Speaking of science …

Welcome back and Happy 2010 … so,

               I was only thirteen years old when I first heard of Carl Sagan. He was an astronomy professor at Cornell University at the same time that my uncle was an undergraduate there, and that was enough to interest me in what he had to say. Sagan had a program called Cosmos on PBS in 1980, and while my friends were still talking about Star Wars, I was more interested in finding out how (and if) we would ever get out into the stars. I don’t remember all the particulars of the series, just that it was the first time that I began to doubt that we would ever get out of our puny little solar system. It was also the first time that I really considered, in mathematical terms, how vast the universe is, and how very small we all are.

               But that realization didn’t dishearten me. Instead, Sagan’s presentation about the universe and all its wonders was very uplifting and awe inspiring. This was before we had pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope or rovers on Mars mind you, and still Sagan’s knowledge and enthusiasm for cosmology instilled in me this deep seated and lifelong love for science. Since then, I have read many of Sagan’s books and also found that my deepest, most profound questions have answers that are rooted in what science has discovered.

               This, however, didn’t stop me from becoming an English teacher, since what I loved was reading, and not doing science necessarily. But as an English teacher, I realized that I couldn’t share with my students much of the great science writing that I was enjoying. I couldn’t replace Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet with Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene or substitute an essay from Stephen Gould’s The Panda’s Thumb for Shirley Jackson’s short story, “The Lottery”. I found myself struggling for reasons to bring in essays and articles by Stephen Hawkings, Bertrand Russell, Charles Darwin, Roger Penrose, Daniel Dennett, and even the Amazing Randi.

               Needless to say, my new life as a librarian is very rewarding because I can share great writing and resources from areas other than “literature”. Now, with the ubiquity of audio and video, I can also recommend sites where people can stop in and listen to a lecture or discussion between some of the great minds of our time. Below you will find a few lectures, discussions and “debates” that I’ve been listening to recently. They are science related for the most part, and might not appeal to everyone, but I find it an amazing privilege to be able sit at my computer and be a fly on the wall while great minds discuss deep thoughts. (All videos come from YouTube, so you won’t be able to view them at school – thank you, filters.)

  • Carl Sagan – Intro to Cosmos: The great five minute introduction to the classic series that started me along the scientific journey. Though it may seem dated, it is not without its redeeming values, and remains a testament to Sagan’s ability to bring science to the masses. (Might be gone soon, since the poster doesn’t have copyrights to the vid)
  • Carl Sagan – God, the Universe, & Everything Else: A short video including Stephen Hawkings, Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan. If you’re not thrilled at the idea of seeing these three together, then you can forget about the other videos on this list … Go play Mafia Wars or find a lost black sheep at Farmville.
  • VS Ramachandran – The neurons that shaped civilization: From one of my favorite sites, TED Talks, this talk is less than eight minutes long, but is a fascinating discussion of recently discovered “mirror” neurons. These neurons, incidentally, have also been implicated in recent studies of Autism Spectrum Disorders including Asperger’s Syndrome.
  • Carl Sagan – The Pale Blue Dot: I’ve recommended this video before, and I have no reservations in repeating the recommendation. Sagan’s words are pure poetry, and when combined with haunting music and amazing images, his narrative becomes an eloquent plea for why we should care for each other and the Earth.
  • Richard Dawkins and Steven Weinberg: A great discussion between two giants in science; one a evolutionary biologist, the other a physicist. Don’t feel bad if you get lost during their conversation, just appreciate that you can sit in and listen. 
  • Andrea Ghez: The hunt for a supermassive black hole: According to TED Talks, this discussion deals “[w]ith new data from the Keck telescopes, Andrea Ghez shows how state-of-the-art adaptive optics are helping astronomers understand our universe’s most mysterious objects: black holes. She shares evidence that a supermassive black hole may be lurking at the center of the Milky Way. 
  • Lawrence Krauss discussion with Richard Dawkins: Two of the most vocal and eloquent proponents of Darwinism and evolution sit down and talk with amazing candor about the triumph of science over superstition and dark age mythologies. Enjoy.
  • Dr. Donald Prothero discusses Evolution: How We Know it Happened & Why it Matters: Another lecture in a long line of presentations available through YouTube that refute young Earth creationists and trumpet the importance of Darwin and his discoveries.
  • Richard Dawkins’ series, Waking Up in the Universe: Five talks presented as the Christmas Lectures in 1991, from Oxford University’s eminent professor. I wish I had these available to me when I was just a student in high school. Be sure to follow the links to see all five lectures.

Thank you for stopping by and I hope you find something interesting.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2010. All rights reserved.

About htwilson

born in brooklyn, raised in queens, massachusetts, that's where I be.
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One Response to Speaking of science …

  1. Try also Douglas R. Hofstadter specifically Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid and I am a Strange Loop.

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