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Old 2008-12-14, 05:13   Link #1
Solace
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A moment for perspective

I think it's good to occasionally take a step back and look at the world in a different way. I do this sometimes through things like a good song, or getting up early for a sunrise, silly things like that. ^^ Today, I stumbled upon this:



Some of you might know who Carl Sagan is, some maybe not. The video and music are not his, they are fan made. But the words are his, good words, worth listening to. Sometimes the music and the words overlap, so I want to repost them here:

"The spacecraft was a long way from home. I thought it would be a good idea, just after Saturn, to have them take one last glance homeward. From Saturn, the Earth would appear too small for Voyager to make out any detail. Our planet would be just a point of light, a lonely pixel hardly distinguishable from the other points of light Voyager would see: nearby planets, far off suns. But precisely because of the obscurity of our world thus revealed, such a picture might be worth having."

"It had been well understood by the scientists and philosophers of classical antiquity that the Earth was a mere point in a vast, encompassing cosmos -- but no one had ever seen it as such. Here was our first chance, and perhaps also our last."

"So, here they are: a mosaic of squares laid down on top of the planets in a background smattering of more distant stars. Because of the reflection of sunlight off the spacecraft, the Earth seems to be sitting in a beam of light, as if there were some special significance to this small world; but it's just an accident of geometry and optics. There is no sign of humans in this picture: not our reworking of the Earth's surface; not our machines; not ourselves. From this vantage point, our obsession with nationalism is nowhere in evidence. We are too small. On the scale of worlds, humans are inconsequential: a thin film of life on an obscure and solitary lump of rock and metal."

"Consider again that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it, everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you've ever heard of, every human being who ever was 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 mother and father; every hopeful child; every inventor and explorer; every teacher of morals; every corrupt politician; every supreme leader; every superstar; 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 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. 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. 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. 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. It underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the only home we've ever known: the pale blue dot."


Enjoy.
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Old 2008-12-14, 05:26   Link #2
Vexx
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(sigh) the problem of course is I want to take these words and these thoughts.... and smack a fair percentage of the human race with them... on a daily basis.

Sagan was one of the reasons I got into science, into philosophy, and still has an impact on how I interact with the rest of the human race.
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Old 2008-12-14, 05:27   Link #3
NorthernFallout
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I love these kind of short movies. It's a great way, as you said, to give perspective. For me personally, astronomy, the universe, cosmos and everything outside Earth is a tool for relaxation and philosophical thinking. I try to bend my head around it, trying to understand on a more down-to-earth perspective.

As usual, it's impossible. I don't think any human can understand such scale, even if we try. I try to put some thought into some people's head I meet. To try and get them to think about it. It usually fails as they don't want to look in a much bigger perspective and usually don't understand only a small part about it. They just want to do what they do in their everyday life and that's fine with me.
I only feel it's a bit sad that not many others look beyond the Earth and what they have close around them.

Or as Vexx says, smack these thoughts into their heads and make them stop and THINK.

Carl Sagan's words are very much true. One small world in a cosmos filled with endless numbers of other worlds, most of them bigger than our own.
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Old 2008-12-14, 05:34   Link #4
ganbaru
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Originally Posted by AtomicoX View Post
Or as Vexx says, smack these thoughts into their heads and make them stop and THINK.
The hardest and yet the more meaningful thing to do .
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Old 2008-12-14, 05:43   Link #5
Vexx
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I shall now invoke The Total Perspective Vortex in order to annoy them.
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Old 2008-12-14, 05:51   Link #6
Tiran86
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The universe may be a huge place, but there isn't really a whole lot that's going to have much importance to the average person. The scale is impressive sure, but very little of what we can see actually matters.

I don't really see why the fact that the scale of the universe is bigger than we can comprehend should diminish our sense of self-importance.

Still, good video. It sounds very poetic and it does have a nice message.

Quote:
I shall now invoke The Total Perspective Vortex in order to annoy them.
I always thought that sounded like an interesting thing to see. I definitely wouldn't call it torture.

