The following is a conversation with Anne Drouin, writer, producer, director, and one
of the most important and impactful communicators of science in our time.
She co wrote the 1980 science documentary series Cosmos hosted by Carl Sagan, whom she
married in 1981 and her love for whom, with the help of NASA, was recorded as brainwaves
on a golden record along with other things our civilization has to offer and launched
into space on the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft that are now, 42 years later, still
active, reaching out farther into deep space than any human made object ever has.
This was a profound and beautiful decision Anne made as the creative director of NASA’s
Voyager Interstellar Message Project.
In 2014 she went on to create the second season of Cosmos, called Cosmos A Space Time Odyssey,
in 2020 the new third season called Cosmos Possible Worlds, which is being released this
upcoming Monday, March 9th.
It is hosted, once again, by the fun and the brilliant Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Carl Sagan, Anne Drouin, and Cosmos have inspired millions of scientists and curious minds across
several generations by revealing the magic, the power, the beauty of science.
I am one such curious mind, and if you listened to this podcast, you may know that Elon Musk
is as well.
He graciously agreed to read Carl Sagan’s words about the pale blue dot in my second
conversation with him.
If you listened, there was an interesting and inspiring twist at the end.
This is the Artificial Intelligence Podcast, if you enjoy it, subscribe on YouTube, give
it 5 stars on Apple Podcast, support it on Patreon, or connect with me on Twitter at
Lex Friedman, spelled F R I D M A N.
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And now, here’s my conversation with Anne Drouin.
What is the role of science in our society?
Well, I think of what Einstein said when he opened the 1939 New York World’s Fair.
He said, if science is ever to fulfill its mission the way art has done, it must penetrate.
Its inner meaning must penetrate the consciousness of everyone.
And so for me, especially in a civilization dependent on high technology and science,
one that aspires to be democratic, it’s critical that the public, as informed decision makers,
understand the values and the methods and the rules of science.
So you think about what you just mentioned, the values and the methods and the rules and
maybe the technology that science produces, but what about sort of the beauty, the mystery
Well, you’ve touched on what I think is for me, that’s how my way into science is that
for me, it’s much more spiritually uplifting.
The revelations of science, the collective revelations of really countless generations
of searchers and the little tiny bit we know about reality is the greatest joy for me because
I think that it relates to the idea of love.
What is love that is based on illusion about the other?
That’s not love.
Love is seeing, unflinching the other and accepting with all your heart.
And to me, knowing the universe as it is, or the little bit that we’re able to understand
at this point is the purest kind of love.
And therefore, you know, how can our philosophy, our religion, if it’s rootless in nature,
how can it really be true?
I just don’t understand.
So I think you need science to get a sense of the real romance of life and the great
experience of being awake in the cosmos.
So the fact that we know so little, the humbling nature of that, and you kind of connect love
to that, but isn’t it also, isn’t it scary?
Why is it so inspiring, do you think?
Why is it so beautiful that we know so little?
Well, first of all, as Socrates thought, you know, knowing that you know little is knowing,
really knowing something, knowing more than others.
And it’s that voice whispering in our heads, you know, you might be wrong, which I think
is not only it’s really healthy because we’re so imperfect, we’re human, of course, but
also, you know, love to me is the feeling that you always want to go deeper, get closer.
You can’t get enough of it.
You can’t get close enough, deep enough.
So and that’s what science is always saying is science is never simply content with its
understanding of any aspect of nature.
It’s always saying it’s always finding that even smaller cosmos beneath.
So I think the two are very much parallel.
So you said that love is not an illusion.
No, it’s not.
What is love?
What is love is, is knowing, for me, love is, is knowing something deeply and still
being completely gratified by it, you know, and wanting to know more.
So what is love?
What is loving someone, a person, let’s say deeply is not idealizing them, not putting
some kind of subjective projection on them, but knowing them as they are.
And so for me, for me, the only aperture to that knowing about nature, the universe is
science because it has that error correcting mechanism that most of the stuff that we do
You know, you could say the Bill of Rights is kind of an error correcting mechanism,
which is one of the things I really appreciate about the society in which I live to the extent
that it’s upheld and we keep faith with it and the same with science.
It’s like we will give you the highest rewards we have for proving us wrong about something.
That’s why, that’s why in only 400 years since Galileo’s first look through a telescope,
we could get from this really dim, vague, this vague apprehension of another world to
sending our eyes and our senses there or even to going beyond.
So it is, it is, it delivers the goods like nothing else, you know, it really, it delivers
the goods because it’s always, it’s always self aware of its fallibility.
So on that topic, I’d like to ask your opinion and a feeling I have that I’m not sure what
to do with, which is the, the skeptical aspect of science.
So the modern skeptics community and just in general, certain scientists, many scientists,
maybe most scientists that apply the scientific method are kind of rigorous in that application.
And they, it feels like sometimes miss out some of the ideas outside the reaches, just
slightly outside of the reach of science.
