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  • Posts Tagged ‘Sagan Appreciation’

    SETIstars Infographic


    2011 - 06.26

    So recently I was contacted by the SETI team regarding a sequel to the infographic I had produced a couple months back.  As many of you may know already, they’re trying a new way of keeping the Allen Telescope Array running: crowdsourcing.  There’s a new website over at SETIstars.org where anyone can go and give funds specifically for the restarting of the ATA. It’s a savvy move in the age of kickstarter, microloans, and grassroots funding.  And it’s pretty awesome to think that, well, if the people who should be paying for this won’t pay for it, fine, we’ll do it ourselves!

    I hope the venture is a big success.  It’d be reaffirming to see the citizenship of planet Earth as forward-thinking enough to collectively grok the profound implications that discovery of other intelligences would have.  It would be invigorating to know that we realize this meaningfully enough that we, as single individuals, would band together to sustain this important work.

    In the large scope of things, it’s not all that expensive either.  Just for perspective: the 1st infographic so far has seen over 40,000 views (just the flickr version, nevermind the ones I cannot track).  See the bottom of this new infographic to see how much 40,000 people would need to spend apiece to keep the ATA in action…

    There is a slightly-higher quality version available at flickr, as well as a whopping 11,749 pixels-long monstrosity of this new graphic combined with the original.  Anyone is welcome to use or repost this to their heart’s content.  All I request is a link.  And that you can chip in at least a fiver to SETIstars! Anyone can swing that.

    Also, I got a lot more creative with the background this time around.  Check out the remnants of Kepler’s supernova, comet NEAT, and the Andromeda galaxy!

    Special thanks to Phil Plait, Jill Tarter, & John Girard.

    Lastly, if you’re really into this sort of thing check out some other space-musings on the site

    Kepler Space Telescope Exoplanets visualized (great video comparing sizes and orbits) – video

    “oh, by the way” (a reminder of just how large the universe really is)

    Putting Things In Perspective: NEAT!

    When I’m Feeling Down, These Are Some Things That Bring Me Back Up (a roundup of inspiring projects)

    the microcosmologist frontpage

    Talking Trash About Priorities in Space


    2011 - 05.17

    This week saw the successful launch of the penultimate mission in the United States Space Shuttle program.  This is occasion to be proud of what we’ve achieved, maybe to be a bit sad that a triumphant tale is drawing to a close, and definitely to contemplate what’s next.  I’ve been reading all sorts of articles from space-privitization apologists breathlessly talking about how the lack of a Space Shuttle is going to give private industry this huge incentive-boost to magically do all the work that NASA ever did, better, safer, and cheaper.  I try hard to believe in that John & Paul doctrine of “it’s getting better all the time” but this is one area where skepticism takes over and I’m not so sure.

    One of the articles that bothered me the most was a top-ranked story on Digg, contrasting the tale of the Apollo program with, of all things, two low-paid garbage men who got killed because of occupational hazards.  I read the article trying to be as open-minded as possible, but when I reached the conclusion I felt a wave of outrage: “I’d rather see us prevent poor people from falling into garbage compactors than look at another pretty picture from the Moon.”

    Okay, I’m going to tackle this on a few different levels.

    One: why two garbagemen?  Why not pick a trucker who got killed in a wreck, or the loss of innocent life in a plane crash due to poor saftey?  Maybe the object was to  purposefully select an undignified way of dying?  It seems like an completely randomized circumstance of unfortunate death.  An important thing to point out here is that right now, literally as you are reading this sentence, somewhere, someone is dying an undeserved and tragically preventable death.  This.  Very.  Moment.  Going on a quest to rid the world of this situation is equally ludicrous as trying to rid the world of heartbreak.  It is intrinsically impossible to save all humankind from all humankind’s own foolishness, hubris, or simple bad luck.  I’m not saying that we shouldn’t strive to build an international culture that places the highest value on the preciousness of human life, and protects it accordingly… we SHOULD!  But I AM saying that the death of two garbagemen is an utterly irrelevant and misguided excuse to give up pursuing the highest scientific aspirations of our best and brightest!

