An extraterrestrial being, newly arrived on Earth – scrutinizing what we mainly present to our children in television, radio, movies, newspapers, magazines, the comics, and many books – might easily conclude that we are intent on teaching them murder, rape, cruelty, superstition, credulity, and consumerism. We keep at it, and through constant repetition many of them finally get it.
It is of interest to note that while some dolphins are reported to have learned English – up to fifty words used in correct context – no human being has been reported to have learned dolphinese.
We can judge our progress by the courage of our questions and the depth of our answers, our willingness to embrace what is true rather than what feels good.
I never said it. Honest. Oh, I said there are maybe 100 billion galaxies and 10 billion trillion stars. It’s hard to talk about the Cosmos without using big numbers. I said “billion” many times on the Cosmos television series, which was seen by a great many people. But I never said “billions and billions.” For one thing, it’s too imprecise. How many billions are “billions and billions”? A few billion? Twenty billion. A hundred billion? “Billions and billions” is pretty vague. When we reconfigured and updated the series, I checked-and sure enough, I never said it.
What counts is not what sounds plausible, not what we would like to believe, not what one or two witnesses claim, but only what is supported by hard evidence rigorously and skeptically examined. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
Billions and billions.
If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.
Across the sea of space, the stars are other suns.
Before we invented civilization our ancestors lived mainly in the open out under the sky. Before we devised artificial lights and atmospheric pollution and modern forms of nocturnal entertainment we watched the stars. There were practical calendar reasons of course but there was more to it than that. Even today the most jaded city dweller can be unexpectedly moved upon encountering a clear night sky studded with thousands of twinkling stars. When it happens to me after all these years it still takes my breath away.
Modern Darwinism makes it abundantly clear that many less ruthless traits, some not always admired by robber barons and Fuhrers – altruism, general intelligence, compassion – may be the key to survival.
A proclivity for science is embedded deeply within us, in all times, places, and cultures. It has been the means for our survival. It is our birthright. When, through indifference, inattention, incompetence, or fear of skepticism, we discourage children from science, we are disenfranchisin g them, taking from them the tools needed to manage their future.
Our passion for learning … is our tool for survival.
Our loyalties are to the species and the planet. We speak for Earth. Our obligation to survive is owed not just to ourselves but also to that Cosmos, ancient and vast, from which we spring.
What began in deadly competition has helped us to see that global cooperation is the essential precondition for our survival. Travel is broadening. It’s time to hit the road again.
Since, in the long run, every planetary society will be endangered by impacts from space, every surviving civilization is obliged to become spacefaring — not because of exploratory or romantic zeal, but for the most practical reason imaginable: staying alive.