And they don’t dare to sort of dream or think of revolutionary ideas that others will call
crazy in this particular moment.
So how do you think about the skeptical aspect of science that is really good at sort of
keeping us in check, keeping us humble, but, but at the same time, sort of the kind of
dreams that you and Carl Sagan have inspired in the world, it kind of shuts it down sometimes
a little bit.
I mean, I think it’s up to the individual, but for me, you know, I was so ridiculously
fortunate in that I, my tutorial in science, because I’m not a scientist and I wasn’t trained
in science, was 20 years of days and nights with Carl Sagan.
And the wonder, I think the reason Carl remains so beloved, well, I think there are many reasons,
but at the root of it is the fact that his skepticism was never at the cost of his wonder
and his wonder was never at the cost of his skepticism.
So he couldn’t fool himself into believing something he wanted to believe because it
made him feel good at the other.
But on the other hand, he recognized that what science, what nature is, it’s really,
it’s good enough, you know, it’s way better than our fantasies.
And so if you, if you’re that kind of person who loves happiness, loves life and your eyes
are wide open and you read everything you can get your hands on and you spend years
studying what is known so far about the universe, then you have that capacity, a really infinite
capacity to be alive, but all, and also at the same time to be very rigorous about what
you’re willing to believe.
For Carl, I don’t think he ever felt that his skepticism cost him anything because again,
it comes back to love.
He wanted to know what Nietzsche really was like, not to inflict his, you know, preconceived
notions on what he wanted it to be.
So you can’t go wrong because it doesn’t, you know, I mean, you know, I think the pale
blue dot is the, is a perfect example of this, of his massive achievement is to say, okay,
or the Voyager record is another example is here we have this mission, our first reconnaissance
of the outer solar system.
Well, how can we make it a mission in which we absolutely squeeze every drop of consciousness
and understanding from it?
We don’t have to be scientists and then be human beings.
I think that’s the tragedy of Western civilization is that it’s, you know, when it’s one of its
greatest gifts has been science and yet at the same time, it believing that we are the
children of a disappointed father, a tyrant who puts us in a maximum security prison and
calls it paradise, who looks at us, who watches us every moment and hates us for being our
human selves, you know?
And then most of all, what is our great sin?
It’s partaking of the tree of knowledge, which is our greatest gift as humans.
This pattern recognition, this ability to see things and then synthesize them and jump
to conclusions about them and test those conclusions.
So I think the reason that in literature, in movies, the scientist is a figure of alienation,
a figure, you know, oh, you see these biopics about scientists and yeah, he might’ve been
great, but you know, he was missing in ship.
You know, he was a lousy husband.
He lacked, you know, the kind of spiritual understanding that maybe, you know, his wife
had and it’s always in the end and they come around, but to me, that’s a false dichotomy
that we are, you know, to the extent that we are aware of our surroundings and understand
them, which is what science makes it possible for us to do, we’re even more alive.
So you mentioned a million awesome things there, let’s even just, can you tell me about
the Voyager one and two spacecraft and the interstellar message project and that whole
just fascinating world leading up to.
One of my favorite subjects, I love talking about it.
I’ll never get over it.
I’ll never be able to really wrap my head around the reality of it, the truth of it.
What is it first of all?
What’s the Voyager spacecraft?
Okay, so Voyagers one and two were our first reconnaissance mission of what was then considered
the outer solar system and it was a gift of gravity.
The idea that swinging around these worlds gives you a gravitational assist, which ultimately
will send you out of the solar system to wander the Milky Way galaxy for one to five billion
So Voyager gave us our first close up look of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune.
It discovered new moons.
It discovered volcanoes on Io.
Its achievements are astonishing.
And remember, this is technology from the early to mid 1970s.
And it’s still active.
We talked to Voyager a few days ago.
We talked to it, in fact, a year ago, I think it was.
We needed to slightly change the attitude of the spacecraft.
And so we fired up its thrusters for the first time since 1987.
Did they work?
It was as if you had left your car in the garage in 1987.
And you put the key in the ignition because you use keys then in the ignition and it turned
over the first time you stepped on the gas.
And so that’s the genius of the engineering of Voyager.
And Carl was one of the key participants in imagining what its mission would be because
it was a gift actually of the fact that every 175 years, plus or minus, there is an alignment
of the worlds.
And so you could send two spacecraft to these other worlds and photograph them and use your
mass spectrometer and all the other devices on Voyager to really explore these worlds.
And it’s the farthest spacecraft, it’s the farthest human creation away from us today.
These two spacecraft not only gave us our first close up look at hundreds of moons and
planets, these four giant planets, but also it told us the shape of the solar system as
it moves through the galaxy because there were two of them going in different directions
and they finally, and they arrived at a place called the heliopause, which is where the
wind from the sun, the solar wind dies down and the interstellar medium begins.
And both Voyagers were the first spacecraft that we had that could tell us when that happened.
So it’s a consummate, I think it’s the greatest scientific achievement of the 20th century.
