Carl Edward Sagan (November 9, 1934 — December 20, 1996) was a famous speaker of the word "billions" as well as an astronomer, astrophysicist, astrobiologist, philosopher, and author who through his various books, including one screenplay which would become the film Contact, and the TV Series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, became widely known as "The People's Scientist". Apart from his popularizations of science, he also contributed to research in the fields of planetary science, spacecraft exploration of the solar system, and the radio Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). He also developed theories on topics such as the nature of extraterrestrial lifeforms, the environmental effects of nuclear war (nuclear winter), and more.
In mainstream, he's somewhat of a star on Youtube; he's the centerpiece of the Symphony of Science videos, which auto-tunes Sagan's Cosmos along with other science programs to create
unexpectedly awesome music videos, which total at about 8 million views. His Pale Blue Dot speech is also a big hit, the two most watched versions having 1.7 Million views combined. His work, although the bulk of it was done 30+ years ago, still stands tall today within science, an incredible accomplishment.
Apart from his science-related work, he was also an activist to legalize marijuana, of which he was a regular user, and was very strongly opposed to the proliferation of nuclear weapons, even getting arrested in 1986 for interfering in a nuclear test. He was also a founder of the Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), which sought (and continues to seek, as the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry) to debunk most forms of paranormal and (later enlarged to) pseudoscientific claims (enlisting the assistance of Isaac Asimov and others, including Stephen Barrett who joined as a fellow later). He was thrice married, first to biologist Lynn Margulis, then to artist Linda Salzman, and finally to author Ann Druyan, with whom he co-wrote Cosmos and several of his books.
Fun Fact: His son Nick is a screenwriter who's done episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager.
Works he has been involved in include:
- Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (Co-writer, host)
- Contact, both the novel and the movie (Writer)
- The Voyager Golden Record, a golden disc containing Earth music, voice messages, and photographs, copies of which were launched into space on the Voyager 1 and 2 space probes on the off chance that aliens would find them in interstellar space.
- Music from a Small Planet (with Ann Druyan), a Radio documentary about the Record.
- Threads (Scientific adviser)
- Symphony of Science (He's credited as artist on a released single)
Books by Sagan include:
- The Dragons of Eden: Speculations of the Evolution of Human Intelligence - 1978
- Broca's Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science - 1979
- Cosmos - Book form, 1980
- Comet - With Ann Druyan, 1985
- Contact - Book form, 1985
- Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors: A Search for Who We Are - With Ann Druyan, 1993
- Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space - 1994. Video excerpts are pretty common online.
- The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark - 1996
- Billions & Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium - With Ann Druyan, 1997
His major scientific contributions include:
- Providing research and evidence crucial to our modern-day knowledge of conditions on Venus.
- Initiating groundbreaking research on extraterrestrial life, including contributions to SETI (Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence).
- Contributing to the Galileo (Jupiter), Viking (Mars), Voyager (Outer Solar System), and Mariner (Venus) probe missions.
- Advocacy for humankind's expansion into space. Was one of the founders of The Planetary Society, a space advocacy group known for, among other things, its work on solar sail propulsion.
- Warning about the dangers of anthropogenic climate change and nuclear war.
- Over 400 books and journal articles in which he was a lead or co-author. Sagan continued working even as he was dying of bone cancer in 1996.
Tropes often invoked by Sagan include:
- Arc Words: Coined and repeatedly used some phrases, such as "technological adolescence", throughout his works.
- Beam Me Up, Scotty!:
- "Billions and billions!" is one of Sagan's most oft-quoted terms, but he never actually said it that way. Sagan claimed he always pronounced "billions" with a strong, plosive B on the front so as to emphasize the fact that he wasn't just talking about mere millions. He also got rather annoyed when he did this at public speaking events and heard giggles from the audience. There's an awesome instance of Sagan Lampshading this trope and, in fact, subverting it in the opening pages of his collection of essays titled Billions and Billions:I never said it. Honest. ... 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". [A page later.] For a while, out of childish pique, I wouldn't utter or write the phrase, even when asked to. But I've gotten over that. So, for the record, here goes: "Billions and billions."
- His possibly unique pronunciation of the word "cosmos" provoked lots of mirth in Great Britain, especially after impressionists and parodists got hold of it. For many people in Britain, Cosmos was their first introduction to the non-double-entendre pronunciation of the word "Uranus" - the dominant local pronunciation had always been "yoor-anus" - and the fact Sagan appeared to be conscientiously avoiding the "your arse" joke only served to lampshade it more. Kids in school playgrounds soon caught on to the weird alternative pronunciation and made a joke of it.
- "Billions and billions!" is one of Sagan's most oft-quoted terms, but he never actually said it that way. Sagan claimed he always pronounced "billions" with a strong, plosive B on the front so as to emphasize the fact that he wasn't just talking about mere millions. He also got rather annoyed when he did this at public speaking events and heard giggles from the audience. There's an awesome instance of Sagan Lampshading this trope and, in fact, subverting it in the opening pages of his collection of essays titled Billions and Billions:
- Cool Teacher: Sagan tried to be this to the world, and for the most part he succeeded. More specifically, many of his own students are now celebrity scientists in their own right. (Neil deGrasse Tyson might be the best example.)
- Deadpan Snarker: From time to time.We associate radio waves with intelligent life... or at least semi-intelligent life; we have radio waves...
- Emotional Torque: With regards to the real world, that too.
