Quote of the Day #13

Carl Sagan


“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.”This quote is from American astronomer Carl Sagan. The “dot” he is referring to is Earth, in a photograph taken by the Voyager 1 space probe from a distance of about 6 billion kilometres (3.7 billion miles). In the photograph, Earth is less than a pixel in size. The quote continues…

“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 harbour 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.”

Notice how Sagan says he is made humble by this photograph. Not for him the confidence that he knows, knows, the origin and the meaning of the whole universe that characterises most religions. Scientists like Sagan are quick to proclaim their own lack of knowledge; religious leaders don’t just claim to know, but to know everything.

Sagan’s “dot” is so much more compelling and real than childish stories about burning bushes, zombie carpenters and desert bandits riding flying horses to the Moon. The universe is so large and so mysterious that the photographs from Voyager and other space probes tell us that worrying about gay sex causing floods or one half of one species showing its hair to the other is so unimportant, so solipsistic, so pathetic as to be laughable if it hadn’t caused so much misery to so any people for so many years.


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