Quirks & Quarks

Carl Sagan predicted our Trump era future

Nick Sagan reads his father's prescient words.
These massive structures — the tallest pillar is 4 light-years long from base to tip — are actually columns of cool hydrogen gas and dust, the incubators for new stars. Several newborn stars, hot and bright nearby, are causing a type of evaporation wearing away the edges of the gaseous pillars. These especially dense clouds of hydrogen act like stalagmites emerging from a huge and dark molecular cloud below the frame. (NASA )
Listen4:02

Nick Sagan, son of astronomer and public intellectual, Carl Sagan, reads a passage from his father's book "The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark" written in 1995.  

Science is more than a body of knowledge. It is a way of thinking. I have a foreboding of an America in my children's or grandchildren's time when the United States as a service and information economy, when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries, when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues. When the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority, when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what's true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness.  - Carl Sagan

Here, Nick shares his father's concerns -- and optimism -- about humanity. 

Nick Sagan:  My father was not only a planetary scientist and a great popularizer of science, but he thought very deeply about the world. He was a scholar, he studied history. He taught a class in critical thinking, and he was very, very aware of the directions we might go.

He was concerned about this danger that we may call "great progress" but there's a real chance that we could fall apart. There are too many forces aligned against us. I think what we're seeing right now is a kind of "coming true" of what he said. There is a danger, increasingly, that we're in a post fact society where it seems my ignorance is as good as your facts. Where there's no one who can really argue what's true anymore because science is being devalued, and there are scientists who are being told that they have to submit their work to political advisers as opposed to just following what's true.

The Sombrero Galaxy is 28 million light years from Earth. It has 800 billion suns and is 50,000 light years across. Its hallmark is a brilliant white, bulbous core encircled by thick dust lanes revealing the spiral structure of the galaxy. (NASA)

Something my father dearly loved is the scientific method, and it's founded in this element of humility. The idea is that you pursue the truth wherever it goes, you need to evidence, and you can you see if it's repeatable. Very often it happens that scientists will say "you know, my claim was mistaken. I thought I was right but I'm not. Let's keep working to find the truth." And he said how rarely, by comparison, that happens with political or religious leaders.

Science is a wonderful way of getting out what's real. We used to talk many times, often looking up at the stars, about the future of where we're going, where we come from and what's likely to happen. And he was very clear-sighted about the challenges that face us.

I would sometimes play the pessimist in these conversations and he the optimist. And he would say, look, for all the challenges that face us —, And he was very clear eyed about them he wouldn't soft sell them — he said even so, he would still bet on us. He would bet on humanity to find a way to make it through.

And now he's gone and it's up to us. We're in a dangerous time. There are a lot of people who feel like there are forces of superstition and darkness that are rising and it's up to us to stand up and hold on to what's true. 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) new GOES-16 satellite has just realized stunning new images of Planet Earth whose detail and perspective provide an entirely new way of looking at our home. (NASA/NOAA)