October 13, 2013

The Pale Blue Dot

I don't know how many of you are familiar with Carl Sagan's "Pale Blue Dot," but it is one of those unassuming works of art that leave you breathless and covered in goosebumps. I first came across it in a Creative Writing class, in our section on media and videogaphy, and my initial reaction was, "Ugh. Videos. I hate videos. I want to read." About ten seconds in, I was interested. By the time the video ended, I was on the edge of my seat and filled with such pride and love for our pale blue dot that I watched it again. We all know the Earth is our home. I mean, duh. Toddlers know that. First graders definitely know it. To most of us, the Earth is the largest object we will ever personally know. It's where we live and eat and sleep and raise our families. It's where we were born and where we will die. It's where we laugh and cry, and serves as the great stage upon which the grand drama of the human race is played. All the heroes, all the villains, all of us as are "but dust and shadows," and we live upon a "mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam." What a spectacular world.

“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 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. 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.

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: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

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