Posts tagged 1980
Thirty-two years ago, a misguided piece of garbage snuffed out one of the great minds in history with five hollow points for non-sensical reasons.
The bigger a tragedy is, the more epic and grand of an explanation we want. Was is the CIA? Was it hidden subliminal kill orders found in a book?
Of course not.
The simple, sad fact is that even the lowest man has the power to snuff out the most exalted of us. Where’s the fairness in that? There isn’t. And that’s one of the harsher truths in life: not everything happens for a reason, and sometimes, when thereis a reason, it’s not a good one.
So. Let’s not dwell on that fateful day and the events that transpired outside the Dakota. Instead, kick on some Beatles or Lennon solo tunes, and let’s just imagine a reality where John Lennon’s still kicking, and the world’s a little brighter for it.
If the general picture, however, of a Big Bang followed by an expanding Universe is correct, what happened before that?
Was the Universe devoid of all matter and then the matter suddenly somehow created, how did that happen?
In many cultures, the customary answer is that a God or Gods created the Universe out of nothing.
But if we wish to pursue this question courageously, we must of course ask the next question:
where did God come from?
If we decide that this is an unanswerable question, why not save a step and conclude that the origin of the Universe is an unanswerable question?
Or, if we say that God always existed, why not save a step, and conclude that the Universe always existed? That there’s no need for a creation, it was always here.
These are not easy questions.
Cosmology brings us face to face with the deepest mysteries, questions that were once treated only in religion and myth.
Human history can be viewed as a slowly dawning awareness that we are members of a larger group.
Initially our loyalties were to ourselves and our immediate family, next, to bands of wandering hunter-gatherers, then to tribes, small settlements, city-states, nations.
We have broadened the circle of those we love.
We have now organized what are modestly described as super-powers, which include groups of people from divergent ethnic and cultural backgrounds working in some sense together — surely a humanizing and character building experience.
If we are to survive, our loyalties must be broadened further, to include the whole human community, the entire planet Earth.
We humans are one species and this is our world.
It is our responsibility to cherish it.
Of all the worlds in our solar system, the only one so far as we know, graced by life.
Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were.
But without it we go nowhere.
There is no other species on the Earth that does science. It is, so far, entirely a human invention, evolved by natural selection in the cerebral cortex for one simple reason: it works.
It is not perfect. It can be misused. It is only a tool.
But it is by far the best tool we have, self-correcting, ongoing, applicable to everything.
It has two rules.
First: there are no sacred truths; all assumptions must be critically examined; arguments from authority are worthless.
Second: whatever is inconsistent with the facts must be discarded or revised. We must understand the Cosmos as it is and not confuse how it is with how we wish it to be.
Every thinking person fears nuclear war and every technological nation plans for it.
Everyone knows it’s madness, and every country has an excuse.
Fanatical ethnic or religious or national identifications are a little difficult to support when we see our Earth as a fragile blue crescent fading to become an inconspicuous point of light against the bastion and the citadel of the stars.
Carl Sagan, Cosmos (1980)
Especially today, it’s good to reflect on that simple, universal truth: regardless of our borders and beliefs, we are all -every single one of us- brothers, citizens of Earth.
We embarked on our journey to the stars with a question first framed in the childhood of our species and in each generation asked anew with undiminished wonder:
What are the stars?
Exploration is in our nature.
Our loyalties are to the species and the planet.
We speak for Earth.
Our obligation to survive and flourish is owed not just to ourselves, but also to that Cosmos, ancient and vast, from which we spring.
That same rocket and nuclear and computer technology that sends our ships past the farthest known planet can also be used to destroy our global civilization.
Exactly the same technology can be used for good and for evil.
It is as if there were a God who said to us, “I set before you two ways:
You can use your technology to destroy yourselves
or to carry you to the planets and the stars.
It’s up to you.
History is full of people who out of fear or ignorance or the lust for power have destroyed treasures of immeasurable value which truly belong to all of us. We must not let it happen again.