And engineering in some sense.
Engineering, I mean really, you know, Voyager is doing this on less energy than you have
in your toaster, something like 11 Watts.
So okay, but because of this gravitational assist, both Voyagers were destined, as I
say, to, first of all, they were supposed to function for a dozen years and now it’s
42 years since launch and we’re still talking to them.
So that’s amazing.
But prior to launch, almost a year, eight, nine months prior to launch, it was decided
that since Frank Drake and Carl Sagan and Linda Solzman Sagan had created something
called the Pioneer 10 Plaque for the Pioneer spacecraft that preceded Voyager, which was
kind of like a license plate for the planet Earth, you know, man and a woman, hands up,
you know, very, very basic, but very effective.
And it captured the imagination of people all over the world.
And so NASA turned to Frank and to Carl and said, we’d like you to do a message for Voyager
because if it’s going to be circumnavigating the Milky Way galaxy for one to five billion
years, you know, it’s like 20 trips around the galaxy.
And there’s a very small chance that a space faring civilization would be able to flag
one of them down.
And so on board, you see this exquisite golden disc with scientific hieroglyphics explaining
our address and various basic scientific concepts that we believe that would be common to any
space faring civilization.
And then beneath this exquisite golden disc is the Voyager record, the golden record.
And it contains something like 118 photographs, images of life on Earth, as well as 27 pieces
of music from all around the world.
Many people describe it as the invention of world music.
World music was not a concept that existed before the Voyager record.
And we were determined to take our music, not just from the dominant technical cultures,
but from all of the rich cultural heritage of the Earth.
And there’s a sound essay, which is a kind of using a microphone as a camera to tell
the story of the Earth, beginning with its geological sounds and moving into biology
and then into technology.
And I think what you were getting at is that at the end of this sound essay, I had asked
Carl if it were, in the making of the record, it was my honor to be the creative director
of the project, if it was possible to, if I had meditated for an hour while I was hooked
up so that every single signal that was coming from my brain, my body, was recorded and then
converted into sound for the record.
Was it possible that these putative extraterrestrials of the distant future, of perhaps a billion
years from now, would be able to reconstitute this message and to understand it?
And he just, big smile, you know, and just said, well, hey, a billion years is a long
It’s a long time.
Go do it.
And so I did this.
And what were you thinking about in the meditation?
Like what, I mean, it’s such an interesting idea of recording as you think about things.
What were you thinking about?
So I was blindfolded and couldn’t hear anything.
And I had made a mental itinerary of exactly where I wanted to go.
I was truly humbled by the idea that these thoughts could conceivably touch the distant
Yeah, that’s incredible.
So in 1977, there are some 60,000 nuclear weapons on the planet.
The Soviet Union and the United States are engaged in a, you know, to the death competition.
And so I began by trying to tell the history of the planet in, you know, to my limited
ability what I understood about the story of the early existence of the planet, about
the origin of life, about the evolution of life, about the history of humans, about our
current at that time predicament, about the fact that one in five of us was starving or
unable to get potable water.
And so I sort of gave a kind of, you know, as general a picture as I possibly could of
And I also was very newly within days of the moment when Carl and I fell in love with each
We had fallen in love with each other long before because we’d known each other for years,
but it was the first time that we had expressed our feelings for each other.
Acknowledged it, the existence of this love.
Yes, because we were both involved with other people and it was a completely outside his
morality and mine to even broach the subject.
But it was only days after that it happened.
And for me, it was a eureka moment.
It was in the context of finding that piece of Chinese music that was worthy to represent
one of the oldest musical traditions on earth when those of us who worked on the Voyager
record were completely ignorant about Chinese music.
And so that had been a constant challenge for me, talking to professors of Chinese music,
listening to musicologists everywhere and all through the project, desperately trying
to find this one piece.
Found the piece, lived on the Upper West Side, found the piece, a professor at Columbia University
gave it to me.
And of all the people I talked to, everyone had said, that’s hopeless.
You can’t do that.
There can’t be one piece of Chinese music.
But he was completely, no problem, I’ve got it.
And so he told me the story of the piece, which only made it an even greater candidate
for the record.
And I listened to it, called Carl Sagan, who was in Tucson, Arizona addressing the American
Society of Newspaper Editors.
And I left him a message, hotel message center.
And he called me back an hour later.
And I heard this beautiful voice say, I get back to my hotel room, and I find this message
that Annie called.
And I asked myself, why didn’t you leave me this message 10 years ago?
My heart was beating out of my chest.
I, it was for me a kind of eureka moment, a scientific breakthrough, a truth, a great
truth had suddenly been revealed.
And of course, I was awkward and didn’t really know what to say.
And so I blurted something out like, oh, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that, Carl,
which wasn’t really true.
I never would have talked to him about it.
We had been alone countless times.
We humans are so awkward in these moments and these amazing moments.
And I just said, for keeps.
And he thought for a very brief, like a second and said, you mean get married?
And I said, yeah.
