Thursday, November 7, 2013


Some think a famous sports figure with a contract with a shoe company is a hero. For others its a parent or someone who touched their life personally in a profound way.

For me it's someone who holds a beacon for us all. My heroes are Carl Sagan, Joseph Campbell and James Burke.

Carl Sagan, the astrochemist is probably most well-known as the creator of the landmark television documentary about the universe we live in, 'Cosmos'.
One of his best books was 'The Demon Haunted World', a treatise on the power of Science to act as a shining light in the current shadowed climate of superstition, religious zealotry and disdain for intellect.
Instead of embracing the unknown, people embrace unknowing - the dumbing-down of textbooks by the removal of things well known to any geneticist or organic chemist so as to cater to the narrow beliefs of a religious minority is only one of the symptoms. Psychics, astrology charts and horoscopes are commonly consulted. There's a tendency towards escapism instead of fixing the thing people are escaping from. Ignorance of every flavor and shade dressed up as knowledge surrounds us - and people are embracing this ignorance with open arms. Carl looks at the explosion of pseudoscience and "junk science" as integral components of modern culture and exposes them for the subversion of reason that they are.

Joseph Campbell is the author of "Hero With a Thousand Faces" and a number of television programs, most notably 'The Power of Myth' with Bill Moyers.
Joseph was a man of real wisdom who showed through his books and lectures on spirituality and comparative religion, a person can be both Spiritual and Religious without burning any bridges, without excluding anybody and, most importantly, without giving up Reason - we can be both Scientist and Pilgrim.
By finding the common threads of spirituality in all traditions, Joseph helped me realize long ago that there are many paths to one goal and Belief isn't always about us and them. Aboriginal shaman or Roman Catholic, Buddhist or Jew, Muslim or Hindu, Shinto or Zoroastrian, we all tell the same stories and are filled with the same light. The spark of the infinite is within and it is up to us to fan it into a bright flame, tempered by wisdom and knowledge, so that we may illuminate the way in these dark times.

James Burke is known for his books and television series about the interconnectedness of historical events. "Connections" and "The Day The Universe Changed" are probably his most well-known series and certainly my favorites. He shows how our growth of understanding of the universe around us changes the way we see the universe and, in effect, changes the universe itself - for example, the Sun no longer orbits the earth, does it?
James shows how events in history are connected to and influence other, sometimes seemingly-unrelated, events - everything is linked in an intricate web of cause and effect. History is not isolated events happening in a rigid linear timeline but a cross-pollination of events large and insignificant, near and far, obvious and hidden happening in a continuous matrix.
One of my favorite trails of cause and effect shows how Napoleon's invasion of Egypt was very important to the development of the modern computer:
1 - Napoleons troops, while in Egypt, buy up a lot of intricately woven shawls.
2 - When they get home, this starts a fashion craze for the complex fabrics.
3 - Looms are designed in Europe to copy these designs controlled with paper cards with holes punched in them.
4 - The American engineer Herman Hollerith borrows this the idea to automate the mechanical retrieval of census data with punched paper cards.
5 - Later, these cards are used to get data in and out of ENIAC, the first electronic computer.

I think Carl, Joseph and James slip right under most peoples' radar but, to me, they're examples for all of us, holding candles in the midst of the vast spiritual and mental darkness of pervasive ignorance, fear and superstition that I see so much of these days.

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