Today would have been Carl Sagan’s 77th birthday. My first introduction to him was, like so many people’s, through watching Cosmos in my teens. I was already completely obsessed with anything space, science, or science fiction related when the show aired, and its combination of stunning visuals, atmospheric music, and exploration not only of what makes us human, but also how we relate to the Universe around us, had me hooked immediately. Sagan’s passion and enthusiasm was truly infectious and couldn’t help but overflow the confines of the small screen. For anyone who hasn’t seen it, I have to highly recommend it.
Carl Sagan was a scientist, an explorer, skeptic, humanitarian, and visionary; he is sorely missed. One of the strongest memories I have is his “Pale Blue Dot” speech, which is as poetic as it is humbling. I present it here in tribute to this great man:
“We succeeded in taking that picture [from deep space], and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every 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 in 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 the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner 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, 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. It is up to us. It’s been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, 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 and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”
R.I.P. Carl Sagan. 1934-1996