If Ideas Had Shapes

A quoteblog ranging from philosophers in bathrobes to galaxy-rises

Carl Sagan & Ann Druyan – Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1992)

This is a principal means by which life evolves–exploiting imperfections in copying despite the cost. It is not how we would do it. It does not seem to be how a Deity intent on special creation would do it. The mutations have no plan, no direction behind them; their randomness seems chilling; progress, if any, is agonizingly slow. The process sacrifices all those beings who are now less fit to perform their life tasks because of the new mutation–crickets who no longer hop high, birds with malformed wings, dolphins gasping for breath, great elms succumbing to blight. Why not more efficient, more compassionate mutations? Why must resistance to malaria carry a penalty in anemia? We want to urge evolution to get to where it’s going and stop the endless cruelties. But life doesn’t know where it’s going. It has no long-term plan. There’s no end in mind. There’s no mind to keep an end in mind. The process is the opposite of teleology. Life is profligate, blind, at this level unconcerned with notions of justice. It can afford to waste multitudes.

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Carl Sagan & Ann Druyan – Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1992)

In a shaft of sunlight, even when the air is still, you can sometimes see a tribe of dust motes dancing. They move in zigzag paths as if animated, motivated, propelled by some small but earnest purpose.

Carl Sagan & Ann Druyan – Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1992)

Why He thought we needed hundreds of distinct species of ticks and roaches, when one or two would have been more than sufficient, why there are more species of beetles than any other kind of being on Earth, no one could say. No matter; the composite effect of life’s extravagant diversity could only be understood by postulating a Maker, not all of whose reasons we could grasp, who had created the stage, the scenery, and the subsidiary players for our benefit. For thousands of years, virtually everyone, theologian and scientist alike, found this, both emotionally and intellectually, a satisfying account.

Carl Sagan & Ann Druyan – Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1992)

Each of us is a tiny being, permitted to ride on the outermost skin of one of the smaller planets for a few dozen trips around the local star. …

… If the Earth were as old as a person, a typical organism would be born, live, and die in a sliver of a second. We are fleeting, transitional creatures, snowflakes fallen on the hearth fire. That we understand even a little of our origins is one of the great triumphs of human insight and courage.

Carl Sagan & Ann Druyan – Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1992)

Our story begins here in the dark, pullulating, dimly illuminated disk: the story as it actually turned out, and an enormous number of other stories that would have come to be had things gone just a little differently; the story of our world and species, but also the story of many other worlds and lifeforms destined never to be. The disk is rippling with possible futures.

Carl Sagan & Ann Druyan – Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1992)

If we do not know what we’re capable of–and not just a few celebrity saints and notorious war criminals–then we do not know what to watch out for, which human propensities to encourage, and which to guard against.

Carl Sagan & Ann Druyan – Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1992)

In attempting to understand who we are, every human culture has invented a corpus of myth. … There have also been those who hold that the gods have nothing to do with it. One of them, Nanrei Kobori, late Abbot of the Temple of the Shining Dragon, a Buddhist sanctuary in Kyoto, said to us

God is an invention of Man. So the nature of God is only a shallow mystery. The deep mystery is the nature of Man.

Carl Sagan & Ann Druyan – Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1992)

What we are about to say draws on the findings of many sciences. We urge the reader to bear in mind the imperfection of our current knowledge. Science is never finished. It proceeds by successive approximations, edging closer and closer to a complete and accurate understanding of Nature, but it is never fully there. From the fact that so many major discoveries have been made in the last century–even in the last decade–it is clear that we still have far to go.

Ray Bradbury – The Martian Chronicles (1950)

Life on Earth never settled down to doing anything very good. Science ran too far ahead of us too quickly, and the people got lost in a mechanical wilderness, like children making over pretty things, gadgets, helicopters, rockets; emphasizing the wrong items, emphasizing machines instead of how to run the machines.

Ray Bradbury – The Martian Chronicles (1950)

Raw, gentle, and easy, it mizzled out of the high air, a special elixir, tasting of spells and stars and air, carrying a peppery dust in it, and moving like a rare light sherry on his tongue.

Rain.