The sound recording below reminds me of the ambient drone surrounding the spacecraft that hovers over the barren lunar surface before Dr. Heywood Floyd and crew visit the obelisk in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, or maybe a group of highly focused Franciscan monks or possibly the very sound of time itself. This, of course, makes complete sense, because the track is of Carl Sagan saying the word “billions” one time, but stretched out over the span of an entire hour.
Sagan, host (obviously) of the original, pre-Neil DeGrasse Tyson Cosmos series sounds downright avant-garde in the listenable(?) piece that results from the supposed stretch.
John Kannenberg, a reader of the very cool, futurist io9 website apparently sent the recording to the site via Sound Cloud link recently. He asked simply, “This might be of interest?” io9 replies in their inevitable post that:
Yes. Yes, John, you beautiful genius. This is our wheelhouse.
As I write this, I’m sitting in my local library listening on headphones, and, oddly enough, it’s kind of great.
I’d like to join the folks at io9 in saying “Bravo, Mr. Kannenberg,” whoever you are.
Terra II is probably one of the least known of any of Leary’s books. However, when Leary wrote to Sagan, and included a copy, he wrote back, enthusiastically, about an in-person visit. People with Sagan’s reputation and level of success generally avoided Tim like the plague, but Sagan took him seriously enough to come to one of the worst prisons in the country to talk to “the most dangerous man in America” (as described by President Richard Nixon in 1970).
Terra II is a super rare book, it’s true. It was published by Leary’s common-law wife, Joanna Harcourt-Smith, while Leary was in Folsom State Prison and never properly distributed. According to the authoritative Annotated Bibliography of Timothy Leary by Michael Horowitz, Karen Walls and Billy Smith, only between 800 and 900 copies were printed. Most copies were probably sold to directly to supporters to raise money for Leary’s legal fees.
It took me years to get my hands on Terra II. It’s super far-out stuff and something I’ve found to be an object of intense fascination for years. I actually asked Tim Leary about it myself at his house in 1995 and I could tell immediately from his reaction that it was not something he really wanted to discuss (Robert Anton Wilson, who devoted quite a bit of space to the ideas presented in Terra II and Leary’s “Starseed Transmissions” pamphlet in his book Cosmic Trigger gave the topic a cold shoulder as well, as I wrote about here). I just love the idea of Carl Sagan reacting to the ideas in Terra II. Remarkable!
February 19, 1974
Thanks for your last note and the book TERRA II. I have no problems on chance mutations and natural selection as the working material for the evolutionary process. In fact, with what we now know about molecular biology, I see no way to avoid it. But I loved your remark about the “transgalactic gardening club.” Of course, if extraterrestrials are powerful enough, they can do anything, but I don’t think we can yet count on it. I’m enclosing an article on “Life” that I did for the Encyclopaedia Britannica which you might like.
On the basic requirements for interstellar exploration, I doubt if a manned expedition to Mars could be done within the next 25 years for less than $300 billion. Try really costing your spacecraft and see what it would cost. In fact, maybe the reason we haven’t been visited is that interstellar spaceflight, while technically possible, would beggar any planet which attempted it.
If we can do it, how would you like a visit from us in the last week in February? I have no idea what the visiting privileges are, but if your and my schedules permit, Linda and I would love to visit you in Vacaville on the morning of Thursday, February 28. Frank Drake has also expressed an interest in such a visit, as has our mutual acquaintance, Norman Zinberg of Harvard Medical School. What’s your feeling about it? Write to me at the St. Francis Hotel, San Francisco, where I’ll be staying beginning Sunday, February 24, and I’ll try to firm up the visit, if it seems possible, shortly thereafter.
With best wishes,
P.S. The enclosed poem, “The Other Night” by Dianne Ackermann of Cornell, is something I think we both resonate to. It’s unfinished so it shouldn’t yet be quoted publically.
The short film “Timothy Leary in Folsom Prison” was made in 1973 to raise money for Leary’s legal defense and keep his name out there. Leary discusses his jailbreak (intimating that the daughter of a United States senator he refuses to name helped him), the revolution in consciousness and drugs, Eldridge Cleaver and what it feels like to be an imprisoned philosopher. Leary was released from prison in 1976 by then—and current—California Governor Jerry Brown.
Today is the “birthday” of the launch of the Voyager 1, the farthest traveling man-made object we have sent into space to date and an amazing piece of research equipment that continues to provide us with immeasurably meaningful information about our universe. If you’re one of those arty nerd types like myself (who frankly, always had trouble with physics), you may well know it as the “Noah’s Arc” of mankind. Voyager 1 contained “The Golden Record”, a collection of mathematical equations, music, speech, and sounds that could someday be the first representative of humans to other life-forms, (“Murmurs of Earth - The Voyager Interstellar Record” has a more in depth assessment of the content). Ann Druyan (whose brain and body sounds are also on the record), was head of the Voyager Interstellar Message Project, the initiative behind the cultural message in a bottle. In one of the most lovely science romances of all time (I dare you to think of a better one), she and Carl Sagan fell in love over their mutual work on the project. They were married until his death in 1996.
