When I ponder what line spoken by a character in a movie has inspired me the most, here's my answer (share yours in a comment, if you like).
Jodie Foster, playing Ellie Arroway, a scientist searching for extra-terrestrial intelligence, in Contact -- a movie based on Carl Sagan's novel.
Strapped into a machine whose construction was made possible by technical drawings contained in mysterious messages from the Vega star system, not knowing what the machine does or if she'll be killed when it is activated, enduring violent shaking as The Machine is first turned on, Ellie tells mission control...
I''m okay to go! I'm okay to go! I'm okay to go!
That's the courage of scientific inquiry. Also, of spiritual seeking, mystical meditating, and full-bodied living of every variety.
Being okay to go. To follow one's passion wherever it takes you.
Throwing caution to the winds when a stronger force -- truth, love, exploration, artistry, creativity, whatever -- courses through your consciousness and whispers "this way...this way."
Carl Sagan's wife, Ann Druyan, wrote an introduction to "The Varieties of Scientific Experience," a book that describes Sagan's personal view of the search for God.
He believed that the little we do know about nature suggests that we know even less about God...he never understood why anyone would want to separate science, which is just a way of searching for what is true, from what we hold sacred, which are those truths that inspire love and awe.
HIs argument was not with God but with those who believed that our understanding of the sacred had been completed. Science's permanently revolutionary conviction that the search for truth never ends seemed to him the only approach with sufficient humility to be worthy of the universe that it revealed.
The methodology of science, with its error-correcting mechanism for keeping us honest in spite of our chronic tendencies to project, to misunderstand, to deceive ourselves and others, seemed to him the height of spiritual discipline. If you are searching for sacred knowledge and not just a palliative for your fears, then you will train yourself to be a good skeptic.
I've just started to read this book. Today I couldn't resist jumping ahead to a final chapter which has some after-talk Q & A's between Sagan and members of the audience.
In these spontaneous interchanges, I got a feel for how strongly Sagan sought the truth in whatever form it might appear. He was eminently "okay to go."
But only if there was some chance of finding truth in a particular direction. He wasn't big on wild goose chases, forays into Beliefland that weren't based on some demonstrable evidence of a hitherto unknown reality.
One questioner tried to get Sagan to admit that the pursuit of psychic phenomena was worthwhile, even if someone hadn't experienced such, just as it is possible to know that it is possible to play the piano without currently knowing how.
I like Sagan's response.
But I can require, at least, before I start practicing the piano that I see that a piano exists, that I see someone sit down at the piano, move his or her fingers, and produce music.
That then convinces me that there is such a thing as a piano, there is such a thing as music, and it is not hopelessly beyond the ability of humans to produce music from a piano.
But when I ask for something comparable in the psychic world, I am never shown it. I never have someone come up and produce an -- I don't know -- a twenty foot-high psychic dragon. Or have someone come and write down on the blackboard the demonstration of Fermat's last theorem.
There simply is never anything that you can get your teeth into. You understand why I feel a little frustrated about this?
Oh, yes. I do.
I've been meditating every day for forty years. I've been okay to go wherever and whenever a metaphysical reality beckons.
So far I haven't come across any convincing evidence of it. That doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Just that, as Sagan said, those wanting to chomp on truth aren't able to find it at the table of psychic phenomena.
Ann Druyan said:
And in all things, even when it came to facing his own cruel fate -- he succumbed to pneumonia on December 20, 1996 after enduring three bone-marrow transplants -- Carl didn't want just to believe.
He wanted to know.