Contact by Carl Sagan

Midway, the book or more likely the author Sagan has completely lost hold of the plot and the story. It’s all gone awry and dry. Out of the blue there are nascent attacks on religion that hold no bearing to the central plot or even theme of the book, that of Curiosity, the primary drive behind human progress. Add to that a complete shift of pace, inclusion of settlements in Earth’s orbit, and Immortality (a concept that just can’t be shaken off apparently and is mutually inclusive relative to progress of any kind). The “human” element that drove the first few chapters of the story is wholly missing from the rest of the book. With each page, Sagan seems to unravel a new idea without resolving the previous conundrum.

Ellie, the character, seems more like a poster child for Sagan’s own thoughts half-way through the book. She has been given a very interesting personality which is entirely disposed off later on.

Chapter 22 “Gilgamesh”, could be a stand alone short story due to the excellence in its prose style. That being said, the chapter reeks of Sagan’s obsession with immortality, of prolonging earthly life enough to evade death and a conclusive oeuvre of life.

  • But it was so oddly and intricately shaped, so clearly intended for some complex purpose that it could only have been the expression of an idea
  • Life was better up here, far safer than crawling through a forest of legs
  • This is all a big ball… turning in the middle of the sky… once a day. She tried to imagine it spinning, with millions of people glued to it, talking different languages, wearing funny clothes, all stuck to the same ball.
  • Across the lake, a bright star was twinkling between the topmost branches. If you squinted your eyes you could make rays of light dance out of it. Squint a little more, and the rays would obediently change their length and shape. contact_sagan
  • For a million years humans had grown up with a personal daily knowledge of the vault of heaven. I the last few thousand years they began building and emigrating to the cities. In the last few decades, a major fraction of the human population had abandoned a rustic way of life. As technology developed and the cities were polluted, the nights became starless. New generations grew to maturity wholly ignorant of the sky that had transfixed their ancestors and that had stimulated the modern age of science and technology
  • Perhaps the dedicated pursuit of science was so consuming, so competitive, that no time was left to become a well-rounded human being. Or perhaps their social disabilities had led them to fields where the want would not be noticed
  • It was hopelessly narrow-minded, he would say as they walked past a succession of stucco arches as in a De Chirico painting, to imagine that all significant laws of physics had been discovered at the moment our generation began contemplating the problem
  • Look at enough stars, and sooner or later terrestrial interference or the concatenation of random noise will produce a pattern that for a moment makes your heart palpitate. You calm down and check it out. If it doesn’t repeat itself, you consider it spurious. This discipline was essential if she was to preserve some emotional equilibrium in the face of what she was seeking
  • It was futile, she knew, a conceit, to think that she, listening on one or two channels, would detect a pattern when the vast computer system monitoring a billion channels had not. But it gave her a modest illusion of utility.
  • Humans are good, she knew, at discerning subtle patterns that are really there, but equally so at imagining them when they are altogether absent
  • It was a repeated single note, high-pitched and raucous around the edges. It took her a moment to recognize it. Then she was sure she hadn’t heard it In thirty-five years. It was the metal pulley on the clothesline that would complain each time her mother gave a tug and put out another freshly washed smock to dry in the Sun. As a little girl, she had loved the army of marching clothespins; and when no one was about, would bury her face in the newly dried sheets. The smell, at once sweet and pungent, enchanted her. Could that be a whiff of it now? She could remember herself laughing, toddling away from the sheets, when her mother in one graceful motion swooped her up-to the sky it seemed-and carried her away in the crook of her arm, as if she herself were just a little bundle of clothes to be neatly arranged in the chest of drawers in her parents’ bedroom
  • Silence alone is great; all else is weakness. -ALFRED DEVIGNY
  • The first pulses in the train of radio waves insinuated themselves through the atmosphere and clouds, struck the landscape and were partially reflected back to space. As the Earth turned beneath them, successive pulses arrived, engulfing not just this one planet but the entire system. Very little of the energy was intercepted by any of the worlds. Most of it passed effortlessly onward-as the yellow star and its attendant worlds plunged, in an altogether different direction, into the inky dark.
  • She couldn’t imagine what thinking would be like if you were much more capable than a human being. Of course. Nor surprise. What did she expect? It was like trying to visualize a new primary color or a world in which you could recognize several hundred acquaintances individually only by their smells… She could talk about this, but she couldn’t experience it. By definition, it has to be mighty hard to understand the behavior of a being much smarter than you are. Buy even so, even so: Why only prime numbers?
  • Or would the signature of a really advanced civilization be that they left no sign at all?
  • “Adolf Hitler! Ken, it makes me furious. Forty million people die to defeat that megalomaniac, and he’s the star of the first broadcast to another civilization? He’s representing us. And them. It’s that madman’s wildest dream come true.”
  • Ellie had boasted that she had been free to march in front of the White House protesting American involvement in the Vietnam War. Vaygay replied that in the same period he had been equally free to march in front of the Kremlin protesting American involvement in the Vietnam War.
  • The Message, Ellie believed, was a kind of mirror in which each person sees his or her own beliefs challenged or confirmed
  • Joss argued that in every religion there was a doctrinal line beyond which it insulted the intelligence of its practitioners. Reasonable people might disagree as to where that line should be drawn, but religions trespassed well beyond it at their peril
  • I maintain that the cosmic religious feeling is the strongest and noblest motive for scientific research. -ALBERT EINSTEIN Ideas and Opinions (1954)
  • She began to understand why lovers talk baby talk to one another. There was no other socially acceptable circumstance in which the children inside her were permitted to come out. If the one-year-old, the five-year- old, the twelve-year-old, and the twenty-year-old all find compatible personalities in the beloved, there is a real chance to keep all of these sub-personas happy. Love ends their long loneliness. Perhaps the depth of love can be calibrated by the number of different selves that are actively involved in a given relationship. With her previous partners, it seemed, at most one of these selves was able to find a compatible opposite number; the other personas were grumpy hangers-on.
  • I mistrust the scientists because the scientists mistrust everything
  • The world is nearly all parceled out, and what there is left of it is being divided up, conquered, and colonized. To think of these stars that you see overhead at night, these vast worlds which we can never reach
  • You know the opinion of Cervantes? He said that reading a translation is like examining the back of a piece of tapestry
  • Nuclear war is the negation of the conventional military virtues; it is hard to find much valor in pressing a button
  • My specialty is government. So I know that the nations are also alike. Every nation is cautious. Every nation is suspicious
  • Girl of about four who would periodically launch herself off the pavement. In her momentary suspension in zero g, she experienced, it was apparent, something akin to ecstasy.
  • Industrial productivity was off worldwide. Many had given away all their possessions to the poor and then, as the end of the world was delayed, were obliged to seek help from a charity or the State. Because gifts of this sort constituted a major fraction of the resources of such charities, some of the philanthropists ended up being supported by their own gifts
  • Well, the absence of advertising is an alternative, I told them. There are huge advertising budgets only when there’s no difference between the products. If the products really were different, people would buy the one that’s better. Advertising teaches people not to trust their judgment. Advertising teaches people to be stupid. A strong country needs smart people. So Adnix is patriotic.
  • The earth, that is sufficient, I do not want the constellations any nearer, I know they are very well where they are, I know they suffice for those who belong to them.     -WALT WHITMAN Leaves of Grass “Song of the Open Road” (1855
  • The world strategic inventories fell below 3,200 nuclear weapons for the first time since the middle 1950s. Multilateral talks on the more difficult stages of disarmament, down to a minimum nuclear deterrent, were making progress. The fewer the weapons on one side, the more dangerous would be the sequestering of a small number of weapons by the other
  • Lunacharsky was in the United States, but not here in Wyoming. He was in Washington with a high level Soviet delegation meeting with the Secretary of State and Michael Kitz, newly promoted to Deputy Secretary of Defense. Arkhangelsky was back in Uzbekistan.
  • Suddenly Drumlin was in the air, flying. Everything else seemed to be flying, too. It reminded her of the tornado that had carried Dorothy to Oz. As in a slow motion film, Drumlin careened toward her, arms outstretched, and knocked her roughly to the ground. After all these years, she thought, was this his notion of a sexual overture? He had a lot to learn
  • She had, after all, been the person closest to Drumlin when the erbium dowel struck and pulped him.
  • It was not glory she was seeking…not mainly, not much…but instead a kind of liberation. She was a wonder junkie
  • Here were beings who live in the sky, beings enormously knowledgeable and powerful, beings concerned for our survival, beings with a set of expectations about how we should behave. They disclaim such a role, but they could clearly visit reward and punishment, life and death, on the puny inhabitants of Earth. Now how is this different, she asked herself, from the old-time religion? The answer occurred to her instantly: It was a matter of evidence