    Eisenhower famously said, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”  The thrust of these words is that civilization has finite resources for to allocating.  Bearing this in mind, space exploration should not be ruthlessly pursued at the expense of humane working conditions, and health care.  But I do believe that space exploration should be ruthlessly pursued at the expense of so-called ‘defense’ budgets, tax breaks for wealthy citizens and corporations, and yes, maybe even a few other hard-to-pick good causes which would be hard to cut.  Which brings us to why space exploration is truly that important…

    Two: The essence of what he’s saying boils down to the classic “we need to solve our problems here first” arguement.  The webcomic XKCD recently had a bitingly sharp ancedote hidden in a mouseover caption which would be relevant to reprint in large, obvious text here:

    This is the inevitable and indeed the ONLY end result of the “solve-our-problems-here” line of thinking.  In all of human history there has never been an era in which all cultures coexisted peacefully with abundant food and technological resources.  Nor will such an era will ever arise in the future.  In our timeline we have been fortunate thus far to have never encountered catastrophe on a global scale.  In the future, we will.  Whether it be a barrage of asteroids, avian flu, the collapse of our food supply, a small-scale exchange of ICBMs, or the plain old slow whittling of minor conflicts as our resource supplies dwindle fromoverpopulation; one way or another, we Earth dwellers will face our reckoning.  Best case scenario: 500 million years from now the oceans evaporate as the sun swells to a red giant.  That’s the best-case lifespan of Earth.  Contrast that number with the 4.5 billion years of evolution it took for the current civilization to arise.

    To make the leap to becoming a spacefaring race, we will need more ingenuity and tenacity than currently imaginable.  We must develop interplanetary mining, terraforming, interstellar space travel, interspecies communication techology, inter-intelligence diplomacy expertise, inter-intelligence cultural contexts–possibly intergalactic space travel technology–before the secrets of the universe will reveal themselves.  We will need to accomplish these feats elegantly and routinely, with an untold number of repetitions.  Thinking small, thinking local is not how this will ever occur.

    So let’s take a hard, honest, and clairvoyant look forward and see two possible futures for our descendants: one where Earth becomes the single-planet gravesite of humanity; OR one where we learn to master the aforementioned challenges and survive the apocalypse of our home planet.  We can either start preparing ourselves to live on, or be complacent and leave our die offspring to die among intractibly difficult problems.  Those are the choices, there is not a third option.  Every decade we waste, slashing and debating the merits of the NASA budget, or trying to figure out how to make space tourism profitable is another decade squandered, in which we could have gained a better understanding of spaceflight’s effect on the human body, the psychological and supply difficulties of remote colonization, or the drastically different ecologies of foreign planets, even just here within our own solar system.  We deulde ourselves to think that stalling on these scientific advances is inconsequential.

    Maybe we will be lucky, and have abundant time to tackle these monumental feats.  There is a distinctly real chance that maybe we won’t.  All the eggs are in one basket.  Is it worth squandering the legacy, the blood, and the sweat of every human who ever lived, to bet on hesitance, procrastination, laziness?  Is it worth gambling our entire collective history?

    Three: okay, let’s take a reckless step and just disregard the fact that our entire planet has an expiration date.  Assuming humankind could miraculously have infinite tomorrows, there’s still ample reason to go into space: because it reveals the best within us.

    What’s the greatest feat any human has ever done?  Take a gallup poll: walking on the moon.  What’s the most published image of all time? Answer: the “blue marble” image, which was the first full image of Earth taken from space.  There’s greatness in them there skies.  Untold treasures for explorers, answers for the curious, thills for the daredevils.  It’s all out there, literally.

    The quest to understand space is also the quest to understand the origins of life–as well the scarcity, diversity, preciousness, and potential fruits of life.  These are the BIG questions.  Should we stop asking these?  Should we just give up and admit that because the answers are unknowable within the span of thousands of lifetimes that they are not meant for our kind to comprehend?  Should we abandon the quest for intelligence?

    Even if our species just never quite amasses the smarts needed to travel to the nearest star, even if we remain stuck here in our stellar oasis, surrounded by bigger, better civilzations who laugh at the smallness of our attempts, there is an inherent value in TRYING.  Even if our brains are too limited to grok the interconnectedness of the cosmos, or the purpose of our collective Endeavour within it, there is inherent value in attempting.

    The following video made the rounds a little while ago with the discussion of SETI; it holds relevance here too.  If you haven’t watched it, it’s worth your time.

