Carl Sagan Quotes 1–30 of 292 Quotes

Carl Edward Sagan (9 November 1934 – 20 December 1996) was an American astronomer and popular science writer.

Below are 30 of 292 sourced Carl Sagan quotes. Sources and related information appear under each quote. Use the 'Cite this quote' link to get citation references.

“There is a place with four suns in the sky — red, white, blue, and yellow; two of them are so close together that they touch, and star-stuff flows between them. I know of a world with a million moons. I know of a sun the size of the Earth — and made of diamond. There are atomic nuclei a few miles across which rotate thirty times a second. There are tiny grains between the stars, with the size and atomic composition of bacteria. There are stars leaving the Milky Way, and immense gas clouds falling into it. There are turbulent plasmas writhing with X- and gamma-rays and mighty stellar explosions. There are, perhaps, places which are outside our universe. The universe is vast and awesome, and for the first time we are becoming a part of it.”

— Carl Sagan

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Quote source: Planetary Exploration (University of Oregon Books, Eugene, Oregon, 1970), page 15

“It is easy to create an interstellar radio message which can be recognized as emanating unambiguously from intelligent beings. A modulated signal (‘beep,’ ‘beep-beep,’ . . . ) comprising the numbers 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31, for example, consists exclusively of the first 12 prime numbers—that is, numbers that can be divided only by 1, or by themselves. A signal of this kind, based on a simple mathematical concept, could only have a biological origin. . . . But by far the most promising method is to send pictures.”

— Carl Sagan

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Quote source: Smithsonian magazine, May 1978, pp. 43, 44. Quoted in Awake! magazine, 1978, 8/22.

“Imagine, a room, awash in gasoline. And there are two implacable enemies in that room. One of them has 9,000 matches. The other has 7,000 matches. Each of them is concerned about who’s ahead, who’s stronger. Well, that's the kind of situation we are actually in. The amount of weapons that are available to the United States and the Soviet Union are so bloated, so grossly in excess of what's needed to dissuade the other that if it weren't so tragic, it would be laughable.'''”

— Carl Sagan

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Quote source: Remarks on the nuclear arms race, on ABC News Viewpoint — "The Day After" (20 November 1983)

“It seems to me what is called for is an exquisite balance between two conflicting needs: the most skeptical scrutiny of all hypotheses that are served up to us and at the same time a great openness to new ideas … If you are only skeptical, then no new ideas make it through to you … On the other hand, if you are open to the point of gullibility and have not an ounce of skeptical sense in you, then you cannot distinguish the useful ideas from the worthless ones.'''”

— Carl Sagan

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Quote source: "The Burden of Skepticism" in Skeptical Inquirer Vol. 12, Issue 1 (Fall 1987)

“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.”

— Carl Sagan

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Quote source: Keynote address at CSICOP conference (1987), as quoted in Do Science and the Bible Conflict? (2003) by Judson Poling, p. 30

“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

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More on this quote: Bringing Science Down to Earth (1994), co-authored with Anne Kalosh, in Hemispheres (October 1994), p. 99; this is similar to statements either mentioned in earlier interviews or published later in the book The Demon-Haunted World : Science as a Candle in the Dark (1995)
• Variants:
We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.
 • "Why We Need To Understand Science" in The Skeptical Inquirer Vol. 14, Issue 3 (Spring 1990)
• Not explaining science seems to me perverse. When you're in love, you want to tell the world.
 • "With Science on Our Side", Washington Post (9 January 1994)
• We’ve arranged a society based on science and technology, in which nobody understands anything about science and technology. And this combustible mixture of ignorance and power, sooner or later, is going to blow up in our faces. Who is running the science and technology in a democracy if the people don’t know anything about it?
 • Charlie Rose: An Interview with Carl Sagan, May 27, 1996.
I know that science and technology are not just cornucopias pouring good deeds out into the world. Scientists not only conceived nuclear weapons; they also took political leaders by the lapels, arguing that their nation — whichever it happened to be — had to have one first. … There’s a reason people are nervous about science and technology.
And so the image of the mad scientist haunts our world—from Dr. Faust to Dr. Frankenstein to Dr. Strangelove to the white-coated loonies of Saturday morning children’s television. (All this doesn’t inspire budding scientists.) But there’s no way back. We can’t just conclude that science puts too much power into the hands of morally feeble technologists or corrupt, power-crazed politicians and decide to get rid of it. Advances in medicine and agriculture have saved more lives than have been lost in all the wars in history. Advances in transportation, communication, and entertainment have transformed the world. The sword of science is double-edged. Rather, its awesome power forces on all of us, including politicians, a new responsibility — more attention to the long-term consequences of technology, a global and transgenerational perspective, an incentive to avoid easy appeals to nationalism and chauvinism. Mistakes are becoming too expensive.
 • "Why We Need To Understand Science" in The Skeptical Inquirer Vol. 14, Issue 3 (Spring 1990)
Science is much more than a body of knowledge. It is a way of thinking. This is central to its success. Science invites us to let the facts in, even when they don’t conform to our preconceptions. It counsels us to carry alternative hypotheses in our heads and see which ones best match the facts. It urges on us a fine balance between no-holds-barred openness to new ideas, however heretical, and the most rigorous skeptical scrutiny of everything — new ideas and established wisdom. We need wide appreciation of this kind of thinking. It works. It’s an essential tool for a democracy in an age of change. Our task is not just to train more scientists but also to deepen public understanding of science.
 • "Why We Need To Understand Science" in The Skeptical Inquirer Vol. 14, Issue 3 (Spring 1990)
Science is [...] a way of skeptically interrogating the universe with a fine understanding of human fallibility. If we are not able to ask skeptical questions, to interrogate those who tell us that something is true, to be skeptical of those in authority, then we’re up for grabs for the next charlatan, political or religious, who comes ambling along.
 • Charlie Rose: An Interview with Carl Sagan (27 May 1996)