Last edited by Tiran86; 2008-12-14 at 15:14.
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Old 2008-12-14, 11:40   Link #7
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Originally Posted by Tiran86 View Post
The universe may be a huge place, but there isn't really a whole lot that's going to have much importance to the average person. The scale is impressive sure, but very little of what we can see actually matters.

I don't really see why the fact that the scale of the universe is bigger than we comprehend should make our diminish our sense of self-importance.
I agree.

While the words are poetic, and the sentiment behind them noble and beautiful, I find Sagan too eager to condemn humanity for its petty flaws.

Philosophically, I am an optimistic man. But that optimism springs from the grave awareness that it's our flaws that make our virtues shine in the darkest night. To know beauty is to also know what is not beautiful — they are opposite sides of the same coin, and every coin will always have two sides.

In other words, a human who is all good would no longer be human. He would be something else entirely — something completely inhuman.

To love humanity is to accept its failings while embracing its strengths. That is the way we've always been, and probably always will be.
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Old 2008-12-14, 15:16   Link #8
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Originally Posted by TinyRedLeaf View Post
Philosophically, I am an optimistic man. But that optimism springs from the grave awareness that it's our flaws that make our virtues shine in the darkest night. To know beauty is to also know what is not beautiful — they are opposite sides of the same coin, and every coin will always have two sides.

In other words, a human who is all good would no longer be human. He would be something else entirely — something completely inhuman.

To love humanity is to accept its failings while embracing its strengths. That is the way we've always been, and probably always will be.
I'm not an optimist by nature, but otherwise I agree with this 100%.
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Old 2008-12-14, 15:43   Link #9
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Originally Posted by TinyRedLeaf View Post
I agree.

While the words are poetic, and the sentiment behind them noble and beautiful, I find Sagan too eager to condemn humanity for its petty flaws.
That wasn't how I interpreted it. Have you ever encountered a person who acts as if every little thing is the biggest deal in the world, or as though every little thing is of the utmost importance? Often times these people aren't the nicest. They're often called self-absorbed or overly dramatic.

Of course you've encountered someone like that. I would bet that every single one of us (and every single person reading what I write) is guilty of having done something similar ten, fifty, even one hundred times at the least in their life. Yet most of the time when we look over someone else who's caught up in what they're doing, or when we reflect on our own obsession, we realize that it's really not that big a deal.

Reflecting on how huge the universe is less about making yourself feel small, insignificant, and worthless than it is about pulling you out of your little world and making you realize what's important (in my opinion). On a greater scale it's also about making us realize our similarities and our divisions. People in my own are not at war with the town next door who has a better football team - we're all New Yorkers. New York isn't at odds with the neighoring states because we're all part of the Northeast, but we're not at odds with the West Coast because we're all in America. And that's where we're at now - we have built up awareness to the extent that nations are the great divider, but in reality we're all sharing this relatively tiny planet together. We can make it heaven or hell for each other. I've often pondered that until we colonize other planets or until we're visited by extraterrestrials people might not fully unite, just because most people are not thoughtful enough to recognize similarities without a greater difference presented before them.

In terms of pulling people out of their little "here and now" bubbles I'd think that the concept of time is a better tool than the concept of universal scale. The stress or utter happiness you're feeling right now will likely be inconsequential in ten years; perhaps even six months from now. When you think about it that way, the conclusion seems a bit clearer: just enjoy life for what it is and be kind to others.

On a side note, I've recently come across an interesting book: Beyond Revenge: The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct. I've not yet started on it, but it might be an interesting read for those who, like me, wonder about the less pleasant emotions that people feel.
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Old 2008-12-14, 16:23   Link #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tiran86
I'm not an optimist by nature, but otherwise I agree with this 100%.
Optimism is an existential choice. Sure, there's nothing stopping you from being a pessimist, but through personal experience, I find that being pessimistic doesn't help to get things done. You'd tend only to wallow in despair instead.

