Sagan and Bronowski

Posted on December 20, 2007


Today is the eleventh anniversary of Carl Sagan’s death. To celebrate his life, hundreds of bloggers are taking part in a blog-a-thon. Having grown up with his books, I would also like to use this opportunity to say thank you to him.

A few days ago I was reminded of an image from Jacob Bronowski’s television series The Ascent of Man. Bronowski, dressed in jacket and tie, is standing up to his ankles in a small pond in Auschwitz speaking of the essential need to always consider the possibility that we may be wrong. I remember how profoundly I was affected by Bronowski’s series when I originally saw it as a teenager and, indeed, find the scene as affecting today. It may seem strange to talk about Bronowski when thanking Sagan but the reason is that the two have served much the same role in my life (Bronowski’s series also inspired Sagan’s Cosmos). Without any guide, I came upon Bronowski, Sagan and a couple of others like them by happenstance, and came to treasure them. Thinking back now, it is easy for me to understand them as carrying on the Enlightenment tradition. It is also easy for me to see that their voices have guided me both in my love of science and in my ethical views. Considering that I am a philosopher of science, I could hardly have chosen an occupation that flows more logically from what they wrote and talked about.

At the end of the scene in Auschwitz Bronowski leans down to grab a handful of mud filled with human ashes and says that we must learn to touch people. He and Sagan did this, many times over.

Posted in: rationality, science