Meeting 11.12.09 – Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos”

The DFS watched Episode 11: “The Persistence of Memory” of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos this past November. Here’s the video we watched for anyone who missed it — you can also catch the whole series on Hulu.

Read on for a recap of the meeting and video discussion.

Meeting Recap:

Around 10 members met. Discussed ongoing affiliation efforts, organizational goals, and future events. Tossed around ways to communicate what secular people do around the holidays for the December intercultural reception. A history of the winter holidays was a favored idea.

The group elected to watch episode 11, “The Persistence of Memory” of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. Discussion ensued.

Event Takeaways:

  • Though the series is old, only a little of the biological science is out of date, and the major themes remain extremely relevant today.
  • Sagan takes a unique approach to exploring memory by starting with DNA/heredity, moving into neuroscience, then to language (which he says was evolved for survival, to store what we couldn’t keep as a species in our brains/DNA) and books and computers (the internet being in its infancy at the time)
    • aka — genes >> brains >> books >> computers
    • and at each level he compares how many “bits” or “volumes” of information are stored (seems sort of exponential)
  • He also makes an interesting comparison to brain structure and city infrastructure — how we build on top of the old pathways (what I’ve heard called elsewhere “paving the cow-paths”) … as well as forging new ones in parallel (what he compares to having cars, trains, trolleys, horses, etc. all running side-by-side…the obsolete just sticks around unless it’s molded into something new)


  • “It takes a great deal of information to make, or even categorize, a living organism.”
  • “[Organisms] are packed with information. Every one of them has a rich, behavioral repertoire to ensure its survival.”
  • [after making whale sounds] “We’re interested in communication with extraterrestrial intelligence — wouldn’t it be better to improve communication with terrestrial intelligence?”
  • “The DNA knows.”
  • “The brain has evolved from the inside out.”
  • “Civilization is a product of the cerebral cortex.”
  • “We never see the machinery of logical analysis, only the conclusions.”
  • “No longer at the mercy of the reptile brains, we can change ourselves. Think of the possibilities.”
  • “The units of biological communication are genes; the units of cultural communication are ideas.”
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4 Responses to Meeting 11.12.09 – Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos”

  1. Andrew Gall says:

    If someone were any admin, they could back-date this 😉

  2. Jamie says:

    I did have it back-dated, but when we officially launched a certain president wanted a little introductory post 😛

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