Our love affair had an unusual start. His wife was talking about how they fell in love, and, well, I had to listen to her tell it a half dozen times in a row. And probably another dozen since then. You can find that here (and if you don’t listen to Radiolab yet, you are in for a tasty tasty treat).
So then a wonderful friend of mine bought me a few of Carl‘s books. The Cosmos book? Good, but you know, why read it when you could watch it. Billions and billions? Too dumbed down. But the book of interviews, ohhh… better than frosting. And all of that just tumbled out of his mouth like that, perfectly formed, not even honed over time and typewriters?
A couple common misconceptions: he was not religious! And he was not an atheist! He was a scientist; he was an atheistically-leaning agnostic. And he never said “billions and billions” – come on, you think he’d say something so imprecise?
I love Carl for his passion, his reason, his “sacred awe“, his ethics, his ability to think long-term, his commitment to truth, and his ability to so eloquently articulate all of those things. He spoke often about the fundamental connectedness of all matter, the fundamental connectedness of life across time, and the interdependence of all life. And he articulated so well why science isn’t just “another religion” as people sometimes claim, what is fundamentally different about science, and why this is absolutely crucial not just to medicine, technology, et cetera, but to human progress and the survival of our species.
I’ll put up some more interview excerpts soon, but for now, I’ll leave you with just this one:
“The matter we’re made out of was cooked in the center of stars. We’re made of star stuff–the calcium in our teeth, the carbon in our genes, the nitrogen in our hair, the silicon in our eyeglasses. Those atoms were all made from simpler atoms in stars hundreds of light-years away and billions of years ago.
It’s an astonishing thing, we’re so tied to the rest of the cosmos. Cosmic rays that are produced in the death throes of stars are partly responsible for the mutations that have led to us–the changes in the genetic material. The origin of life was spurred by the heating of the earth by the sun. The connections are intricate and powerful and lovely. For those people seeking a cosmic tie-in, one exists. It’s not the one the astrologers pretend, but it’s much more elegant, and it has the additional virtue of being true.“