Ten years ago today, Carl Sagan died.

I remem­ber not being too shocked by the news. After read­ing his non­pareil exco­ri­a­tion of mag­i­cal think­ing, The Demon-​​Haunted World, I recall dis­tinctly hav­ing the impre­sion that it was a delib­er­ate bequest, that he was pour­ing out every­thing he had learned about the dis­sec­tion of pseu­do­science. It felt a lit­tle as though a torch was being passed.

The feel­ing was under­scored by the hard­cover dust jacket, which showed a candle’s flame, and by the sub­ti­tle of the book itself: Science as a Candle in the Dark.

But before that, long before, I had been intro­duced to Carl through a land­mark PBS series, one which left its mark per­ma­nently on my psyche.

Cosmos was an adven­ture, a thrill-​​ride through the aston­ish­ing world of physics, sci­ence, evo­lu­tion and knowl­edge; as broad as its sub­ject, the series tried to show us how the world would look if we rode a beam of light; how unut­ter­ably, inco­ceiv­ably vast the uni­verse is; and how incred­i­bly frag­ile we are.

But the resilience of the mind behind the series was tremen­dous. Carl was more than a pop­u­lar­izer of sci­ence; he wasn’t sim­ply an ambas­sador of knowl­edge to the laity. His sole sci­ence fic­tion foray, Contact, was even­tu­ally trans­formed into a respect­ful and well-​​crafted film that, despite a few glar­ing depar­tures from the book, I think he would have found acceptable.

And his enthu­si­asm to show, to describe, to share the won­ders of the uni­verse was palpable.

Thus, it’s still Cosmos that I recall most about Carl.

I first saw the series in my very early teens, when I was most in search of an intel­lec­tual men­tor, and his vic­ar­i­ous tute­lage led me down a path of ratio­nal­ism, evi­dence and skep­ti­cism — one which has often been intensely frus­trat­ing, but one which has kept me from the pit­falls of fanati­cism and given me the tools to ana­lyze, as best I can, the plau­si­bil­ity of any given claim.

Carl helped form my mind, and he touched the minds of mil­lions of oth­ers every bit as pro­foundly. Very few peo­ple can truth­fully lay claim to such a legacy.

We need more like him, and I miss him.

Update: There are a lot of other blog­gers offer­ing com­ments on Carl today.


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