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Listening Practice: Practice English with Big Think's video "Science vs Magic"

Updated: Sep 28, 2022

Sasha Sagan is a native of Ithaca, New York and a graduate of NYU. She has worked as a television producer, filmmaker, writer, and speaker in the U.S. and abroad. Her essays and interviews on death, history, and ritual through a secular lens have appeared in The Cut, O, the Oprah Magazine, Literary Hub, Atmos and beyond. She is a contributing editor for the British fashion magazine Violet Book. Sasha regularly speaks on ways science can inform our celebrations and how we mark the passage of time, inspired in part by the work of her parents, Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan.

Watch this video on Big Think and hear what Sasha Sagan has to say about science and magic based on what her father, Carl Sagan taught her.

Answer the questions that follow with your tutor.


  1. What has come a long way in making it possible for us to do things that would've seemed like magic tricks not too long ago?

  2. What examples of this does she give?

  3. Think of how many gods and __________ figures were given the power of flight.

  4. What are these?

  5. Who flew the first flight at Kitty Hawk?

  6. The more we understand ourselves and our Universe, the more _____________ it is.

  7. What is the name of the book Sasha Sagan wrote?

  8. What is the Voyager Record?

  9. Whose brainwaves are on it?

  10. What is the name of the television series her parents wrote?

  11. What is one of the things she learned from her parents?

  12. What was one of the things Sasha's dad was curious about in life?

  13. A quote that you'll often hear of his is: "I don't want to believe, __________."


SASHA SAGAN: Science and technology have come a long way in making it possible for us to do things that would've seemed like magic tricks not too long ago- space travel, flight! For most of history, that seemed absolutely impossible. Birds can do it. We're stuck here on the ground, looking up. Think of how many gods and mythical figures were given the power of flight. We wanted it so bad, and now we've managed to do it. The oldest living person in the world was alive when the Wright brothers flew the first flight at Kitty Hawk and now we have a helicopter on Mars. The more we understand ourselves and our Universe, the more magnificent it is. I'm Sasha Sagan, and I'm the author of a book called "For Small Creatures Such as We." I was brought up with a very scientific worldview. My dad was the astronomer Carl Sagan, and he and my mom, writer-producer Ann Druyan, fell in love working on the Voyager Record, which is a golden phonograph that is a compilation of the sounds of life on Earth. Greetings and human languages, and one whale language.

NARRATOR: 'Hello from the planet Earth.'

SASHA SAGAN: Music from around the world. Sounds of a heartbeat. Brainwaves of a young woman in love who happened to be my mom. These two records are on the Voyager Spacecraft, and they have a shelf life of a billion years. Right now, the Voyager Spacecrafts are the furthest objects from Earth ever touched by human beings. And then my parents wrote essays and books, and the television series "Cosmos," about the awe and wonder that we can find in the Universe. Things that we really do understand that we've managed to discover can be presented with enthusiasm and wonder and awe that makes people feel welcome in reveling in how astonishing things are in the natural world, as revealed by science.

CARL SAGAN: 'In the last few millennia we have made the most astonishing and unexpected discoveries about the cosmos and our place within it.'

SASHA SAGAN: One of the things I learned from my parents is this idea of tolerating ambiguity. Sometimes when we make up an answer, it's just a placeholder because we're so bad at sitting with an empty question mark. But I think we can all improve on sitting with the discomfort of not knowing. Tolerating ambiguity, waiting until you have evidence, knowing that sometimes the evidence will change, is central to any scientific advancement. My dad, one of the things he was most curious about in his life was: Are we alone in the universe? Is there anybody else out there?

CARL SAGAN: 'Everyone wants to know how unique the human species are. How is it possible that in a galaxy of 400 billion stars that we are the only inhabited planet? Is that possible?'

SASHA SAGAN: He was so eager to understand. He wanted to find out what was really going on. But the discomfort we sit with, even with the very small questions, reveals how we feel about the unanswered great mysteries in our lives. It's so hard to not know. Even the future tortures us with our inability to predict it. And we have struggled for eons with this problem. It's a source of so much stress, but science is the only, only tool that has given us any real shot. I think about "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court": an eclipse was terrifying all over the world. The Sun goes away all of a sudden. What could be more petrifying? And now we know when they're coming, and we know it's safe. It won't hurt us. Little by little, we're getting some of the tools that we've always longed for through science. Not that long ago, for our species, so much in life, even the most mundane, ordinary things would've seemed like a magic trick. And I think that's true for so much of science, and so much of the reality of our Universe. And the more we understand ourselves and our planet, the more magnificent it is. My dad felt an enormous, joyful wonder about the Universe from his earliest childhood. If he had been born a few hundred years earlier, it would've been a lot harder for him to get the answers that he so deeply craved about our place in the Universe. A quote that you'll often hear of his is: "I don't want to believe, I want to know." And I think that really sums up a lot of his philosophy. He really instilled in me this idea that reality, nature, is more astonishing and more breathtaking than the stories that we create for ourselves.

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