Monday, March 10, 2014

All that is, was, or ever will be...

Consider again that pale blue dot we've been talking about. Imagine that you take a good long look at it. Imagine that you're staring at the dot for any length of time, and then try to convince yourself that God created the whole universe for one of the ten million or so species of life that inhabit that speck of dust. Now take it a step further: imagine that everything was made just for a single shade of that species; or gender; or ethnic or religious subdivision. We can recognize here a shortcoming -- in some circumstances serious -- in our ability to understand the world. Characteristically, we seem compelled to project our own nature onto nature. "Man in his arrogance thinks himself a great work, worthy of the interposition of a deity," Darwin wrote telegraphically in his notebook, "more humble, and I think truer to consider him created from animals." We're Johnny-come-latelies. We live in the cosmic boondocks. We emerged from microbes in muck. Apes are our cousins. Our thoughts and feelings are not fully under our own control. And on top of all this, we're making a mess of our planet and becoming a danger to ourselves. The trapdoor beneath our feet swings open. We find ourselves in bottomless freefall. If it takes a little myth and ritual to get us through a night that seems endless, who among us cannot sympathize and understand? We long to be here for a purpose, even though despite much self deception, none is evident. The significance of our lives and our fragile planet is then determined only by our own wisdom and courage. We are the custodians of life's meaning. We long for a parent to care for us, to forgive us our errors, to save us from our childish mistakes. But knowledge is preferable to ignorance. Better by far to embrace the hard truth than a reassuring fable. Modern science has been a voyage into the unknown with a lesson in humility waiting at every stop. Our common sense intuitions can be mistaken. Our preferences don't count. We do not live in a privileged reference frame. If we crave some cosmic purpose then let us find ourselves a worthy goal. ~ Carl Sagan (1934 - 1996)

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