Our place in this cosmic arena


This picture, named the pale blue dot, taken by the Voyager 1 space probe, from beyond Neptune on Valentine’s day 1990, stands as a testament to exactly how small our part in this grand orchestra that we call the universe, is. Even from somewhere relatively close like the edge of our solar system, the Earth is still almost too small to see.

Ever since this picture was taken it has served as a reminder to many  dreamers, astronomers and philosophers of just how fragile our existence is. One such person, the man on whose order the picture was taken, described the significance of the picture eloquently in his book:

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.
  • Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot (1994)

Our pale blue dot is a single rock, floating through space with very little in the way of actual defenses, that can protect us from the dangers in the universe. Just thinking about all the different things that could happen to completely wipe out everything we’ve ever known, can leave any man frozen in terror. Indeed, it is quite true that contemplating the universe and our position in it can lead to a great deal of mental distress, but as the saying goes, there are two sides to every coin.

Considering the almost infinitesimal timescales in which the stories of all individuals happen and how small our part of the grand cosmic stage is, you must stop and ask whether all the bitterness and hatred we hold against each other, the greed, jealousy and anger we let consume us at different points of our lives; is any of it worth the time? Why spill the blood of our fellow humans, or get our own blood boiling over matters that can barely even be called ‘trivial’, from an objective viewpoint.

Think of the cruelties visited upon by man, on the animals and plants that share this home with us. We drive entire populations of animals to the brink of extinction, level vast areas of forest every day, sometimes for no better reason that to satiate our momentary desires or simply to gain some form of primitive satisfaction at dominating a creature that never had a chance to begin with. Ever since the advent of the industrial revolution, man has been using his factories and his machines to wreak havoc on global ecosystems. With each passing year since then, we have upset the delicate natural balance of nature more and more, as if Earth is simply another resource to be exploited till there’s nothing left; never pausing to ponder where we may go if we ruin this home.

Would it not make more sense for us, to put what meager differences we have aside, and join together in the knowledge that we are all we have and this one home is what we must all share? To use the collective power of billions of minds to build and create wonders, the likes of which our ancestors would never have imagined. To help uplift all our brothers and sisters and venture out into the dark void together and see what wondrous mysteries our universe may have just waiting to be discovered.

Of course we humans also have a duty towards our home. The only one, our kind has ever known. We must protect and nurture the massive diversity of life that has grown on this planet, with each living thing connected to all else, in many more ways than most people realize. Should we not act in wisdom and preserve the beauty of our fragile slice of heaven, instead of ravaging it all until there’s nothing of the beauty left?

Ever since we had the technology to, humans have been sending messages into space. A fledgling civilization calling out into the black void, searching for anyone who could answer, to confirm that we are not alone. Yet to this day, the universe has only ever given us silence. At least for the time being, we humans are all alone. This underscores the responsibility we have to each other and to the millions of species that share the planet with us. We are all that we’ve ever known and it falls to us to protect, cherish and coexist with the rest of life on earth. Our place in this vast cosmic stage might be a small one, but it is also a beautiful one. So let us treasure it and make the most of it while we get ready to go in search for other actors in this great orchestra we call the universe.

Image credit: https://twitter.com/susan_masten/status/840194997983031296

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