     

    The Spiritual Uplift of Infinity


    2011 - 01.30

    Part one: Immensity

    One of the most endlessly fascinating human concepts is the idea of infinity. It’s a concept that is referenced often, but seldom do we get the occasion to sit and deeply contemplate the idea. There are so many ways in which infinity is a breathtaking thought. Let’s delve into it!

    The marvel which immediately comes to mind is the size of it. I think of a hundred as a big number. If I have 100 blueberry muffins, I’ve got more breakfast food than I could possibly eat. The refrigerator is going to be full, and even then, some of these things are probably winding up in the garbage. As much as I hate to see anything go to waste, and as much as I love eating a fluffy blueberry muffin, I simply cannot eat 100 of them. So 100 is a lot.

    Stepping up one order of magnitude, if I had 1000 muffins, now I would have to start giving them away. There would be boxes everywhere. Definitely not enough space in the fridge and freezer combined, and now I think I never want to eat another muffin again. Even the ones with the sweet crunchy tops. Iew. If I had 10,000, now we’re dealing with a disaster. The landlord is incensed with the gargantuan piles spilling out all the doors, and there’s probably not much room to walk through the house. At 100,000 muffins, I would probably get killed. Squeezed to death by the immense force needed to cram so many into one house. Even when you compress all the air out of that fluffy goodness, we’re looking at some dangerous volumes.

    But to a lot of people 100,000 is still not that big of a number. What about a million? That number gets tossed around like nothing. A million bucks for a mansion. A million oranges in a large plantation. 310 million people living in the United States. It’s a big country. But there’s almost 7 BILLION people living on planet Earth. 310 million US residents is not a lot of people compared to the 7 billion world population. We’re only 1/22nd of the total amount.

    A billion, now that’s a really big number. The sun and the earth both formed about 4.5 billion years ago. The universe itself is estimated to be 13.75 billion years old, with a visible size of 46 billion light years. So big, you can no longer grasp how large that is. There’s easily over 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe. That’s more galaxies than even the widest, boldest mind can imagine. But there are bigger numbers still. And yet, the sizes of all these things are insignificant next to the size of infinity. A hundred billion is exactly the same distance from infinity as the number one. That’s the wonder of infinity!

    Just for fun, let’s keep going. The number of bits available for storage on my 1.5TB hard drive, 12 trillion. The US national debt is currently 13.75 trillion. A hundred dollars for every year in the age of the universe! The number of neural connections in the human brain is over 10^14. There’s over 70 sextillion stars in the observable universe. That’s 70×10^21. 10^80 elemental particles present in the observable universe. Google, now a household word, is an alternate spelling of googol, which is the number 10^100. Written out, that’s:

    Ten followed by a hundred zeros. But there’s even bigger numbers still! A googolplex is 10^10^100. In a scene from Cosmos, Carl Sagan humorously shows how it’s not possible to write out a googolplex because it’s simply too big–it wouldn’t fit inside our universe! Those 10^80 particles are simply insufficient for the task, even if one particle was used to represent one zero. And still, there are even larger numbers than the googolplex. Even dramatically larger numbers. But still, the idea persists that even the largest number conceivable is precisely the same distance from infinity as the number one.

    Pt.2: Park it wherever you like

    I’d like to talk a little bit about another fascinating property of infinity that gives me a lot of optimism and joy. When we think about infinity, my mind at least goes straight to the large: the vastness of the cosmos and the unending progression of time. But for all the giant spaces infinity implies, there are implicit minuscule ones as well. When we count from 1 to 2, we think of that as a finite interval. It’s easy to see, if I have one apple and you give me a second one, now I have two, a finite number of apples. I definitely don’t have infinite apples. (Although I wish I did.)

    But for every number you can name between one and two, I can give you a number that’s halfway between your number and one. You say 1.5, I say 1.25. You say 1.1, I say 1.05. You say okay wiseguy, how about 1.000001? I reply 1.0000005. We can start using scientific notation and continue this volley–until forever. And just like that, we’ve slid down the chasm into infinity, INSIDE the space between one and two. Infinity can exist inside of finite boundaries, because of the idea that in addition to being endlessly large, infinity is also endlessly small.

