As I construct my latest addition to this blog, I feel that something meditative and thoughtful is in order; words of hope and encouragement. I’ve recently been re-reading Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. It’s an inspiring work on science, our potential for innovation, and the miracle of our very existence. For my fellow skeptics I also recommend his book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. I’ve also been re-watching the new Cosmos Series; Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey with Neil Degrasse Tyson, and it’s phenomenal if you haven’t seen it already.
Consider the words from his lecture at Cornell University in 1994 to be a pleasant and bitter-sweet respite from a blog that is otherwise consumed by outrage and despair. There is light in the darkness, but it is up to us to nurture that light so as to ensure it is never extinguished.
As a member of the Voyager I imaging team, Sagan had the camera on-board Voyager turn back towards earth, and captured the faintest and palest pinprick of blue light as the probe passed Neptune (at about 3.7 billion miles away from Earth).
Carl Sagan meditated on the Pale Blue Dot. As I interpret it, he ponders the incredible significance of our insignificance within the Cosmos.
From this distant vantage point, the Earth may not seem of any particular interest; but for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”
— Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994