It is so easy to get caught up in the minutia. In the seemingly infinite world of Me. Or for you, of You. I work in high schools, the breeding ground of Me. I do not discount the importance of this stage in human development – it is crucial to discovering who we might be, You and Me. I love watching the students I work with cultivate and develop and mutate and invent and destroy and enhance and dilute and clarify and identify this sense of themselves. And if they can see that everyone else is really just trying to do the same thing in the end, somehow, as a race, I believe we have been successful. The balance of understanding and gaining perspective without turning to futility may be the true right of passage.
It’s a sin that somehow
Light is changing to shadow
And casting its shroud
Over all we have known
Unaware how the ranks have grown
Driven on by a heart of stone
We could find that we’re all alone
In the dream of the proud
Launched on September 5, 1977, when I had just started the second grade, Voyager 1 is now somewhere called the Heliosheath, at the end of the Heliosphere, at this second about 17,434,002,760 km from Earth. In 1990, when it was a mere 6.4 billion kilometers away, Carl Sagan suggested that NASA turn the spacecraft’s camera back to show the Earth’s “true circumstance and condition.” On Valentine’s Day of that year, Voyager 1 captured the now famous image of our planet, the Pale Blue Dot. In the image, the planet fills 0.12 pixel.
Mr. Sagan understood perspective. All the highs and lows, all we have known – everything… finding a place on that single Pale Blue Dot.
From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. 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, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space (1994)