“'''The idea that God is an oversized white male with a flowing beard who sits in the sky and tallies the fall of every sparrow is ludicrous. But if by God one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God. This God is emotionally unsatisfying... it does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity.”

— Carl Sagan

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Quote source: As quoted in "Scientists & Their Gods" in U.S. News & World Report Vol. 111 (1991)

“Humans — who enslave, castrate, experiment on, and fillet other animals — have had an understandable penchant for pretending animals do not feel pain. A sharp distinction between humans and 'animals' is essential if we are to bend them to our will, make them work for us, wear them, eat them — without any disquieting tinges of guilt or regret. It is unseemly of us, who often behave so unfeelingly toward other animals, to contend that only humans can suffer. The behavior of other animals renders such pretensions specious. They are just too much like us.”

— Carl Sagan

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Quote source: "Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors" (1992) (co-written with Ann Druyan)

“In fact, the thickness of the Earth's atmosphere, compared with the size of the Earth, is in about the same ratio as the thickness of a coat of shellac on a schoolroom globe is to the diameter of the globe. That's the air that nurtures us and almost all other life on Earth, that protects us from deadly ultraviolet light from the sun, that through the greenhouse effect brings the surface temperature above the freezing point. (Without the greenhouse effect, the entire Earth would plunge below the freezing point of water and we'd all be dead.) Now that atmosphere, so thin and fragile, is under assault by our technology. We are pumping all kinds of stuff into it. You know about the concern that chlorofluorocarbons are depleting the ozone layer; and that carbon dioxide and methane and other greenhouse gases are producing global warming, a steady trend amidst fluctuations produced by volcanic eruptions and other sources. Who knows what other challenges we are posing to this vulnerable layer of air that we haven't been wise enough to foresee?”

— Carl Sagan

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Quote source: In Wonder and Skepticism, Skeptical Enquirer (Jan-Feb 1995), 19, No. 1.

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“If you take a look at science in its everyday function, of course you find that scientists run the gamut of human emotions and personalities and character and so on. But there’s one thing that is really striking to the outsider, and that is the gauntlet of criticism that is considered acceptable or even desirable. The poor graduate student at his or her Ph.D. oral exam is subjected to a withering crossfire of questions that sometimes seem hostile or contemptuous; this from the professors who have the candidate’s future in their grasp. The students naturally are nervous; who wouldn’t be? True, they’ve prepared for it for years. But they understand that at that critical moment they really have to be able to answer questions. So in preparing to defend their theses, they must anticipate questions; they have to think, “Where in my thesis is there a weakness that someone else might find — because I sure better find it before they do, because if they find it and I'm not prepared, I'm in deep trouble."”

— Carl Sagan

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Quote source: (1995), "Wonder and Skepticism", Skeptical Inquirer 19 no: 1, month: January-February, ISSN: 0194-6730

“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

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Quote source: PT Staff (1996), "Carl Sagan, author interview", Psychology Today month: January, day: 01

“Something dreadful happens to students between first and twelfth grades, and it's not just puberty.”

— Carl Sagan

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Quote source: (27 December 2013), Carl Sagan: 'Science Is a Way of Thinking', Science Friday interview from May 1996

“I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking. The world is so exquisite with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there's little good evidence. Far better it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides.”

— Carl Sagan

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Quote source: (1996-03-10), "In the Valley of the Shadow", Parade

“That kind of skeptical, questioning, "don't accept what authority tells you" attitude of science — is also nearly identical to the attitude of mind necessary for a functioning democracy. Science and democracy have very consonant values and approaches, and I don't think you can have one without the other.”

