Death is a topic of conversation that any child would ask their parents about, and many of us would deflect the question out of discomfort. "The kids are just too young to understand" is a common excuse.
But what if your father is a world famous scientist? How would he answer the question about death?
Sasha Sagan, daughter of astronomer Carl Sagan, told us the time when, as a young child, she asked her father about death:
One day when I was still very young, I asked my father about his parents. I knew my maternal grandparents intimately, but I wanted to know why I had never met his parents.
“Because they died,” he said wistfully.
“Will you ever see them again?” I asked.
He considered his answer carefully. Finally, he said that there was nothing he would like more in the world than to see his mother and father again, but that he had no reason — and no evidence — to support the idea of an afterlife, so he couldn’t give in to the temptation.
Then he told me, very tenderly, that it can be dangerous to believe things just because you want them to be true. You can get tricked if you don’t question yourself and others, especially people in a position of authority. He told me that anything that’s truly real can stand up to scrutiny.
As far as I can remember, this is the first time I began to understand the permanence of death. As I veered into a kind of mini existential crisis, my parents comforted me without deviating from their scientific worldview.
See also: 10 Neat Facts About Carl Sagan