Hi there! My book For Small Creatures Such As We: Rituals for Finding Meaning in Our Unlikely World is about finding the wonder and awe in the universe as revealed by science, growing up with my wonderful parents, Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan, as well as how we might finds ways celebrate, mark time and mourn without religion. I am very new to Reddit and extremely prone to typos, but I love questions!
Here's a link to my book: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/566611/for-small-creatures-such-as-we-by-sasha-sagan/
And here's my website: sashasagan.com
You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram @sashasagan
Thank you all SO MUCH! I had the best time doing this. Your questions were excellent! Have wonderful day!
I loved your book! I have several questions.
1) What was the most interesting or memorable ritual that you learned about and why?
2) When I left my religion, I was often depressed. I longed for a greater sense of meaning and above all for an afterlife. I hated the notion that I would one day be separated from everyone I love and that the separation would be eternal. Do you ever wish that there were an afterlife whose existence we could know with absolute certainty?
3) How are you mom and brother doing?
4) I know your father's first wife, Lynn, past away several years ago. In addition to your father, she was also always an inspiration to me. Did you (or your mom) keep in touch with her? What about with Linda, Dorion, Jeremy, and Nick? How are they doing?
Hi! Thank you! 1). There were lots but I am totally obsessed with the land diving in Vanuatu described in the Coming of Age chapter 2). I'm sorry. That must have been incredibly hard. I do of course miss my dad and other people I have lost. Sometimes I can't get over the finality of death, it's so shocking. But I also think that if life went on forever (even in a different place) it would not be as special, meaningful or as amazing as it is. 3). They're great! Sam is texting me right now, very distracting! 4). I knew Lynn well and loved her. My brothers and Linda Sagan are in part of my life and I love them all. Very lucky to have big, (sometimes complicated!) family.
Let me say first of all how deeply I loved your book. It reminded me strongly of your fathers but it had a quality completely your own as well. I'm looking forward to reading your work for decades to come.
Do you think religion and spirituality will come with us to the stars? If we are lucky enough to survive our technological adolescence and explore this universe do you think our descendants will have supernatural and esoteric beliefs? Or does a certain level of technological sophistication preclude religious belief?
Again, huge fan of your work. Honored to be able to put a question to your brain.
Thank you so much! Really appreciate your kind words! And great question. I think we will always have some stories that have deep meaning for us and will be taken as metaphor by some and literally by others. But I think those stories will change radically over time, especially when our perspective changes as dramatically as it would if and when we leave this planet.
Hi, glad to see you on Reddit.
I love your piece that you wrote a few years ago about lessons your dad taught you about mortality and immortality. I wish I had known about his work earlier than 2009 at age 19.
I have a lighter question than the others so far, about your dad. Did he enjoy the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes? I get the sense he'd've especially liked the Spaceman Spiff segments.
YES! I still have 5 or 6 Calvin & Hobbes books he bought me and we spent lots of time reading them together. Great call.
I could ask so many questions. Your father is basically my favorite person ever.
I want to inspire my 10 YO daughter to learn and be amazed by our universe the way your dad inspired me. Can you give me any advice on how an old man that's obsessed with physics, mysteries and the universe, such as myself, can inspire a young girl to feel the same way? It's tough to compete with all the distractions aimed at kids and teens today.
Oh this is a great question! The only formula I can think of is enthusiasm! I think that can go a long way. And maybe letting her lead. Since science is at the core of everything, maybe there's a way to show her how physics (or another branch) connects to something she's already into?
When your dad made breakfast, did he talk about how the pancakes were made of "star stuff"? Also when he mentioned "star stuff", did you ever say "I KNOW DAD!"?
Hahaha not exactly but I did definitely say "I KNOW DAD" from time to time. He did often find new and interesting ways to share his sense of wonder.
I am not a religious person - in fact I’m much more of the opinion that it’s a net negative more frequently due to its second and third order effects than it is a net positive.
How would you describe the key differences between being religious, spirituality, and ritualistic?
I often hear people say, “well if religion makes that person happier and a better person, let them practice.” What are your thoughts on that statement?
Religions across the globe have been exposed for awful traditions (evangelicals for pray the gay away camps, Catholics for molesting little boys etc etc etc). Through your experiences with rituals and celebrations, have you had any moral conundrums where you feel the practice is morally/ethically wrong?
I think rituals and traditions are not intrinsically good because they're old, if someone is being hurt that is totally different to me than something that's neutral or innately positive. I think human beings need to process change like births, deaths, coming-of-age, changing seasons and that's why we have created so many rituals. Those of us who don't believe still need those touchstones in some form. For me what is so powerful about science is not that it's always perfect, or always used for good, but that there is an error-correcting mechanism. Challenging what everyone believes can be the pathway to new understanding, questioning is good, that which cannot stand up to scrutiny must fall away. I think that's a good approach if your goal is to gain the deepest possible understanding of our universe as it really is. (I don't begrudge anyone else their faith, I just have a different outlook)
What is your most fondest memory of your father? Seeing how he’s touched so many peoples lives I’m also curious to know how he was when the cameras weren’t on him.
