This is Earth from 4 billion miles away. In his book, “Pale Blue Dot,” Carl Sagan mused upon the meaning of this photo taken by Voyager 1 as it sped out of the solar system.
As senseless war rages in the Middle East and other places around the world, I urge you to take a few minutes and read his words:
"We succeeded in taking that picture [from deep space], and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives.
The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every 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 in 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 the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. 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. It is up to us.
It's been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, 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 and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.'
Thanks to The Huge Entity for introducing me to this image and Sagan’s thoughts, which I hadn’t been exposed to before. More information about the photo can be found here, where I learned that the stripe in which the Earth is embedded is a beam of light from the Sun.
Positive Atheism has a nice collection of additional Carl Sagan quotations. As someone who believes that spirituality minus science equals a bunch of religious crap, I resonated with Sagan’s skeptical attitude toward blind faith religiosity. Here are two examples:
In science it often happens that scientists say, "You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken," and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. --Carl Sagan, 1987 CSICOP keynote address
Think of how many religions attempt to validate themselves with prophecy. Think of how many people rely on these prophecies, however vague, however unfulfilled, to support or prop up their beliefs. Yet has there ever been a religion with the prophetic accuracy and reliability of science? ... No other human institution comes close.
--Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World, p. 30
And this moved me.
Contrary to the fantasies of the fundamentalists, there was no deathbed conversion, no last minute refuge taken in a comforting vision of a heaven or an afterlife. For Carl, what mattered most was what was true, not merely what would make us feel better. Even at this moment when anyone would be forgiven for turning away from the reality of our situation, Carl was unflinching. As we looked deeply into each other's eyes, it was with a shared conviction that our wondrous life together was ending forever. --Ann Druyan, Epilogue to Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium
Smashing post. Thanks. I think. Having read your snippets, I now feel I must buy the book. That being said, thanks. In earnest.
Always had a soft spot for Carl's work. Here's an excellent reminder of why. Brilliant mind, he has. And good commentary you give.
Posted by: Lady | July 15, 2006 at 08:11 PM
I've read several of Sagan's books, including 'Demon Haunted World.' Demon is a great book - probably my favorite of his. It is the last that Sagan wrote and I get a sense in a few chapters that he knows his time is limited. He discusses his philosophies about a wide range of subjects.
The end was very moving for me as well as Dryan writes about Sagan after he has died. I cried for humanity's loss. Who knows what 20 more years of Sagan would have produced.
Posted by: Loki | July 17, 2006 at 08:46 AM