Hardly a productive way to make the best use of your only chance at life, I'd wager.

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Originally Posted by Ledgem
Reflecting on how huge the universe is less about making yourself feel small, insignificant, and worthless than it is about pulling you out of your little world and making you realize what's important (in my opinion). On a greater scale it's also about making us realize our similarities and our divisions.
Be that as it may, I find it presumptuous — and a fair bit naive — to think humans inflict violence on each other, and on the world, because we don't realise how small we are in relation to the universe.

The reasons for our wars, our crimes, and our acts of evil are far more complicated than simple megalomania. They are driven by a complex mix of self-interest and self-preservation, and sometimes by pure, irrational madness.

Our ancestors didn't have to look at Earth from Saturn's orbit to know just how small they were. They only had to look at a night sky, filled with stars we can no longer see today, to realise how insignificant they were. In fact, I'm willing to bet that our ancestors were, to some extent, more in awe of the cosmos than we are right now, living as we do in an age where almost anything can be manipulated by science.

And yet, they still fought among themselves, as we still do today.

That's my problem with Sagan's lecture, well-intentioned though it may be. It assumes that if only we could see how petty we are, we would change our destructive ways.

I think it'd take a lot more than that.
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Old 2008-12-14, 21:06   Link #11
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Originally Posted by TinyRedLeaf View Post
Be that as it may, I find it presumptuous — and a fair bit naive — to think humans inflict violence on each other, and on the world, because we don't realise how small we are in relation to the universe.

The reasons for our wars, our crimes, and our acts of evil are far more complicated than simple megalomania. They are driven by a complex mix of self-interest and self-preservation, and sometimes by pure, irrational madness.
The reasons are quite complex, it's true. I think that the vast majority of people, regardless of locality or culture, have the desire for peace and prosperity. If all people could undergo that realization, and realize how insignificant many current issues of conflict really are, then perhaps we could get somewhere. I'd agree with your statement that telling people that they're small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things wouldn't be a very effective way of making them more peaceful. I just don't think that was Sagan's point. If it was, then I misinterpreted it.

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Originally Posted by TinyRedLeaf View Post
Our ancestors didn't have to look at Earth from Saturn's orbit to know just how small they were. They only had to look at a night sky, filled with stars we can no longer see today, to realise how insignificant they were. In fact, I'm willing to bet that our ancestors were, to some extent, more in awe of the cosmos than we are right now, living as we do in an age where almost anything can be manipulated by science.

And yet, they still fought among themselves, as we still do today.
The problem is that ceasing fighting requires more than thinking about the big picture for five seconds and being in awe. To really get rid of fighting you need people to be reflecting on their lives and the bigger picture with a high frequency. In current society (and probably even well before then) it's all too easy to get lost in the moment. Thinking beyond the current week is nearly impossible, and each day is so packed that there's no time to reflect or realize that what feels to be of the utmost importance today may not matter tomorrow.

Reflection alone won't solve anything. Fighting exists within nature, and even the most reflective person can say or do something offensive. Humility is required, so that we can go back and apologize or speak rationally to soothe over tensions. People are very bad about recognizing when they're in the wrong, and even when they do see it then they don't want to admit it.

Seeing the big picture could theoretically help with that, as well. Recognizing that your pride is inconsequential to making peace; that a simple apology costs you nothing but could put someone else completely at ease - these are seemingly simple things that people don't realize and are unwilling to follow through with. And through it all, we still ultimately have the same goal.

I'd also like to clarify that I'm not preaching as though I'm sort of saint. I'm guilty of much of what I've written here. As I've grown older I've become busier and have less time to reflect on my life and people, places, and things around me. It was easier to apologize and forsake pride for the greater good back when I was able to reflect more often.
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Old 2008-12-14, 21:14   Link #12
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Old 2008-12-14, 22:10   Link #13
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Ah, yes, I've stepped back and got some perspective long ago in the form of H.P. Lovecraft, albeit in a much more cold and unforgiving way.

