In a world that is in sore need of inspiration, the following excerpt from the 1994 book “Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space” by the late, great, world-renown astrophysicist Dr. Carl Sagan is perhaps more relevant now than it was in 1994. The iconic image of the Earth as a “pale blue dot” was acquired by Voyager 1 on 14 February, 1990 from a distance of 6 billion kilometers was part of the Family Portrait series of images of the Solar System.
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
Along with Bruce Murray, Louis D. Friedman, the late Carl Sagan was one of the founders of The Planetary Society, a public space advocacy and advising group, whose current Chief Executive Officer is the famous Dr. Bill Nye, the Science Guy, a former student of Dr. Sagan’s at Cornell University, where Dr. Sagan was the David Duncan Professor of Astronomy and Space Sciences and Director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies. As a Pulitzer Prize winning author of over 20 individual works, Dr. Sagan was a great popularizer of Astronomy and Space Exploration, most notably with his famous “Cosmos” series and “Contact“, published in 1985 to become a famous, feature length movie by the same name in 1997. The movie, starring Jodie Foster as Astronomer Dr. Eleanor “Ellie” Arroway and Matthew McConaughey as Palmer Joss was released, ironically, the year after Carl’s untimely death. Released by Random House in March of 1996, 9 months prior to his death and the last work published while he was alive (there were other works of his published posthumously), is another important book of Carl’s that takes on renewed significance today: Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. After a battle with myelodysplasia, Carl died of pneumonia at the age of 62 on 20 December, 1996. He is survived by his widow and co-author, Ann Druyan and 5 children.
All our science, measured against reality, is primitive and childlike-and yet it is the most precious thing we have
Imagination is more important than knowledge
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