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And so we come to the final episode of Cosmos. I remember learning, when I was 12 and watching Cosmos for the first time, that Cosmos wasn’t so much a series like the Waltons, that would return year after year (after year after year), but instead was a one-time event, never to be repeated. Sad.
This is one of my favorite episodes. There’s not a lot of new information, but I love the Hypatia story (true or not) and the comparison of the loss of Sophocles’ plays with Shakespeare. Suppose, Sagan says, we had only “A Winter’s Tale” and “Coriolanus” but had heard that a few other of Shakespeare’s works, like Macbeth, Hamlet, and King Lear, were pretty good, too.
Would a humanities television program make such a point about the contributions of Einstein, Newton, Darwin, Curie, and Heisenberg? Maybe it would. The point is, it certainly should. Science is one of the things humans do. Science is a humanity.
In this episode, I feel Sagan talking directly to me. He says that when the mob came to burn the Great Library of Alexandria, there was no one there to stop them. Why? Because the findings of science were not used to help the population. Yes, but also because the discoveries of science, the wonders and beauties and deep truths it revealed, were not made available to the population. Learning was for the elite, toil and drudgery and slavery the burden of the masses. If we want people to appreciate science, we must present it to them as a wondrous, thrilling story. We must show them that science is worth saving, beyond its monetary return. That which you love, you protect.
Sagan also makes the point that the scientists at the time of the Library of Alexandria made no challenge to the political, economic, or religious assumptions of the time. “The permanence of the stars was questioned. The justice of slavery was not.”
I’m usually with Richard Feynman on this. He said that when someone really smart in one field tried to say something smart in another, he usually sounded just as dumb as anyone else. Should scientists try to use science to challenge non-scientific assumptions in fields like religion and politics? I don’t know. I think it is very dangerous to draw non-scientific conclusions from the findings, or even the methods, of science. I, for one, would not want to live in a world in which Darwinian natural selection was the basis for morality.
But the processes of science can provide some important ideas. I’m always amazed at the cosmopolitan nature of science. Scientists work with others from all over the world, regardless of race, religion, or time zone. Also encouraging is the way that scientific ideas become accepted not through any formal democratic process, but rather through consensus developed over time and much discussion.
Yet I think it’s so important to remember that science describes the world as it is, not at all the world as it should be.
This is a struggle I go through again and again. I believe that giving people a more scientific world view is a good thing. But having a scientific world view is not, cannot be, any guarantee that the owner of such view will be a good person. And even “good people” do bad things.
I’m thinking about a book on cd I re cently listened to, from a historical, rather than scientific, point of view. The particular incident discussed was the Homestead Steel Strike of the late 1800s. The historian linked this strike and other labor unrest of the era to the “scientific management” ideas of Frederick Winslow Taylor. Here was a man, in the historian author’s point of view, whose application of science to work made life worse, not better, for the worker.
I’m also reminded of Jared Diamond’s point in “The Third Chimpanzee” that the invention of agriculture did not make humans healthier. Eating mostly one thing – the particular grain that was first cultivated in any particular area – and through overcrowding becoming more vulnerable to disease made the residents of the agricultural community less healthy. Yet these sedentary humans were more numerous than their nomadic rivals. A large number of less-healthy city dwellers could protect their wares from a smaller number of more-healthy nomads – nomads who would otherwise steal it. As a result, sedentism, and agriculture in particular, spread. Simple survival of the “fittest”, where in this case fittest meant the ones who made the most babies, not necessarily the healthiest ones.
The point of all this is that it would be naive to state that the application of science automatically makes life better. Sometimes it do, sometimes it do not. And so again another reason not to celebrate so much the products of science as to celebrate the stunning ideas revealed by science.
And yet. And yet and yet and yet. We are all lucky to be alive today, instead of the time when we lived a nomadic existence. There are many reasons you might believe this. I believe it for many reasons. One is that technology itself leads to scientific discovery. We know more of the great secrets today because technology allows us to ask the questions. Telescopes, microscopes, particle accelerators, lasers that can “freeze” an electron around an atom. Clocks that can reveal the reality of Special Relativity. Spacecraft that can take us to the surface of Titan, the tail of a comet, or to the deepest of deep space, where we might find new Earths around distant stars. These are technological triumphs. The wonders of science, quite often, come from the application of technology to scientific questions. Technology drives science, at least as much as the other way around.