    This idea has tremendous philosophical ramifications. When we lay outside under the stars at night and gaze out upon the universe, the sheer scale of ourselves, compared to it, can really seem bewildering. Stupefying. Daunting. Maybe even a bit disheartening. We realize how utterly tiny we are. And how the vast spaces beyond our planet will never know our names, our histories, or the fruits of our lives work. The collective plight of our entire species will likely be a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a blink in the scale of our own galaxy alone, nevermind the cosmos. We glimpse the scope of the large infinity and all the treasure we hold special suddenly seems not just petty, but outright laughable. When our train of thought goes so far down that track, infinity seems to be a source of despair, pointlessness.

    It is in this moment we need to remind ourselves that the grandiose richness of detail, subtlety, and surprise that large infinities encompass is also fully present within the infinities of the small. And these infinities of the small reside within our familiar finite spaces. Holding two apples, one in each hand, you can hold the entire cosmos between your fingertips. That same infinity up in the sky at night is right here, literally in our hands, available to be reshaped, to be studied, played with, laughed about, and to reshape us with its own, bottomless insight. This idea of infinity, so breathtaking in immensity, is right here with us, a trove of eternal possibilities for inquisition.

    It’s a mathematical proof for the idea of interconnectedness. Thich Nhat Hanh, the famous Buddhist, eloquently muses upon the idea of oneness using a single tree within the larger world:

    A tree is very beautiful. A tree to me is as beautiful as a cathedral. Even more beautiful.
    I look into the tree and I saw the whole cosmos in it.
    I saw the sunshine in the tree. Can you see the sunshine in the tree?

    Yeah, because without the sunshine, no tree can grow.
    I see a cloud in the tree. Can you see? Without a cloud there can be no rain, no tree.

    I see the Earth in the tree–I see everything in the tree.
    So the tree is where everything in the cosmos… come into.
    And the cosmos reveals itself to me through a tree.

    Therefore a tree, to me, is a cathedral.

    It inspires me so very deeply to think that infinity can be bounded within a finite space. It inspires me to think that the potential for limitlessness is anywhere you look. The comprehensive vast ‘everything’ is right here. All around us, within our hands, and inside of us. Exactly like Thich Nhat’s tree, we can look into ourselves, we can look between our hands, we can look…wherever we want, and see the whole cosmos.

    tastemaking in our little corner of the galaxy


    2011 - 01.04

    This quote from the beginning of Cosmos; I’ve been thinking about it often.  I completed watching the series some months ago now, and boy how I wish there were more.  Now all that remains is to go back and rewatch the episodes, a ritual that certainly gleans satisfaction, if lacking a bit in that smack across the face of resounding freshness that accompanies the first viewing.  Seeing it again, there are little hidden facets which reveal themselves, a secret kept from the new inductees.

    And there’s the pleasure of watching Mr. Sagan in action.  Through this series, I have arrived at a state of unmitigated admiration for this man.  Carl’s magnetically eloquent language, masterful comprehension of science, and retainment of such rapturous wonder at the beauty which surrounds us are a model to aspire toward.  There is something about his persona, the emphasis in his oratory, which imbues him with the overwhelming zest of a virtuoso at the peak of their form.  I would say that Carl is to the scientific world what the Beatles were to the music world.  Both were tastemakers who popularized complex ideas, making them accessible to people who might not otherwise enjoy 7/8 time, traditional Indian music, abstract lyricism, unconventional chord changes and recording methods.  Or in Carl’s case, the concept that heavy elements (and the ones that we are made of!) come from the insides of stars, the sheer vastness of the universe we exist within, and the towering influence of our understanding of the cosmos upon our ultimate fate.  And in both cases, these people were admired not just by outsiders who had only rudimentary grasps of their work, but rather they were both looked up to by generation after generation of experts and even geniuses within their respective fields.  In the recent NASA press conference concerning the arsenic-based bacteria, they invoked Carl three times (along with Stephen Hawking once, and Neil deGrasse Tyson once, to put it in perspective).

    At the same time that Carl is an archetype, he is very much a man, somewhat laughable in his dryness, but adorable in his sincerity.  Clad in his favorite orange coat, sitting in this overly-ornamental fake time machine, he looks a bit ridiculous, and I can’t help but giggle a bit.  But I love him for ‘going for it’ so unabashedly.

