46. Quote:Sagan

The Sounds of Earth Record Cover - GPN-2000-001978

For the longest time I've had this love-hate relationship with quotes. Well, quotes without context would be more accurate. The reason for this has partly been lost in the mists of time, but it I suppose it has something to do with the standard "wall of quotes" that is so common on the Internet.

That being said, it's not like I never plastered some proverbial wall with them. Somewhere along the way I just felt that instead of blindly quoting — more or less — I would try to actually read the book/interview/article, watch the show/movie/talk, listen to the song and so on before using quotes. I.e. provide context.

I don't necessarily think that all this is crucial to appreciate some clever thing some clever person once said. It's a personal goal more that anything.

I still loathe motivational quotes that say "live life instead of merely existing" in a million different ways though. Apart from being empty of content they're usually downright condescending. Something fairly well-off people say in order to differentiate between themselves and the "mere mortals of the world". Showcasing their own, presumably superior, way of life in the process.

Anyway, I read this book by Carl Sagan and early on he said something that resonated with me. The last couple of phrases seem to break the surface of my otherwise clouded mind every now and then.

Avoidable human misery is more often caused not so much by stupidity as by ignorance, particularly our ignorance about ourselves. I worry that, especially as the millennium edges nearer, pseudoscience and superstition will seem year by year more tempting, the siren song of unreason more sonorous and attractive.

Where have we heard it before? Whenever our ethnic or national prejudices are aroused, in times of scarcity, during challenges to national self-esteem or nerve, when we agonize about our diminished cosmic place and purpose, or when fanaticism is bubbling up around us - then, habits of thought familiar from ages past reach for the controls.

The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir.

- Carl Sagan (1995). The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, ch. 2, p. 34.