When Carl Sagan died in December 1996, he died convinced that he would never see his family and loved ones again. However, his certainty that there is nothing beyond death did not mean that he had a nihilistic view of existence. On the contrary: the astrophysicist and science popularizer was fascinated by the possibility of making contact with extraterrestrial civilizations and the work of great mathematicians such as Eratosthenes, who measured the circumference of the Earth and proved that our planet is indeed round.
These are some of his thoughts on life and the meaning of our existence as a human race in the Universe that will make you think twice about life.
Every one of your cells was created in the hearts of the stars.
Carl Sagan said this to his daughter, Sasha Sagan when explaining why they couldn’t see their grandparents. “Because they died,” he told her. And while there was nothing he wanted more than to see his parents again, he couldn’t indulge in the self-delusion of thinking he could see them when he died. And beyond being a bleak thought, he focused on the miracle of being alive here and now:
“You are alive this second. That’s an amazing thing,” he told her. “When you consider the almost infinite number of possibilities and paths that lead to a single person being born, you should be grateful to be yourself this very second.”
“You are connected to all generations and living beings in this world through DNA. Also with the Universe, because every cell in your body was created in the hearts of the stars.”
We are like butterflies
“We are like butterflies that fly for a day, thinking they will do so forever,” said Carl Sagan.
Once again, this phrase addresses the belief of human beings in eternal life and existence beyond death when, nevertheless, our existence is like a sigh in the vast history of the universe. Our wings will stop flying one day and there will be nothing beyond, but that does not mean that flying for a single day is a small thing: all living beings are fortunate to exist at this moment and we share a very brief time in this world.
If we are alone in the Universe, it would certainly be a terrible waste of space.
As already mentioned, Carl Sagan was excited by the idea of discovering other civilizations inside or outside our solar system and making contact with them. While Stephen Hawking was horrified by the idea of contacting alien beings, Sagan believed that the universe is too large and incredible for humans to be the only “intelligent” life inhabiting it. Certainly, such a wonderful place would be a waste of space if there is no one else to share it with.
Story originally published in Cultura Colectiva in Spanish