And he said, yeah.
And we put down the phone.
And I literally was jumping around my apartment like a lunatic, because it was so obvious,
you know, it was something like, of course.
And then the phone rang again.
And I thought, damn, no, he’s going to say, I don’t know what I was saying.
I am married.
I have a kid.
I’m not going to do this, you know?
But he was like, I just want to make sure that that really happened.
And I said, yeah.
And he said, we’re getting married.
And I said, yeah, we’re getting married.
Now this was June 1st, 1977.
The records had not been affixed to the spacecraft yet.
And there had been a lot of controversy about what we were doing.
I should say that among the 118 pictures was an image of a man and a woman, frontally,
And there was, I believe, a congressman on the floor that said, NASA to send smut to
the stars, you know?
And so NASA really, they got very upset and they said, you can’t send a picture.
And we had done it so that it was so brilliant.
It was like this lovely couple, completely naked.
And then the next image was a kind of overlay schematic to show the fetus inside this woman
that was developing.
And then that went off into, you know, additional imagery of human reproduction.
And it really hit me that how much we hate ourselves, that we couldn’t bear to be seen
as we are.
So in some sense that congressman also represents our society.
Perhaps his opposition should have been included as well.
Well, that was one of the most vigorous debates during the making of the record with the,
you know, the five, six people that we collaborated with was, do we show, do we only put our best
Or do we show Hiroshima, Auschwitz, the Congo, what we have done?
What do you think represents humanity?
If you kind of, if you think about it, do our darker moments, are they essential for
All the wars we’ve been through, all the tortures and the suffering and the cruelty.
Is that essential for happiness, for beauty, for creation, generally speaking?
Well, certainly not essential for happiness or beauty, that’s for sure.
I mean, it’s part of who we are, if we’re going to be real about it, which is, you know,
I think we tell on ourselves, even if we don’t want to be real, we, you know, I think that
if you’re a spacefaring civilization, and you’ve gotten it together sufficiently, that
you can move from world to world, then I think they probably took one look at this derelict
spacecraft and they knew that these were people in their technological adolescence, and they
were just setting forth, and they must have had these issues, you know, because it’s,
and so it really, you know, that’s the great thing about lying is that a lie only has a
It’s like, if like a great work of art that’s a forgery, people can be fooled immediately,
but 10 or 15 years, 20 years later, they start to look at it and, you know, they begin to
realize the lens, our lens of our present is coloring everything that we see.
So you know, I think it didn’t matter that we didn’t show our atrocities.
They would fill in the blanks.
So let me sort of ask, you’ve mentioned how unlikely it is that you and Carl did two souls
like yours would meet in this vast world.
What are your views on how and why incredibly unlikely things like these nevertheless do
It’s purely to me, chance.
It’s totally random.
It’s a just, I mean, but, and the fact is, is that some people are, and it’s happening
every day right now.
Some people are the random casualties of chance and that, and I don’t just mean the people
who are being, you know, destroyed in childhood, in wartime, I’m also, or the people who starved
to death because of famine, but also the people who, you know, who are not living to the fullest,
all of these things.
And I think there’s a, my parents met on the subway in rush hour.
And so I’m only here with you because of the most random possible situation.
And so I’ve had this, a sense of this, even before I knew Carl, I always felt this way
that I only existed because of the generosity of the rush hour, no, of just all of the things,
all of the skeins of causality.
It’s interesting because, you know, the rush hour is a source of stress for a lot of people,
but clearly in its moments, it can also be a source of something beautiful.
Of strangers meeting and so on.
So everything, everything is, has a possibility of doing something beautiful.
So let me ask sort of a quick tangent on the Voyager, this, this beautiful romantic notion
that Voyager One is sort of our farthest human reach into space.
If you think of what, I don’t know if you’ve seen, but what Elon Musk did with putting
the Roadster, letting it fly out into space, there’s a sort of humor to it.
I think that’s also kind of interesting, but maybe you can comment on that.
But in general, if now that we are developing what we were venturing out into space again
in a more serious way, what kind of stuff that represent since Voyager was launched,
should we send out as a followup?
Is there things that you think that’s developed in the next, in the 40 years after that we
should update the spacefaring aliens?
Well, of course now we could send the worldwide, we could send everything that’s on the worldwide
We could send, I mean, you know, that was a time when we’re talking about photograph records
and transistor radios and, you know, so we tried to be, to take advantage of the existing
technology to the fullest extent, you know, the computer that was hooked up to me from
my brainwaves and my heart sounds while I was meditating was, you know, the size of
a gigantic room.
And I’m sure it’s not that, it didn’t have the power of a phone, as the phone has now.
So you know, now we could just, I think we could let it all hang out and just like send,
you know, every week.
I mean, that’s the wonder, like I would send, you know, Wikipedia or something and not be
a gatekeeper, but show who we are.
You were also, it’s interesting because one of the problems of the internet of having
so much information is it’s actually the curation, the human curation is still the powerful,
So what you did with the record is actually, is exactly the right process.
