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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index S > Carl Sagan Quotes > Science

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Carl Sagan
(9 Nov 1934 - 20 Dec 1996)

American astronomer, exobiologist and writer remembered for popularizing astronomy and science, especially with his public television series Cosmos. Its accompanying book spent seventy weeks on The New York Times bestseller list. He was an adviser to NASA for the Mariner, Voyager, and Viking unmanned space missions.



...the scientific cast of mind examines the world critically, as if many alternative worlds might exist, as if other things might be here which are not. Then we are forced to ask why what we see is present and not something else. Why are the Sun and moon and the planets spheres? Why not pyramids, or cubes, or dodecahedra? Why not irregular, jumbly shapes? Why so symmetrical, worlds? If you spend any time spinning hypotheses, checking to see whether they make sense, whether they conform to what else we know. Thinking of tests you can pose to substantiate or deflate hypotheses, you will find yourself doing science.
— Carl Sagan
…...
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A central lesson of science is that to understand complex issues (or even simple ones), we must try to free our minds of dogma and to guarantee the freedom to publish, to contradict, and to experiment. Arguments from authority are unacceptable.
— Carl Sagan
Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millenium (1998), 190.
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A religion old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science, might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths. Sooner or later such a religion will emerge.
— Carl Sagan
Pale Blue Dot: a Vision of the Human Future in Space (1994), 52.
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At the heart of science is an essential balance between two seemingly contradictory attitudes—an openness to new ideas, no matter how bizarre or counterintuitive they may be, and the most ruthless skeptical scrutiny of all ideas, old and new. This is how deep truths are winnowed from deep nonsense.
— Carl Sagan
The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1997), 304.
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Children [are] born with a zest for knowledge, aware that they must live in a future molded by science, but so often convinced by their culture that science is not for them.
— Carl Sagan
In 'With Science on Our Side', Washington Post (9 Jan 1994).
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Every kid starts out as a natural-born scientist, and then we beat it out of them. A few trickle through the system with their wonder and enthusiasm for science intact.
— Carl Sagan
Quoted in interview with magazine staff, Psychology Today (Jan 1996).
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I know of no area of human endeavor in which science has not had at least one important thing to say.
— Carl Sagan
In 'With Science on Our Side', Washington Post (9 Jan 1994).
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I maintain there is much more wonder in science than in pseudoscience. And in addition, to whatever measure this term has any meaning, science has the additional virtue, and it is not an inconsiderable one, of being true.
— Carl Sagan
Concluding remarks of keynote address at CSICOP conference, Pasadena, California (3 Apr 1987). Printed in 'The Burden of Skepticism', Skeptical Inquirer (1987), 12, No. 1. Collected in Kendrick Frazier (ed.), The Hundredth Monkey: And Other Paradigms of the Paranormal (1991), 9.
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I wanted to be a scientist from my earliest school days. The crystallizing moment came when I first caught on that stars are mighty suns, and how staggeringly far away they must be to appear to us as mere points of light. I’m not sure I even knew the word science then, but I was gripped by the prospect of understanding how things work, of helping to uncover deep mysteries, of exploring new worlds.
— Carl Sagan
In 'With Science on Our Side', Washington Post (9 Jan 1994).
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If we lived on a planet where nothing ever changed, there would be little to do. There would be nothing to figure out. There would be no impetus for science. And if we lived in an unpredictable world, where things changed in random or very complex ways, we would not be able to figure things out. But we live in an in-between universe, where things change, but according to patterns, rules, or as we call them, laws of nature. If I throw a stick up in the air, it always falls down. If the sun sets in the west, it always rises again the next morning in the east. And so it becomes possible to figure things out. We can do science, and with it we can improve our lives.
— Carl Sagan
Cosmos (1980, 1985), 32.
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If we long to believe that the stars rise and set for us, that we are the reason there is a Universe, does science do us a disservice in deflating our conceits
— Carl Sagan
…...
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If you want to save your child from polio, you can pray or you can inoculate. ... Choose science.
— Carl Sagan
The Demon-Haunted World (1996), 30.
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In science it often happens that scientists say, “You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,” and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. It’s very rare that a senator, say, replies, “That’s a good argument. I will now change my political affiliation.”
