Henri Contemplates Carl's Cosmos


In 1977, as an undergraduate student studying philosophy at Cornell University, I was fortunate to enroll in an introductory astronomy class taught by Carl Sagan. At the time, Dr. Sagan was just beginning to become well known, with his regular appearances on the Tonight Show (when Johnny Carson was hosting), but this was before he achieved great  fame once his Cosmos series was well received. As it 

turned out, many of the themes and ideas that he introduced in the astronomy class that I attended were the very themes that he later explored in Cosmos. 


So why am I mentioning this?


Well, it is nearly 30 years later, and only now in August 2006 (I sheepishly admit) am I watching the Cosmos series for the first time. My impression? It is as fresh, lively, inspirational, and thought provoking as when he presented these ideas to our class back in 1977. Coincidentally, the lamp / clock "Henri Contemplates Carl's Cosmos" was created during this viewing, and the influence of the ideas 
presented, both conscious and unconscious, are unmistakable in the result. So I dedicate this piece to the memory of a great educator and humanitarian, Carl Sagan. (See BELOW  for additional photos of this  
lamp/clock as symbolic references to Dr. Sagan's Cosmos Series)


OK, so this explains Dr. Sagan's influence on the title of this piece. But who is Henri? If you look closely, the name "Henri" is carved into the protractor (which holds the clock mechanism) at the center (Click HERE 
for a photo of this). This led me to wonder about him, who he was, when he lived, and what his intention might have been in carving his name.


Perhaps he was simply attempting to clarify rights of ownership, or was it something more profound? Was it an unconscious recognition of his own mortality, and a conscious expression of self, in defiance? 


My most vivid imaginings see him, sitting in a classroom in the French countryside, bored to tears, waiting for the time to pass, and looking for something, anything, to occupy himself. All of a sudden, he had an inspiration. The protractor became his target, and his scissors the instrument of expression. If these imaginings are correct, then how unfortunate it was for Henri. Unfortunate because he didn't have the quality of instruction that was inspirational, insightful, and fun, the kind of instruction that Carl Sagan nearly always delivered.


"It is the birthright of every child to encounter the cosmos anew, in every culture and every age. When this happens to us, we experience a deep sense of wonder. The most fortunate among us are guided by teachers  who channel this exhilaration. We are born to delight in the world. We are taught to distinguish our preconceptions from the truth. Then new worlds are discovered, as we decipher the mysteries of the cosmos." 
                                                                                               - Carl Sagan

Rings of Saturn

Saturn, the jewel of the solar system, set within concentric rings, composed of a billion icy moons. 

                  - Carl Sagan

The Voyager 2 Spacecraft

Voyager's passage by Jupiter accelerated it towards a close encounter with the planet Saturn. Saturn's gravity will propel it on to Uranus. And in this game of billiards, after Uranus, it will plunge on past Neptune, leaving the solar system, and becoming an interstellar spacecraft, destined to wander forever, the great oceans between the stars. 

                     - Carl Sagan

Worm Hole

A really advanced civilization might establish and hold open "worm holes" which we might think of as tubes through the 4th dimension, which connect the earth with another place in the universe, without having to traverse the intervening distance, somewhat like crawling through a worm hole in an apple. 

                       - Carl Sagan


As Einstein showed, funny things happen close to the speed of light. There our conventional perspective of space and time strangely change. 



Geometry existed before creation. It is coeternal with the mind of God. 

               - Johannes Kepler



Stars are born in batches. Later they wander out of the nursery to pursue their destiny in the Milky Way. 

                    - Carl Sagan

The Cosmos


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, star stuff 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.

                - Carl Sagan

Additional Details

Henri Contempates Carl's Cosmos
 August 2006
Height:   85 cm 
Diameter of Base: 25 cm
Brass protractor, copper lid from pot, 
stencils, salt shaker, two spigots for wine 
barrels, glass and filament inside of light