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Pale Blue Dot

Updated: Aug 2, 2021

Keep things in perspective.

This photo is usually called the "Pale Blue Dot." The image was taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft as it left the solar system over 30 years ago, and that speck in the band of light is not a star. It's Earth. Hopefully this immediately gives you some perspective. If not let me walk you through it... The United States is one of nearly 200 countries on the planet. Our planet is one of eight (or nine, sorry Pluto) going around the sun. Our sun is one of hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy. And our galaxy is one of hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe (that we know about). That is a size and scope of which we can scarcely even conceive.

Set against such a backdrop, we should all rethink what we consider to be "important." The next time you are outraged by something, take a moment to realize how trivial it actually is on a cosmic level. Each of us exists for a blip in a near eternity of time, amongst a near infinity of stars and planets. And yet we often choose to spend our time arguing over things like gender pronouns. Could anything be more inane, insignificant, or a waste of time?

Ronald Reagan famously said at the conclusion of his 1987 speech to the United Nations:

In our obsession with antagonisms of the moment, we often forget how much unites all the members of humanity. Perhaps we need some outside, universal threat to make us recognize this common bond. I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world. And yet, I ask you, is not an alien force already among us? What could be more alien to the universal aspirations of our peoples than war and the threat of war?

Every single human alive today was dead for billions of years and will be dead for billions more after a brief few decades of being alive (if we are lucky). So given what we know about the universe, and our place in it, we should find it nonsensical to spend our exceptionally limited time engaged in any contribution to the suffering of others through anger, hatred, or violence. Instead, all of us should spend at least some measure of that time seeking radical common ground upon this one small planet which is quite literally, just that. Certainly we can start by realizing that as Americans, we are all in this together.

I'll leave you with this quote by Carl Sagan from decades ago about the "Pale Blue Dot" which sums up my feelings on this matter exactly:

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.
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