Pale Blue Dots

I posted Sancho Panza’s speech about the earth in the comments section of a YouTube video featuring Carl Sagan’s meditations from “Pale Blue Dot.” One Youtuber replied that there were similar thoughts in Cicero’s “Scipio’s Dream” and Marcus Aurelius’ “Meditations.”

Cicero’s “Scipio’s Dream”, part 3:

And as I looked on every side I saw other things transcendently glorious and wonderful. There were stars which we never see from here below, and all the stars were vast far beyond what we have ever imagined. The least of them was that which, farthest from heaven, nearest to the earth, shone with a borrowed light. But the starry globes very far surpassed the earth in magnitude. The earth itself indeed looked to me so small as to make me ashamed of our empire, which was a mere point on its surface.

Marcus Aurelius’ “Meditations” (the 2002 translation by Gregory Hays):

Or is it your reputation that’s bothering you? But look at how soon we’re all forgotten. The abyss of endless time that swallows it all. The emptiness of all those applauding hands. The people who praise us—how capricious they are, how arbitrary. And the tiny region in which it all takes place. The whole earth a point in space—and most of it uninhabited. How many people there will be to admire you, and who they are.[4.3]

They all die soon—praiser and praised, rememberer and remembered. Remembered in these parts or in a corner of them. Even there they don’t all agree with each other (or even with themselves). And the whole earth a mere point in space. [8.21]

Forget everything else. Keep hold of this alone and remember it: Each of us lives only now, this brief instant. The rest has been lived already, or is impossible to see. The span we live is small—small as the corner of the earth in which we live it. Small even as the greatest renown, passed from mouth to mouth by short-lived stick figures, ignorant alike of themselves and those long dead. [3.10]

Sancho’s original speech in “Don Quixote,” from Edith Grossman’s translation (Vol. II, chs. 41-42):

I looked down at the earth, and it seemed to me that it was no larger than a mustard seed, and the men walking on it not much bigger than hazel nuts, so you can see how high we must have been flying then. . . . After I came down from the sky, and after I looked at the earth from that great height and saw how small it was, the burning desire I had to be a governor cooled a little; where’s the greatness in ruling a mustard seed, or the dignity or pride in governing half a dozen men the size of hazel nuts? It seemed to me that this was all there was on the whole earth.

And Sagan in “Pale Blue Dot“:

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.

Earth as seen from the Voyager spacecraft

5 thoughts on “Pale Blue Dots

  1. Hi Kevin – Cervantes, speaking through Pancho, was amazing here. Sagan is also amazing. Every time I read the Pale Blue Dot quotation chills run down my spine.

    I love the title of your post.

    Like

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