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Contrary to the fantasies of the fundamentalists, there was no deathbed conversion, no last minute refuge taken in a comforting vision of a heaven or an afterlife. For Carl, what mattered most was what was true, not merely what would make us feel better. Even at this moment when anyone would be forgiven for turning away from the reality of our situation, Carl was unflinching. As we looked deeply into each other's eyes, it was with a shared conviction that our wondrous life together was ending forever.
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It takes a fearless, unflinching love and deep humility to accept the universe as it is. The most effective way he knew to accomplish that, the most powerful tool at his disposal, was the scientific method, which over time winnows out deception. It can't give you absolute truth because science is a permanent revolution, always subject to revision, but it can give you successive approximations of reality.
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Science has carried us to the gateway to the universe. And yet our conception of our surroundings remains the disproportionate view of the still-small child. We are spiritually and culturally paralyzed, unable to face the vastness, to embrace our lack of centrality and find our actual place in the fabric of nature. We batter this planet as if we had someplace else to go. That we even do science is a hopeful glimmer of mental health. However, it's not enough merely to accept these insights intellectually while we cling to a spiritual ideology that is not only rootless in nature but also, in many ways, contemptuous of what is natural.
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The aspirations of democracy are based on the notion of an informed citizenry, capable of making wise decisions. The choices we are asked to make become increasingly complex. They require the longer-term thinking and greater tolerance for ambiguity that science fosters. The new economy is predicated on a continuous pipeline of scientific and technological innovation. It can not exist without workers and consumers who are mathematically and scientifically literate.
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When my husband died, because he was so famous and known for not being a believer, many people would come up to me-it still sometimes happens-and ask me if Carl changed at the end and converted to a belief in an afterlife. They also frequently ask me if I think I will see him again. Carl faced his death with unflagging courage and never sought refuge in illusions. The tragedy was that we knew we would never see each other again. I don't ever expect to be reunited with Carl. But, the great thing is that when we were together, for nearly twenty years, we lived with a vivid appreciation of how brief and precious life is. We never trivialized the meaning of death by pretending it was anything other than a final parting. Every single moment that we were alive and we were together was miraculous-not miraculous in the sense of inexplicable or supernatural. We knew we were beneficiaries of chance... That pure chance could be so generous and so kind... That we could find each other, as Carl wrote so beautifully in Cosmos, you know, in the vastness of space and the immensity of time... That we could be together for twenty years. That is something which sustains me and it's much more meaningful... The way he treated me and the way I treated him, the way we took care of each other and our family, while he lived. That is so much more important than the idea I will see him someday. I don't think I'll ever see Carl again. But I saw him. We saw each other. We found each other in the cosmos, and that was wonderful.
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Even if it's very late at night. Someone's always awake in the world. But of all those things you could think up for people to be doing, I think going hungry would have to be your safest bet. Going hungry, pushing each other around, leaving bombs, breaking promises, leaving nothing. It happens far away all the time. But sometimes near. We're almost two kinds of people. Some of us see it on the evening news or read about it in the morning paper. And some of us get hurt. But, you know we all get hurt. Because even if you live in a very nice house like I do, sooner or later the lies and the fires have got to burn you.
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We are living in a society that is totally dependent on science and high technology, and yet most of us are effectively alienated and excluded from its workings, from the values of science, the methods of science, and the language of science. A good place to start would be for as many of us as possible to begin to understand the decision-making and the basis for those decisions, and to act independently and not be manipulated into thinking one thing or another, but to learn how to think. That's what science does.
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I believe that we are a story-driven species and that we understand how things are put together, in the context of narrative. It's a shame that science hasn't been taught that way, in a long time. It's usually the fact completely devoid of any human experience or any idea of how the scientist came to that conclusion.