37 Best Cosmos Quotes

If you read my review of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos two weeks ago, then you’ll know that it became one of my all-time favorite books the moment I read it. I felt as though Sagan took topics that we think of everyday, not taking the time to really ponder, and made them spectacular. This is the power of his writing. Thus, this week I am passing him the metaphorical mic. I hope you enjoy these 37 great quotes from Cosmos as much as I did!

1. “Whatever road we take, our fate is indissolubly bound up with science.” p. xxiv

2. “Science is an ongoing process. It never ends. There is no single ultimate truth to be achieved, after which all the scientists can retire.” p. xxvi

3. “Our technology is increasingly permitting us to explore the wonders of the Cosmos and to reduce the Earth to chaos.” p. xxviii

4. “The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” p. 1

5. “The surface of the Earth is the shore of the cosmic ocean. From it we have learned most of what we know. Recently, we have waded a little out to sea, enough to dampen our toes or, at most, wet our ankles. The water seems inviting. The ocean calls. Some part of our being knows this is from where we came. We long to return. These aspirations are not, I think, irreverent, although they may trouble whatever gods there may be.” p. 2

6. “. . . Intellectual capacity is no guarantee against being dead wrong.” p. 14

7. “The passage from the Chaos of the Big Bang to the Cosmos that we are beginning to know is the most awesome transformation of matter and energy that we have been privileged to glimpse.” p. 16

8. “Occasionally someone remarks on what a lucky coincidence it is that the Earth is perfectly suitable for life… But this is, at least in part, a confusion of cause and effect. We earthlings are supremely well-adapted to the environment of the Earth because we grew up here. Those earlier forms of life that were not well-adapted died. We are descended from the organisms that did well. Organisms that evolved on a quite different world will doubtless sing its praises too.” p. 18

9. “A Designer is a natural, appealing, and altogether human explanation of the biological world. But, as Darwin and Wallace showed, there is another way, equally appealing, equally human, and far more compelling: natural selection, which makes the music of life more beautiful as the eons pass.” p. 25

10. “Part of the resistance to Darwin and Wallace derives from our difficulty in imagining the passage of the millennia, much less the eons. What does seventy million years mean to beings who live only one-millionth as long? We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it is forever.” p. 27

11. “There are ten times more astrologers in the United States than astronomers. At parties, when I meet people who do not know I am a scientist, I am sometimes asked, ‘Are you a Gemini?’ (Chances of success, one in twelve), or ‘What sign are you?’ Much more rarely am I asked, ‘Have you heard that gold is made in supernova explosions?’ or ‘When do you think Congress will approve a Mars Rover?'” p. 45

12. “We seek a connection with the Cosmos. We want to count in the grand scale of things. And it turns out we are connected—not in the personal, small-scale unimaginative fashion that the astrologers pretended, but in the deepest ways, involving the origin of matter, the habitability of the Earth, the evolution and destiny of the human species, themes to which we will return.” p. 48

13. “Astronomy is a science—the study of the universe as it is. Astrology is a pseudoscience—a claim, in the absence of good evidence, that the other planets affect our everyday lives. In Ptolemy’s time the distinction between astronomy and astrology was not clear. Today it is.” p. 49

14. “Many hypotheses proposed by scientists as well as by non-scientists turned out to be wrong. But science is a self-correcting enterprise. To be accepted, all new ideas must survive rigorous standards of evidence.” p. 94

15. “Science is generated by and devoted to free inquiry: the idea that any hypothesis, no matter how strange, deserves to be considered on its merits. The suppression of uncomfortable ideas may be common in religion and politics, but it is not the path to knowledge; it has no place in the endeavor of science.” p. 94

16. “Our intelligence and our technology have given us the power to affect the climate. How will we use this power? Are we willing to tolerate ignorance and complacency in matters that affect the entire human family? Do we value short-term advantages above the welfare of the Earth? Or will we think on longer timescales, with concern for our children and our grandchildren, to understand and protect the complex life-support systems of our planet? The Earth is a tiny and fragile world. It needs to be cherished.” p. 107

17. “There seem to be many people who simply wish to be told an answer, any answer, and thereby avoid the burden of keeping two mutually exclusive possibilities in their heads at the same time.” p. 109

18. “I am a collection of water, calcium and organic molecules called Carl Sagan. You are a collection of almost identical molecules with a different collective label. But is that all? Is there nothing in here but molecules? Some people find this idea somehow demeaning to human dignity. For myself, I find it elevating that our universe permits the evolution of molecular machines as intricate and subtle as we. But the essence of life is not so much the atoms and simple molecules that make us up as the way in which they are put together.” p. 134

19. “For a long time the human instinct to understand was thwarted by facile religious explanations, as in ancient Greece in the time of Homer, where there were gods of the sky and the Earth, the thunderstorm, the oceans and the underworld, fire and time and love and war; where every tree and meadow had its dryad and maenad. For thousands of years humans were oppressed—as some of us still are—by the notion that the universe is a marionette whose strings are pulled by a god or gods, unseen and inscrutable.” p.180

