Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A hero of mine

I would like to talk a bit about a personal hero of mine. For most of my life, I have not found another with a mind that worked even remotely similar to my own. I have lived, for far to long, in an area where deep though and inquiry have been mostly shunned or seen as a distant dream at best. When I would talk about my passion for understanding, how it allowed me to feel connected to the ideas I was learning about, I never once came across another who felt this way or truly understood what this feeling was like. Many were interested, yes. They were intrigued by my passion and almost in awe of my understanding and how I could break down the complex and seemingly unattainable into something they could grasp and know for themselves. But I could not find another mind that saw the universe as I did.

When I come across something new, I examine it, I pick it up in my mind and roll it around a bit. I see how it looks from all sides and how it might connect with what I already know. A good example is when, many years ago, I first learned about probability waves. The idea that a particle does not exist at any point, but has a probability of existing. That this probability might be highest around a point but it also flows out around it, spreading to infinity, always at a non-zero chance of being here or there. When I first learned of this, things became so clear for me. Suddenly I understood how electrons could exist in specific energy levels around an atomic nucleus while also forming a 'cloud'. I understood how a photon could be a particle, a single quanta of electromagnetic energy while also being a wave. I was able to apply this concept to things I had leaned before, such as the famous light slit experiment that proved the particle wave duality of light as well as how, if left untouched, a photon will go through two slits equally. Before, the idea of one thing going through two places at once seemed wrong. I knew it was true, but I couldn't fully comprehend it, I couldn't make it my own. But as soon as I learned about probability waves, it all fit. It was a cascade of connections in my mind.

When this happens, it is almost euphoric. The concept I am understanding and myself are no longer separate entities but become intertwined. I experience the idea not as a thought but as if it is a part of me. This connection is, well, spiritual. I use that word reluctantly as I know it has quite a bit of baggage attached to it. That many see it within the domain of religion and myth. But here, I mean it as an experience where you develop as a being, where you connect with something on a fundamental level, almost becoming that thing. There isn't another word in the English language that fits well enough other then spirituality.

For the longest time I could not find another who thought like this. I heard about people who had done so or did so. But I never met them, they were just distant stories. For so long I felt truly alone. That there was not another who felt as I did, who saw the universe as I saw it. Who loved the world as I love it.

But then I read a book. A book written by a man I already greatly respected and wished I had a chance to meet. The book was A Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan. When I read the opening pages, I suddenly found the mind I had sought for so long. I read his words, his explanation of how he saw the world and I saw my own views, I saw what could have been my very own words. I read about how he was in love with science, how he wanted to share this love with the world and how his heart ached with joy at the understanding science granted him. And for the first time in my life, I felt as if I was no longer alone. I read on, seeing more of my inner thoughts written out by someone else, as if they had seen into my mind and pulled the thoughts out to use for their own.

From that day on, I no longer felt alone. But I also knew that the mind I had finally found that was similar to my own, was gone. That Carl Sagan had died many years ago and that the book I had read was published only two years before he left us. Part of me grieved. I had never met Carl Sagan, but I felt I knew him better then most ever could have, because I felt our minds were so alike.

Part of me felt cheated. That I did not known more about Carl Sagan when he was alive. That if only someone had shown me some of his non-fiction writing I could have at least reached out to him while he was alive and thanked him. That I wouldn't have spent so much time feeling alone. That I could have told him how much it meant to me to know that another feels the same as I do. But I will never get that chance.

One of Carl Sagan's life long ambitions was to spread knowledge as far as he could. To reach out and share his love of the universe with others. To make others fall in love as he had. And he did this well. He touched so many lives. He inspired an entire generation of scientists. There are few people who have done more to change the world, to help sculpt future minds and societal views. To leave humanity, as a whole, in a better state then when he first entered it.

Carl Sagan accomplished much in his life time. In my own life, I have created a few purposes. One of the most important ones is to spread what knowledge I have. I came to this conclusion on my own, long before I read about Carl Sagan's views. I would like to think, if he were to be able to read this, that he would have preferred that. That I was able to come to this realization on my own. As he was always for letting people understand and develop. I do not hope to emulate Carl Sagan, I could not do that if I tried. He was a great person, one of the greatest our species has ever known. But what I do hope to do is continue his legacy. To spread forth his ideals and his wisdom. To take it in and make it a part of me, just as I have with everything else I have learned. In this manner, I hope to honor his memory. And while I know you will never be able to read this, thank you, Carl Sagan, for helping me understand and be happy with who I am.
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1 comment:

Patricia LaRaia said...

Thank you for your comments about Carl Sagan. I was introduced to him when the TV series Cosmos aired. I can say that I would not be the same person I am today without his views. Although all his books are brilliant, I believe "Science as a Candle in the Dark" was by far, the most significant. He was indeed one of the finest we'll ever see...