It’s kind of boiling down a massive amount of possibilities of what you could send into
something that represents, you know, the better angels of our nature or represents our humanity.
So if you think about, you know, what would you send from the internet as opposed to sending
all of Wikipedia, for example, all human knowledge, is there something just new that we’ve developed,
you think, or fundamentally we’re still the same kind of human species?
I think fundamentally we’re the same, but we have advanced to an astonishing degree
in our capacity for data retrieval and for transmission.
And so, you know, I would send YouTube, I would send, you know, really like think of
all the, you know, I still feel so lucky that there’s any great musical artist of the last
hundred years who I revere, I can just find them and watch them and listen to them.
And you know, that’s fantastic.
I also love how democratic it is that we each become curators and that we each decide those
Now, I may not agree with, you know, the choices that everyone makes, but of course not because
that’s not the point.
The point is, is that we are, you know, we have discovered largely through the internet
that we are an intercommunicating organism and that can only be good.
So you could also send now, Cosmos.
Yes, I’d love to.
I would be proud to.
I mean, you’ve spoken about a very specific voice that Cosmos had in that it reveals the
magic of science.
I think you said shamanic journey of it and not the details of the latest breakthroughs
or so on.
Just revealing the magic.
Can you try to describe what this voice of Cosmos is with the follow up and the new Cosmos
that you’re working on now?
Yes, well, the dream of Cosmos is really like Einstein’s quote, you know, it’s the idea
of the awesome power of science to be in absolutely everyone’s hands.
You know, it belongs to all of us.
It’s not the preserve of a priesthood.
It’s just the community of science is becoming more diverse and being less exclusive than
it was guilty of in the not so recent past.
The discoveries of science, our understanding of the Cosmos that we live in has really grown
by leaps and bounds and probably we’ve learned more in the last hundred years about it.
You know, the tempo of discovery has picked up so rapidly.
And so the idea of Cosmos from the 1970s when Carl and I and Steven Soder, another astronomer,
first imagined it was that interweaving not only of the scientific concepts and revelations
and using, you know, cinematic VFX to take the viewer on this transporting, uplifting
journey but also the stories of the searchers.
Because the more I have learned about, you know, the process of science through my life
with Carl and sense, the more I am really persuaded that it’s that adherence to the
facts and to that adherence to that little approximation, that little bit of reality
that we’ve been able to get our hands around is something that we desperately need and
it doesn’t matter if you are a scientist.
In fact, the people, it matters even more if you’re not.
And since, you know, the level of science teaching has been fairly or unfairly maligned
and the idea that once there was such a thing as a television network, which of course has
now evolved into many other things, the idea that you could in the most democratic way
make accessible to absolutely everyone and most especially people who don’t even realize
that they have an interest in a subject or who feel so intimidated by the jargon of science
and its kind of exclusive history.
The idea that we could do this and, you know, in season two of Cosmos, the Space Time Odyssey,
we were in 181 countries in the space of two weeks.
It was the largest rollout in television history, which is really amazing for a, there is no
science based programming.
By the way, just to clarify, the series was rolled out, so it was shown in not that many
You said we were in.
Well, our show was in 180 countries.
Yeah, the show, which is incredible.
I mean, the hundreds of millions, whatever that number is, the people that watched it,
it’s just, it’s crazy.
It’s so crazy that, for instance, my son had a cerebral hemorrhage a year ago and the doctor
who saved his life in a very dangerous situation.
When he realized that, you know, that Sam and I were who we were, he said, that’s why
You know, he said, if you come of age in a poor country like Colombia and Carl Sagan
calls you to science when you’re a child, then, then, you know, you go to medicine because
that’s the only avenue open to you, but that’s why I’m here.
And I’ve heard that story and I hear that story, I think every week.
How does that make you feel?
I mean, the number of scientists, I mean, a lot of it is quiet, right?
But the number of scientists Cosmos has created is just countless.
I mean, it probably touched a lot of, I don’t know, probably it could be a crazy number
of the 90% of scientists or something that have been.
I would love to do that census because I, because that’s the greatest gratification,
because that’s the dream of science.
That’s the whole idea is that if it belongs to all of us and not just a tiny few, then
we have some chance of determining how it’s used.
And if it’s only in the hands of people whose only, whose only interests are the balance
sheet or hegemony over other nations or things like that, then it’ll probably end up being
a gun aimed at our heads.
But if it’s distributed in the widest possible way, a capability that we now have because
of our technology, then the chance is that it will be used with wisdom.
That’s the dream of it.
So that’s why we did the first Cosmos.
We wanted to take not just, as I say, the scientific information, but also tell the
stories of these searchers.
Because for us, and for me, carrying on this series in the second and third seasons, the
primary interest was that we wouldn’t tell a story unless it was a kind of a threefer.
It was not just a way to understand a new scientific idea, but it was also a way to
understand what, if it matters what’s true, how the world can change for us and how we
can be protected.