20. “You might decide that Marduk and Zeus were really the same. You might also decide, since they had quite different attributes, that one of them was merely invented by the priests. But if one, why not both? And so it was that the great idea arose, the realization that there might be a way to know the world without the god hypothesis; that there might be principles, forces, laws of nature, through which the world could be understood without attributing the fall of every sparrow to the direct intervention of Zeus.” p. 182

21. “There is in our time much Ionian science, although not in politics and religion, and a fair amount of courageous free inquiry. But there are also appalling superstitions and deadly ethical ambiguities. We are flawed by ancient contradictions.” pp. 199-200

22. “There are those who secretly deplore these great discoveries, who consider every step a demotion, who in their heart of hearts still pine for a universe whose center, focus and fulcrum is the Earth. . . . Understanding where we live is an essential precondition for improving the neighborhood. . . . We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and by the depth of our answers.” p. 205

23. “What if the scientific tradition of the ancient Ionian Greeks had survived and flourished? . . . I sometimes think we might then have saved ten or twenty centuries. . . . If the Ionian spirit had won, I think we might by now be venturing to the stars.” p. 224-225

24. “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” p. 230

25. “The study of the galaxies reveals a universal order and beauty. It also shows us chaotic violence on a scale hitherto undreamed of. That we live in a universe which permits life is remarkable. That we live in one which destroys galaxies and stars and worlds is also remarkable. The universe seems neither benign nor hostile, nearly indifferent to the concerns of such puny creatures as we.” p. 262

26. “Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time, proof that humans can work magic.” p. 296

27. “In fact, it may be that civilizations can be divided into two great categories: one in which the scientists are unable to convince nonscientists to authorize a search for extraplanetary intelligence, in which energies are directed exclusively inward, in which conventional perceptions remain unchallenged and society falters and retreats from the stars; and another category in which the grand vision of contact with other civilizations is shared widely, and a major search is undertaken.” p. 331

28. “We reluctantly noticed that we were not the center and purpose of the Universe, but rather lived on a tiny and fragile world, lost in immensity and eternity, drifting in a great cosmic ocean dotted here and there with a hundred billion galaxies and a billion trillion stars. . . . Something in us recognizes the Cosmos as home. We are made of stellar ash. Our origin and evolution have been tied to distant cosmic events. The exploration of the Cosmos is a voyage of self-discovery.” p. 337

29. “Fanatical ethnic or religious or national chauvinisms are a little difficult to maintain when we see our planet as a fragile blue crescent fading to become an inconspicuous point of light against the bastion and citadel of the stars.” p. 338

30. “We are fortunate: we are alive; we are powerful; the welfare of our civilization and our species is in our hands. If we do not speak for Earth, who will? If we are not committed to our own survival, who will be?” p. 338

31. “The global balance of terror . . . holds hostage the citizens of the Earth.” p. 344

32. “We must be willing to challenge courageously the conventional social, political, economic, and religious wisdom. We must make every effort to understand that our fellow humans, all over the world, are human.” p. 349

33. “We inhabit a universe where atoms are made in the centers of stars; where each second a thousand suns are born; where life is sparked by sunlight and lightning in the airs and waters of youthful planets; where the raw material for biological evolution is sometimes made by the explosion of a star halfway across the Milky Way; where a thing as beautiful as a galaxy is formed a hundred billion times—a Cosmos of quasars and quarks, snowflakes and fireflies, where there may be black holes and other universes and extraterrestrial civilizations whose radio messages are at this moment reaching the Earth. How pallid by comparison are the pretensions of superstition and pseudoscience; how important it is for us to pursue and understand science, that characteristically human endeavor.” p. 351

34. “Every aspect of Nature reveals a deep mystery and touches our sense of wonder and awe. . . . Those afraid of the universe as it really is, those who pretend to nonexistent knowledge and envision a Cosmos centered on human beings will prefer the fleeting comforts of superstition. They avoid rather than confront the whole world. But those with the courage to explore the weave and structure of the Cosmos, even where it differs profoundly from their wishes and prejudices, will penetrate its deepest mysteries.” p. 352

35. “But [science] is by far the best tool we have, self-correcting, ongoing, applicable to everything. It has two rules. First: there are no sacred truths; all assumptions must be critically examined; arguments from authority are worthless. Second: whatever is inconsistent with the facts must be discarded or revised. We must understand the Cosmos as it is and not confuse how it is with how we wish it to be.” p. 352

36. “If we are to survive, our loyalties must be broadened further, to include the whole human community, the entire planet Earth. Many of those who run the nations will find this notion unpleasant. They will fear the loss of power. We will hear much about treason and disloyalty.” p. 362

37. “For we are the local embodiment of a local Cosmos grown to self-awareness. We have begun to contemplate our origins: starstuff pondering the stars; organized assemblages of ten billion billion billion atoms considering the evolution of atoms; tracing the long journey by which, here at least, consciousness arose. Our loyalties are to the species and the planet. We speak for Earth. Our obligation to survive is owed not just to ourselves but also to that Cosmos, ancient and vast, from which we spring.” p. 365


Work Cited
Sagan, Carl. Cosmos. 2013 Ballantine Books Trade Paperback Edition. New York, New York: Carl Sagan Productions, 1980.

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