Those who read this blog, I am a big fan of Carl Sagan. His television show Cosmos was amazingly influential in getting children interested in science in the 80’s. Before Cosmos, it was Mr. Wizard. But for people who grew up in the mid-nineties, our science shows were Bill Nye the Science Guy and its off color rival Beakman’s World.
Last week marked the birthday of one William Sanford Nye. AKA Bill Nye the Science Guy. In years after the end of of that initial show, Nye has not stood on the sideline. He has continued as a vocal activist for responsible, sustainable living practices, as well as for how our limited planetary exploration resources ought to be spent. He has developed two other series that celebrate scientific endeavors, 100 Greatest Discoveries and Greatest Inventions with Bill Nye. His 2005 PBS series, The Eyes of Nye, tackled hot-button issues like genetically modified food, global warming, and race. Now, through his latest show, Stuff Happens, Nye’s informing us about how to make consumer choices that will do the least harm.
Bill Nye has made the rare leap from science to ethics. He has been given great opportunity and privilege. Rather than use them solely for personal gain, he has put them to work for the betterment of life for all of us. For this effort, he was awarded the 2010 Humanist of the Year Award by the American Humanist Association. In his acceptance speech, he told this amazing story (if you’d rather watch, check out the video):
I remember as a kid standing on the beach and I recalled our third-grade teacher, Mrs. Cochrane, had told us that there were more stars in the sky than grains of sand on the beach. I didn’t articulate it this way but I remember thinking at the time, “Mrs. Cochrane, are you high?” I mean, if you stand in Delaware, it’s 1,500 nautical miles in each direction. There’s nothing but sand. When you dig down, you shuffle your feet, there’s more sand. When the tide goes out, there’s sand. It’s a sand festival. Sand, sand, sand. And yes, Mrs. Chochrane said, there are more stars than all of that.
It doesn’t take you long to then think, I really am not that different from a grain of sand. I am insignificant. If you look out at this so-called trackless ocean, if you go out there even a few nautical miles, you disappear. You have no idea where you are—am I near Delaware, am I near Papua New Guinea? You can’t really tell unless you’re very experienced. So I remember thinking, I’m just another speck of sand. And Earth, really, in the cosmic scheme of things, is another speck, and our sun—an unremarkable star, nothing special—is another speck. And the galaxy is a speck. I’m a speck on a speck orbiting a speck among other specks amongst still other specks in the middle of specklessness! I am insignificant! I suck.
But then, my friends, with our brains we can imagine all of this. It is with our brains that we can know our place in the universe. We can know our place in space, and that does not suck. That is worthy of respect. That is what’s so great. That is what’s so wonderful about humans.
Happy Birthday Bill. Thanks for everything.
-That is all.