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11 years

December 20, 2007

Pale Blue Dot

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.

It’s an odd feeling to miss someone you’ve never known or even met. Thanks, Carl, we miss you.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. December 21, 2007 11:31 am

    When in college (fUD 1976 – 1981 first round) I always looked for classes where the prof was known to be outstanding.
    So, upon hearing that Harry Shipman was first class, I and a fellow hippie signed up together for his Black Holes lectures.
    Since I was not particularly good in math, the liberal use of calculators was appreciated, he even let us use them for the test with the formulas at the ready.
    Good Times

    I think I got a B-C+ and retained the basic concepts – really cool stuff.

  2. Tyler Nixon permalink
    December 21, 2007 8:21 pm

    Funny you write this….it is very much what has been on my mind over the last few days as I go about my daily routine in our little corner of our tiny world.

    What made me think about it was a little factoid I recently heard. If our solar system was the size of a CD, our galaxy would be equivalent to the size of our entire planet. This is just our own galaxy alone…which is surely just one of beeellions of galaxies (as Carl used to say it) in the universe.

    As I was riding around town I kept thinking of the scale of a CD compared to just the landscape of the earth around me and how our planet would be just a tiny dot on the surface of the CD. But even more was that the landscape of the earth around me was just the surface, not even comprehending the interior volume of the planet as the galaxy in which our little CD of a solar system somewhere resides.

    Makes ya think. Makes ya wonder. Makes ya realize how small are the minds that think creation can even be fathomed from this small planet of ours, much less the mind of a “creator”. Makes ya angry at how these small minds have wreaked such havoc on countless souls who have dwelt here through the ages, with their wars and oppressions and dogmas and superstitions and power structures. Makes ya want to smack their asses down for good, for the lasting peace of mankind.

  3. December 21, 2007 9:38 pm

    Harry Shipman is one of the greatest teachers I have ever had. I was an education major and every Ed Major had to take his class, to the chagrin of many. I remember that one of his assignments (in 1991or2or3) was to send him an email. Man, you should have heard the teachers groan. They had to go interact with geeks to get an account on the composers…

    Harry, if you Google yourself and see this, thanks.

  4. December 23, 2007 12:09 pm

    LiberalGeek, you probably had to take Personality too. I hated my prof in that case but learned a hell of a lot about myself, who knew that I was so far down the hostility continuum? HAH!

  5. December 24, 2007 7:43 pm

    I, too, had Shipman at UD — twice! First for “Quasars, Black Holes and the Universe,” and then “Concepts of the Universe.” The guy is just awesome. I loved how he demonstrated the Doppler shift — he ran around the room with an Einstein shirt … blue in front, red in back.

    But lest you atheists think Har totally and completely scientific, I’ll never forget when one student asked him about traveling faster-than-light. “What would we find at the edge of the universe?” Also, another asked him what was there before the Big Bang. To both his response was “Well, now might be a time to invoke a higher power.” I’m not saying he’s a religious guy (I believe he’s Jewish, though), but I dug the answer.

  6. December 25, 2007 6:45 am

    “But lest you atheists think Har totally and completely scientific, I’ll never forget when one student asked him about traveling faster-than-light. ‘What would we find at the edge of the universe?’ Also, another asked him what was there before the Big Bang. To both his response was ‘Well, now might be a time to invoke a higher power.’ ”

    Well, nobody’s perfect 😉

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