I am so lucky because I have many, but one that just popped into my mind was when I was little, like elementary school age, on weekends he would sometimes take me to his classroom at Cornell and let me pretend to be the teacher and ask questions and he would raise his hand and pretend to be the students in the class and I LOVED that.
What was your family life like? Your dad was such an important figure to me it's difficult to imagine him as flawed. What was your relationship with him like?
What is your family life like now? Do you have any relationships with your various half siblings? Is your family all scientifically minded or do even the Sagans have a redneck uncle who drinks too much and talks politics at dinner?
Well, everyone is flawed in ways, and he had foibles, but he was a truly wonderful person and I really am lucky I got 14 years with him. I do have relationships with my half brothers and am especially close to Nick.... and to answer your last question: I mean, everyone has a few wacky relatives! What fun would it be if we didn't?!
Hi Sasha! Your book is AMAZING and I'm so grateful to have come across your wisdom. Your parents have both had a huge influence on my life, and not a day goes by where their words aren't with me in some capacity. Thank you for carrying on their legacy with such wit and compassion.
Anyway, I loved your book recommendations at the end of your For Small Creatures. I was curious if you've come across any books since then that have had a big impact on you? Any recommendations? Anything you're currently reading? Thank you for your insights!
Thank you so much, Nich! Means a lot. I have been reading a lot of fiction since I finished the book because I spent so much time reading non-fiction leading up to and while I was writing. But I recently finished I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong and am almost done with SPQR by Mary Beard, both non-fiction I loved. I'm reading a few fiction books right now (I tend to read a few things at a time) and my fave is The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Hello, Sasha. How exactly did you go about finding rituals and celebrations to put in your book? Was it mostly word of mouth or did you find them from published sources such as books, articles, etc?
I read a lot, in some cases the experiences of friends and acquaintances spurred me on my research, but I tried to find the history and larger context whenever possible. So many amazing rituals in the world!
Hello Sasha. My question is very short and straight forward. How is your mother doing as of late?
Also: I plan on getting your book soon and I’m excited to read it! :)
She's amazing! I am so proud to be her daughter. Very inspired by her. And thank you! Love to know what you think when you read it.
Thank you so much!! If by planned you mean some non-linear sentence fragments in a word document then yes!
Hi, I loved your book! Wondering if you have had any thoughts of writing another book in the future, if so, any ideas on what the topic would be? Thanks!
Thank you! I would like write more books. Maybe a children's book next?
Hey Sasha, I just finished your book and I've read most of your parents' books, and watched their TV series as well. I think I speak for most people like me when I say that your dad would be proud to see your work today and who you've become. You're a wonderful human being and we need more people like you who understand the importance of empathy especially in our demon-haunted world. I'm about to become a certified teacher of science for grades 7-12 and this is my question:
How can educators like me keep that spark of curiosity and wonder alive in children as they enter their teen years and close off the doors to science? Every 3rd grader wants to be an astronaut, but a recent study found that's changing in the West. With the dawn of this upcoming 21st century space race, how can we push kids to go into STEM fields?
Thanks, I greatly appreciate your response in advance.
Wow, well first of all, thank you so much. For your very kind words and for your commitment to teaching young people! It's such a good question, and such a hard one. I think enthusiasm really helps and maybe taking away some of the stigma of being "wrong" or asking "silly" questions. We get so self-conscious as we become teens and are so worried about what others think, making mistakes or seeming imperfect, but that's antithetical to finding deeper understanding through science. Maybe if we emphasize the ways science and technology have improved our lives and changed our ideas, and how even brilliant people were sometimes totally wrong maybe that would help?
Thank you for your time Sasha, and I can't wait to read your book. What makes you feel optimistic for humans in 2020 and the future?
Thank you! I am generally a pretty optimistic person, although there are moments when that is really hard given the current state of things. I do feel that people's access to information and to one another (through the magic/science of technology) is hopeful. The idea that you could live in a place where no one thinks or feels the way you do, but on your phone you find someone, maybe on the other side of the planet, to share your ideas with is very moving and uplifting to me. I just hope that we find better ways to use critical thinking and skepticism as we navigate the information and misinformation out there!
Hi Sasha. I'm curious, did you ever consider following in your father's footsteps and becoming an astrophysicist?
Not really, to be honest. I think of this way, just as every Catholic is not a priest, everyone who sees science as the pathway to understanding is not necessarily a scientist as a profession. I was always naturally more drawn to history and literature, but I hope I've found a way to connect those interests to his work.
