Carl Sagan. Always….

Essential viewing…..For those times, when the inexplicable injustices of the world grip you (such as several recent miscarriages of justice in Florida’s legal system), for those tumultuous political/social times when a form of hateful discord grips people of different communities, colors and religions – and you understand the futility of such group-think, for the times you need answers or just peace or closure – helpless at your inability to reconcile with justified anger at certain man-made systems, for the times you wonder about your “place” in the world, for the times you need to get out of the abyss of excessive navel-gazing myopic views and understand the fallacies of our anthropocentric world; and for the times when the sheer scale of the Universe and imagining its immensity becomes akin to a spiritual experience……… For the times when perspectives of a wise and ethical astrophysicist, ecologist, anthropologist or scientist-philosopher, and based on proven facts, makes much more sense than any subjective opinions blindly followed……..For the times when knowledge sets one free, while ignorance merely buries.

carl-saganI feel very lucky to have been exposed to the work, shows and writings of Carl Sagan at an early age. What an incredibly wise man he was! Wish there were more objective scientist-philosophers like him. Wish he hadn’t passed away so soon.  When I met the “father” of landscape ecology research Richard T. T. Forman at Harvard in 2008, I gushed like a teenager. But wish I could have met Sagan, at least once, before he died. He was also one of those few great men, whose private conduct had integrity and ethics, and did not differ from his public image – a disparity oftentimes sadly seen in many creative or public figures who may seem very alluring from the outside, but have hypocrisies within. Carl Sagan even transcended that – by all accounts he was good, wise, humble and ethical, both publicly and privately. Yes, he truly was a great man.

Here are two well-made videos by a fan, with Sagan’s narration. There are many more videos of him out there, of course, and his must-have series “Cosmos” which is a testimony to the good that great and intelligent television shows can do, as opposed to the murk it more often churns out.

On my blogroll section is a link to “Carl Sagan quotes.” And a chapter from his last book can be found here: * Billions of stars * Billions of sports fans

Wishing you wisdom………and billions of warm wishes from the ravenous July heat of New York City.

The Unbearable Heat of July…

.…in New York. Well, things could have always been worse. One could’ve been on the fated Boeing 777 which crash-landed in San Francisco airport yesterday, killing two teenagers, injuring several, but still miraculously leaving all the rest of its passengers alive.

Or, one could’ve been in a more dangerous part of the world, where governments try their best to oppress its citizens, as the latter fight for freedom.

So relatively, we are far luckier – if an insanely hot week in July with temperatures soaring over 100 degree Fahrenheit in New York is all we have to worry of. It is true that my migraines, combined with a heat stroke, have kept me indoors in bed, with the AC yanked up, the whole weekend. Migraines are incredibly annoying and at least mine are extremely painful. Suddenly – anything from bright lights, the smell of oil or perfume, or the noise of traffic can trigger it off. After that, much like a dog’s senses, every single smell gets amplified and identifiable; every sound, however soft, resonates like a bombshell; and even a bedroom side table lamp feels like the floodlight of a stadium. I have tried different medications, but alas, none have been effective. Like the common cold – I have to “wear it off.” Hours and sometimes an entire day spent in a dark room, keeping the temperature as cool as possible, sometimes an ice pack on my forehead, and subsisting on nothing but fruit, ice cream, and perhaps a bowl of edamame. And hoping that this feeling – of a head as heavy as lead, throbbing with pulsating pain – would just, just fade away. Not the unbearable lightness of being, I’m ‘fraid, but more like the unbearable heaviness of tête.