— Carl Sagan
From keynote address at CSICOP conference, Pasadena, California (3 Apr 1987). Printed in 'The Burden of Skepticism', Skeptical Inquirer (1987), 12, No. 1. Collected in Kendrick Frazier (ed.), The Hundredth Monkey: And Other Paradigms of the Paranormal (1991), 5.
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In some respects, science has far surpassed religion in delivering awe. How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, “This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed”? Instead they say, 'No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.'
— Carl Sagan
Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space (1994), 52.
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It is the tension between creativity and skepticism that has produced the stunning and unexpected findings of science.
— Carl Sagan
In Broca’s Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science (1974, 1986), 73.
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Its [science’s] goal is to find out how the world works, to seek what regularities there may be, to penetrate to the connections of things—from subatomic particles, which may be the constituents of all matter, to living organisms, the human social community, and thence to the cosmos as a whole.
— Carl Sagan
Broca’s Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science (1979, 1986), 15.
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Modern science has been a voyage into the unknown, with a lesson in humility waiting at every stop. Many passengers would rather have stayed home.
— Carl Sagan
Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space (1994), 23.
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Not explaining science seems to me perverse. When you’re in love, you want to tell the world.
— Carl Sagan
In 'With Science on Our Side', Washington Post (9 Jan 1994).
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One of the great commandments of science is, 'Mistrust arguments from authority'. (Scientists, being primates, and thus given to dominance hierarchies, of course do not always follow this commandment.)
— Carl Sagan
The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1996), 31.
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Science and mathematics [are] much more compelling and exciting than the doctrines of pseudoscience, whose practitioners were condemned as early as the fifth century B.C. by the Ionian philosopher Heraclitus as “night walkers, magicians, priests of Bacchus, priestesses of the wine-vat, mystery-mongers.” But science is more intricate and subtle, reveals a much richer universe, and powerfully evokes our sense of wonder. And it has the additional and important virtue—to whatever extent the word has any meaning—of being true.
— Carl Sagan
Broca's Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science (1979, 1986), 76.
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Science arouses a soaring sense of wonder. But so does pseudoscience. Sparse and poor popularizations of science abandon ecological niches that pseudoscience promptly fills. If it were widely understood that claims to knowledge require adequate evidence before they can be accepted, there would be no room for pseudoscience.
— Carl Sagan
The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1996), 6.
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Science confers power on anyone who takes the trouble to learn it.
— Carl Sagan
In 'With Science on Our Side', Washington Post (9 Jan 1994).
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Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge.
— Carl Sagan
Broca’s Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science (1979, 1986), 15.
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Science is a way to not fool ourselves.
— Carl Sagan
Frequently seen attributed to Sagan, but always without any citation. Webmaster has found no proof that Sagan ever said, wrote or originated this. Also seen as, “Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself.” Contact webmaster if you know a primary verbatim source for either of these attributed quotes. Likely a paraphrase from a known quote by Richard Feynman, that begins, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself…”, on the Richard Feynman Quotes page of this website.
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Science is far from a perfect instrument of knowledge. It’s just the best one we have. In this respect, as in many others, it’s like democracy.
— Carl Sagan
In 'With Science on Our Side', Washington Post (9 Jan 1994).
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Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in an immensity of light-years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty, and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual ... The notion that science and spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive does a disservice to both.
— Carl Sagan
In Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1995), 29.
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Science is the golden road out of poverty and backwardness for emerging nations. The corollary, one that the United States sometimes fails to grasp, is that abandoning science is the road back into poverty and backwardness.
— Carl Sagan
In 'With Science on Our Side', Washington Post (9 Jan 1994).
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Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep insights can be winnowed from deep nonsense.
— Carl Sagan
…...
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Some ideas are better than others. The machinery for distinguishing them is an essential tool in dealing with the world and especially in dealing with the future. And it is precisely the mix of these two modes of thought [skeptical scrutiny and openness to new ideas] that is central to the success of science.
— Carl Sagan
In 'The Burden of Skepticism', Skeptical Inquirer (Fall 1987), 12, No. 1.
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The method of science is tried and true. It is not perfect, it’s just the best we have. And to abandon it, with its skeptical protocols, is the pathway to a dark age.
— Carl Sagan
From a sound clip from CSICOP, now CSI (Committee for Skeptical Inquiry). If you know a more specific citation, please contact Webmaster.
