Happy Birthday, Carl Sagan

Carl Sagan was born on this day in 1934. Thanks for Cosmos and the many books I loved passionately — The Demon-Haunted World and Pale Blue Dot. Here’s a tribute to you that I like from the ever-entertaining SciShow guy.

And those of you (listen up, Indians) who have not seen Carl Sagan’s Cosmos television series, there’s a bit from it that would be especially interesting. I am unable to link to the YouTube video of the 10th episode of Cosmos because it is not available in the US on YouTube for copyright reasons but you could find it on YouTube if you are outside the US. Here’s a partial transcript of what he says:

. . . because of that wonderful aspect of Hindu cosmology which first of all gives a time-scale for the Earth and the universe — a time-scale which is consonant with that of modern scientific cosmology. We know that the Earth is about 4.6 billion years old, and the cosmos, or at least its present incarnation, is something like 10 or 20 billion years old. The Hindu tradition has a day and night of Brahma in this range, somewhere in the region of 8.4 billion years.

As far as I know [India’s] is the only ancient religious tradition on the Earth which talks about the right time-scale. We want to get across the concept of the right time-scale, and to show that it is not unnatural.

In the West, people have the sense that what is natural is for the universe to be a few thousand years old, and that billions is indwelling, and no one can understand it. The Hindu concept is very clear. Here is a great world culture which has always talked about billions of years.

Finally, the many billion year time-scale of Hindu cosmology is not the entire history of the universe, but just the day and night of Brahma, and there is the idea of an infinite cycle of births and deaths and an infinite number of universes, each with its own gods.

And this is a very grand idea. Whether it is true or not, is not yet clear. But it makes the pulse quicken, and we thought it was a good way to approach the subject.

Billions and billions of happy birthday, Carl. BTW, he never actually said “billions and billions” on his show. He did say billions a few time, though. He had the sense of humor to title his biography Billions and Billions.

Author: Atanu Dey


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