Our Place in the Cosmos

Individuality makes us what we are. It differentiates us from the bunch, from the rest of humankind. But what purpose does it all serve in the grand perspective? It was our individuality that drove us to do extraordinary things, throughout history. Discoveries were made in search of glory, inventions were brought to life by inventors who went mad in the hopes of leaving their mark on humankind for decades and centuries to come, wars were fought on great scales, and human sacrifices were made in large numbers just to further the influence of an ideology. But in the puzzle of the cosmos, a puzzle so humongous that our existence, not only as individuals but as a species fades to a mere pale blue dot in comparison, where does our individuality fit in?

When NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft took a picture of our home planet during its journey to the outer solar system in the 1990s, it — for the very first time — put into perspective our place in the cosmos. In that picture, taken from approximately 4 billion miles away, the Earth was a mere pale blue dot, amounting to 0.12 pixels of the image. This picture, quite fittingly named Pale Blue Dot, prompted one of the most inspiring speeches I’ve come across. It was delivered by Carl Sagan, one of America’s pioneers in space exploration throughout the late 1900s. The following is an excerpt from it, a beautiful description of humanity’s place in the cosmos.

“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.”

In this short excerpt, humankind’s perception of themselves, and perhaps how wrong it is, can be clearly seen. Individuality is what makes us different, what gives us meanings as individuals. But for our species to have any semblance of a meaning or significance in the cosmos, we must evolve into collaborative beings. We must realize that our experiences, our perspectives, our ideas, our achievements, aren’t limited by the construction of space and time like our physical existence. They will outlast us, and as humankind progresses forward all of this, all of what we achieve together, will be left behind for our future generations, so that they may carry the mantle forward and may take humankind to realms it hasn’t been to, to experiences it hasn’t yet experienced.

We must work together, in the present and in future, and must learn from the atrocities that we, as a species, have committed in the past. From wars to global politics and very recently, issues of climate change, we fail to realize that putting off change now for our own personal, individual benefit will harm us, as a whole species, in the future. We fail to realize the responsibility that befalls us, not as individuals, not as citizens, not as leaders of the world, but as members of the same species. Therefore, we must put away with our pride, our greed, our arrogance as individuals and focus to overcome the endless challenges that the cosmos presents us, as one species. Humankind can achieve great things, if it believes in the glory of the species and not the individual.

For my conclusion, I’ll borrow from Carl Sagan again. 

“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.”

Zaryab Nisar
TLC Writer

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