- Erudite Stoner:
- He had toked many a joint in his lifetime. His wife Ann Druyan carries out his legacy as a popularizer of science and as president of the NORMLnote Foundation Board of Directors.
- He actually wrote an article for Marihuana Reconsidered under a pseudonym.
- First Contact
- Game of Nerds: Played With. Sagan was a big sports fan in general (and sometimes used sports metaphors in his popularly-directed writing) and enjoyed playing basketball in his spare time.
- Gentleman and a Scholar: By all accounts, he was extremely gracious and courteous.
- Humans Are Special: In a certain sense.
- Insignificant Little Blue Planet: Played with. On the one hand, he got a spacecraft, out almost 4 billion miles, to turn around and actually take a picture of the Earth as the eponymous Pale Blue Dot, and repeatedly argued that we shouldn't consider ourselves "privileged" or "special" over any other group of humans, or any other species, merely by birth. On the other hand, he spoke of humanity's potential to spread out into space and seek out its bearings in the cosmos, and that, while our homeworld Earth may be a tiny blue dot, it is the only place known to have evolved and sustained life, and there are no "better places", so far at least.
- Layman's Terms
- Large Ham:
The planets of the galaxy might be FILLED with micro-organisms, but BIG beasts and vegetables and THINKING beings might be COMPARATIVELY RARE!
- Sometimes comes across as this in his documentaries.
- This was most likely a case of Director's Revenge, an inverted form of Protection from Editors, as there were difficulties between Sagan and the lead director on the set of Cosmos, which manifested itself in the editing and blocking portraying Sagan as quite a bit more self-involved than he desired.note
- Measuring the Marigolds: Also repeatedly debunked and strongly inverted.
- Patrick Stewart Speech: Several times, and eloquently delivered. May have even been the inspiration for the Trope Namer's speeches in Star Trek: The Next Generation, which aired 7 years after Cosmos. Since his son had penned episodes for TNG, perhaps this penchant was In the Blood?
- Really Gets Around: At least part of the reason why he ended up getting married three times.
- Romanticism Versus Enlightenment: Related to the above, a strong subversion. As indicated by the page quote, he believed that understanding the Universe (Enlightenment) did not detract from and even enhanced one's appreciation for nature (Romanticism). However, he did once ask whether science got in the way of imagination, thus leaning a bit toward the Romantic end.
- Science Hero: Himself.
- Space Is an Ocean:
- Although the trope itself is averted, Sagan did make poetic analogies between the oceanic voyages in the Age of Exploration to the modern day exploration of the space - he called Earth the "shore of the cosmic ocean", and repeatedly referred to spacecraft, of all kinds - from small robotic probes like the Mariners and Voyagers, to grand hypothetical Bussard Ramjet interstellar designs - as "ships". Also, the Planetary Society's logo - a sailing ship against the backdrop of a ringed planet.
- The episode of Cosmos about the Voyager space probes ended with an image of the Voyager morphing into a wooden sailing ship.
- Speculative Documentary
- Take That!:
- Directed against Sagan by Apple Computer. Near the height of Sagan's popularity in the mid 1990s, Apple had three tiers of the new Power MacIntosh design they were working on, which would eventually be marketed as the 6100, 7100, and 8100. During development, as is common practice before the marketing names are settled upon, they had code names. The 6100 was "Cold Fusion," the 7100 was "Carl Sagan," and the 8100 was "Piltdown Man" — in other words, Sagan's name was grouped together with a known scientific hoax and a suspected (at the time) scientific hoax. When Sagan complained, they changed the code name for the 7100 to "Butt-head astronomer." (Sagan later sued them for this second slight; the judge threw the case out, saying "One does not seriously attack the expertise of a scientist using the undefined phrase 'butt-head'.")
- Robert Anton Wilson also had a go at Sagan, creating a Suspiciously Similar Substitute who in the eighteenth century sits on a panel of eminent judges in the Royal Society, whose brief, as one of the greatest scientific minds of the day and therefore An Expert, is to rubbish the preposterous claim that rocks can fall from the sky. In a parable of how scientific orthodoxy can strangle new thought, "Sagan" and his two co-judges rubbish the notion and discredit the proponent with ad hominem arguments that serve to utterly discredit him and mean neither he - nor the argument that meteorites happen - can ever be taken seriously again. The two co-judgesnote are uncivil, rude and aggressively hostile; "Sagan" is gently patronizing and somehow manages to be even more offensive whilst being outwardly concerned, sympathetic and pretending to assess the evidence on its own merits. "Sagan" is described as a man who must be a genius as he is always in the public eye and the first person to come to mind when asked to name a scientist of renown - yet nobody can actually recall any original thought or scientific advance he is responsible for. Wilson meant this scene, in The Historical Illuminatus!, as cutting satire and a "Reason Why You Suck" Speech against Sagan's attitude towards ideas he did not personally like and wanted to squelch. Sagan, in return, criticized Wilson for his nonfiction The New Inquisition arguing scientists were closed-minded materialists dismissing phenomena that existing theories couldn't explain, particularly the analogy in the title as extremely hyperbolic (since of course nobody is actually being tortured, burned at the stake etc.) while saying a little criticism doesn't hurt anyone (like from skeptics about paranormal claims).
- They Called Me Mad!: He had a famous cut-down to drive the point that just because that a supposedly scientific idea is derided, that itself does not make it credible: "They also laughed at Bozo the Clown."
- Voice Clip Song: Symphony of Science
- The World Is Just Awesome: The former Trope Namer, through Contact