— Carl Sagan

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Quote source: Talk of the Nation (3 May 1996)

“Who is more humble? The scientist who looks at the universe with an open mind and accepts whatever it has to teach us, or somebody who says everything in this book must be considered the literal truth and never mind the fallibility of all the human beings involved?”

— Carl Sagan

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Sagan, Carl. “Carl Sagan Quotes: 1–30 of 292 Quotes.” Last modified August 5, 2021. https://www.quotescosmos.com/people/Carl-Sagan-quotes.html#16

Quote source: Charlie Rose: An Interview with Carl Sagan, May 27, 1996.

“Those who raise questions about the God hypothesis and the soul hypothesis are by no means all atheists. An atheist is someone who is certain that God does not exist, someone who has compelling evidence against the existence of God. I know of no such compelling evidence. Because God can be relegated to remote times and places and to ultimate causes, we would have to know a great deal more about the universe than we do to be sure that no such God exists. To be certain of the existence of God and to be certain of the nonexistence of God seem to me to be the confident extremes in a subject so riddled with doubt and uncertainty as to inspire very little confidence indeed.”

— Carl Sagan

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Quote source: Conversations with Carl Sagan (2006), edited by Tom Head, p. 70

“All of the books in the world contain no more information than is broadcast as video in a single large American city in a single year. Not all bits have equal value.”

— Carl Sagan

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Quote source: Carl Sagan (2011), Cosmos (2011 ebook edition), month: July, publisher: Random House;

“I think people in power have a vested interest to oppose critical thinking.”

— Carl Sagan

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Quote source: (27 December 2013), Carl Sagan: 'Science Is a Way of Thinking', Science Friday interview from May 1996

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“There's a part of me making, creating the perceptions which in everyday life would be bizarre; there's another part of me which is a kind of observer. About half of the pleasure comes from the observer-part appreciating the work of the creator-part. I smile, or sometimes even laugh out loud at the pictures on the insides of my eyelids. In this sense, I suppose cannabis is psychotomimetic, but I find none of the panic or terror that accompanies some psychoses. Possibly this is because I know it's my own trip, and that I can come down rapidly any time I want to.”

— Carl Sagan

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Source: • Source: Wikiquote: "Carl Sagan" (Quotes, Essay as "Mr. X" (1969):
Essay as Mr. X (and here), written in 1969 for Marihuana Reconsidered (1971) by Lester Grinspoon)

“The cannabis experience has greatly improved my appreciation for art, a subject which I had never much appreciated before. The understanding of the intent of the artist which I can achieve when high sometimes carries over to when I'm down. This is one of many human frontiers which cannabis has helped me traverse. There also have been some art-related insights — I don't know whether they are true or false, but they were fun to formulate.”

— Carl Sagan

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Source: • Source: Wikiquote: "Carl Sagan" (Quotes, Essay as "Mr. X" (1969):
Essay as Mr. X (and here), written in 1969 for Marihuana Reconsidered (1971) by Lester Grinspoon)

“Cannabis also enhances the enjoyment of sex — on the one hand it gives an exquisite sensitivity, but on the other hand it postpones orgasm: in part by distracting me with the profusion of image passing before my eyes. The actual duration of orgasm seems to lengthen greatly, but this may be the usual experience of time expansion which comes with cannabis smoking.”

— Carl Sagan

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Sagan, Carl. “Carl Sagan Quotes: 1–30 of 292 Quotes.” Last modified August 5, 2021. https://www.quotescosmos.com/people/Carl-Sagan-quotes.html#23

Source: • Source: Wikiquote: "Carl Sagan" (Quotes, Essay as "Mr. X" (1969):
Essay as Mr. X (and here), written in 1969 for Marihuana Reconsidered (1971) by Lester Grinspoon)

“I do not consider myself a religious person in the usual sense, but there is a religious aspect to some highs. The heightened sensitivity in all areas gives me a feeling of communion with my surroundings, both animate and inanimate. Sometimes a kind of existential perception of the absurd comes over me and I see with awful certainty the hypocrisies and posturing of myself and my fellow men. And at other times, there is a different sense of the absurd, a playful and whimsical awareness. Both of these senses of the absurd can be communicated, and some of the most rewarding highs I've had have been in sharing talk and perceptions and humor. Cannabis brings us an awareness that we spend a lifetime being trained to overlook and forget and put out of our minds. A sense of what the world is really like can be maddening; cannabis has brought me some feelings for what it is like to be crazy, and how we use that word "crazy" to avoid thinking about things that are too painful for us. In the Soviet Union political dissidents are routinely placed in insane asylums. The same kind of thing, a little more subtle perhaps, occurs here: "did you hear what Lenny Bruce said yesterday? He must be crazy."”