And if it doesn’t matter what’s true, then we’re in grave danger because we have the
capability to not only destroy ourselves and our civilization, but to take so many species
And I’d like to talk to you about that particular, sort of the dangers of ourselves in a little
bit, but sort of to linger on Cosmos.
Maybe for the first, the 1980 and the 2014 follow up, what’s a, or one of the, or several
memorable moments from the creation of either of those seasons?
Well, you know, the critical thing really was the fact that Seth MacFarlane became art
champion because I had been with three colleagues, I had been schlepping around from network
to network with a treatment for Cosmos and every network said they wanted to do it, but
they wouldn’t give me creative control and they wouldn’t give me enough money to make
it cinematic and to make it feel like you’re really going on an adventure.
And so I think both of those things, sorry to interrupt, both of those things are given
what Cosmos represents, the legacy of it and the legacy of Carl Sagan is essential control,
especially in the modern world.
It’s wonderful that you sought control, that you did not really push it.
And I kept saying no.
And my partners, I’m sure, you know, they would look at me like I was nuts, you know,
and they probably must have entertained the idea that maybe I didn’t really want to do
it, you know, because I was afraid or something, but I kept saying no.
And it wasn’t until I met Seth MacFarlane and he took me to Fox and to Peter Rice and
said, you know, I’ll pay for half the pilot if I have to, you know, and Peter Rice was
like, put your money away.
And in every time since, in the 10 years since, at every turn, when we needed Seth to intervene
on our behalf, he stood up and he did it.
And so that was like, in a way, that is the watershed for me of everything that followed
And I was so lucky because, you know, Steve Soder and I written the original Cosmos with
Carl and collaborated on the treatment for season two.
And then Brennan Braga came into our project at the perfect moment and has proven to be
just the, really, I have been so lucky my whole life.
I’ve collaborated, I’ve been lucky with the people, my collaborators have been extraordinary.
And so that was a critical thing.
But also to have, you know, for instance, our astonishing VFX supervisor who comes from
the movies, who heads the global association of VFX people, Jeff Okun.
And then, you know, I could rattle off 10 more names, I’d be happy to do that.
And it was that collaboration.
So the people were essential to the creation of…
I mean, when it came down, I have to say that when it came down to the vision of what the
series would be, that was me sitting in my home, looking out the window and, you know,
really imagining like what I wanted to do.
Can you pause on that for a second?
Like what’s that process?
Because it, you know, Cosmos is also, it’s grounded in science, of course, but it’s also
incredibly imaginative and the words used are carefully crafted.
If you can talk about the process of that, the big picture, imaginative thinking, and
sort of the rigorous crafting of words that like basically turns into something like poetry.
Thank you so much.
For me, these are rare occasions for human self esteem.
The scientists that we bring to life in Cosmos are people, in my view, who have everything
we need to see us through this current crisis.
They’re, very often they come, they’re poor, they’re female, they’re outsiders who are
not expected to have gifts that are so prodigious, but they persevere.
And so you have someone like Michael Faraday, who comes from a family, dysfunctional family
of like 14 people and, you know, it never goes to, university never learns the math.
But, you know, is the, you know, there’s Einstein years later looking up at the picture of Faraday
to inspire him.
So it’s, you know, if we had people with that kind of humility and unselfishness who didn’t
want to patent everything, as, you know, Michael Faraday created the wealth of the 20th century
with his various inventions.
And yet he never took out a single patent at a time when people were patenting everything
because that was not what he was about.
And to me, that’s a kind of almost a saintliness that says that, you know, here’s a man who
finds in his life, this tremendous gratification from searching.
And it’s just so impressive to me.
And there are so many other people in Cosmos, especially the new season of Cosmos, which
is called Possible Worlds.
Possible, beautiful title.
Possible Worlds, well, I stole it from an author and a scientist from the 1940s.
But it, for me, encapsulates not just, you know, the exoplanets that we’ve begun to discover,
not just, you know, the worlds that we might visit, but also the world that this could
be, a hopeful vision of the future.
You asked me what is common to all three seasons of Cosmos or what is that voice?
It’s a voice of hope.
It’s a voice that says there is a future which we bring to life in, I think, a fairly dazzling
fashion that we can still have, you know?
And in sitting down to imagine what this season would be, the new season would be, I’m sitting
where I live in Ithaca, beautiful, just gorgeous place, trees everywhere, waterfalls, I’m sitting
there thinking, well, you know, you can’t, how do you, how do you awaken people?
I mean, you can’t yell at them and say we’re all going to die, you know?
It doesn’t help.
But I think if you give them a vision of the future that’s not pie in the sky, but something,
ways in which science can be redemptive, can actually remediate our future.
We have those capabilities right now, as well as the capabilities to do things in the Cosmos
that we could be doing right now, but we’re not doing them.
Not because we don’t know how to, how, you know, with the engineering or the material
sciences or the physics, we know all we need to know, but we’re a little bit paralyzed
in some sense.
