Reflections on a Mote of Dust
September 11, 2001 6:00 PM   Subscribe

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." Carl Sagan "Pale Blue Dot"
posted by crasspastor (15 comments total)
We're gonna kill this guy's site. Kinda what MetaFilter's probably experiencing.
posted by crasspastor at 6:04 PM on September 11, 2001

Perhaps once night completely sets in, this important paragraph will also set in. The stars are shining in Seattle. Indeed, the stars will always shine. . .
posted by crasspastor at 8:15 PM on September 11, 2001

[this is good]
posted by canoeguide at 8:22 PM on September 11, 2001

Not always, unfortunately. But we'll be gone long before they will.
posted by darukaru at 8:31 PM on September 11, 2001

I meant it figuratively.
posted by crasspastor at 8:34 PM on September 11, 2001

I'm gonna keep this fucker alive! I didn't write it! I didn't think it! This is an important perspective of our planet! C'mon people let's hear it!!!!
posted by crasspastor at 8:45 PM on September 11, 2001

i think it's just too big for anybody to wrap their brains around right now. it doesn't have flight numbers or gas prices or crash times or even stale racist rhetoric to cling to -- it's a thought that's too bare and pure for the shell-shocked minds of the moment.

or maybe that's just me.
posted by damn yankee at 2:01 AM on September 12, 2001

It's a cool picture, but I don't understand Sagan's point. Is the Earth really insignificant because it is small and the universe is big? Do we really value things because of their size?

Am I supposed to be less upset about this tragedy because, hey look, galaxies are much much bigger than the Earth?
posted by straight at 7:47 AM on September 12, 2001

Do we really value things because of their size?

you need to ask?
posted by tolkhan at 11:24 AM on September 12, 2001

Do we really value things because of their size?

you need to ask?

My point is that I think it's dumb to think that because the rest of the universe dwarfs the Earth in size that it also dwarfs the Earth in importance.

No one thinks New York is unimportant because it's so much smaller than Greenland. No one would say an SUV is more important than a human being because it's bigger. I don't think the Earth is insignificant because the the rest of the universe is really really big.

I think it's a stupid mixed metaphor to say that the size of the universe somehow puts the pain and suffering of human beings in "perspective." That's meaningless. The wife who lost her husband yesterday isn't going to be comforted because, after all, he's much smaller than an asteroid, much less a star. Nor should she be.
posted by straight at 11:48 AM on September 12, 2001 [2 favorites]


We're all on that dot.


I don't know what it says about anybody who can't recognize that as significant all of this is to everybody, everywhere on that "pale blue dot" today, the vastness of the universe, is still exponentially much more grand and unfathomable.

It is that unfathomability which could, as Sagan propounded for so long, be the saving grace of humanity, and indeed of all that makes Earth unique--it's bounty of life surrounded by such cold, lifeless expanse. A cold lifeless expanse that, is punctuated here and there with other potentially intelligent life harboring motes of dust--which do not know we are here. It is, as Sagan eloquently points out, that an understanding of this fact should cause us all to take pause, that every instance of potentially civilization ending zealotry, is only happening on a simple, insignificant "mote of dust". If it is impossible for anyone to see this, moreover, to comprehend this, indeed human civilization will end and seemingly, much sooner than later. And that "mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam" will no longer have any life on it to ponder anything ever again at all.

I think it's stupid that someone would think their opinion, their religion, their nationalism, is more important than this stark sermon on the condition of humanity.
posted by crasspastor at 10:47 PM on September 12, 2001

every instance of potentially civilization ending zealotry, is only happening on a simple, insignificant "mote of dust"

This is the part that seems silly to me. The Earth is not insignificant just because it's small.

Sagan was always railing against religion, but this is a much more primitive form of religion (superstition, I'd call it) than Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, etc.

"Worship the elephant because it is big! Bow down in humility before the vastness of the universe because it is big!"

If I seek to cultivate humility, it is out of respect for God and other human beings. Not because the Milky Way makes me feel small. If I put my faith in God, it's because I think he's good, not because I think he's big.
posted by straight at 9:10 AM on September 13, 2001

The earth is, as far as we are sure, the only spot in the universe where life has evolved. Likewise consciousness. A conscious race can observe the deterministic nature of the rest of the universe. The conscious race sees that it's actions are not necessarily deterministic, or if they are, the lot of variables guiding their actions are as yet unknown. The conscious race is apparently a singularity, and therefore very significant.

So there!
posted by sonofsamiam at 9:51 AM on September 13, 2001

Straight, you are the type that Sagan's brilliant prose was written to hopefully impact. It has obviously failed. Not that it wasn't a valiant try. Square pegs and round holes I guess.

To me, it's intangible how one could fail to feel the beauty of this.
posted by crasspastor at 4:05 PM on September 13, 2001


I have to admit that part of why I feel that way is that Sagan would typically use this kind of rhetoric to bash religious people. He'd ask in this condescending way, "How can you believe in a God that thinks human beings are special when the Earth is just a tiny speck in the cosmos?"

I always wanted to reply, "How can I believe you really love your baby daughter when she's so much smaller than your house?"

Sagan using his astronomy credentials to try to bully religious people just pissed me off, because he was speaking smugly but stupidly, outside his discipline. A freshman philosophy student ought to be able to catch the fallacy here. It's almost as bad as Jerry Fallwell trying to poke holes in evolutionary theory.

I agree the universe is a big, glorious, beautiful, wonderful, astounding place. But the leap from there to the insignificance of human beings and their concerns is more of a religious idea than a scientific or philosophical one. And it's a religious idea I disagree with.
posted by straight at 8:09 AM on September 14, 2001

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