More Insight

Friday, April 18, 2008

How I Can Sleep at Night

As easy as it is to get upset, discouraged, bitter - sometimes a grander perspective is needed. Like this image of Earth taken in 1990 by the Voyager, 6.4 billion kilometers away. From such a distance, our planet is a pale blue dot, only 0.12 pixels.

"Look again at 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


The Culture Ghost said...

Damn, I was just thinking about this image not more than five or six nights ago. It had been an unusually clear night out here and the light pollution was minimal for a change. Lots of stars were visible. I was wondering if anyone out there was watching this pale little speck and hoping we might make it.

The Culture Ghost said...

And by the way, that's one helluva reading list in the sidebar...

DifferentiAtlas said...

The light pollution here in Miami makes it a little difficult to get a great view of the cosmos, but I was home in Boston recently on a clear night and the visibility was "out of this world." Such beauty! Such elegance! Such incomprehensible size! It's a poetic reminder of our real place in the universe, how petty our every argument seems, how precious this organization called "life" is! 2 minutes of staring upwards and I'm re-balanced, re-invigorated, re-motivated. This pale blue dot is all we have for now, we should act more like it.

I'm still in the beginning of a Sagan revival phase. I first read him my senior year in high school which helped completely change my understanding of what "philosophy" is - more than just what the ancient Greeks showed it to be.

I got a little over-excited with the amazon widgets. I also have this habit of getting behind in everything I do - especially reading.
However, starting today, for the next two months I'll have to be a little more hardcore about studying for the board exam in June and probably fall behind even further in every other endeavor I find worthwhile.
Or maybe I'll just give up school completely and become a librarian - surround myself with knowledge, silence, solitude, and lots of time!