And you know, we’re like, I always think we’re like the toddler, you know, like we, we left
our mother’s legs, you know, and scurried out to the moon.
And we had a moment of, wow, we can do this.
And then we realized, and somehow we had a failure of nerve and we went scurrying back
to our mother and, you know, did things that really weren’t going to get us out there,
like the space shuttle, things like that, because it was a kind of failure of nerve.
So Cosmos is about overcoming those fears.
We’re now as a civilization, ready to be a teenager venturing out into college.
We’re returning back.
And that’s one of my theories about our current situation is that this is our adolescence.
And I was a total mess as an adolescent.
I was reckless, irresponsible, totally.
I didn’t, I was inconsiderate.
I, the reality of other people’s feelings and the future didn’t exist for me.
So why should a technologically adolescent civilization be any different?
But you know, the vast majority of people I know made it through that period and went
on to be more wise.
And that’s what my hope is for our civilization.
On a sort of a darker and more difficult subject in terms of, so you just talked about the
Cosmos being an inspiration for science and for us growing out of our messy adolescence,
but nevertheless, there is threats in this world.
So do you worry about existential threats?
Like you mentioned nuclear weapons, do you worry about nuclear war?
And if you could also maybe comment, I don’t know how much you’ve thought about it, but
there’s folks like Elon Musk who are worried about the existential threats of artificial
Sort of our robotic computer creations sort of resulting in us humans losing control.
So can you speak to the things that worry you in terms of existential concerns?
All of the above.
You don’t have to be silly, you know, like not to think and not to look at, for instance,
our rapidly burgeoning capability in artificial intelligence.
And to see how sick so much of the planet is not to be concerned.
And sick is an evil potentially.
Well, how much cruelty and brutality is happening at this very moment?
And I would put climate change higher up on that list, because I believe that there are
unforeseen discoveries that we are making right now, for instance, all that methane
that’s coming out of the ocean floor that was sequestered because of the permafrost,
which is now melting.
You know, I think there are other effects besides our greed and short term thinking
that we are triggering now with all the greenhouse gases we’re putting into the atmosphere.
And that worries me day and night.
I think about it every single, every moment, really, because I really think that’s how
we have to be.
We have to begin to really focus on how grave the challenge is to our civilization and to
the other species that are.
It’s a mass, this is a mass extinction event that we’re living through.
And we’re seeing it.
We’re seeing news of it every day.
So what do you think about another touchy subject, but what do you think about the politicization
of science on topics like global warming and bionic stem cell research and other topics
What’s your sense?
What do you mean by the politicization of global warming?
Meaning that if you say, I think what you just said, which is a global warming is a
serious concern, it’s human caused and maybe some detrimental effects.
Certainly there’s a large percent of the population of the United States that would, as opposed
to listening to that statement, would immediately think, oh, that’s just a liberal talking point.
That’s what I mean by politicization.
I think that’s not so true anymore.
I don’t think our problem is a population that’s skeptical about climate change because
I think that the extreme weather and fire events that we are experiencing with such
frequency is really gotten to people.
I think that there are people in leadership positions who choose to ignore it and to pretend
it’s not there, but ultimately I think they will be rejected.
The question is, will it be fast enough?
I think actually that most people have really finally taken the reality of global climate
change to heart and they look at their children and grandchildren and they don’t feel good
because they come from a world which was in many ways, in terms of climate, fairly familiar
and benign and they know that we’re headed in another direction and it’s not just that,
it’s what we do to the oceans, the rivers, the air.
You ask me, what is the message of cosmos?
It’s that we have to think in longer terms.
I think of the Soviet Union and the United States in the Cold War and they’re ready to
kill each other over these two different views of the distribution of resources.
But neither of them has a form of human social organization that thinks in terms of a hundred
years, let alone a thousand years, which are the time scales that science speaks in.
And that’s part of the problem is that we have to get a grip on reality and where we’re
headed and I’m not fatalistic at all, but I do feel like, and in setting out to do this
series each season, we were talking about climate change in the original cosmos in episode
four and warning about inadvertent climate modification in 1980.
And of course, Carl did his PhD thesis on the greenhouse effect on Venus and he was
painfully cognizant of what a runaway greenhouse effect would do to our planet.
And not only that, but the climatic history of the planet, which we go into in great detail
in the series.
So yeah, I mean, how are we going to get a grip on this if not through some kind of understanding
Can I just say one more thing about science is that its powers of prophecy are astonishing.
You launch a spacecraft in 1977 and you know where each and every planet in the solar system
is going to be and every moon and you rendezvous with that flawlessly and you exceed the design
specifications of the greatest dreams of the engineers.
And then you go on to explore the Milky Way galaxy and you do it, I mean, you know, the
climate scientists, some of the people whose stories we tell in cosmos, their predictions
were, and they were working with very early computer modeling capabilities, they have
proven to be so robust, nuclear winter, all of these things.
