Reflection From The Pale Blue Dot

In 1990, the Voyager 1 space probe looked back at Earth from the outer solar system and snapped a picture that captured the attention of the world. How did our humble home look? A dot. Literally, the Earth was nothing more than a pale blue dot in the image taken by the probe.

In 1994, Carl Sagan wrote the book Pale Blue Dot. In it, Sagan wrote what he believes humanity can and will achieve (a future in the stars). One of the most moving and profound quotes you’ll ever hear or read also comes from the book. Reflecting on the 1990 photo, Sagan comments on the insignificance, vulnerability and preciousness of planet Earth in his classic eloquent way:

*italics added by me…

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.

Carl Sagan 1934-1996

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The Baloney Detection Kit

If it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is. In an age of instant communication and sensationalism, it is extremely easy to fall for baloney (or as the French say, “bulls***”). “Cure For Cancer Found In Beetle!” “Man Raised From The Dead In Africa!” “Free $1 Million If You Sign Up Here!” “Woman Healed Of AIDS!” We’ve all seen the sensational claims…but when you get down to investigating the claims themselves, the sensationalism dissolves into quackery. Whether it’s miracle cures, faith healing or free money, the ability of humans to deceive themselves and others is matched by no other animal on Earth. Carl Sagan came up with a method of “detecting” falsehoods, hoaxes, scams, and flat-out b.s. with his Baloney Detection Kit. The “kit” consists of ten questions that determine if a specific claim is an evidence-supported theory or baloney…

THE BALONEY DETECTION KIT

  1. How reliable is the source of the claim?
  2. Does the source make similar claims?
  3. Have the claims been verified by somebody else?
  4. Does this fit with the way the world works?
  5. Has anyone tried to disprove the claim?
  6. Where does the preponderance of evidence point?
  7. Is the claimant playing by the rules of science?
  8. Is the claimant providing positive evidence?
  9. Does the new theory account for as many phenomena as the old theory?
  10. Are personal beliefs driving the claim?

The next time you come across an out-of-this-world claim, ask yourself these 10 questions.

Michael Shermer made a video with the Richard Dawkins Foundation For Reason And Science on Sagan’s Baloney Detection Kit:

 

Michael Shermer’s “The Believing Brain” Out Now

Michael Shermer, skeptic extraordinaire, has a new book out called The Believing Brain: From Ghosts to Gods and Politics to Conspiracies. The book essentially takes a scientific look at why and how people form, accept and defend their beliefs (upbringing, popular culture, religion, etc.). I highly recommend it and leave you with a little Shermer lesson… 🙂