After watching Carl Sagan speak on the evening of his birthday in 1994 at Cornell University, I feel inspired by a man who is so well-rounded in his education to the point where he’ll even correlate anthropology and astrophysics in his story on hunter forager tracking technique. At the same time, he is ever open to new evidence and proof that would challenge his own understanding: the mind of a true seeker.
In this video Carl goes through historical examples of how human conceit birthed an attitude of undeserving self-importance with the mentality that humanity is at the center of the universe. In the dim light of our kind being the only known life out there, we ignorantly conclude that all that is must exist for our use and pleasure.
The vid may be lengthy, and it’s certainly not Hollywood, however, if one pays attention, it’s hard to miss that real life in this universe is much more fascinating, eye-opening and moving than any movie production ever will be. I say that because there is so much yet to know about life and its dynamics, subtle and overt, long before we even get to the point of exploring extra-planetary phenomena.
Now while he lost me on anthropic versus the lithic principle inasmuch as to me it is another mental gyration I have yet to understand before deciding upon its merit, he exemplifies another profound habit: proper use of mind. To put it simply, unless one is engaged in a problem solving or engineering task of analysis or synthesis, mind needs to be at rest and awareness needs to be given dominance. The alternative, that is, overthinking, thinking incessantly, results in mere existence and the living in one’s head as opposed to being and brings with it unnecessary stress. Participate in Life as a vibrant evolving being or merely exist to entertain a personal virtual reality?!
One more very exceptional point Carl made was to tell the story of the voyager satellite taking a photo of the earth by looking back to it from beyond the orbit of Neptune. From this vantage point, the earth is a mere pixel against the blackness of space from which no continents and certainly no country borders are visible. At this point comes one of Carl’s most renown oratories also known as A Pale Blue Dot:
.. that’s us that’s home that’s where we are on it, everybody you love everybody you know everybody you’ve ever heard of lived out their days they’re the aggregate of all our joy and suffering thousands of confident ideologies, religions, 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 hopeful child every mother and father every inventor and Explorer every revered teacher of morals every corrupt politician every uncorrupt politician too every superstar every Supreme Leader every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there the earth is a very small stage in a great cosmic arena think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors, presidents and prime ministers, party leaders so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of the corner of a dot think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one part of the dot on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of another part of the dot 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 seem to me 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 there’s anyone who will come and save us from ourselves that will happen only if we do it it’s been said that astronomy is a humbling experience and I would add character building to me, this is one of many demonstrations, through astronomy of the folly of human conceits to me, this picture, underscore is 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 … thank you
Carl Sagan, Cornell University, 1994
It grieves me to see that people like him are gone too soon!
I really appreciate the spirit of where Carl is coming from, a true seeker, open to be corrected, ever fascinated by the vastness of all the things we think we know and all the things we have yet to discover. Indeed, if we were to examine ourselves, our attitudes, thoughts and actions … perhaps after realizing that we’re not all that important in the universe, maybe at some point humanity learns some humility and kindness … Haven’t we flailed and stumbled through the centuries long enough?!
We’ll see it when weapons (esp. WMDs) are put away, technology has its proper place in our lives, borders are no more, homelessness is no more, and humanity works together as one, with empathy for each other and the only home we’ve ever known! Maybe then extraterrestrial life will begin to see us as worthy, READ mature, for interaction, to become part of a far greater scope of life in this galaxy and universe.