Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Pale Blue Dot...and Ultrarunning

Th actual "pale blue dot" is tiny: look in the long streak on the right, just below the centerline:
 
 [image credit Wikipedia]

I'm a sucker for Dr. Carl Sagan, and agree with Phil Plait, the motive force behind the wonderful blog, Bad Astronomy, that Sagan's words are inspirational and powerful:

It is a wonderful thing that words written many years ago can inspire people today. When Carl Sagan wrote his essay “Reflections on a Mote of Dust” (commonly called “Pale Blue Dot”), he must have known how special it was. His words were inspired by a picture taken from a spacecraft 6 billion kilometers away, a probe commanded to turn around and look at our solar system from this great distance. It was so terribly remote at the time that our entire planet appears as a simple pale blue dot, a single pixel of color in a vast patch of darkness.
His essay is, in my opinion, one of the finest examples of writing in the English language.
 
So let's look to Sagan's words themselves:

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.
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 in 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 the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. 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. It is up to us. It's been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, 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 and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.
 

The link to Ultrarunning, of course, is that all of our efforts and miles and pain and joy really don't amount to much on the cosmic stage. That's a humbling thought.

But on the other hand, when we do our Ultra thing, when we kindly and compassionately embrace a spirit of mutual effort on the trails to further our understanding of ourselves, we really are honoring the words of Dr. Sagan:

"To my mind, 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 and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."

 

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