    I sort of wonder when I watch Cosmos, if they recorded the very beginning of it last, after the whole of the series was done.  When Carl gives that opening oratory, it feels to me as if it is the conclusion, the glorious end-result of his wanderings, disguised as the beginning.

    Cicadas in the forest of the universe


    2010 - 12.23

    I remember as a child someone once telling me about a type of cicada that sleeps underground for years.  There are a great number of them hibernating in the dirt, and somehow, on a special day, all of them emerge at once. They climb out of the soil and up the trees, where they shed their exoskeleton and take flight to find their mate.  Once they’ve reproduced, the eggs are laid and the cicadas die.  These eggs hatch on tree branches and the larva fall to the ground, where they dig into the dirt and the cycle begins anew.  They too will spend years asleep underground, and emerge for a few frantic hours to proliferate themselves.  Depending on how quick it all goes down, they may live as a flying insect for a few days at most, and just a single night at the least.

    A recollection returned to me of digging in the sandbox and finding the empty shell of a cicada.  It was kind of gross, but I couldn’t help but study it, scooped up in my orange plastic shovel.  Suddenly that empty shell had taken on a new meaning.  It was the spectre of a creature who had lived, maybe only a few short hours.  Even to the perspective of a human child, probably six or seven years old, only having a few hours to live your whole life seemed like something of a sad story.  One night only.  Just a single sunset in the breadth of your whole being.

    Our existences are brief.  There is an expression, “we are not long for this world.”  How true it is.

    If you could live a thousand years, would life get boring?  What if you could live a hundred thousand years?  What would the meaning of life be, to someone who lived for so long?  Would it be different than a human who lived a normal 80 years?  What would the highlight be?

    Given a different set of parameters, ambitions change.  If a doctor told you tomorrow that you had one day left to live, you’d probably do something relaxing and introspective.  If he told you three months, you’d probably book some flights, see the MVPs of your life, and maybe check out the Mediterranean like you always wished you had.  If the doctor said you had 50 years left, well, you’d probably say, “thank you captain obvious,” and keep going in to work every Monday.  But what if you had 500 years?  You might start making some different plans.

    “What is the meaning of life?” is a question somewhat like “what is your favorite color?” in that everyone will have their own answer, and there are certainly popular replies.  “Blue” for instance, would be a lot more common than, say, “chartreuse”.  Of course there’s no wrong answer, but I wonder what it says about our priorities when we compare what our objectives might look like, given a much longer time span to execute.  I’ve been wondering to myself what my own ambitions would look like if I thought I had an extra century to get there.  What does it say about the merits of my current goals?

    At half-price books a few weekends ago I picked up a ten dollar hardcover entitled “Superstructures in Space” which contains boatloads of pictures illustrating the various craft we’ve sent out into the sky.  Everything from the Hubble Telescope to Voyager to the Deep Impact spacecraft.  A full-page image, taken by the Hubble, caught my attention.  This photo shows a nebulous stellar nursery, where stars are born.  A stunning sight, which explodes the boundaries of the mind.

    What amazements could possibly await those who will someday voyage there?  We think of our own planet as endless, and our lives as eternities, but compared to merely this one section of the cosmos, as captured by Hubble, they pale in size.  More than tiny.  Beyond minuscule.  Like cicadas in the vast forest of space, our minds cannot grasp the richness, complexity, and subtle beauty of our surroundings.  We are filled up with preoccupations of digging out of the dirt, and finding a partner, just in the nick of time before we all expire.  We may be lucky enough to soar over the treetops for our own brief instant, but a towering pine in the distance, a mountain upon the horizon, and that great unknown beyond it remains hidden to us.  Our time is too short to visit there.  Our time is too short to even figure out what may lie there.  Nevermind the world beyond that, and the world beyond that.

    “What is a drop of rain, compared to the storm?
    What is a thought, compared to the mind?
    Our unity is full of wonder which your tiny individualism cannot even conceive.”
    -System Shock, 1994

    In his book Pale Blue Dot, Carl Sagan discusses the composition of Neptune’s moon Triton, which is covered in layers of frozen nitrogen snow.  He says, “In some places the surface is as bright and white as freshly fallen Antarctic snows (and may offer a skiing experience unrivaled in all the Solar System).”  Skiing on a moon of Neptune.  Think about that one for a minute.

