Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot

Science means something very special to me. It is the key to our existence in this sliver of the cosmic timescale. When I need to get the world and its many intricacies (and frustrations) in perspective, I think of Carl Sagan’s immortal words about the “pale blue dot.” I have included his words estimating Humankind’s “true circumstances and condition” below in their entirety. The words are important and I can’t underestimate the power of these ideas. They’ve provided me solace on many occasions.

It was Sagan’s idea to turn Voyager I’s camera back toward Earth as it sped out beyond our solar system. In this immense sea of darkness, the stark vacuum of space, a dim pale blue dot is seen. The picture was taken on February 14, 1990 from a distance of 6.4 billion kilometers (see attached image).

Seeing our world from that perspective allows me to better understand the miniscule significance of my problems and the problems of our Earth. I feel strong and rejuvenated after looking at the blue dot, and it makes me think about how science is our best tool for allowing us to embrace the complexities of the future. I can think of no better way to embrace our world the way it truly is than to revisit Sagan’s words in moments of weakness, insecurity or self-reflection. I save it for special times, tears welling up inside me as I read the words, ponder existence, and seek a more reasoned future.

“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


  1. oh my goodness, i've thought about sagan's blue dot in the same way, like when i needed to get the big picture when something bad happened in my life. . Allan

  2. Although Ptolemy thought the Sun revolved around the Earth, he also concluded that the Earth should be treated as a mathematical point in the universe. Now, since a mathematical point is infinitely smaller than a "pale blue dot," do we conclude that Ptolemy must be humbler and wiser than modern astronomers? Well, maybe I'm being nasty and objective, when I should be misty-eyed and subjective. I might be a candidate for sensitivity training.

    Unlike "pale-blue-dot" astronomers, I don't try to feel the pain of the robbed (nor do I try to feel the pleasure of the robbers). To pretend to know the pain of others is to belittle the pain of others.

    From a comfortable armchair or a speaker's podium, all human trials (pains, pleasures, joys, loves, etc.) can only be reduced to a "pale blue dot" by exceptional Pride - not by insightful thinking. Trying to synthesize people with their planet is called Pantheism - not Astronomy.

    Best Regards,

    Frank Hatch

  3. THE LOST:

    To break the restriction of a linear time sequence, the Lost need empirical data - uncorrupted, honest data. However, the Lost have filtered all their data with a scientific-religious presumption: a finite universe with a finite number of dimensions.

    The Lost do not understand, nor do they perceive their conflict with the Infinite Universe and the Infinite number of dimensions...

    "...nothing can be added to it,
    nor anything taken from it..."
    (Ecclesiastes 3:14)

    Best Regards,

    Frank Hatch


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