Heya folks at ATS. No breaking news here, just doing a little writing for fun about a man who truly inspired me. I want to share what I feel are the
most memorable, relevant, and though-provoking moments in his documentary series "The Cosmos" in a light-hearted manner. That said, let's get right
down to it.
(PSD I threw together in 5 mins.)
#7 on Artificial Selection
"The fisherman say that the Heike Samurai wander the bottom of the inland sea still... In the form of crabs."
Why it's awesome: Samurai + Crab = Science!
Quick Summary: The Heikes were defeated in battle at sea by a foe who outnumbered and overpowered them. When defeat became inevitable, the last
Heike warriors drown themselves along with their 7-year-old Emperor. To honor the event, a tradition was started in which the fisherman in the area
would toss crabs back to sea that had a carapace which resembled a Samurai's face. At the time, Samurai-faced crabs were rare. After many years of
this practice, however, the crab population was affected enough so that the Samurai-faced crabs became the majority and the crabs which were still OK
to eat became few and far between. Sagan goes on to explain that this is called "Artificial Selection" (A form of natural selection) and brings
attention to the fact that humans have done this to many, many species of animal - as well as other organisms. Domesticated creatures are the prime
example - dogs, horses, cattle, and even plants - no organism that humans have domesticated is the same now as it was in ancient times.
#6 DNA: The Language of Life
"Bacteria, we, and all the creatures inbetween possess similar genetic instructions. Our separate gene libraries have many pages in
Why it's awesome: That mold in your shower is practically your second cousin! So stop showering with her! It's weird!
Quick Summary: Sagan explains the difference between your DNA's memory (how to breathe, convert Taco Bell into diarrhea, grow a unibrow, etc.) and
your Brain's memory (who your mother is, what to add to tequila to make it taste good, how to pretend you're texting to not make eye contact after
farting in the elevator, etc.) He explains that DNA is like a language, a language billions of years older than ye olde English. He then explains
that if we were to convert DNA into English, a virus would fill 1 page, a bacteria would fill 100 pages, an amoeba (which is the size of a major city
in comparison to an average bacteria) would fill 80 volumes of literature, and humans would fill 1000 volumes. MIND BLOWN! Many of those pages exist
in multiple creatures, meaning you share the same DNA with a slug, the ebola virus, and Jersey Shore's Snooki. Sleep tight!
#5 The Drake Equation
"..The sky may be softly humming with messages from the stars.."
Why it's awesome: Hot green babes with giant... brains. Awwww yeeeaaa. Oh, and green dudes too. Don't worry ladies, Martians are true gentlemen
when they're not trying to impress their friends by probing you for genetic material.
Quick Summary: Most people have heard the Drake Equation. It's a formula postulated by Frank Drake and his colleagues which is used to take educated
guesses at the amount of intelligent life in the nearby universe. The problem is, N = R^[ast] cdot f_p cdot n_e cdot f_[ell] cdot f_i cdot f_c
cdot L is not the easiest equation in the world to understand, especially since each letter represents an entirely different variable. Sagan
explains it in a way that anyone can understand. According to his fairly conservative estimates, there could be MILLIONS of advanced civilizations
right here in our own Milky Way! The bad news: Predator is probably very real. The good news: There's probably more dangerous game out there than
#4 Stars: We Are Their Children
"..One star can influence a world halfway across the galaxy, a billion years in the future."
Why it's awesome: The Sun is just like any other dad - It wakes your ass up at the crack of dawn to remind you there's work to be done.
Quick Summary: Sagan tells us that all matter - whether it be the matter that makes up a speck of dust, a blade of grass, or a whole human being -
comes from the cores of ancient stars. He asserts that all living organisms are "solar powered" as we not only depend on the Sun for sustenance (and
even the creatures that don't rely directly on the Sun's rays DO rely on the stars to provide what they need for survival in some way) but we also owe
our very existence, and the existence of all the elements to the stars. Even evolution is a result of the stars, because evolution is driven by the
radiation that stars give off. Next time you want to impress someone, tell them that the iron in your bloodstream was created in the center of
high-mass stars BILLIONS of years ago. It's a great pick-up line, trust me. Wink wink.
#3 Traveling - Speed of Light
"Traveling close to the speed of life is a kind of elixir of life - because time slows down near the speed of light, special relativity
provides us a means of going to the stars."
Why it's awesome: Once we master light-speed travel, hipsters won't have to ride their unicycles around campus just to fit into their girl-jeans.
Quick Summary: Sagan regales us with the tale of a magical camera and a young man named "Paulo." I know what you're thinking, but don't worry, it's
not going to get weird - at least not in that way. Our dear friend Carl uses this story to explain Einstein's theory of special relativity in a way
that even the least scientifically-enthused person can understand, and manages to entertain and get the viewer to use their imagination
simultaneously. He explains that speed literally affects reality (the faster you go, the skinnier you are!) He explains that time is much slower near
light-speed, and that if you could reach such a speed, the world around you would look quite distorted and different. In fact, a few minutes
traveling at light-speed and the world around you would age several decades. The time dilation caused by traveling at the speed of light may one day
help us reach other planetary systems.
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"The total number of stars in the Universe is larger than all the grains of sand on all the beaches of the planet Earth."
Why it's awesome: The words that Carl Sagan articulates and the passion and eloquence that he musters in this speech could bring even the moist stoic
member of the Westboro Baptist Church to their knees in wonderment. They'd be all, "..I'll convert for you, Carl." Even the men.
Quick Summary: This is perhaps Carl Sagan's finest hour in regards to imagery. Although I can't promise that it will change your life, I can say
with confidence that you'll come at least one step closer to understanding just how insignificant we as both individuals and a species are in the
Universe. Sagan talks about how the Cosmos moves and what it's made of. He uses beautiful Earthly metaphors and similes to describe them, and
briefly discusses how it relates to human ambition. I implore you, watch this video.
#1 on the Origin of DNA
"The study of a single instance of Extra-Terrastrial life, no matter how humble - a microbe would be just fine - will de-provincialize
biology. It will show us what else is possible."
Why it's awesome: It's aliiive... IT'S ALIIIIVE! Bwahahaha! (Mad Scientist Laugh) If anyone ever tells you evolution has never been observed in a
lab, you can be a snooty bastard and show them this video. (Note: You probably don't want to do that at work.)
Quick Summary: Sagan both explains and shows an experiment that he and his colleague performed at Cornell University. Using gases, liquids, and
electrical discharge common to the early Earth, they create proteins and nucleic acids that are the basic building blocks for life. While these
building blocks are not lifeforms, they are are to reproduce by creating identical copies on themselves. None of the materials needed to create these
basic building blocks of life are rare throughout the cosmos - in fact, they are among most common and abundant materials that exist. Sagan goes on
to describe alien worlds and creatures, describing them in ways not so foreign to our own biology that they're unbelievable, but still quite different
in their environment, their adaptations, and their physical forms.
Thank you for opening our eyes to the Cosmos themselves, Mr. Sagan. One day your contributions to education will be look on with the same
reverence and Leonardo da Vinci's were to art and innovation.
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