    Then consider the fact that as wildly fantastical as skiing on Triton may sound, winter sports in our outer solar system is only one adventure, out of the innumerable adventures offered by our universe, on innumerable worlds, most of which are, in all likelihood, unimaginably different than Earth.  By the time we get to Triton, the sport of skiing may be as ancient as games once played by the Mayan tribes, or the Incas.  Humans will have since moved on to other snow sports, probably using technology not even conceived of yet.  Something even more outlandish than Marty McFly’s hoverboard.  By the time we make it to the stars captured in the Hubble image, homo sapiens will have long ago have evolved into creatures different than we now know ourselves.  Maybe some elegant, drastically improved humanoid who evolved through cosmic radiation and scientific enhancement, devoid of the flaws of tissue degeneration, memory loss, and tendencies toward aggression, thoughtlessness.

    These intrepid adventurers will set foot upon worlds we visited only in the ships of our imaginations, confined to the ground as we were.  We may smile, thinking of our own yearning to travel to such exotic places fulfilled vicariously by our descendants, a way of reaching past the limits of our own single evening as a cicada in the forest of our universe, and fulfilling a goal too vast for the blips of our lifetimes; to see, to know the universe.  To permeate it, populate it, celebrate it, to play a long, graceful part in it.

    One billion trans-cosmic years in love


    2010 - 12.08

    Recently I’ve been watching the series “Cosmos” co-written by Carl Sagan and his wife Ann Druyan.  The fascinating concepts it conveys and thoughts it provokes are a whole wild series of tangets that I am not even going to be touching upon today.  Somehow I managed to avoid being exposed to Cosmos until I reached the age of 30.  In a way, I’m grateful for this circumstance; watching over the last months, Cosmos brought together all of these compartmentalized facts that I had already known into one coherent ‘big picture’, artfully told by a brilliant and inspiring man.  It’s intensely emotional and intellectual in the same breath.  Not having seen this series until my 30s, it has impacted me that much more dramatically.  Forcefully.  Profoundly.  I’m not certain there is a right word.  Let’s just say “Superlatively.”

    It is hard not to be swept up by Carl’s eloquence and enthusiasm, and the whole scope of Cosmos just feels so deeply meaningful.  Those words seem to fall short of conveying the emotions which this saga has elicited from within me.  It’s a bit like meeting a new person who you are so strikingly in agreement with that every syllable they speak just makes you want to say “Yes.  Yes; That.  Yes.”  You want them to keep going, and you concur so much that other words would just get in the way.

    After finishing the series, and wistfully wishing there were more, I went online and read about the stories of Ann and Carl, these fascinating new characters who’ve permeated my consciousness so resoundingly, as if they have always been a part but I had never known.  I was astonished to read the story on NPR of the Voyager Interstellar Message Project; particularly the portion of the story which explained how Ann had been involved in the creation of two gold records which were sent into space with the Voyager probes.  These records were meant to contain a representative sampling of the whole breadth of the human exerience.  The magnitude of this undertaking can scarcely be grasped.  The resultant records contained samples of music from many cultures, various spoken languages, greetings to potential space-faring civilizations who may someday intercept the probe, and perhaps most interestingly, a recording of brain waves.

    Ann Druyans’s brainwaves were recorded for the records, and what gives this whole story such an unbelievable spin is the context under which it happened.  In another interview recorded with Ann, she tells the story of how her and Carl fell in love.  Apparently the two had known each other and worked together professionally for some long time, but had been romantically involved with other people.  This pair harbored a deep admiration for one another and had what Ann describes as “wonderful, soaring conversations” but had never crossed the divide into romance.

    So much of love centers around timing.  Is this person available?  Are they emotionally available?  Do they have these big personal goals that are going to dominate their priorities and prevent a love from ever blooming?  Timing.  And one day toward the conclusion of the Voyager Interstellar Message Project, it sounds like the time alignment of Ann and Carl magically snapped into place, over a phone call of all things.  That in itself is a chronicle of how major life events can strike at any time, in the most unexpected of ways.