In the end, I think, science does not give us humanity. But scientists must retain their humanity. They must remember that the curiosity that leads to discovery, and the joy, the wonder, the amazement they feel at discovery are feelings open to us all. Science is one of the things that humans do.
I have to finish my review of the thirteen extraordinary episodes of Cosmos with Sagan’s own final words in the series, some of the most beautiful science writing – I would say some of the most beautiful writing – in existence. Here’s to Carl.
“It has the sound of epic myth, but it’s simply a description of the evolution of the Cosmos as revealed by science in our time. And we, we who embody the local eyes and ears and thoughts and feelings of the Cosmos, we’ve begun, at last, to wonder about our origins, starstuff contemplating the stars, organized collections of ten billion billion billion atoms contemplating the evolution of matter, tracing that long path by which it arrived at consciousness here on the planet Earth and, perhaps, throughout the Cosmos.
“Our loyalties are to the species and the planet. We speak for Earth. Our obligation to survive and fluorish is owed not just to ourselves, but also to the Cosmos, ancient and vast, from which we spring.”
Somebody bought my book today on Amazon. My sales went from close to two millionth up to 371 thousandth. No, I don’t check my Amazon page every day. OK, yes I do.
Now comes the slow misery of watching the number slide down, down, down. Oh, well. I hope you enjoy the book, whoever you are. I had a lot of fun writing it.
I’m feeling very mortal lately.
Maybe the whole “extinction of the human race” thing has me thinking too much.
I’m very against the idea that the wonders and amazements of science can teach us life lessons. I don’t think they have to. I think they are what they are, wonders and amazements. For life lessons we need to look elsewhere. So what do I think is important?
My parents taught me to prize effort over achievement. I can’t control wins and losses, I can only control how hard I try.
My wife taught me to look at the world through the eyes of others. Things are rarely as black and white as I’d at first like to believe.
My daughters taught me that moments aren’t planned, they just . . . happen.
My 12th grade POD teacher taught me that everyone has an ax to grind; find out not only what they think, but why they think it.
Carl Sagan taught me that I am a way for the Cosmos to know itself. So get busy!
My dog taught me that when someone steps on your paw, forgive them immediately.
Albus Dumbledore taught me that it is our choices, far more than our abilities, that show what we truly are. I love this idea.
Having a family taught me that work is work. Family is life. Don’t mix it up!
Driving to Serpent Mound one very late night a very long time ago taught me that there are paths. We can choose our paths. Only we can choose our paths.
A cat I once owned for a day taught me that there are things worth fighting for, even if you know you will lose.
A poster once taught me this: “Committees: none of us are ever as dumb as all of us.”
And I taught myself something, too. I don’t know where I came from, I don’t know why I’m here. But I’m here. I’m me. I’m who. I’m all I will be, and while I’m not the best, I’m not the smartest, I’m not the strongest, I am all I can know, I am all I can be, and all that I am is me. And that’s a lot of pronouns.
After watching Episode Twelve of Cosmos, I started thinking about how the human species could possibly end. If youu look on the Internet, you’ll find a strange mix of realistic and what I might call fanciful ideas about human extinction. The fanciful ideas are certainly the most fun to think about, and some of them may be legitimate threats. But the odds that we’d predict one of these events seem low, and our chances of doing anything about them are lower still. So I’ll leave those very fun ideas to science fiction.
I also think many of the extinction scenarios have an element of a morality play to them. Most involve technology gone bad. We create a race of nanobots that destroy human flesh, or we set the atmosphere on fire with a horrible new weapon, or we genetically alter a pathogen, making it invincible. These have a Frankensteinian flavor to them, which makes me distrustful. Are they real dangers, or are they afraid-of-the-dark warnings about “that which is best left unknown”?
Once you cull away those (and again, there may be legitimate extinction dangers in there, but they are both difficult to predict and just about impossible to stop), I think there are three real, legitimate threats to the human species.
1) human-caused environmental collapse
2) non-human-caused environmental collapse
3) economic collapse
The important thing to realize is that extinction is the norm. Virtually every species that ever lived is now extinct. Not only that, but most branches on the tree of life don’t lead to other branches (new species), but instead end abruptly. The history of life is one of extinction of most species, speciation from just a few lucky survivors, followed by a new extinction. While it is possible that a small part of humanity could naturally evolve into something else, the odds are not in our favor.