While I’ve decided to write at least one post a month, the past several months have been busy with various work pressures, a new (and exciting) development on the professional front, and many contingencies to be planned out and sorted. Also, for reasons of privacy and security, I had toyed with the idea of making this blog private, but have been touched and surprised that within just a few days of changing its privacy settings, so many readers wrote to me directly asking why, and hoping they could continue to read my writings. It is a humbling experience. More so, because although most of those readers never left comments, I am surprised how many actually would stop by and read. And so, here it is, back again……

But to get back to the start of the post – there are times when my heart gets heavy and hope runs thin, knowing and understanding the realities of the world we live in – factions at war, corruption in governments, the plight of sweatshop workers while clueless consumers keep buying, the inhumane cruelty towards animals both in the food and fur industry, the torture of innocents by psychopaths; and the fact that none of us really choose to be born – yet we are – and we have this one life to live, and that none of us are that special (at least definitely not in some God’s-special-child-kind-of-way – the way in which they would like to brainwash you,) but just that none of us are extra-special for having been born. What we do have control over or what can make a special difference lies simply in the actions we choose to perform that leave the world a little better, a little kinder than how we found it. Yes – there are special people – who with their innate talent and creativity and brilliant inventions have given gifts that have changed the course of human lives, and to whom we owe so much…..but what I mean is that none of us are really that special, the way our consumerist first world culture seems to push that certain frivolities are absolutely necessary to possess just because “you’re worth it.” Because, despite all the frills and frivolities, parades and charades of life, all that really matters – or at least all that will really, really matter in the last 10 minutes on one’s deathbed – are the ones we love/loved and the ones who truly loved us. Everything else is a corollary.

But perhaps I should not talk of this….I have ranted enough about the inequalities in the world and the effects of narcissism-gone-wild or the corruption in various systems in my posts such as Sweatshops for your sex and the city, Truth or Dare, Saltationism of Silliness, This too shall pass and a few others…… And in others, have celebrated the simple joys of life – a great piece of music, the beauty of art or satellite images or the quiet contentment one feels in the silence of happy solitude.

Talking at times with my friend, author Frederic Tuten, I feel that I often relate better with men and women who are much older – who have lived life a lot more – and somehow come out of it without their spirits broken, despite all of life’s downers. How do they do it? Tuten today shared a wonderful article written by neurologist Oliver Sacks in the New York Times on the joy of turning 80 –  My much older friends say I am a very old soul. I know this….in some ways always knew this since I was 10 years old – a sensitive, serious kid who voraciously liked reading encyclopaedia and books, but with a capacity for great joy and extremely charged to fight against petty injustices; a quiet kid who loved solitude but who would not remain silent if she saw someone being cruel to another, be it human or animal. There was a time, some four years back, where I thought I must have lost that spirit, that chutzpah. But much to my joy I discovered it was still there, always there, never to be broken – perhaps dampened and dormant for a while due to my having been the recipient of certain acts of unfathomable callousness by another, but that core – it had never left me. And, in the past couple of years, it recuperated and roared back again. 

And every time I go for a visit to a wonderful person’s studio/lab – a friend full of incredible talent, integrity, brilliance and ethics who is changing the world and is a true genius of our time (who shall remain unnamed in this post, as some day I want to write an entire post about him and his work, but let me simply say he is someone who  is a senior TEDtalks fellow, someone who Rolling Stone magazine had named among “15 people the next President should listen to,” and who had once won Time magazine’s best invention of the year award) – I smile and think – “No, there is still hope for mankind. There is still so much to live for, to laugh about, and of course, to love…love….and love more.”

So on this hot July day, here’s a photograph from New York taken by another friend (Kent Lawless) – an architect who went into computer science, and is a very gifted photographer. Life is hard and often not rosy. But the trick lies in finding beauty in special moments, to stop and smell the roses, to share a laugh with an innocent child, to stop to pet every dog that nuzzles up to you with its loving eyes, to thank the luck and fortunes we have, to accept the reality of what we don’t have, to believe in little acts of kindness, to have the discernment to distinguish the genuine from the fake, to recognize what is objectively good and not make excuses for that which is evil, and to have the courage to leave our surroundings at least a bit better than how we found them……As one of my favorite writers Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.”

Clouds in July above Empire State Building, New York City. (Photograph by (c) Kent Lawless)

Clouds in July above Empire State Building, New York City. (Photograph by  Kent Lawless)