Hey Bill Nye! What's Your Fondest Memory of Carl Sagan?
Science makes the heart grow fonder. Want proof? Just watch Bill Nye as he remembers time spent with the legendary cosmologist Carl Sagan.
Bill Nye, scientist, engineer, comedian, author, and inventor, is a man with a mission: to help foster a scientifically literate society, to help people everywhere understand and appreciate the science that makes our world work. Making science entertaining and accessible is something Bill has been doing most of his life.
In Seattle Nye began to combine his love of science with his flair for comedy, when he won the Steve Martin look-alike contest and developed dual careers as an engineer by day and a stand-up comic by night. Nye then quit his day engineering day job and made the transition to a night job as a comedy writer and performer on Seattle’s home-grown ensemble comedy show “Almost Live.” This is where “Bill Nye the Science Guy®” was born. The show appeared before Saturday Night Live and later on Comedy Central, originating at KING-TV, Seattle’s NBC affiliate.
While working on the Science Guy show, Nye won seven national Emmy Awards for writing, performing, and producing. The show won 18 Emmys in five years. In between creating the shows, he wrote five children’s books about science, including his latest title, “Bill Nye’s Great Big Book of Tiny Germs.”
Nye is the host of three currently-running television series. “The 100 Greatest Discoveries” airs on the Science Channel. “The Eyes of Nye” airs on PBS stations across the country.
Bill’s latest project is hosting a show on Planet Green called “Stuff Happens.” It’s about environmentally responsible choices that consumers can make as they go about their day and their shopping. Also, you’ll see Nye in his good-natured rivalry with his neighbor Ed Begley. They compete to see who can save the most energy and produce the smallest carbon footprint. Nye has 4,000 watts of solar power and a solar-boosted hot water system. There’s also the low water use garden and underground watering system. It’s fun for him; he’s an engineer with an energy conservation hobby.
Nye is currently the Executive Director of The Planetary Society, the world’s largest space interest organization.
Wesley: Hello Bill Nye the science guy. I am a guy, a YouTuber named Wesley and I wanted to ask you,since Carl Sagan was your mentor if I’m not mistaken, what is your fondest memory with your mentor, Carl Sagan? Take care and have a good day.
Bill Nye: So, my fondest memory with Carl Sagan—the fondest might be different from the most important. The fondest memory is: we were in class in the spring of 1977, just a few months before the Voyager spacecrafts were launched in August of that year. And these are the spacecrafts that have the golden disk, the record, phonograph record mounted on the side of them with the presumption that an alien civilization will find this, decode the resonance of the hydrogen atom binary symbology and figure out how to play a phonograph record from Earth at the right speed. It’s an extraordinary idea but it was cool. It was inspirational. It brought out the best in a lot of us. And Carl Sagan said, “What rock and roll song should we put on?” And he said, “We’re considering Roll Over Beethoven by Chuck Berry. And everybody said “No, Professor Sagan, no, not ‘Roll Over’. It’s a fine song but the song you want is Johnny B. Goode. Johnny B. Goode by Chuck Berry.” And so that is the song that is on the record, and that is a fond memory.
I may have led the charge, but I was in – my older sister listened to that music. She was from that time, of doo-wop and the beginnings of rock and roll. So I was very familiar with Chuck Berry and I thought “That’s great.” And so he changed it. Chuck Berry, Johnny B. Goode is the one that’s flying out into space on two spacecraft.
Than the most important memory I had with Carl Sagan, there’s no question—it was ten years later. I went to my college reunion in 1987 and I arranged with Carl Sagan’s assistant to spend about five minutes with him, maybe it was ten minutes which was a big – he was a superstar by then. He had done Cosmos. He was being asked to speak all the time. He had written these great books, award-winning books. And I asked him, I wanted to do this kids’ show about science, “What should I do? I’ve been doing demonstrations about bridges—“ and he says, “No, no, no. Don’t do engineering. Do science.” And then he said, “Kids resonate to pure science.” That was the verb he used – resonate. And that really stuck with me.
So if you ever watch the old Bill Nye The Science Guy shows we did our best to use, to show you pure science rather than technology. And the show we did about computers (which is nominally a show about technology) I did my best to focus on the big ideas: switches and binary and commands that take place without a human having to sit there and tap the button.
So that meeting with Carl Sagan in the end of May 1987 changed my life.
So the fondest memory was Johnny B. Goode. The most important one was resonate to science.