I believe that our global civilization (not our intellect alone, but the product of that intellect) might just possibly make humans different. We might be able to avoid extinction, but only because we can work together with our enormous technical resources to dodge threats. Therefore, any event that wipes out our technology for a long period of time or forever essentially dooms our species to eventual extinction. We can’t survive an asteroid impact if we no longer have telescopes.
So to the list.
1) human-caused environmental change. There is no question that our technology affects the environment. Our emissions disrupt the climate, raising temperatures. Our fertilizers create dead zones in the oceans. Our fishing wipes out whole living communities. Our agriculture creates deserts where none were before. I’m no climate expert, and can’t predict just what our actions will do to the planet’s climate. I think it’s clear, though, that our impacts so far are pretty dramatic, and the changes we continue to make are like playing with a loaded gun. Eventually it will go off. If the climate changes drastically, our technology could collapse. Small bands of disconnected humans become vulnerable. While the climate change itself probably won’t lead to extinction, once we lose our technology we’re no different from any other species that has become extinct in the history of the Earth. Extinction via this route is probably slow, but is still inevitable.
2) non-human-caused climate change. This could be slow, like number one, or much faster. The slow events would be, for instance, the return of the ice. There will be another ice age. When it comes it will disrupt our world. If our civilization collapses in the face of the ice, and we don’t recover it once the ice pulls back, we’re again sitting ducks for the next big change. But the slow changes aren’t the big dangers here. Instead, asteroid impacts, a nearby supernova or gamma ray burst, or some disruption in the power of the Sun are both quick and (right now) impossible to stop. Other big dangers include super volcanoes, or a gigantic release of methane or other poisonous gas. If we are to survive as a species, we need to protect ourselves from these dangers. They’re not likely to happen soon, but what is unthinkable in a hundred years is inevitable in a hundred million.
3) Economic collapse. We will one day run out of oil. That event could be enough to cause the world’s economy to fall apart. If the economy falls apart, then our civilization falls with it. Once again, we’re left with limited technology, and we become sitting ducks for the changes that are bound to come. Though the least sexy, this third option seems like the most likely. Economic collapse could lead to war, nuclear or otherwise, that could both help bring on number 1 or dig us even deeper into number 3. No economy, no civilization. No civilization, no chance of saving our species.
The interesting thing about the three scenarios is that they’re all linked. We can’t keep pouring poison into the Earth. Eventually our waste will come back on us. But we can’t stop burning fossil fuels today. The economic collapse would be horrible, too, and would lead to the same eventual extinction. We can’t just stop having technology, because it is only technology that has any chance of saving us from scenario 2. We need our technology, with all its inherent problems, because without it we are just as doomed as any other species. And yet our technology could be the very thing that leads to our downfall.
So what do we do? I think there are a few common sense things that make extinction still possible but perhaps less likely.
First is education. Maybe one of the biggest extinction dangers is our own denial. Religions might preach denial (God will provide). Environmental movements might preach it, too (the Earth will provide). Even non-skeptical scientific movements might preach it (technology will provide). I think we need a rational, skeptical, critical world view that questions all these ideas rigorously, that sees the world with a clear view of reality, that makes magical thinking a thing best left in the corner. There’s no evidence of God. The Earth will kill us if we let it. Technology cannot save us unless we use it to save us.
Second is birth control, freely available to everyone at all times. So many of our problems are those of too many people. But birth control itself isn’t enough. We need to prize every life, plan for every child, make sure every new member of our species comes in with the best possible chance to thrive. I think that means not just free birth control but (this is where I’ll lose most of you) mandatory birth control, mandatory until individuals prove they are ready and are committed to raising their children as precious and treasured individuals. Parenthood should be a priviledge, not a right.
Third (OK, here I lose even more of you) is a movement beyond the free market. The free market can’t sustain us. The free market can’t regulate environmental catastrophe. It can’t foresee the end of resources. It can’t stop sausage companies from using . . . well, you don’t want to know. Particularly in fields like energy production, we need to get away from profits and move toward sustainability. We need to invest in nuclear fusion and solar power. These two sources, both essentially unlimited, are the only legitimate replacements for fossil fuels. Neither are likely to be profitable any time soon, but if we wish to have the technology we will need to survive asteroid bombardment, deep space supernovas, the Yellowstone supervolcano, or even the death of the Sun, we need long-term, sustainable energy. Nuclear fusion (in the short term – we could do it now if we just committed the resources to it) and solar power (in the long term – the energy from the Sun so outweighs all other sources that we need to find a way to tap it) are our lifelines to the future.
