A Reflection on Hero Worship (Danger, One of My Occasional Off Topic Musings!)

Bill Loguidice's picture

With the mashup video for Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot making the rounds on the Internet today - much to my delight - I was reflecting a bit on who I viewed throughout the years as what might be referred to as my "heroes" or "idols", or, as a more mature - and certainly more accurate - way of looking at it, people I've genuinely admired over the years and how and why they've influenced me.

My earliest real admiration was probably for Isaac Asimov, who was - to put it mildly - a wildly prolific writer comfortable in an astonishing range of genres, from science and religion, to - most famously - science fiction. While I certainly enjoyed Asimov's science fiction works, particularly his "Robots" series (which of course spawned his legendary "three laws"), it was his childrens' science books that initially engaged my young mind. Of course, as with all people we idolize, there were times over the years I was disappointed in finding out his more human failings, such as cheating on his wife and his general attitude towards women, but there were other things that I was delighted to eventually find out and that further solidified the legend, including his endorsement and usage of TRS-80 computers, and his treatment of organized religion as a fascinating mythology rather than fact despite his writing authoritatively on the subject. I also found it humorous that his science fiction writings have been critiqued as sparsely described with little depth to the characters. Certainly my own fiction writing can be described in a similar manner, particularly in regards to the former, but, as with Asimov, it's more a preferred writing style than a technical failure.

The next admiration was probably for Arnold Schwarzenegger, who I first became fascinated with for his physical prowess in his classically cheesy 1980s action films. Even more so than one of my other favorites - Sylvester Stallone - Schwarzenegger embodied a certain charisma and presence of mind and place (the latter certainly at least partially through his physical stature) that was hard to ignore. As my own interest in bodybuilding and physical improvement grew, so did my admiration for Schwarzenegger, who I came to know as this extremely driven and mindful individual who seemed to genuinely believe that there was no frontier he couldn't conquer, whether that was in an area others thought he could be successful in or not. Again, be it steroid use, womanizing, "aggressive" business tactics, or any other number of things, his personal failings certainly diminished some of the shine for me, but I still have tremendous respect for him and his general approach to seizing life.

More recently, I've come to respect Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist at the City University of New York. Kaku is a standout among many of the latter day (and thankfully, this is a very positive trend in the past decade) "superstar" scientists who not only know their stuff, but can present it in a commercially friendly manner (read: mass market), be it on the lecture circuit or in the latest television documentary. Of course, as a flip side to this, perhaps one of Kaku's biggest failings (that I know of anyway) is he may be a bit too "commercial" in his approach these days, but again, you need to consider the whole package--the whole human package, warts and all.

Which brings me to my latest and perhaps most "passionate" admirations, Carl Sagan. As a child, I vaguely remember the classic short series, Cosmos (which I surely must have seen even though I was around 8 when it first aired), though distinctly remember Sagan's column in Parade magazine (a popular color insert in Sunday newspapers, in my case The Newark Star Ledger). It occasionally fascinated me, occasionally bored me, but every week I made a point of checking it out. In other words, even in my relatively intellectually limited youth, I had a sense of Sagan's special qualities, much like I described in the previous paragraph with Kaku. It was not until a few years back that The Science Channel began airing the updated version of Cosmos that I came to truly understand how special Sagan was, and how much of him - his thoughts, beliefs, passions - was in that undeniable masterpiece (This understanding grew as I had the good fortune recently - at my leisure - of watching Cosmos commercial free via Netflix streaming on the Xbox 360). I began to seek out more of Sagan's works, and read more of his books, both contemporary to his life and published posthumously. The more I read, the more I came to appreciate and admire the way Sagan's mind worked, and the more I came to see someone whose beliefs mirrored my own, particularly in regards to religion (Now, I know I get in trouble whenever I mention religion on Armchair Arcade, which is not surprising, since religion and politics are two things that people hold near and dear to their hearts and believe infallibly in what they believe and any perceived challenge to that is often considered an affront and "wrong", but honestly, what I believe is what I believe and what you believe is what you believe and we should simply leave it at that, but I'm going to continue anyway (so please stop reading if you feel your angry face forming)). Like most, I was the religion of my parents, because that's all I was exposed to (not given a choice from the thousands of options), but organized religion never held much meaning to me. I always had a more personal relationship with God. Over time, this has evolved to a more critical analysis of religion, and as my skeptical inquiry evolved, so too did my view of the whole concept, to the point now where I can be considered an Agnostic Secular Humanist (since it's a very human need to label and categorize everything). In any case, Sagan articulated what I believe with an eloquence that I doubt I could ever match, so if you really want to know, please read one of his many books, or at least check out a YouTube video or two, including his last interview before his untimely death, with Charlie Rose (Part 1, 2, 3).

