Carl Sagan

The oth­er day some­one asked me “who is your favourite famous per­son?”, to which I instant­ly replied:  Carl Sagan.

A galaxy is composed of gas and dust and stars—billions upon billions of stars.
“We are a way for the Cos­mos to know itself.”

It’s fun­ny that I was able to answer that ques­tion so quick­ly, con­sid­er­ing I strug­gle with ques­tions such as “What is your favourite colour?”

How­ev­er, Carl Sagan is just one of those peo­ple who had a great impact on me from an ear­ly age.

I remem­ber com­ing home from school and “Cos­mos” was on TV.  I remem­ber won­der­ing if I was watch­ing sci­ence fic­tion or sci­ence fact as Carl was dressed in some kind of brown robe and fly­ing a strange space­craft around the galaxy.

By the end of the episode I was hooked, and made a con­cert­ed effort to watch every episode pos­si­ble.  I think my favourite at the time was the one where the time dila­tion effect is demon­strat­ed by a young boy on a motor scoot­er.  I recall that I found it upset­ting that when he returned to the park bench where he left his broth­er, his broth­er was an old man, but still wait­ing for him.

I love Carl Sagan.

When I lis­ten to Carl Sagan speak, I feel as though I under­stand how oth­ers are moved by Shakespeare.

So this brings me to The Pale Blue Dot…

The Pale Blue Dot refers to a pho­to­graph of plan­et Earth tak­en in 1990 by the Voy­ager 1 space­craft from a record dis­tance of about 6 bil­lion kilo­me­tres from Earth.

In his book Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, Carl Sagan relat­ed his thoughts on the pho­to­graph, and this is one of my favourite quotes by any­one, ever:

From this dis­tant van­tage point, the Earth might not seem of any par­tic­u­lar inter­est. But for us, it’s different.

Con­sid­er again 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.”

Noth­ing lasts for­ev­er, and even stars die.

Carl Sagan (1934–1996), R.I.P.