I don't have time to write a proper appreciation for Sagan, but fortunately John Scalzi at Whatever has already said what I would have said, only better.
When I was eleven, I thought Carl Sagan was the coolest guy in the world.I also cannot resist sharing with you this quote from Sagan's book about the brain and human evolution, The Dragons of Eden.
This is important stuff. Getting science in front of people in a way they can understand—without speaking down to them—is the way to get people to support science, and to understand that science is neither beyond their comprehension nor hostile to their beliefs. There need to be scientists and popularizers of good science who are of good will, who have patience and humor, and who are willing to sit with those who are skeptical or unknowing of science and show how science is already speaking their language. Sagan knew how to do this; he was uncommonly good at it.
The sun is so bright that the stars are invisible, despite the fact that they are just as present in our sky in the daytime as at night. When the sun sets, we are able to perceive the stars. In the same way, the brilliance of our most recent evolutionary accretion, the verbal abilities of the left hemisphere, obscures our awareness of the functions of the intuitive right hemisphere, which in our ancestors must have been the principal means of perceiving the world.I just cut-and-pasted this quote from a page on Sagan at Very Important Potheads ... because of the punchline in a footnote to this passage:
Marijuana is often described as improving our appreciation of and abilities in music, dance, art, pattern and sign recognition and our sensitivity to nonverbal communication. To the best of my knowledge, it is never reported as improving our ability to read and comprehend Ludwig Wittgenstein or Immanuel Kant; to calculate the stresses on bridges; or to compute Laplace transformations. Often the subject has difficulty even in writing down his thoughts coherently. I wonder if, rather than enhancing anything, the cannabinols (the active ingredients in marijuana) simply suppress the left hemisphere and permit the stars to come out. This may also be the objective of the meditative states of many Oriental religions.A very smart pothead friend of mine was fond of this comment, and there is something delightful about it.
Mind you, publishing this quote should not be taken as this blog encouraging young people to study astronomy while stoned.