Can we avoid extinction? I don’t know. But it’s something worth fighting for, don’t you think?
In Episode 12 of Cosmos, the next to last, Carl Sagan investigates one of the big questions. Are we alone?
By far my most lasting memory of this episode is the Drake Equation. Cosmos was my first introduction to this method of estimating how many other civilizations might be out there. I love its combination of hard numbers with wild and hopeful speculation, and the first thing I wanted to do, when I saw it, was try the equation myself, adjust the numbers to my own biases and prejudices, and see if I could come up with a different number.
Sagan used the equation to tell a bit of a morality tale. If civilizations destroy themselves soon after they develop radio astronomy, then there might be a tiny number of civilizations at any one time, maybe ten. If, on the other hand, civilizations learn not to destroy themselves, then there might be millions. The implications are profound. If we listen to the skies and hear nothing, then we are doomed. Or, to be a little more positive, we can conclude that civilizations destroy themselves. Therefore, we should be really, really careful with things like nuclear weapons. But let’s be honest. We’re not likely to be any more careful than anyone else. So probably we’re doomed.
If, on the other hand, there are lots of civilizations out there, then there’s hope. We can survive this dangerous period, learn to live with our differences, and fluorish. So, the implication is, it’s pretty important to listen.
This was a perfect argument for a twelve year old boy living in a Ronald Reagan world. I was completely mesmerized by it. Now I can see some of the flaws, but still I think there is something to this argument. If we did discover an extraterrestrial civilization that had somehow survived and thrived, it might be interesting to learn some lessons from them. How did they manage to overcome things like climate change caused by their own wastes? How did they overcome religious differences? How did they (do they) deal with the unequal distribution of resources?
Still, there are lots of other variables that Sagan sort of glossed over in his argument that really deserve more attention, I think. The biggest is the one that says that one in a hundred planets with life will eventually develop civilization. That now seems to me hopelessly optimistic. The only evidence we have is from our own planet, and here no animal came anywhere near civilization (it seems pretty clear) for well over four billion years. If the Earth had been wiped out by the death of the Sun or a huge collision only a hundred thousand years ago (the blink of an eye for a 4.6 billion year old planet), then the Earth would have ended its run with zero technological civilizations. And yet it certainly seems to be an ideal world for such a development.
Just based on the evidence presented by the Earth, here’s what seems likely to me. Life is common. It took almost no time for life to begin on the Earth. That would indicate to me that given the right conditions life is almost inevitable, the result of just the right chemistry. I would not be surprised if we do find life on Mars (even if now extinct), Europa, and maybe elsewhere. I bet that the universe is brimming with life.
Multicellular life seems a lot harder. It took a long, long time to go from bacteria to even simple animals. Did it really take that long for everything required to develop? I bet not. I bet, instead, that multicellular life was an unlikely accident, much less likely than life itself. Now, once multicellular life got going it proved to be a pretty good idea. But that’s beside the point. The point is, it took a long time to develop. I bet there’s lots of worlds out there where life never gets beyond bacteria.
And again, once life became multicellular, it took a really, really long time before anything like a person came along. Again, I bet there are plenty of worlds with something like animals, but nothing like a creature capable of doing radio astronomy. There might be super-intelligent squid-like creatures or dolphins, but because they’re not likely to build radio telescopes, we won’t know about them until we go there.
If we ever do.
So, the preliminary SETI efforts seem to say that the sky is not, in fact, humming with extraterrestrial signals. We seem to be relatively alone. We don’t know yet. It’s still early. But it’s not that early. Maybe the message is that civilizations do blow themselves up (or maybe choke on their own pollution, or something). But I think it’s more likely that our sort of civilization is just utterly, incredibly rare. Maybe unique.
To me, that makes it even more important that we try to find a way to survive. We are a way for the universe to know itself. Maybe, just maybe, we’re the only way. If we are an endangered species, then surely we’re worth saving. Aren’t we?