Sagan died of a particularly aggressive form of cancer, and there was a certain poignancy in watching the Charlie Rose interview with my wife and mom tonight, as my mom has been bravely battling cancer herself for a number of years now. As Sagan said in that interview, (to paraphrase) it would be nice to think there was an afterlife or a way to communicate with our loved ones after they're gone, but if there isn't, that's OK too, as enjoying this life to the fullest and not taking a day for granted is enough.

I genuinely enjoy the time we live in. Though small, I feel there is a wonderful rise in thinking free of the shackles of tradition and superstition, where things like Astrology and ESP are marginalized for the shams that they are. Perhaps, just perhaps, this is a dawn of a new age of skepticism and critical thought, a celebration of intelligence, where the aforementioned "superstar" scientists are revered as much as the gifted professional athlete.

Of course, I also greatly admire skeptics in the entertainment industry like Penn and Teller (in fact, Penn Jillette doesn't drink like me either, which is one of those things that go in the positive category for him along with many of his other attributes), initiatives like the Symphony of Science, and those that put out skeptical podcasts like Brian Dunning. I guess I respect what can be considered skeptical thought, or perhaps more accurately, thought that applies the scientific method (another Sagan-ism, if you will). As I've grown older and thought more about life, the universe, and everything, the more I've come to see there just isn't any other way I would want to be. It's, for lack of a better term, logical, and infallibly so. To that point, in looking back, it is the people I've mentioned and many others (my family past and present, naturally) who have helped bring me to this point, and for that I am thankful.

Who have been some of your "heroes" over the years?


Joined: 05/20/2006
Sagan is definitely on my

Sagan is definitely on my list, as well as Richard Feynman, the physicist / bongo player. Houdini, as well, for his efforts at exposing psychic/magic frauds. I don't like to use the word hero for living people, but James Randi is likely to go on my list for the same reason as Houdini.

Bill Loguidice
Bill Loguidice's picture
Joined: 12/31/1969
That word
Catatonic wrote:

Sagan is definitely on my list, as well as Richard Feynman, the physicist / bongo player. Houdini, as well, for his efforts at exposing psychic/magic frauds. I don't like to use the word hero for living people, but James Randi is likely to go on my list for the same reason as Houdini.

I agree, I only used "hero" and similar terms for convenience, as it really is "respect" and "admiration". "Hero" is a loaded term and could be misconstrued, though certainly those who fight for truth and "good" would fit the definition in my book...

I too respect Feynman, Houdini, and Randi. I was surprised when the latter came out recently, if only because I would have expected him to have done so sooner.

Peter L (not verified)
Great read…..the information

Great read…..the information is poignant very interesting please keep them coming !!

Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
Joined: 01/16/2006
I just read Physics of the

I just read Physics of the Impossible a few months ago. Like you, I'm big into space exploration and have been a member of The Planetary Society for many years. I also found Zubrin's The Case for Mars very interesting, though I see now that he has plenty of more recent books--probably get those and read them this summer.

As far as personal heroes go, most of mine were fictional. While I admire science, I don't find the scientists themselves very interesting. As you say, folks who can truly bring out the joys of science like Sagan and Kaku are quite rare. My math and science classes in high school and college were so damn boring that any interest I had in the subjects completely evaporated. Even the teachers seemed cold and disinterested--no emotion. Not for me!