This is a prophetic power and yet how crazy that, you know, it’s like the Romans with
their lead cooking pots and their lead pipes or the Aztecs ripping out their own people’s
This is us.
We know better and yet we are acting as if it’s business as usual.
Yeah, the beautiful complexity of human nature, speaking of which, let me ask a tough question
I guess because there’s so many possible answers, but what aspect of life here on earth do you
find most fascinating from the origin of life, the evolutionary process itself, the origin
of the human mind, so intelligence, some of the technological developments going on now
or us venturing out into space or space exploration, what just inspires you?
Oh, they all inspire me.
Every one of those inspire me, but I have to say that to me at the origin of, as I’ve
gotten older, to me, the origin of life has become less interesting because I feel, well,
not because it’s more, I think I understand, I have a better grasp of how it might’ve happened.
Do you think it was a huge leap?
I think it was a, we are a byproduct of geophysics and I think it’s not, my suspicion of course,
which is take it with a grain of salt, but my suspicion is that it happens more often
and more places than we like to think because after all the history of our thinking about
ourselves has been a constant series of demotions in which we’ve had to realize, no, no, so
to me that’s…
We’re not at the center of the solar system.
And the origin of consciousness is to me also not so amazing if you think of it as going
back to these one celled organisms of a billion years ago who had to know, well, if I go higher
up, I’ll get too much sun and if I go lower down, I’ll be protected from UV rays, things
They had to know that or you, I eat, me, I don’t.
I mean, even that, I can see if you know that, then knowing what we know now, it’s just,
it’s not so hard to fathom.
It seems like, I’ve never believed there was a duality between our minds and our bodies
and I think that even consciousness, all those interesting things seem to me, except one
of the things…
A byproduct of geophysics.
Yeah, all of chemistry, yes, geochemistry, geophysics, absolutely.
It makes perfect sense to me and it doesn’t make it any less wondrous.
It doesn’t rob it at all of the wonder of it.
And so, yeah, I think that’s amazing.
I think we tell the story of someone you have never heard of, I guarantee, and I think you’re
very knowledgeable on the subject, who was more responsible for our ability to venture
out to other worlds than anyone else and who was completely forgotten.
And so, those are the kinds of stories I like best for Cosmos because…
Can you tell me who?
No, I’m going to make you watch this series, I’m going to make you buy my book, but I’m
just saying, this person would be forgotten, but the way that we do Cosmos is that I ask
a question to myself, I really want to get to the bottom to the answer and keep going
deeper, deeper until we find what the story is, a story that I know because I’m not a
If it moves me, if it moves me, then I want to tell it and other people will be moved.
Do you ponder mortality, human mortality, and maybe even your own mortality?
Oh, all the time.
I just turned 70, so yeah, I think about it a lot.
I mean, it’s, you know, how can you not think about it?
What do you make of this short life of ours, I mean, let me ask a sort of another way,
you’ve lost Carl, and speaking of mortality, if you could be, if you could choose immortality,
you know, it’s possible that science allows us to live much, much longer.
Is that something you would choose for yourself, for Carl, for you?
Well, for Carl, definitely.
I would have, you know, in a nanosecond, I would take that deal.
But not for me.
I mean, if Carl were alive, yes, I would want to live forever because I know it would be
Would it be fun forever?
I don’t know.
That’s the essential nature of the…
I don’t know.
It’s just that the universe is so full of so many wonderful things to discover that
it feels like it would be fun.
But no, I don’t want to live forever.
I have had a magical life.
I just, you know, my craziest dreams have come true.
And I feel, you know, forgive me, but this crazy quirk of fate that put my most joyful,
deepest feelings, feelings that decades later, 42 years later, I know how real, how true
those feelings were.
Everything that happened after that was an affirmation of how true those feelings were.
And so, I don’t feel that way.
I feel like I have gotten so much more than my share, not just my extraordinary life with
Carl, my family, my parents, my children, my friends, the places that I’ve been able
to explore, the books I’ve read, the music I’ve heard.
So I feel like, you know, if it would be much better if instead of working on the immortality
of the lucky few of the most privileged people in this society, I would really like to see
a concerted effort for us to get our act together, you know?
That to me is topic A, more pressing, you know, this possible world, that is the challenge.
And we’re at a kind of moment where if we can make that choice.
So immortality doesn’t really interest me.
I really, I love nature and I have to say that because I’m a product of nature, I recognize
that it’s great gifts and it’s great cruelty.
Well, I don’t think there’s a better way to end it, and thank you so much for talking
It was an honor.
Oh, it’s wonderful.
I really appreciate it.
I really enjoyed it.
I thought your questions were great.
Thanks for listening to this conversation with Ann Druyan, and thank you to our presenting
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And now let me leave you with some words of wisdom from Carl Sagan.
What an astonishing thing a book is.
It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny
But one glance at it, and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead
for thousands of years.
Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly
Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions.
Finding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs.
Books break the shackles of time.
A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.
Thank you for listening, and hope to see you next time.