Sgan, Dorion, Whole Earth
Of the several cartoons in which my father's image appeared, perhaps the most famous, published in the New Yorker, depicts two aliens coming to Earth. "No, not Carl Sagan," says one of the saucer-bound spacelings, "too . Let's grab somebody less obvious." He will forever be associated in the popular imagination with the cosmic, the extraterrestrial, the post-religious scientific sublime. 6'2", with bass voice (I heard it in the womb), perfect diction, encyclopedic memory, um-less speech, and a preternatural (if to me privately aggravating) way of orating reasoned paragraphs that made other people's speech sound like illogical jabberwocky, he was -- and is -- larger than life. When I was twelve, listening with great frustration to conservative talk show host Avi Nelson in Boston, I used to daydream that my father would call in and put the smarmy rhetor in his place -- blow him away with reason.
My father was the greatest contemporary spokesperson for science. He was a passionate defender of the truth as he saw it, revealed by the scientific method. And he was a good scientist. He postulated that Venus was so hot because the carbon dioxide in its atmosphere had led to a runaway greenhouse effect; this was later confirmed. Although he would have loved finding life on Mars, he theorized that the changing surface of the red planet was due not to seasonal vegetation but violent dust storms. His theory was not only proved true, but also provided the starting point for the notion that a similar dust-raising, sun-obscuring nuclear winter could threaten Earth's agriculture and life on a global scale. Any historical account of the end of the Cold War must certainly ascribe a role, perhaps the pivotal role, to the dissemination of this theory. And he showed that brownish substances similar to those found on Jupiter and its moons could be synthesized in the laboratory; unfortunately, these organic compounds, called tholins, may have contributed to his death by leukemia.
Considering that my mom and he split when I was so young, I was secretly gratified when his career later took a turn from the extraterrestrial to the worldly. He and his third wife Ann Druyan were arrested at a Nevada nuclear test site, protesting nuclear arms policy. He …
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Partial Closure. Contributors: Sgan, Dorion - Author. Magazine title: Whole Earth. Issue: 90 Publication date: Summer 1997. Page number: 34+. © 1999 Point Foundation. COPYRIGHT 1997 Gale Group.
This material is protected by copyright and, with the exception of fair use, may not be further copied, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means.