934, scientist Carl Sagan was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. After earning bachelor and master's degrees at Cornell, Sagan earned a double doctorate at the University of Chicago in 1960. He became professor of astronomy and space science and director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies at Cornell University, and co-founder of the Planetary Society. A great popularizer of science, Sagan produced the PBS series, "Cosmos," which was Emmy and Peabody award-winning, and was watched by 500 million people in 60 countries. A book of the same title came out in 1980, and was on The New York Times bestseller list for 7 weeks. Sagan was author, co-author or editor of 20 books, including The Dragons of Eden (1977), which won a Pulitzer, Pale Blue Dot (1995) and The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle in the Dark (1996), his hardest-hitting on religion. With his wife, Ann Druyan, he was co-producer of the popular motion picture, "Contact," which featured a feminist, atheist protagonist played by Jodie Foster (1997). The film came out after Sagan's death, following a 2-year struggle with a bone marrow disease. Sagan played a leading role in NASA's Mariner, Viking, Voyager, and Galileo expeditions to other planets. Ann Druyan, in the epilogue to Sagan's last book, Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium (published posthumously in 1997), gives a moving account of Carl's last days: "Contrary to the fantasies of the fundamentalists, there was no deathbed conversion, no last minute refuge taken in a comforting vision of a heaven or an afterlife. For Carl, what mattered most was what was true, not merely what would make us feel better. Even at this moment when anyone would be forgiven for turning away from the reality of our situation, Carl was unflinching. As we looked deeply into each other's eyes, it was with a shared conviction that our wondrous life together was ending forever."
For his work, Dr. Sagan received the NASA medals for Exceptional Scientific Achievement and (twice) for Distinguished Public Service, as well as the NASA Apollo Achievement Award. Asteroid 2709 Sagan is named after him. He was also awarded the John F. Kennedy Astronautics Award of the American Astronautical Society, the Explorers Club 75th Anniversary Award, the Konstantin Tsiolkovsky Medal of the Soviet Cosmonauts Federation, and the Masursky Award of the American Astronomical Society, ("for his extraordinary contributions to the development of planetary science…As a scientist trained in both astronomy and biology, Dr. Sagan has made seminal contributions to the study of planetary atmospheres, planetary surfaces, the history of the Earth, and exobiology. Many of the most productive planetary scientists working today are his present and former students and associates").
He was also a recipient of the Public Welfare Medal, the highest award of the National Academy of Sciences.
Dr. Sagan was elected Chairman of the Division of Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society, President of the Planetology Section of the American Geophysical Union, and Chairman of the Astronomy Section of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. For twelve years he was the editor-in-chief of Icarus, the leading professional journal devoted to planetary research. He was cofounder and President of the Planetary Society, a 100,000-member organization that is the largest space-interest group in the world; and Distinguished Visiting Scientist, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology.
In their posthumous award to Dr. Sagan of their highest honor, the National Science Foundation declared that his "research transformed planetary science… his gifts to mankind were infinite." D. 1996.
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