— Carl Sagan

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Source: • Source: Wikiquote: "Carl Sagan" (Quotes, Essay as "Mr. X" (1969):
Essay as Mr. X (and here), written in 1969 for Marihuana Reconsidered (1971) by Lester Grinspoon)

“When I'm high I can penetrate into the past, recall childhood memories, friends, relatives, playthings, streets, smells, sounds, and tastes from a vanished era. I can reconstruct the actual occurrences in childhood events only half understood at the time. Many but not all my cannabis trips have somewhere in them a symbolism significant to me which I won't attempt to describe here, a kind of mandala embossed on the high. Free-associating to this mandala, both visually and as plays on words, has produced a very rich array of insights. There is a myth about such highs: the user has an illusion of great insight, but it does not survive scrutiny in the morning. I am convinced that this is an error, and that the devastating insights achieved when high are real insights; the main problem is putting these insights in a form acceptable to the quite different self that we are when we're down the next day.”

— Carl Sagan

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Source: • Source: Wikiquote: "Carl Sagan" (Quotes, Essay as "Mr. X" (1969):
Essay as Mr. X (and here), written in 1969 for Marihuana Reconsidered (1971) by Lester Grinspoon)

“Incidentally, I find that reasonably good insights can be remembered the next day, but only if some effort has been made to set them down another way. If I write the insight down or tell it to someone, then I can remember it with no assistance the following morning; but if I merely say to myself that I must make an effort to remember, I never do. I find that most of the insights I achieve when high are into social issues, an area of creative scholarship very different from the one I am generally known for.”

— Carl Sagan

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Source: • Source: Wikiquote: "Carl Sagan" (Quotes, Essay as "Mr. X" (1969):
Essay as Mr. X (and here), written in 1969 for Marihuana Reconsidered (1971) by Lester Grinspoon)

“I can remember the night that I suddenly realized what it was like to be crazy, or nights when my feelings and perceptions were of a religious nature. I had a very accurate sense that these feelings and perceptions, written down casually, would not stand the usual critical scrutiny that is my stock in trade as a scientist. If I find in the morning a message from myself the night before informing me that there is a world around us which we barely sense, or that we can become one with the universe, or even that certain politicians are desperately frightened men, I may tend to disbelieve; but when I'm high I know about this disbelief. And so I have a tape in which I exhort myself to take such remarks seriously. I say "Listen closely, you sonofabitch of the morning! This stuff is real!" I try to show that my mind is working clearly; I recall the name of a high school acquaintance I have not thought of in thirty years; I describe the color, typography, and format of a book in another room and these memories do pass critical scrutiny in the morning. I am convinced that there are genuine and valid levels of perception available with cannabis (and probably with other drugs) which are, through the defects of our society and our educational system, unavailable to us without such drugs. Such a remark applies not only to self-awareness and to intellectual pursuits, but also to perceptions of real people, a vastly enhanced sensitivity to facial expression, intonations, and choice of words which sometimes yields a rapport so close it's as if two people are reading each other's minds.”

— Carl Sagan

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Source: • Source: Wikiquote: "Carl Sagan" (Quotes, Essay as "Mr. X" (1969):
Essay as Mr. X (and here), written in 1969 for Marihuana Reconsidered (1971) by Lester Grinspoon)

“My high is always reflective, peaceable, intellectually exciting, and sociable, unlike most alcohol highs, and there is never a hangover. Through the years I find that slightly smaller amounts of cannabis suffice to produce the same degree of high, and in one movie theater recently I found I could get high just by inhaling the cannabis smoke which permeated the theater. There is a very nice self-titering aspect to cannabis. Each puff is a very small dose; the time lag between inhaling a puff and sensing its effect is small; and there is no desire for more after the high is there.”

— Carl Sagan

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Source: • Source: Wikiquote: "Carl Sagan" (Quotes, Essay as "Mr. X" (1969):
Essay as Mr. X (and here), written in 1969 for Marihuana Reconsidered (1971) by Lester Grinspoon)

“I think the ratio, R, of the time to sense the dose taken to the time required to take an excessive dose is an important quantity. R is very large for LSD (which I've never taken) and reasonably short for cannabis. Small values of R should be one measure of the safety of psychedelic drugs. When cannabis is legalized, I hope to see this ratio as one of the parameters printed on the pack. I hope that time isn't too distant; the illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world.'''”

— Carl Sagan

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Source: • Source: Wikiquote: "Carl Sagan" (Quotes, Essay as "Mr. X" (1969):
Essay as Mr. X (and here), written in 1969 for Marihuana Reconsidered (1971) by Lester Grinspoon)

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