I’m sensing a theme here. I think I just alienated a literary agent, someone whom I’d hoped might help get my next book published. OK, from the top.
When I was looking for a publisher for my first book, I traded some e-mails with a very nice lady, a children’s writer named Ellen Jackson. She gave me some advice, and suggested that I contact her agent. I did so, but ended up signing on with Prometheus Books without representation.
Anyway, I told the agent at the time that I hoped we might be able to work together in the future. So now that I’ve finished my second book, I decided to send it to the agent to see if she might be interested. I put it in the mail, and also sent along an e-mail, hoping to remind the agent that we’d spoken on the phone, that she’d liked my first book at least a little, and that I hoped she’d enjoy this one. A few weeks later I got a very nice rejection letter back in the mail.
That’s nothing unusual for writers; I have quite a collection of rejection letters by now. I thought little of it and went on trying to find a home for my new book.
Today the agent responded to my original e-mail. I suppose it was in her queue and she just now got to it. Understandable; my e-mail at work is a horrid mess. I recently deleted over 13,000 e-mails (yes, that’s three zeroes!) from my inbox. Now I have that many e-mails in my trash, and I live in terror of emptying it for fear as soon as I do I’ll need something.
But I digress. In the e-mail the agent said she’d be happy to read my manuscript, and directed me to the website for the proper way to submit.
I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to not respond, because this business is tough to get into; any connection at all is potentially a good connection. She’d taken the time to write to me personally. I had to say something.
But what to say? Clearly this was just a mix-up, and she’d either not realized or not remembered that her agency had already rejected my latest project.
I wrote back, trying to sound both humble and friendly. I told the agent I supposed that either someone else had screened my book before she got it, deciding it was not worth her time, or else she herself read it and it made no impression on her at all. Which was OK.
Later today, I got another e-mail which sounded a little angry. The agent assured me that she and at least one other person in her office had read the submission, thank you very much. I wrote back (perhaps my problem is that I don’t know when to shut up. Ya think?) saying I was glad she got a chance to read my submission and that I was sorry the book wasn’t for her.
So now I have an agent out there who thinks I’ve accused her of not doing her job, so I guess I can mark that name off my small number of contacts in the publishing world. Perhaps the fact that I seem unable to express the proper emotions in my writing should clue me in that this writing business isn’t really for me.
Back to square negative one.
I did a dumb thing today. I clicked once again on my book at amazon to see that my book still had not sold a single copy for months. We’re at #1,721,843 and still falling. I scrolled down, despondent, and saw that there was another mindless creation/evolution debate going on in one of those amazon message boards. I started reading. Same old stuff. Someone says evolution requires faith. Someone else says here’s some evidence. The first person says your evidence is no good what about Piltdown Man? The second person says you’re a moron. The first person says see how intolerant you evos are? And so on.
Usually I avoid these things. It’s like watching a car crash on the freeway. You’re only going to make it worse. But something about the tone of this one – I don’t know, I just thought maybe I could make a difference. Dumb.
Here’s what I wrote:
I believe you are a good human being, on an honest quest for knowledge. I believe you are rational, and are here to “listen” more than “talk.” I believe you recognize that no one can know everything, but together we can move through the darkness and toward a little bit of truth. I have faith in these things.
I do not debate creationists, because my own lack of knowledge on the subject may inadvertently lead you away from truth. It doesn’t make the truth any less true, it only confuses you or others who might read this. No one can know everything.
Now let me tell you a story.
Billions of years ago, before the Earth itself had even formed, a giant star entered its last days. Running low on fuel, this star was dying. But deep inside, something amazing was happening. Helium was fusing into carbon. And you are there. That very carbon would become the stuff of life, the single element indespensible for all the beauty and wonder to come. That star exploded, spreading its seed into the universe.
Billions of years pass. The carbon and many other elements from the exploded star and others like it come together to form what we would one day call the Sun, the Earth, Venus, Jupiter, and all the rest. On the Earth, heat and terror reign. Mountains fall from the sky, pounding the surface into a molten mass. One body, about the size of Mars, nearly rips our planet in two. The pieces from this enormous collision become, in time, the Earth and our lovely satellite, the Moon.
