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[HIT Forum] Sasha Sagan underscores tolerance for ambiguity in understanding universe

By Lee Yoon-seo

Published : Oct. 11, 2023 - 15:08

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Sasha Sagan delivers a keynote speech at The 2023 Korea Herald Humanity In Tech at The Shilla Seoul on Wednesday. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald) Sasha Sagan delivers a keynote speech at The 2023 Korea Herald Humanity In Tech at The Shilla Seoul on Wednesday. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald)

Sasha Sagan, renowned author and daughter of the late American astronomer and cosmologist Carl Sagan, delivered the keynote speech for The 2023 Korea Herald Humanity In Tech on Wednesday, highlighting the need to tolerate ambiguity in rapidly changing times.

"Thank you so much to everyone at the Korea Herald for inviting me here today. I have always wanted to visit Seoul and I am truly delighted to be here," said Sagan during the forum, held at The Shilla Seoul.

Sagan pointed out during her speech that mankind may be prone to unease and anxiety in the face of ambiguity, especially during such turbulent times.

"We are on the cusp of so much change, some for the best, perhaps not," she said.

"The unknown is and always has been a paradox for us. It calls to us, but it also tortures us. Our inability to predict the future is a constant source of stress," she added.

According to Sagan, in response to such uncertainty, mankind often craves black and white answers -- so much so that they tend to get complacent with placeholder answers just to feel secure.

In the face of the endless possibilities the universe may offer, mankind must strive to embrace the unknown with confidence, Sagan stressed.

"In science, even the most sure we can be always leaves room for change, for more information, for a deeper understanding. That is the beauty of it. One of the many beauties," she said.

During her speech, Sagan also referenced her father, who is one of the most acclaimed and celebrated astronomers of the 20th century. In 1980, Carl Sagan collaborated with his wife Ann Druyan to narrate and co-write the TV series, "Cosmos: A Personal Voyage," which led to his international recognition. The show, which garnered an audience of over 500 million viewers across 60 countries, was followed by Carl Sagan's bestselling book "Cosmos," which sold more than 40 million copies worldwide.

According to Sagan, her father was a firm advocate for embracing the unknown. For example, when faced with central questions such as the existence of extraterrestrial beings, he refrained from offering rushed answers.

"My dad was orthodox in his evidence-based philosophy. He truly didn’t want to just believe, he wanted to know," said Sagan.

"There is something almost radical about this approach. I admire it so deeply. We humans struggle so much with the unpleasantness of having an empty space where we want an answer," she said.

Sagan stressed that humanity faces yet another paradox, one in which the deeper humanity's understanding of the universe is, the smaller we tend to feel.

"It can be so uncomfortable to ponder. Our smallness in the vastness is stressful, it makes us anxious," she said.

"The right answer is worth the wait. And worth the sometimes-painful flexibility it takes to adapt to new information," she added.