When Bill Nye was studying engineering at Cornell University, he took astronomy under none other than Carl Sagan. In the past, Nye has said that Sagan gave his lectures just as he presented the iconic television series Cosmos, and as an aspiring science educator himself, Nye was hugely inspired. So what are his fondest memories of the legendary cosmologist? There are two: one is Nye's favorite — where he convinced Sagan to make a monumental music choice regarding the 1977 Voyager golden record — and the other is his most important, when Sagan put him on the path to success with advice that formed the core of the Bill Nye the Science Guy show.
Bill Nye's most recent book is Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World.
Political activism may get people invested in politics, and affect urgently needed change, but it comes at the expense of tolerance and healthy democratic norms.
- Polarization and extreme partisanships have been on the rise in the United States.
- Political psychologist Diana Mutz argues that we need more deliberation, not political activism, to keep our democracy robust.
- Despite increased polarization, Americans still have more in common than we appear to.
Most elderly individuals' brains degrade over time, but some match — or even outperform — younger individuals on cognitive tests.
- "Super-agers" seem to escape the decline in cognitive function that affects most of the elderly population.
- New research suggests this is because of higher functional connectivity in key brain networks.
- It's not clear what the specific reason for this is, but research has uncovered several activities that encourage greater brain health in old age.
At some point in our 20s or 30s, something starts to change in our brains. They begin to shrink a little bit. The myelin that insulates our nerves begins to lose some of its integrity. Fewer and fewer chemical messages get sent as our brains make fewer neurotransmitters.
As we get older, these processes increase. Brain weight decreases by about 5 percent per decade after 40. The frontal lobe and hippocampus — areas related to memory encoding — begin to shrink mainly around 60 or 70. But this is just an unfortunate reality; you can't always be young, and things will begin to break down eventually. That's part of the reason why some individuals think that we should all hope for a life that ends by 75, before the worst effects of time sink in.
But this might be a touch premature. Some lucky individuals seem to resist these destructive forces working on our brains. In cognitive tests, these 80-year-old "super-agers" perform just as well as individuals in their 20s.
Just as sharp as the whippersnappers
To find out what's behind the phenomenon of super-agers, researchers conducted a study examining the brains and cognitive performances of two groups: 41 young adults between the ages of 18 and 35 and 40 older adults between the ages of 60 and 80.
First, the researchers administered a series of cognitive tests, like the California Verbal Learning Test (CVLT) and the Trail Making Test (TMT). Seventeen members of the older group scored at or above the mean scores of the younger group. That is, these 17 could be considered super-agers, performing at the same level as the younger study participants. Aside from these individuals, members of the older group tended to perform less well on the cognitive tests. Then, the researchers scanned all participants' brains in an fMRI, paying special attention to two portions of the brain: the default mode network and the salience network.
The default mode network is, as its name might suggest, a series of brain regions that are active by default — when we're not engaged in a task, they tend to show higher levels of activity. It also appears to be very related to thinking about one's self, thinking about others, as well as aspects of memory and thinking about the future.
The salience network is another network of brain regions, so named because it appears deeply linked to detecting and integrating salient emotional and sensory stimuli. (In neuroscience, saliency refers to how much an item "sticks out"). Both of these networks are also extremely important to overall cognitive function, and in super-agers, the activity in these networks was more coordinated than in their peers.
An image of the brain highlighting the regions associated with the default mode network.
How to ensure brain health in old age
While prior research has identified some genetic influences on how "gracefully" the brain ages, there are likely activities that can encourage brain health. "We hope to identify things we can prescribe for people that would help them be more like a superager," said Bradford Dickerson, one of the researchers in this study, in a statement. "It's not as likely to be a pill as more likely to be recommendations for lifestyle, diet, and exercise. That's one of the long-term goals of this study — to try to help people become superagers if they want to."
To date, there is some preliminary evidence of ways that you can keep your brain younger longer. For instance, more education and a cognitively demanding job predicts having higher cognitive abilities in old age. Generally speaking, the adage of "use it or lose it" appears to hold true; having a cognitively active lifestyle helps to protect your brain in old age. So, it might be tempting to fill your golden years with beer and reruns of CSI, but it's unlikely to help you keep your edge.
Aside from these intuitive ways to keep your brain healthy, regular exercise appears to boost cognitive health in old age, as Dickinson mentioned. Diet is also a protective factor, especially for diets delivering omega-3 fatty acids (which can be found in fish oil), polyphenols (found in dark chocolate!), vitamin D (egg yolks and sunlight), and the B vitamins (meat, eggs, and legumes). There's also evidence that having a healthy social life in old age can protect against cognitive decline.
For many, the physical decline associated with old age is an expected side effect of a life well-lived. But the idea that our intellect will also degrade can be a much scarier reality. Fortunately, the existence of super-agers shows that at the very least, we don't have to accept cognitive decline without a fight.
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