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

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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.



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.
Science quotes on:  |  Attitude (57)  |  Balance (52)  |  Contradiction (50)  |  Idea (545)  |  Nonsense (35)  |  Scepticism (8)  |  Science (1939)  |  Scrutiny (14)  |  Truth (881)

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.
Science quotes on:  |  Additional (6)  |  Meaning (106)  |  Pseudoscience (16)  |  Science (1939)  |  Term (112)  |  Truth (881)  |  Virtue (60)  |  Wonder (165)

In the 1920s, there was a dinner at which the physicist Robert W. Wood was asked to respond to a toast … “To physics and metaphysics.” Now by metaphysics was meant something like philosophy—truths that you could get to just by thinking about them. Wood took a second, glanced about him, and answered along these lines: The physicist has an idea, he said. The more he thinks it through, the more sense it makes to him. He goes to the scientific literature, and the more he reads, the more promising the idea seems. Thus prepared, he devises an experiment to test the idea. The experiment is painstaking. Many possibilities are eliminated or taken into account; the accuracy of the measurement is refined. At the end of all this work, the experiment is completed and … the idea is shown to be worthless. The physicist then discards the idea, frees his mind (as I was saying a moment ago) from the clutter of error, and moves on to something else. The difference between physics and metaphysics, Wood concluded, is that the metaphysicist has no laboratory.
— Carl Sagan
In 'Wonder and Skepticism', Skeptical Enquirer (Jan-Feb 1995), 19, No. 1.
Science quotes on:  |  Account (61)  |  Accuracy (59)  |  Answer (237)  |  Clutter (4)  |  Completion (17)  |  Conclusion (147)  |  Devising (7)  |  Difference (237)  |  Dinner (13)  |  Discarding (2)  |  Elimination (18)  |  End (186)  |  Error (263)  |  Experiment (580)  |  Freeing (2)  |  Glance (18)  |  Idea (545)  |  Literature (73)  |  Measurement (159)  |  Metaphysics (33)  |  Mind (691)  |  Philosophy (241)  |  Physicist (151)  |  Physics (329)  |  Possibility (110)  |  Preparation (40)  |  Promise (34)  |  Reading (52)  |  Refinement (13)  |  Response (28)  |  Seeming (9)  |  Sense (300)  |  Test (115)  |  Thinking (227)  |  Toast (7)  |  Truth (881)  |  Robert W. Wood (2)  |  Work (589)  |  Worthless (18)

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 (1986), 76.
Science quotes on:  |  Bacchus (2)  |  Compelling (8)  |  Condemnation (14)  |  Doctrine (71)  |  Exciting (16)  |  Extent (44)  |  Heraclitus (15)  |  Important (188)  |  Intricate (20)  |  Magician (12)  |  Mathematics (1027)  |  Meaning (106)  |  Philosopher (157)  |  Priest (18)  |  Pseudoscience (16)  |  Science (1939)  |  Subtle (32)  |  Truth (881)  |  Virtue (60)  |  Word (282)

The major religions on the Earth contradict each other left and right. You can’t all be correct. And what if all of you are wrong? It’s a possibility, you know. You must care about the truth, right? Well, the way to winnow through all the differing contentions is to be skeptical. I’m not any more skeptical about your religious beliefs than I am about every new scientific idea I hear about. But in my line of work, they’re called hypotheses, not inspiration and not revelation.
— Carl Sagan
Contact (1997), 162.
Science quotes on:  |  Belief (489)  |  Contention (10)  |  Contradiction (50)  |  Hypothesis (245)  |  Idea (545)  |  Inspiration (56)  |  Possibility (110)  |  Religion (231)  |  Revelation (32)  |  Scepticism (8)  |  Truth (881)  |  Wrong (130)

The truth may be puzzling. It may take some work to grapple with. It may be counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held prejudices. It may not be consonant with what we desperately want to be true. But our preferences do not determine what's true. We have a method, and that method helps us to reach not absolute truth, only asymptotic approaches to the truth—never there, just closer and closer, always finding vast new oceans of undiscovered possibilities. Cleverly designed experiments are the key.
— Carl Sagan
In 'Wonder and Skepticism', Skeptical Enquirer (Jan-Feb 1995), 19, No. 1.
Science quotes on:  |  Approach (49)  |  Asymptote (2)  |  Cleverness (11)  |  Closer (8)  |  Consonant (3)  |  Contradiction (50)  |  Design (108)  |  Desperation (5)  |  Determination (55)  |  Experiment (580)  |  Finding (30)  |  Grapple (6)  |  Key (47)  |  Method (200)  |  Ocean (143)  |  Possibility (110)  |  Preference (21)  |  Prejudice (65)  |  Puzzle (33)  |  True (178)  |  Truth (881)  |  Undiscovered (10)  |  Vast (83)  |  Work (589)

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.
Science quotes on:  |  Aperture (4)  |  Correction (30)  |  Evidence (175)  |  Hypothesis (245)  |  Idea (545)  |  Scrutiny (14)  |  Truth (881)  |  Wrong (130)

Wherever possible, scientists experiment. Which experiments suggest themselves often depends on which theories currently prevail. Scientists are intent of testing those theories to the breaking point. They do not trust what is intuitively obvious. That the Earth is flat was once obvious. That heavy bodies fall faster than light ones was once obvious. That bloodsucking leeches cure most diseases was once obvious. That some people are naturally and by divine decree slaves was once obvious. That there is such a place as the center of the Universe, and that the Earth sits in that exalted spot was once obvious. That there is an absolute standard of rest was once obvious. The truth may be puzzling or counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held beliefs. Experiment is how we get a handle on it.
— Carl Sagan
In The Demon-Haunted World: Science As A Candle in the Dark (1995), 36.
Science quotes on:  |  Absolute (86)  |  Contradiction (50)  |  Experiment (580)  |  Flat (15)  |  Leech (6)  |  Obvious (76)  |  Prevailing (2)  |  Puzzling (2)  |  Rest (89)  |  Slave (26)  |  Test (115)  |  Theory (661)  |  Trust (49)  |  Universe (655)

[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.
Science quotes on:  |  Argument (76)  |  Assumption (55)  |  Authority (61)  |  Discard (19)  |  Examine (39)  |  Fact (688)  |  False (94)  |  Inconsistent (8)  |  Misuse (10)  |  Obvious (76)  |  Perfect (72)  |  Revise (5)  |  Rule (163)  |  Sacred (17)  |  Scientific Method (163)  |  Self-Correction (2)  |  Tool (80)  |  Truth (881)  |  Unexpected (33)  |  Worthless (18)


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
Quotations by:Albert EinsteinIsaac NewtonLord KelvinCharles DarwinSrinivasa RamanujanCarl SaganFlorence NightingaleThomas EdisonAristotleMarie CurieBenjamin FranklinWinston ChurchillGalileo GalileiSigmund FreudRobert BunsenLouis PasteurTheodore RooseveltAbraham LincolnRonald ReaganLeonardo DaVinciMichio KakuKarl PopperJohann GoetheRobert OppenheimerCharles Kettering  ... (more people)

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- 40 -
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- 20 -
Carl Sagan
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