“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. 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.”
— Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994
So often quoted to show the beauty and frailty of life on Earth, Sagan’s quote as Voyager left the solar system resonates with not only me but many people. We are a mote of dust floating in a cosmic breeze, unaware of the immensity of the blackness around us, and how inhospitable it is to us. Unaware, or perhaps oblivious to the damage we do to the world around us, and to ourselves, fighting meaningless battles over the minutiae of our lives while the world burns.
In the end, human augmentation, enhancement, transhumanism, posthumanism, futurism, all of these things are about the future and hope.
Hope that we can rise above our petty differences, our entrenched dogma, and our insanity. Hope that we can overcome the bonds of our cradle and reach a distant star, hope that we as a species can evolve, and change.
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation” – Henry David Thoreau
Life can so easily become a prison, what artifice of society once became the best measure of equality and peace now reduces us, make us nothing but another number, another faceless one. So we find entertainment, find hope, find… reason, anywhere we can. The latest spiritual fad, dieting or exercise as a philosophy, we even identify ourselves what we are against, or oppose. All my life I have remembered that quote from Carl Sagan, and thought of it as a plea for transcendence. Transcendence beyond the mundane and well-worn ruts of life, back to hope, and amazement, and passion, not just in ourselves but the majesty of the universe around us. I’m rambling now, take what of this you will.
Nothing’s the same anymore, and yet everything is familiar. So much has been learned, but little has changed. We are all still afraid, of poverty, of unemployment, death and injury, of elections, of emptiness, of fire.
Change often happens when we aren’t looking; transformation occurs when we follow the path.
How is this rant linked to the topic of this blog? Human Augmentation is the conscious improvement of the human condition through the use of technology. But over the course of this work I have realised it’s not quite that. It’s the conscious transformation of ourselves into something that we want to become. It’s the first step into a larger and more dangerous road. I could yet again quote the challenges of the coming century, or talk about our inherent biases and faulty cognition, but I don’t mean that.
When I read Carl Sagan’s quote about the earth, I feel hope and despair about humanity. The despair that we will always be half what we could be, full of hate and greed. Or hope that the amazing will rise above the mundane, and we discard our weary cynicism for child-like amazement at the wonder of the universe.