And now, some words from my favorite pothead, waxing romantic on the universe, from his Cosmos: Carl Sagan series, co-written with Druyan.
Seth MacFarlane, creator of “Family Guy,” has donated funds to the Library of Congress so it can acquire the personal papers of astronomer Carl Sagan, library officials announced today. Via Art Beat:
Mr. MacFarlane never owned Sagan’s papers, but he covered the undisclosed costs of donating them to the library. The papers filled more than 800 filing-cabinet drawers and include correspondence with other scientists, drafts of Mr. Sagan’s academic articles, as well as screenplay drafts for the movie “Contact,” which was based on Mr. Sagan’s novel. His grade-school report cards and a drawing he made as a child about the future of space exploration were also included. “All I did was write a check, but it’s something that was, to me, worth every penny,” MacFarlane told The Associated Press by phone from Los Angeles. “He’s a man whose life’s work should be accessible to everybody.”
Mr. MacFarlane said he watched “Cosmos” as a child and read all of Mr. Sagan’s books. “He was an enormous and profound influence in my life,” Mr. MacFarlane said. “He played an essential role — some would say the only role at the time — in bridging the gap between the academic community and the general public.”
MacFarlane is forgetting about Jonathan Miller and Joseph Campbell, but point taken.
Mr. MacFarlane met Mr. Sagan’s widow and collaborator, Ann Druyan, at an event a few years ago that brought together Hollywood screenwriters and directors with scientists. They agreed to collaborate on a follow-up to “Cosmos,” with Mr. MacFarlane serving as producer. Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson will host the series, which is scheduled to begin production this fall.
Neil deGrasse Tyson taking up Carl Sagan’s mantle for a reboot of Cosmos produced by Seth MacFarlane? I’d watch that.
Someone alert reddit!
Speaking of Seth MacFarlane, his feature film debut, Ted, comes out later this week.
Below, an “edited for rednecks” version of Carl Sagan’s classic Cosmos TV miniseries from Family Guy.
In 1975, a year before NASA’s Viking 1 spacecraft orbited Mars, Orson Welles presented Who’s Out There?, a NASA produced documentary examining the “likely existence of non-Earthly life in the universe.”
Thirty-six years on, this is a fascinating piece of archive, and rather timely with the news that NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory is due to be launched in November in a bid to make the first precision landing on Mars in August 2012.
Starting with H G Wells novel, and his own infamous radio production of The War of the Worlds, Welles, together with Carl Sagan, George Wald, Richard Berendzen and Philip Morrison, explore what was then “the new view of extraterrestrial life now emerging from the results of probes to the planets,” and conclude that “other intelligent civilizations exist in the universe.”
Carl Sagan: The most optimistic estimates, in the view of many, about the number of civilizations that there might be in the galaxy is of the order of a million, which means that only one in a few hundred thousand stars has such civilizations.
George Wald: That would mean a billion such places just in our own galaxy that might contain life.
Philip Morrison: As I believe there’s a society of these groups, not just one, there’re probably very many. There’s only one, we have no hope of finding them; there’re probably thousands, maybe as many as a million. They probably already have had long history of this same experience, of finding new ones and bringing them into the network.
Carl Sagan: And I would imagine, an advanced civilization wanted to talk to us, they would say “Oh, look, those guys must be extremely backwards, go into some ancient museum and pull out one of those – what are they called – radio telescopes and beam it at them.”
In summation, Welles says:
In 1976 we’re going to be able to explore Mars for perhaps not so humble microorganisms. Before and after that, we’ll be searching the planets and the galaxies for clues to fill in the new patterns we’re discovering, the evolution of evolutions that has produced us and the possible millions of other civilizations….
...The difference between the spacecrafts of NASA and the lurid flying saucery of that old radio War of the Worlds is the difference between science and science fiction and, yes, between war and peace. It’s our own world which has turned out to be the interplanetary visitor; we’re the ones who are moving out there, not with death rays but with cameras, not to conquer but simply to learn. We are in fact behaving ourselves far better out there than we ever have back here at home on our own planet.
Bonus - Orson Welles directs The Mercury Theater’s radio production of The War of the Worlds
The Last Supper with scientists: Galileo Galilei, Marie Curie, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Isaac Newton, Louis Pasteur, Stephen Hawking, Albert Einstein, Carl Sagan, Thomas Edison, Aristotle, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Richard Dawkins and Charles Darwin.