Time passes. The Earth cools. Liquid water appears. In that water, the result of processes we still do not fully understand, very simple living things come to be. These living things make crude copies of themselves, but the copies are not perfect. Change begins. Most change is detrimental, but a few of these changes, quite by accident, lead to the ability to make food from raw ingredients and sunlight, to process that food in efficient ways, and even to come together with other organisms to create the first complex living things. The sky is made by life, as these organisms release oxygen as a waste gas. And you are there. The mitochondria and other organelles that make your life possible first learn to live together, a shaky but ever-strengthening alliance. Even the nucleus, in which your DNA will one day reside, begins as a separate organism.
Generations come and go. Creatures both strange and wonderful evolve, then vanish. Most living things leave absolutely no descendents. Only a few, through happenstance, competition, and the pressures of the environment, pass their genetic legacy on. In an ancient ocean swims a small, unassuming creature with just the hint of a spinal cord. It is called Pikaia gracelens. There are other creatures, more fierce, larger, better at swimming, burrowing, eating. But against the odds, tiny Pikaia survives. And you are there. Because Pikaia and its relatives survived against the gigantic odds facing them, you are here, reading this passage.
Generations come and go. Pikaia’s legacy lives on in fish, reptiles, and mammals. Dinosaurs dominate the planet then, quite by accident, are wiped out. Except, that is, for the birds. Birds are living dinosaurs, the flowering and successful remnant of those bygone days. From the disappearance of most dinosaurs, life finds a way. New species radiate into the open niches. In time, some species take to the trees, becoming the first primates. Those primates learn to discriminate between ripe and unripe fruit, learn to avoid enemies such as snakes and eagles, learn to care for and teach their young. In time, for reasons we still do not understand, some of those primates leave the trees and begin to walk upright. And you are there.
Upright walking appeared long before the modern human brain made its first appearance. Here we see creatures who walk very much like modern humans, yet with brains very much like chimpanzees. What might we think of each other? Once again, you are there. This small, upright, unprotected ape on the African plain would seem a poor candidate for survival. Yet somehow it does survive. The underdog overcomes, and leads in time to you, a creature capable of examining your universe, contemplating the meaning of life and death, and dreaming of journeys to the stars. You are a way for the universe to know itself. What an amazing thought!
Just a fairy tale? I would think so, too, except that men and women, using their amazing intellects and imaginations, have forged this story, not from the collective unconscious, but from hard evidence. The evidence of radioactive decay. The evidence of fossils. The evidence present in our own bodies, and the bodies of all the living things with which we still share this Earth. The universe is a vast treasure trove of knowledge. We humans have just begun our journey through this amazing universe, yet look at all we’ve learned! It is an accomplishment to be celebrated, and I am proud of what we have done.
No one can know everything, but we each can take a journey, learning, collecting, questioning as we go. In this journey, we must have faith in one thing: faith in the journey itself. Happy traveling!
Fortunately for me (or perhaps due to me), the discussion died soon after my post.
In Episode 11 of Cosmos Carl Sagan escapes from the somewhat dreary exploration of Eastern mysticism in Episode 10 and gets back to the wonder of the actual world. There are (again) so many things I love about this episode – Sagan singing a whale song, the trip into the living brain – but my favorite part has to be Sagan’s time in the New York Public Library.
“A book,” Sagan says, “is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”
PS OK, full disclosure. My wife Julie works at a library. But that’s only one of the things I love about her. There’s lots of others, too.
Sagan also shows just how much of a typical library one might read if one reads a book a week for a lifetime. It’s something like a tenth of a percent of the books in the library. The trick, Sagan says, is to know which books to read.
Life is a gift, a lucky accident, a chance to crash the party, however you want to look at it. We find ourselves in this world with limited tools, limited time, limited abilities. We can’t have everything of the things we want. We can’t go everywhere, we can’t meet everyone, we can’t experience all there is to experience.
But, amazingly, we can read just about any book we want to read. All we need is a local library.
I use the local public library A LOT, but for the really rare or unusual book (the collected papers of Henry Cavendish, for instance, which I needed for an article I just finished writing), I use the State Library of Ohio. The State Library doesn’t have much itself, but it is free to all citizens of the state, and it is tied to OhioLink, a system that lets me borrow any lending book from any library at any state college or university. It is astounding – there’s virtually nothing I can’t get. All I have to do is decide what I’d like to learn about, and it’s at my fingertips.
Libraries are where the magic lives.