M.A.S.T.E.R.s – Carl Sagan & Neil deGrasse Tyson

23 Nov

Oh you bet your sweet black ass we’re back. It’s time once again to tune that dial to the crystal-clear signal of the M.A.S.T.E.R.s, and let their warm and golden sound hum into your heart.

Today’s edition is particularly special. Today we induct not just one hero into our echoing halls, but two. I recognize that the primitive human brain is not capable of absorbing such catastrophic amounts of awe, but you and I are made of stronger stuff, aren’t we. I have every faith that your eyeballs won’t start bleeding from the sheer combined awesometivity of our newest pair of paragons, and if they do, I accept no responsibility. You’re reading this shit at your own risk, you know.

This week we slip the surly bonds of earth and dance the sky on laughter-silvered wings with two men who taught me, from within the sheltered dome of my childhood, to pause once in a while, and take the time to look up. Ladies and gentlemen: Carl Sagan, and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

You may never again gaze upon more magnificent men. Cherish the moment.

We’ll begin with Mr. Sagan. I really, really hope you know who he is. I literally can’t understand a world where people know who Snooki is, but have never heard of Carl Sagan. That’s wrong, in the same way that it would be wrong if we suddenly decided that the only qualification necessary for election to the office of Prime Minister was an affinity for pineapple. It would be a world gone topsy-turvy.

My priorities, however, are firmly in place. I know what’s important in life. I even know – and this may sound crazy, but hear me out – I know what’s wrong with the human race. Ready? Here it is: it’s that we don’t have a seventy-foot-tall silver Sagan statue in the centre of every major city.

But y’know what, Carl wouldn’t really be down with that. He was a humble man, despite his gargantuan effect on our understanding of the universe through which we’re currently catapulting. He grew up in a Brooklyn slum, the son of poor Jewish immigrants. His wonder at the universe began early; at the age of five he walked alone to the public library with a question burning inside his little mind: what are stars? His parents and friends couldn’t give him a clear answer. He needed to know more.

In his own words: “…the answer was stunning. It was that the Sun was a star but really close. The stars were suns, but so far away they were just little points of light … The scale of the universe suddenly opened up to me. It was a kind of religious experience. There was a magnificence to it, a grandeur, a scale which has never left me. Never ever left me.”

"...and I'm here to talk about the endless advantages of the common turtleneck."

It’s this quality you’ll notice as a recurring theme in this elongated sycophantic fit: Sagan possessed a sense of wonder at the universe which affected me profoundly. I indentified with it. I remember trying my best to read his Pale Blue Dot while I was still in grade six, finding its words lofty and baffling, but full of a truth I understood perfectly well. I’m kind of a Carl Sagan hipster; I liked him long before he became an internet icon, and to this day I’m (inexplicably) proud of that.

Sagan went on to become one of the world’s leading astrophysicists. He pioneered exobiology, wrote over 600 scientific papers and 20 books (among them recognizable titles like Cosmos, Broca’s Brain, Billions and Billions, and the aforementioned Pale Blue Dot), and popularized SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). He even campaigned for the legalization of cannabis – he was famously quoted (in an essay he signed as “Mr. X” (holy shit that’s awesome)) as saying “the illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world”.

And thus was born the noblest of memes.

He’s probably most famous, however, for his 1980 TV series Cosmos, in which he took viewers on half-hour tours throughout the universe in a (now hilariously dated) “futuristic” spaceship.  Over the course of the show, he took us to the fourth dimension, launched us to the speed of light, discovered a kinship with the wisdom of our ancestors, and – as far as my dumbass lizard brain is concerned – proved the existence of extraterrestrial life. Watch these clips and enjoy Carl’s nappy 70’s hairdo, his soft-looking turtlenecks, and his gentle, plodding, honey-brown baritone. God his voice is awesome. I have a few of his audiobooks and you can consider this an insider tip, gentlemen: listening to Carl Sagan literally makes you a better lover. Letting his dulcet tones lull you to sleep is the reason you wake up with a boner in the morning.


Carl Sagan, simply put, brought the unknowable down to earth and asked it questions. He held the universe up for us to scrutinize. He dared, like our ancient ancestors, to search for answers in an endless void. Carl Sagan moved us forward as a species. His work took place on a scale equaled only by the distant stars he loved so dearly. How many of us can claim such profound achievement as human beings?

Well…to be honest? This guy can:


If Carl Sagan was the father of modern astronomy, Neil deGrasse Tyson is his favourite son. He’s the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York, Research Associate in the Department of Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History, host of PBS’s NOVA ScienceNOW, and a stone cold fox.

Yes, that's the same dude. Sweet Jesus.

Tyson was on the NASA Advisory Council that was ultimately responsible for demoting Pluto from planet status in 2006, which earned him lots of hate mail from ignorant plebs and lots of respect from the scientific community. Personally I liked Pluto better as a planet, but if Neil says it, IT IS LAW.

The reason I like him so much is because he’s making science cool again. He’s responsible for reigniting the fire of curiosity in the youth of today. He’s essentially a big kid with a moustache – he has a mischevious sense of humour and boundless, infectious energy, especially when he’s talking about the universe. You watch videos of him and you can actually see him getting excited about the stuff he’s talking about. Check out this clip of him unboxing a model of the Saturn V rocket:


What a goof! You can’t not love him. He’s an excellent orator, peerless educator, and an irreplaceable successor to his mentor, Carl Sagan. In fact, he will soon be directly responsible for shepherding Carl’s legacy into the modern world: that’s right, Cosmos is coming back, and shucks if it ain’t Neil who’s gon’ be hostin’. I CAN’T WAIT.


What these two have taught me is the importance of inquisitiveness, skepticism, and wonder. They’ve brought home the reality of our fragile existence. They’ve made clear our folly as we spoil and drain and murder and rape the world we live in. No environmental message about saving the planet affects me as deeply as knowing how small, remote, and ignorant we really are, in the face of an unimaginably vast universe.

This image is probably a bit dated now, but we all know that it’s only getting worse. And while that’s very sad, all we need to do is pay more attention to guys like Carl and Neil, and maybe someday – if we can convince enough people to prioritize – we’ll move not backward, but upward, and do these incredible men proud.

/manlove finished


One Response to “M.A.S.T.E.R.s – Carl Sagan & Neil deGrasse Tyson”

  1. Your Father November 24, 2011 at 9:00 pm #

    I love the graphic about the disparity in worldwide spending on military vs. space exploration. It kind of reminds me of the disparity in the amount of fossil fuels consumed vs. renewable energy. Both are just wrong.

    Love dad.

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