Limiting myself to actual people, I'd probably go with Richard Simmons, Weird Al, and Jim Varney. I relate to these guys on many levels, and I love how they make the people around them happy. How could you possibly be depressed around one of these men? I also admire their "extreme" persona, whether staged or not. I'm not sure about Weird Al, but I know Simmons and Varney have also given back to folks, helping out sick children and the like. Varney took it the furthest, actually visiting hospitals with sick children and making them laugh with his outrageous routines. I can't even write about it now without getting a bit teary-eyed. Just a wonderful man. I have less respect for Weird Al after he abandoned his glasses and mustache look. That look was inspiring to guys like me; you couldn't help but feel better knowing that at least one of "us" had made it. His new look sorta leaves me cold.

I also have a lot of admiration for Plato and Marcus Aurelius. I read some of their works in college, and it's stuck with me. I try to re-read Plato's Republic and Aurelius' Meditations every few years.

Joined: 01/21/2009
Strange, Arnold was the guy i

Strange, Arnold was the guy i followed the most growing up, maybe more because the first book series i really devoured was the CONAN books. I was a Andre Norton fan, my father gave me my first "adult" books and one was STAR MANS SON, he had no interest in it, at the time i was diggin through his stuff he had in high school and that book and a book about the first nuke Sub to go under the antartic where in it. he gave um both to me and said the sub book was true and I should read it (I did) but only after the Sci fi one. I was hooked, i read and bought several more from norton (who I always thouhgt was a male untill only recently, the internet!). But my first Conan book (bought purely for the cover at a rummage sale) was the turning point. it started me on Comics other then Richy Rich and archie. I'm sure it contrubuted to my RPG addiction, closest i could ever be to being Conan.

Now in my later years (this is the "standard" corney response) I understand how much my father formed me also. he is the calmest, easygoing guy i have ever met. Alot of that transfered to me, many times I wish more had. My mother is quick to get excited (nice word for anger) and while easy to calm down, was the ying to dads yang.. Im more my father then my mother, but plenty of mother in me.. So in my youth Conan was king!, but nowdasy cant say I dont look at my father differently as Im very happy to have "him" and his attitude very much ingrained into me. Age can change alot of things.. I still love my sci fi fantasy stuff, and Arnold and Conan are the first names that spring to mind, but when i really think about it nowdays, my father has been the person I wish i was. Incendently my father has zero interest in sci fi, gameing or anything like it. I guess just a different age you grow up in, he was all cars.. and still is.

Sorry I know most people here will say dad, gandpa and such and you where going for Kid in you Hero stuff, the book, fictional, etc person.. but I cant not mention my dad when you talk about that.

Mark Vergeer
Mark Vergeer's picture
Joined: 01/16/2006
My own heroes....

Interesting article Matt, only just now had time to read it and reflect on it. My own personal heroes are: Albert Einstein, Oliver Sacks, Anna Freud, Hillery Clinton, Douglas Adams, Larry Niven, Robert Heinlein, Mr Sulu, Checov, Uhura, Nolan Bushnell & Ralph Baer, Susanne Vega, Philip Glass, Nelson Mandela, Nobel, a couple of specific psychiatrist/psychologist, Dr Phil (don't laugh!), Stevie Wonder, Andy Behrman, Stephen Fry, Macy Gray, Skin from Skunk Anansi, Mel Gibson (don't laugh), Robert de Niro, Bono (from U2), Sinaed O'Connor, Edgar Allen Poe, Nina Simone. And a couple of famous thinkers and physisists.... Rob Hubbard (Not RON!), Jeroen Tiel and a couple of other Sid artists...
There's more but I'll stop now!

Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
Joined: 01/16/2006
Dr. Phil???
Mark Vergeer wrote:

Dr Phil (don't laugh!)

...won't....laugh....no...won't...trying not to...arrghghghghg


If I can get away with Simmons and Varney, don't feel bad!!!


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