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The Pale Blue Dot: Shifting Perspectives Towards Civility

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In times where things appear to be full of chaos, anger, and resentment, a shift in perspective will generally lead to enlightenment and wisdom.  Over the last few years, I have seen elevated levels of bickering and more argumentative attitudes directed at those who are of a different mindset.  On larger scales, a nation can quickly resort to infighting, or throughout history, nations have engaged in wars.  The thoughts that there are those who are different or wrong and they need to be converted to our way of thinking quickly leads to turmoil and resentment.  Civility, it appears, has been on the decline.

The astronauts of Apollo 8 bore witness to an event that was never witnessed by humans.  One of the crew took a quick picture in between tasks during the mission.  The photo, “Earthrise” was the first time humans documented the earth rising above the moon.  Never was the earth seen at such a different perspective.  There are no national boundaries or political lines, just blue oceans, the earthy tones of the land, and white swirling clouds.  For someone seeing the earth for the first time, there is harmony and peace from this perspective.  Stretching further back, the early only appears as a small bluish dot in the sky.

This “pale blue dot” is our small home in the universe.  From this perspective, our small little dot in the sky is all we have.  This is our home, the provider of the land, water, and air.  Instead of arguing and bickering about why we are right, and others are wrong, we need to embrace our place in the universe and take care of each other.  We need to treat our home with more respect and act as the caretakers we should be.

The following pictures were taken earlier in the year as Cassini spacecraft turned its eyes back our way.  Hope everyone was waving.  Carl Sagan was one of my childhood heroes.  While I did not pursue any science in college, much of my interests in the cosmos can be attributed to him.

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Carl Sagan:  Pale Blue Dot

“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.”

Carl SaganPale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, 1997 reprint, pp. xv–xvi

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