the pale blue dot

The following comes from Carl Sagan. I was trying to find something appropriate for the fifth anniversary of 9/11, and I think this strikes the right tone. I suppose you could find it depressing, but, when I read it, I’m somehow comforted. It’s entitled, “Reflections on a Mote of Dust.”

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.

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  1. ChelseaL
    Posted September 11, 2006 at 6:51 am | Permalink



  2. UBU
    Posted September 11, 2006 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Is that the the blue dot you get in the National Enquirer that helps you win the lottery?

  3. Sam
    Posted September 11, 2006 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    Great choice Mark. In the overall scheme of things we humans are utterly insignificant except to ourselves. No one is going to come to our rescue except us. We have achieved remarkable things in the last few thousand years. A lot of what we have accomplished is good. A lot of it is totally evil. If we are to survive as a species, we must realize that we have the capability, but we must have the will to change our ways and focus our efforts on moving forward in a positive way. We aren’t going to be moving anywhere else anytime in the foreseeable future. So let’s pull together to make sure that we make the earth someplace where we can survive into the future.

  4. jules
    Posted September 11, 2006 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Yup. That was lovely and perfect. Thanks.

  5. Dirtgrain
    Posted September 11, 2006 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

    Oh, I will share this with my students and see how they respond.

    By the way, have you seen the ACLU Freedom Files?

  6. Tony Buttons Esq.
    Posted September 12, 2006 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    This is why I stopped dusting my apartment years and years ago.

  7. Dr Cherry
    Posted September 12, 2006 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    “Grab him!” they shouted. “And cage the big dope!
    Lasso his stomach with ten miles of rope!
    Tie the knots tight so he

  8. Ted Glass
    Posted September 12, 2006 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    September 11 and Dr. Seus really do go nicely together, don’t they? And here, for the sake of context, is another excerpt from Horton Hears a Who:

  9. Dirtgrain
    Posted September 12, 2006 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    The Mote in God’s Eye.

    From Wole Soyinka’s poem, “Last Turning”: “Five men are walking the other way, five men walking even more slowly, wearily, with the weight of the world on each foot, on each step towards eternity. I hear them pause at every scrap of life, at every beat of the silence, at every mote in the sun, those five for whom the world is about to die.”

  10. syiychl
    Posted February 23, 2010 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    How do we all fit on that little thing?

  11. Ted
    Posted February 23, 2010 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    No wonder Sagan killed himself.

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