    She doesn’t elaborate much about what exactly was said in that fateful telephone conversation, and indeed I’m certain a large part of it was a blur as soon as the reciever returned to the hook.  But by the end of that phone call the two were engaged.  When she hung up the phone Ann says she literally screamed out loud, in what felt like, “this great eureka moment, it was just like scientific discovery.”  (The fact that she would equate the fireworks of such a moment to one of scientific discovery, I find quite humorous, and heartwarming from someone with a noteworthy nerd-streak of my own.)  Moments later Carl called back to ask, “just want to make sure, that *really* happened?”  Of course the answer was yes, and so began the love affair of Ann and Carl.

    So just two short days after this momentous, powerful occurence, Ann traveled to Bellvue Hospital in New York to have the sounds of her brain waves recorded for the golden records which were to be sent off into space.  While she meditated and the ECG machine recorded the electrical impulses firing in her mind, she says part of what she was thinking was “about the wonder of love, and of *being* in love…”  Certainly two days after not only professing your love to someone new for the first time, but simultaneously becoming engaged to be married, any person’s mind would be fully awash with an overpowering elixir from that puppy-dog variety of freshly bursting affection.  In the song “The Real Thing”, arist EMO muses “there’s nothing like the real thing, when love is increasing.  There’s nothing like the real thing when it comes to you”.  Undoubtedly, experiencing this feeling is one of the most uncontrollably thrilling and gloriously consequential moments of the human experience.  Ann adds, “and to know it’s on those two spacecraft!  Now, whenever I’m down, I’m thinking: And still they move.  Thirty five thousand miles an hour, leaving our solar system, for the great, wide open sea of interstellar space.”

    As a message in a bottle, floating in that sea of interstallar space, what a romantic and grandiose moment to encapsulate for discovery epochs and epochs later by who knows who.  It gives me great joy to know that these two people, who seem not only so exceptionally intelligent but also so gifted with the ability to masterfully communicate nuanced truths about our universe as we see it, are serving as the trans-galactic ambassadors to whomever recovers the Voyager message.

    Meanwhile back on Earth, we’ve had buffoons like George W. Bush leading the free world, the uncultured dreck of reality television beaming through our bodies at every moment, and the painful missteps of so many religions polluting our collective minds–Yet still!–a capsule floats, out through the great beyond, carrying a snapshot of thoughts from one of our most brilliant minds, upon the marvel of that which is best within us; our emotion of love.  Binding us together and inducing us to cherish the value of our mutual existences.

    It give me joy.  And hope that our most articulate, clairvoyant voices shall be the ones which rise to prominence.  When these two probes fly out to the vast unknown, it would be irresponsible to put anyone but our best representatives on duty to greet those who they encounter.

    Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan are on the case.

    And.  Rightly.  So.


    Epilogue

    While daydreaming about this all, I’ve been listening to the song “The Reason” by Soulstice.  This piece of music conveys, for me, what it’s like to be so deeply in love with someone.  “You’re the reason/So beautiful and full of bliss/my little piece of happiness/You’re the reason” More than the lyrics though, it’s a lovely track instrumentally, and an inspired vocal performance.  I tend to be a harsh critic of vocalists, prefering instrumental music on the whole, but this track really captures something.

    I enjoy thinking about the love between Carl and Ann.  Especially because their delight in one another is the interstellar sample of human affection, captured in Ann’s brainwaves on the Voyager spacecraft.  The shelf life of those gold records was designed to be one billion years.

    One billion years.

    That love will keep enduring for for a thousand, million years, out in the cold emptiness of space.  And in every second of that time it will be just as fresh as it was when it was two days young.  I hope that some intelligent species happens upon it, with the technology to decode Ann’s thoughts.  What will they think when they read her mind?  Maybe they will be moved to the extra-terrestrial equivalent of tears.  Maybe they will find it naive and judge our species ripe for subjugation.

    Or perhaps humankind will be long, long extinct, and that battered voyager spacecraft with its gold record will be the only remaining fraction of a fraction that’s left behind from our collective plight.  They’ll place it in a galactic museum with a set of headphones far better than humans ever built, for the citizens of future advanced civilizations to stop, stand, and spend a small moment listening to the love story of Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan; two creatures from an obscure planet destroyed eons ago that somehow, by complex forces of nature or random happenstance, managed to transmit this poetic instant out across the cosmos; a beautiful ballad of love that defied the slow decay of millenia, and returned some miniscule portion of their beings to the stars for which they held such wonderment.  If this is all that remains behind when we’re gone, I think that’s a pretty good note to go out on.