Yesterday was the late, great Carl Sagan’s birthday, so I decided to watch an old installment of his acclaimed television series, “Cosmos”. After the DVD had booted up, I selected an episode at random.
I am always struck by the contrast between Sagan’s outdated hairstyle and clothing with the timeless nature of his intelligence and manner of teaching. His presentations remain fresh, stimulating, and thoughtful. Sagan’s curiosity and sense of wonder remain highly contagious. His presentations always feel fulfilling yet leave me yearning for more. His blending of nuts and bolts analysis with his deep, personal philosophy make each episode profound. Sagan was a true 20th century Renaissance man.
It’s ironic that we have incredibly, miraculous devices such as the laptop on which I watched “Cosmos” along with tablet computers and personal, mobile phones that we largely take for granted. Modern motor vehicles are equipped with technology that enables efficient engine performance, enhanced safety, and access to infotainment. I could enumerate the amount of devices and objects that came about as the result of scientific research and development. Such a list would easily fill up the amount of space I allow for each day’s blogpost. Even the act of posting meandering opinions on my own blog that has readers from every continent on Earth boggles the mind. Modern science continues to reshape our civilization. The synergy of advanced technology and daily life is a mundane fact.
It’s ironic that this new form of civilization depends upon scientific and technological advances that practically nobody understands. There are even powerful, influential people and organizations who pooh pooh the importance of science and even ridicule people who advocate in favor of scientific research and the scientific method. Some people even wish to remove science classes from our schools. Nothing good can come from ignorance of science. As Sagan quipped many times, “…sooner or later, this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.”
From time to time, I like to clear my mind and contemplate a device I use each day. For instance, right now, I’m tapping the keys of a seriously outdated Toshiba laptop computer. When it was new, eleven years ago, it was the top of the line, flagship model. The components inside the case came about as the result of many years of effort and countless technicians and scientists. They employed the technique of “over-designing” in order to create a product that would remain useful several years after putting it on the market.
I have only the foggiest notion as to how the Pentium processor works. The hard disc drive? I have a fuzzy idea about how it operates. The vast cornucopia of the myriad other tiny components and how they work together, is a mystery to me. I only know that they have worked nearly flawlessly and dependably each and every day for more than a decade.
As I meditate upon this old laptop, I realize that millions of people have devices that are similar and probably newer than it. More amazing is the fact that millions of children have their own mobile phones. When I was a kid, our home had one black desk style phone with a rotary dial. We were limited to only a few minutes of daily use. If we wanted to place a long-distance call, our parents limited the time to three-minutes.
Nowadays, many kids can whip out their own phones and endlessly talk, text, game, do homework, and whatever else, without any three-minute time limits. The fact that it’s very common for children to have their own phones is still astonishing to me. Not that many years ago, families who had “teen lines” as an extra cost option for landline service were the rare exception, and not the rule. Heck, the word “landline” was not in everyone’s vocabulary. We just had phones. But I digress.
The point is, that in our contemporary, innovative society, advancements are expected. Science and its products are integral in our everyday lives. Unfortunately these advances do not imply that there is a tsunami of intellectual curiosity and complexity in society at large. It often means the opposite is true.
It’s time to wrap up this abbreviated tome and salute to science. I have blogs from people all over the world on my reading list this morning. If I have time later on, I want to watch another vintage episode of “Cosmos”.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes theoretical physicist, futurist and science populizer, Michio Kaku. “Leaders in China and India realize that science and technology lead to success and wealth. But many countries in the West graduate students into the unemployment line by teaching skills that were necessary to live in 1950.”