“We’re made of star stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.” – Carl Sagan (1934-1996)
Astronomy, physics, or natural sciences in general had never been my best subject at school. Equations for me, the way Professor Brian Cox put it, is the nasty little thing I used to solve at school. It wasn’t much different with biology and astronomy. For me, they were just a bunch of stuff to memorize for the sake of passing the class. I never really thought of what they mean to me, and to the world, and I never realized the beautiful stories they contain, until I discovered Carl Sagan.
Carl Sagan was an astronomer and cosmologist who became famous for his television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. For me, Sagan isn’t just a scientist or a television star. He’s the man who reminds me how insignificant we are in this vast universe and that it’s never just about us. He passed away in the same year I was born. But that doesn’t stop the knowledge he shared to begin enriching me 17 years later.
I knew Sagan for the first time when a friend of mine sent me this link to a video in which contains Sagan’s narration “We Humans Are Capable of Greatness.” From there, I began to research more about him and led myself to Cosmos and the famous beautiful passage from his book Pale Blue Dot:
Pale Blue Dot – Sagan was talking about the image of Earth taken by Voyager 1 when it’s about 6 billion kilometers from Earth, on February 14th, 1990.
No one talked about space and the universe like Sagan did. The way he spoke and delivered his knowledge and ideas are just so magical to me. He explained about the space so passionately like a young boy with genuine enthusiasm and humble curiosity about what’s beyond our Earth. Because of him, I never perceived the universe the same way anymore.
It was my first year of university studying social and political sciences. It was the time when it’s getting very clear to me how greedy, selfish, and mean people can be to get what they want, as well as how many things that happen in our world is basically a struggle for power. I was so focused on what’s happening here in our human world. Discovering Sagan just in the middle of that time is a blessing for me. He becomes a reminder that there’s no reason for humans to feel superior and hurt one another in this pale blue dot, the only home we share with each other. He reminds us that we are just a tiny part of this vast universe. A universe that is not made for us.
Carl Sagan with his passion has inspired many people to learn science and explore the universe more. One of those people is Professor Brian Cox. Cox is an English physicist who becomes well-known for his BBC series Wonders of the Universe and Human Universe. He refers Sagan as his hero, the man who inspired him to get into science and cosmology. He later carries Sagan’s spirit in his career and that’s why I admire him.
I remember on the first episode of Human Universe, Cox mentioned Isaac Newton’s famous quote “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants,” which means that he built his knowledge from previous discoveries. Cox demonstrated how the same formula of universal gravitation law built by Newton in 1687 is now used to make sure that our astronauts will make a safe trip home from space. Scientists like Edwin Hubble and Albert Einstein developed science from discoveries that have been made by previous geniuses like Newton. Cox was trying to show us that we cannot stand alone and that the luxury of our civilization today is the result of our ancestors’ process of thinking and discovery. As Brian Cox put it, in only 200.000 years, we have transformed ourselves from apeman to spaceman.
One might say science is the sum total of our knowledge of the universe, the great library of the known, but the practice of science happens at the border between the known and the unknown. Standing on the shoulders of giants, we peer into the darkness with eyes opened not in fear but in wonder. – Professor Brian Cox
Sagan said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. Science now has become the strongest thing to humble me. At least so far. People like Sagan and Cox make me realize that we humans really don’t have any reason to be arrogant. The more knowledge that we have should humble us rather than make us feel superior. And in the case of astronomy, knowing things turn out to become a realization that we are just a speck of fragile dust in our humbling universe.
Cox said that the best theory for the origin of the universe that exists today suggests that there are an infinite number of universes and an infinite number of copies of us. “No purpose, nothing special, you are because you have to be.” Thirty-two years ago, Sagan through his book Contact said: “For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.” This truly humbles me.
The things Sagan and Cox said and the way they said it make a great influence to me as an individual. They make me realize the importance of caring for each other more effectively than any humanitarian documentary ever does. Human Universe shows us how we have identical cells with camels and the 2014 Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson (the remake of Sagan’s 1980 Cosmos) shows how we have similar DNA code with an oak tree. For me, these honestly grow more sense of loving for the environment than any environmental campaign ever does. Most importantly for me as an individual, after I discovered Sagan, science has made me feel far more spiritual and it humbles me more than any religious preach ever does.
Another thing about Carl Sagan that makes him an inspiration for me is how he talked about things he’s passionate about. He talked about the space so passionately that he inspired many young people to become future scientists, like Professor Brian Cox. Cox was 13 when he stared at his television watching Cosmos, and it changed his life. Another good example, and a closer one, of a person who’s been so passionate about their field that they inspired others is my lecturer. She has been putting herself in the study of migration, and when you participate in her class you will see how passionate she is with what she’s doing from the way she speaks and her expression while doing it. She has inspired her students, including my closest friends, to study about migration. Who knows if in the future these students will be the ones who make great contributions to the study of migration, or perhaps even the ones who change public current emerging negative stigma about migrants?
Personally, people with passion and persistence have always attracted me. And I think most of the time the people we’re attracted to are the type of people that we wish to be or want to be. Well, I don’t even dare to wish that someday someone will refer me as a hero like Cox refers Sagan as his. But I know that I do have that desire to be able to express my passion and put myself into it. At the moment, I’ve been putting myself into the study of cyber security, in a strategic sphere. I have this goal that I want to talk about cyber security like Carl Sagan talked about space.
Carl Sagan has been a great influence for me as a tiny speck of our vast universe, a human of Earth, a part of the society, and an individual. This was written by a 21-year-old political science student. I am far more likely to become a politician than a natural scientist. But Sagan has played an important role in shaping how I see the world, and I think it is important to say it. Perhaps, if it wasn’t for him, I’d never see science and our universe the way I see it now. Perhaps, I’d still see science as that crap I wasn’t good at in school. And perhaps, every time I looked at the stars in the night sky, I’d only see them as a bunch of sparkling dots and never realized the great stories they contain. Therefore, it’s been a true blessing to know about Sagan, even though we only shared the same world for 11 months.
Author/Editor: Elsa Hestriana Illustration: Jody Hewgill, Dustin Harbin