NASA’s voyager has sent many awe-inspiring pictures of the universe, the cosmos, the planets. One of the many pictures sent by Voyager shows our planet from about 6 billion kilometers. From that distance, the Earth appears no more than a speck of dust, a mere “Pale Blue Dot”.
This photograph inspired the renowned astronomer/astro-physicist /cosmologist Carl Sagan for the title for his famous book “Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space“. In this book, Sagan pens down his thoughts quite poignantly on the significance of this image and the insignificance of our condition:
From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again 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.
From : Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space
The words in bold above are not part of the original excerpt, Sagan did not call these words out, the bold typeface is my embellishment. I have been mulling over thoughts that are quite similar to the ones expressed in these words for over a year now. I have been grappling to come to terms with the reality of my “being” my “existence” and the ridiculously microscopic inconsequential aspect of it. Yes, a bit of a self-absorbed line of thought you can say while alluding to the “…our imagined self-importance…” line from Sagan’s writing above.
These feelings of “what matters?” and “why be?” got further fueled as a result of a traumatic incident in the recent past where I ended up losing a lot of material things causing a sizable financial loss. I do not care for “stuff”, “stuff” is replaceable (and there is no fake humility in this statement), so I did a minor shrug for the lost items and moved on. What continued to eat me at the core is the fact that with the tangible assets that were lost, I also lost a lot of intangible memories worth over a decade. Memories that were neatly stored in electronic form of photos and videos, which I would revisit every so often. I also lost a large collection of unfinished writings – my amateur attempts of writing film scripts, un-sent letters, unpublished blog posts, poems, random thoughts, ideas! All of which are non-replaceable, but here lies the quandary – as I am grieving for this loss, I am feeling a wave of guilt wash over me – guilt for grieving on something so inconsequential, so damn insignificant – if my existence doesn’t matter in the universal scheme of things, why should I then feel this pain? The fact that I exist (and hence my memories are real) is in direct opposition to the fact that my existence, and the events that happened in my life are of no significance. In the cosmic dust, there is no shifting of any balance if I ceased to exist…(for that matter if any of us ceased to exist). Why then should I care so much? This conflict spirals me into that ever mysterious question – “What is the purpose of my/our existence?”. To which many a scientists and thinkers would say – “It’s a stupid question. There is no purpose and hence the question is irrelevant.” I wish I could buy this statement, to me it seems like a cop-out from the scientific community. To draw parallels, centuries ago, questions like – “Why are there seasons?” or “Why can’t some people see colors?” or “Why does the moon change shapes every day?” etc. were probably met with a similar response – “Irrelevant questions”. Just like our collective knowledge in those days wasn’t sufficient to answer them, our extent of knowledge today is not equipped to answer this question. It would be a much humbler response to say “We don’t know the purpose of our existence, YET.”
I believe, there is some meaning to us being here…I am not talking from a spiritual or a divine point of view – for the record – I am an atheist – not an agnostic – an ATHEIST. So my quest for this is purely scientific, purely factual. I want to believe that my being matters, my doing things matter, my not doing things matter, my existence has some meaning – it is an essential piece in the completion of a mathematical or an astronomical theorem. Without me there will be a me shaped void, something will be incomplete – like how a small deformity in one of the legs of a chair makes it wobbly, like how a dash of salt completes a dish, like how one missing note can render a melody incomplete!