What can we do to make important people realise the importance of STEM. Can we change their perspective. (Should we?) Because once everyone can embrace the 'cosmos' we can do exciting things. Like more focus on space exploration than taming wars. If there are few basic things we can do on small level in our communities or localities, what would that be?
Great question! Number one, in my opinion, at least here in the US, would be to pay public school teachers WAY more money. Secondly, I think making STEM welcoming and warm, using the enthusiasm and joy of, for example, a great preacher would go a long way. STEM is so important and it's so thrilling, we just sometimes have trouble presenting it that way, I think.
Hi, what inspired you to right your book?
Hi! Great question. I was very inspired by my parents' work, but it was really when I was ready to become a mom that I started thinking about how we can celebrate, mark time and mourn without religion, with science as a source of awe and joy. Kids ask such deep questions and my husband and I wanted to prepare for those!
"Finding meaning in our unlikely world": do you think that there is meaning, pre-existing, out there in the world, and that when people experience meaning they are in some sense "discovering" it? Or is this more like a metaphor, and the meaning is actually within the people doing the experiencing?
I think our experience of meaning is specific to our experience of being human, a product of these brains that have evolved to recognize patterns and be curious. I don't have any compelling evidence to suggest there is an external source of meaning.
What scientific fact or theory inspires the most awe in you?
I still cannot get over DNA, blows my mind every single time.
I haven't read the book yet, but if your father was a big an influence on you as he was on me, I'm sure it is outstanding. <added to cart...> Demon Haunted World came out right around the end of high school and clearly influenced my early adulthood; I've purchased this book as a gift for many people who I've bonded with in intellectual curiosity. Doubtless your father was a significant influence; where else have you found influence? Also, Did you dad have, like, the worst dad jokes? This is how I imagine it...
Hahah, no his jokes were pretty good for the most part.... other than my parents I've been influenced by a lot of writers, two historians that pop into mind are Charles C. Mann and Karen Armstrong. Armstrong in particular has a different philosophical outlook than I have, but I love her writing and have learned so much from her books.
Hello Sasha! I wanted to know that if you're planning to write a book on your dad? A biography perhaps, because I guess you were the closest to him so you could tell us more about him and his ways of thinking! Thanks, have a good day :)
Oh thank you for you question. I've never really thought of that before. I think sometimes it could be hard to write a biography of someone you're so close to and love so dearly, but it's an interesting idea!
Hey Sasha, big fan!
to quote your dad. "The sky calls to us, if we do not destroy ourselves, we will one day venture to the stars."
Are you hopeful or pessimistic about our chances to cooperate on a global scale, maybe even to achieve things like "venturing to other stars".
We seem stuck in this perpetual state of war, hatred, nationalism and tribalism... and yet... is there reason to be optimistic?
I tend toward optimism because I think it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy (to borrow some theistic language!) and because we are indeed capable of great things. We do understand more than we ever have before and a great people do want to venture to other stars.
Could you offer any words of encouragement for those of us disheartened by the continuing rise in science denialism?
I feel you, I really do. But we are still moving in the right direction on the scale of millennia.
I'd simply ask how can I be in touch with you and everyone else in family and I'd like to be an Honorary 'Sagan' as in to carry out the legacy of Carl Sagan ❤ will I be inducted ? I want to be inducted as a family member is it possible? Thanks in advance!! @CosmicKid1598 on Twitter. My name is Akash 🤗❤
Hi Akash, you're very sweet, thank you! Luckily, we humans really are all one family!
I am an agnostic person looking to include more spiritual practice in my life
Do you have particular practices you recommend or enjoy the most?
How do you decide which rituals to adopt and which are not right for you?
I think this requires some good ol' trial & error. You;ll know what feels useful and fulfilling, I think. I also think part of the reason mindfulness and meditation are so popular right now among secular people is because we really do cave a little pattern to our days. I definitely do! I also think there are rituals we all do (say, making coffee!) that don't always feeling like rituals but can be little tiny celebrations of daily life.
Hi Sasha, congratulations on the book, and I look forward to reading it in 2020. Thank you for continuing to advocate for skepticism and wonder.
Like millions of others, your dad inspired my husband and myself. We affectionately refer to him as Carl as if we knew him and could be on a first-name basis. My husband is working his dream job at JPL in Pasadena, and I also recently published a novella inspired by your dad's ideas. It's a climate fiction and science fiction story featuring science-based religion. I'm sure you get solicited the lot, but it doesn't hurt to ask: could you find time to read a preview of it at some point? Your feedback would be invaluable, but I understand if you're too busy.
Hi! Thank you! Congrats to you on your book and your husband on his job at JPL, both very cool! You can email me through my website sashasagan.com and I'll do my best!