A Case for Ethics

I have an ethical issue with CSS and dissemination of education in general, that of absence of personal political and religious thoughts and perceptions. Why is there a foundational and rigorous restriction on inclusion of a political and religious viewpoint in an answer? Does this not follow the same western phenomenon of not teaching creationism in schools? Does this restriction fundamentally not obscure the very purpose which education aims to achieve? Say, if I was allowed to construct an answer based on factual, research based points, and could add to it a personal, well-thought out, well-researched religious (or political viewpoint, depending on individual inclinations) not only would the concerned research help my basic understanding of a phenomenon but also aid in an unbiased approach towards the issue since research always tends to minimise biases by providing a vast canvas of differing schools of thoughts. Now extend the same to class discussion in which student A and student B participate; the former with strong leaning towards politics, and the latter towards religion. Under the supervision of an unbiased instructor, the mutual discussion would not only be respectable, but also induct new and original perceptions to the student who was wholly unaware of the other’s inclinations, or harboured personal misjudgements and misinformation about a particular topic.
By asking students and teachers to leave personal political and religious rhetoric out of the class, the educational system is further promoting social intolerance and ignorance. Why are such crucial matters not discussed and debated upon at a very early stage, rather than leaving it up to experts (who by then are themselves so embedded in a biased system of information).
Isn’t the whole purpose of Education (with a capital E) dissemination of uncontrolled knowledge and information, so that the educator and student both can formulate their own stance, whilst having complete grasp on standpoints of various schools of thought?
In a Pakistani society, where religion has long played a crucial role in individual and collective existence, and much more recently is the question of political awareness becoming part of our social existence, is it fair to blatantly ask students to leave the very core of their identity outside the class door? Does this not promote hypocrisy, arrogance and ignorance of ones own beliefs?
Educational and institutional reforms, on international and national level, all stress on amicable discussions to counter the myriad of problems the world faces. How can one expect to reach unanimous resolutions when the two important factors that figuratively make the world go round are discouraged on such an intermediary level. Healthy discussions and debates require ample research, which in turn introduces us to countless faces of the same issue.