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The suppression of uncomfortable ideas may be common in religion or in politics, but it is not the path to knowledge; it has no in the endeavor of science. We do not know in advance who will discover fundamental insights.
— Carl Sagan
In Cosmos (1985), 74.
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There are many hypotheses in science which are wrong. That’s perfectly all right; they’re the aperture to finding out what’s right. Science is a self-correcting process. To be accepted, new ideas must survive the most rigorous standards of evidence and scrutiny.
— Carl Sagan
Quoted in Donald R. Prothero and Carl Dennis Buell, Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters (2007), 3.
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There is a reward structure in science that is very interesting: Our highest honors go to those who disprove the findings of the most revered among us. So Einstein is revered not just because he made so many fundamental contributions to science, but because he found an imperfection in the fundamental contribution of Isaac Newton.
— Carl Sagan
In 'Wonder and Skepticism', Skeptical Enquirer (Jan-Feb 1995), 19, No. 1.
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Think of how many religions attempt to validate themselves with prophecy. Think of how many people rely on these prophecies, however vague, however unfulfilled, to support or prop up their beliefs. Yet has there ever been a religion with the prophetic accuracy and reliability of science? ... No other human institution comes close.
— Carl Sagan
The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1997), 30.
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Too much openness and you accept every notion, idea, and hypothesis—which is tantamount to knowing nothing. Too much skepticism—especially rejection of new ideas before they are adequately tested—and you're not only unpleasantly grumpy, but also closed to the advance of science. A judicious mix is what we need.
— Carl Sagan
In 'Wonder and Skepticism', Skeptical Enquirer (Jan-Feb 1995), 19, No. 1.
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We live in a society absolutely dependent on science and technology and yet have cleverly arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. That’s a clear prescription for disaster.
— Carl Sagan
From interview with Anne Kalosh in her article 'Bringing Science Down to Earth', in Hemispheres (Oct 1994), 99. Collected and cited in Tom Head (ed.), Conversations with Carl Sagan (2006), 100. This was Sagan’s answer to her question, “How does not understanding science cripple people in their daily lives.”
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We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.
— Carl Sagan
In 'Why We Need To Understand Science', The Skeptical Inquirer (Spring 1990), 14, No. 3.
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We’ve arranged a global civilization in which most critical elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.
— Carl Sagan
From The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1996), 26.
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Who is running the science and technology in a democracy if the people don’t know anything about it?
— Carl Sagan
From transcript of interview on PBS TV show, Charlie Rose (27 May 1996). On Charlie Rose website.
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[I]magine you want to know the sex of your unborn child. There are several approaches. You could, for example, do what the late film star ... Cary Grant did before he was an actor: In a carnival or fair or consulting room, you suspend a watch or a plumb bob above the abdomen of the expectant mother; if it swings left-right it's a boy, and if it swings forward-back it's a girl. The method works one time in two. Of course he was out of there before the baby was born, so he never heard from customers who complained he got it wrong. ... But if you really want to know, then you go to amniocentesis, or to sonograms; and there your chance of being right is 99 out of 100. ... If you really want to know, you go to science.
— Carl Sagan
In 'Wonder and Skepticism', Skeptical Enquirer (Jan-Feb 1995), 19, No. 1.
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[Science] is not perfect. It can be misused. It is only a tool. But it 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. ... The obvious is sometimes false; the unexpected is sometimes true.
— Carl Sagan
Cosmos (1985), 277.
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[With] our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition. … We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. We might get away with it for a while, but eventually this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.
— Carl Sagan
In 'With Science on Our Side', Washington Post (9 Jan 1994).
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See also:
  • 9 Nov - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Sagan's birth.
  • Carl Sagan - context of quote A Subject Called Chemistry - Medium image (500 x 350 px)
  • Carl Sagan - context of quote A Subject Called Chemistry - Large image (800 x 600 px)
  • Carl Sagan - context of quote “Advances in medicine and agriculture” - Medium image (500 x 250 px)
  • Carl Sagan - context of quote “Advances in medicine and agriculture” - Large image (800 x 400 px)
  • Carl Sagan: A Life in the Cosmos, by William Poundstone. - book suggestion.
  • Booklist for Carl Sagan.

Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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