Carl Sagan

65

Carl Sagan : biography

1934-11-9 – 20 December 1996

Sagan also wrote books to popularize science, such as Cosmos, which reflected and expanded upon some of the themes of A Personal Voyage, and became the best-selling science book ever published in English; The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence, which won a Pulitzer Prize; and Broca’s Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science. Sagan also wrote the best-selling science fiction novel Contact in 1985, based on a film treatment he wrote with his wife in 1979, but he did not live to see the book’s 1997 motion picture adaptation, which starred Jodie Foster and won the 1998 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Adaption.

From Cosmos and his frequent appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, Sagan became associated with the catchphrase "billions and billions". Sagan stated that he never actually used the phrase in the Cosmos series. The closest that he ever came was in the book Cosmos, where he talked of "billions upon billions":

However, his frequent use of the word billions, and distinctive delivery emphasizing the "b" (which he did intentionally, in place of more cumbersome alternatives such as "billions with a ‘b’", in order to distinguish the word from "millions" in viewers’ minds), made him a favorite target of comic performers, including Johnny Carson, Gary Kroeger, Mike Myers, Bronson Pinchot, Penn Jillette, Harry Shearer, and others. Frank Zappa satirized the line in the song "Be In My Video", noting as well "atomic light". Sagan took this all in good humor, and his final book was entitled Billions and Billions, which opened with a tongue-in-cheek discussion of this catchphrase, observing that Carson was an amateur astronomer and that Carson’s comic caricature often included real science.

He is also known for expressing wonderment at the vastness of space and time, as in his phrase "The total number of stars in the Universe is larger than all the grains of sand on all the beaches of the planet Earth."

Sagan units

As a humorous tribute to Sagan and his association with the catchphrase "billions and billions", a sagan has been defined as a unit of measurement equivalent to a large number of anything. at dictionary.reference.com (definition from the Jargon File)William Safire, , New York Times, April 17, 1994

Personal life and beliefs

Sagan was married three times—in 1957, to biologist Lynn Margulis, mother of Dorion Sagan and Jeremy Sagan; in 1968, to artist Linda Salzman, mother of Nick Sagan; and in 1981, to author Ann Druyan, mother of Alexandra Rachel (Sasha) Sagan and Samuel Democritus Sagan. His marriage to Druyan continued until his death in 1996.

Isaac Asimov described Sagan as one of only two people he ever met whose intellect surpassed his own. The other, he claimed, was the computer scientist and artificial intelligence expert Marvin Minsky.

Sagan wrote frequently about religion and the relationship between religion and science, expressing his skepticism about the conventional conceptualization of God as a sapient being. For example:

Some people think God is an outsized, light-skinned male with a long white beard, sitting on a throne somewhere up there in the sky, busily tallying the fall of every sparrow. Others—for example Baruch Spinoza and Albert Einstein—considered God to be essentially the sum total of the physical laws which describe the universe. I do not know of any compelling evidence for anthropomorphic patriarchs controlling human destiny from some hidden celestial vantage point, but it would be madness to deny the existence of physical laws.

In another description of his view on the concept of God, Sagan emphatically writes:

The idea that God is an oversized white male with a flowing beard who sits in the sky and tallies the fall of every sparrow is ludicrous. But if by God one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God. This God is emotionally unsatisfying … it does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity.