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Book Review:
The Varieties of Scientific Experience
by Carl Sagan
Reviewed by Jon Lomberg

Published posthumously in 2006, this book is based on Saganís 1985 Gifford Lectures, a prestigious series of talks delivered annually in Scotland since 1888. The speakers are pre-eminent in their fields. One of them, William James, gave a series called The Varieties of Religious Experience. Saganís title is a play on that name. In these lectures the astronomer confronted directly the religious question he was so often asked at his lectures: Do you believe in God?

Saganís discussion of the topic is perceptive, original, and artfully expressed. In a time when science literacy among the citizenry is low and trending lower, this book presents the case for both the necessity and the advantages of science-as-worldview. I think it is one of his most powerful and important books. It shows how extraordinary people can continue to contribute even after their deaths, an afterlife I think even Carl would have acknowledged.

Now the Canadian author and scholar John Robert Colombo has published an essay comparing the Sagan lectures with those of William James. I commend it to your attention at:
http://ccwe.wordpress.com/2012/05/09/john-robert-colombo-william-james-carl-sagan-two-gifford-lectures/
John Robert Colombo is a distinguished Canadian author and man of letters. I had the pleasure of working with him on another Sagan project: the DVD Visions of Mars, an anthology of science fiction about Mars, now aboard NASAís Phoenix lander, somewhere in Mars arctic tundra, awaiting a readership of future Mars colonists from Earth centuries from now.

Colomboís encyclopedic literary knowledge reached across borders and languages to help assemble the greatest cultural variety of contents. He was equally at home commenting on the authors of pulp fiction of the 1930s or unearthing an obscure review by Jorge Luis Borges of of Ray Bradburyís classic The Martian Chronicles (also on the disk) Colombo also collected the Inuit name of Mars, which appears on the title screen of Visions of Mars (top left vertical script ).

John Robert was on the editorial board which also included Carl, Planetary Society Director Louis Friedman (who was the originator of the whole library-to-Mars idea) Toronto science fiction librarian Lorna Toolis, me, and Judith Merrill.

Colombo and I had became friends through Judy , a famous sf editor and writer who, as it happens, was an idol of the young Carl Sagan. When he was a student at the University of Chicago, Carl even asked her to critique some science fiction he had written. I hope those stories surface someday!

In 1975 I arranged a reunion dinner for them in Toronto at Mikaís Japanese restautant, near the old CBC Radio building on Jarvis St. in Toronto, where Judy and I were making radio shows for the CBC documentary program IDEAS . Also in attendance was IDEAS producer Max Allen, with whom I was making a radio documentary about the Viking Mars mission. 20 years later Max made important contributions to Visions of Mars, including recording the sound and image of both Judy and Carl for the Greetings section of the Mars disk. They, and Louis Friedman and Arthur C. Clarke, voice their greetings to a future audience of humans on Mars.

I enjoy recalling how this extended network of friends and colleagues performed a kind of creative dance over the decades, working on projects that in one way or another brought us all together to Mars, part of a gift now actually, incredibly on Mars, stalwart silica awaiting its future audience.

Thatís another of kind afterlife that I think Carl would have been pleased to acknowledge.


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