Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Pale Blue Dot

Carl Sagan wrote some of the most wonderful short stories, articles and non-fictions I have ever come across. In my brief encounter with some of his works, the "Reflection on a Mote of Dust" from Pale Blue Dot turned out to be the most captivating, and shall I say, humiliating. It puts everything in a universal perspective. The "Bad Astronomy Blog" described it as "the required reading of every human on this planet", and I couldn't quite object to the superlative.

It's something that should be shared with everyone. As a lead, this picture was taken by Voyager 1 in 1990, from more than 6 billion kilometers from Earth. Carl Sagan was so moved by the immensity of this picture that he wrote down the following:

Pale Blue Dot (by changyang1230)
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.
We are always humbled by the observation of the natural world. The sheer scale of astronomy, and the minuscule world of the microbiology are the two extremes of the physical spectrum, but they are both sources of inspiration to us. We always think of ourselves as the most important beings that have ever existed, ignorant of the fact that both the universe and the bacteria could exterminate us in a matter of seconds. How lucky we are to be here at all.

Perhaps they are some good reasons for us to be humble.


ShouFarn said...

A man said to the Universe: "Sir, I exist!"
"However," replied the Universe,
"the fact has not created in me a sense of obligation."
-- Stephen Crane