My belief in our insignificance has influenced me greatly.
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Old 2008-12-14, 23:57   Link #14
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So true.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Vexx View Post
I shall now invoke The Total Perspective Vortex in order to annoy them.
"you are here".. lol

perspective, illustrated
http://img291.imageshack.us/img291/6...rsystemiy9.gif


perspective, sung

Last edited by xris; 2008-12-15 at 04:13. Reason: Image rather large so IMG -> URL
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Old 2008-12-15, 00:32   Link #15
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Originally Posted by TinyRedLeaf View Post

To love humanity is to accept its failings while embracing its strengths.
If our failings weren't so god-awful, even from the most human, average point of view, I'd agree.
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Old 2008-12-15, 01:03   Link #16
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Chicken and the egg issue.
So it is because we are flawed that we are called humans or is it because we are humans that we are flawed?
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Old 2008-12-15, 02:11   Link #17
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Originally Posted by FateAnomaly View Post
So it is because we are flawed that we are called humans or is it because we are humans that we are flawed?
Neither. Perfection is an ideal. Flaws did not cause our humanity, and neither did being human cause our flaws. We merely are what we are: no more, no less. Imperfect.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ledgem View Post
I think that the vast majority of people, regardless of locality or culture, have the desire for peace and prosperity. If all people could undergo that realization, and realize how insignificant many current issues of conflict really are, then perhaps we could get somewhere.

The problem is that ceasing fighting requires more than thinking about the big picture for five seconds and being in awe. To really get rid of fighting you need people to be reflecting on their lives and the bigger picture with a high frequency. In current society (and probably even well before then) it's all too easy to get lost in the moment. Thinking beyond the current week is nearly impossible, and each day is so packed that there's no time to reflect or realize that what feels to be of the utmost importance today may not matter tomorrow...

...Humility is required, so that we can go back and apologize or speak rationally to soothe over tensions. People are very bad about recognizing when they're in the wrong, and even when they do see it then they don't want to admit it...

...Seeing the big picture could theoretically help with that, as well. Recognizing that your pride is inconsequential to making peace; that a simple apology costs you nothing but could put someone else completely at ease - these are seemingly simple things that people don't realize and are unwilling to follow through with. And through it all, we still ultimately have the same goal.
Philosophically, we are not in disagreement at all. It's just that our perspectives on the solutions are different.

I've come to believe, through much reflection, that the "big picture" view is inherently naive. It assumes that, somehow, we can gloss over our differences if we could only step back far enough from our immediate problems. Yet, as you yourself said, this is almost impossible on a day-to-day basis, because "each day is so packed that there's no time to reflect".

Let's not kid ourselves here. Reflection is a luxury that only the well-fed, well-clothed and well-housed can afford. For a large majority of people, the daily demands of making a living take precedence over all else. Put in an unkind way, "taking a big picture" is a refrain I hear too often from rich countries that have taken their wealth for granted.

It's the height of hypocrisy, for example, to demand India and China to do more to minimise the environmental damage caused by their nascent industrialisation, while disregarding their need to provide employment for their teeming millions. It also disregards the fact that any form of industralisation will inevitably involve environmental degradation. So what now? Do we tell India and China to "look at the bigger picture", and "do the right thing" on the world's behalf?

These are the differences that divide us. We can't just wish them away by taking a noble "global" view.

Between the need to feed my family, and the need to make life nicer for a complete stranger, my family takes priority. Ideally, of course, we'd like to have sufficient resources to take care of both needs at the same time, but we all know that such resources are scarce. Eventually, something has to give.

That's what I mean when I say that the problems are complex. It's nice to wish we could all see the "bigger picture", and yes it's true that if that were possible, we would all be happier. But that's humanity for you — we are too small to see the difference it would make.

Having acknowledged that, I choose to find ways to work around the differences instead, rather than wish for them to go away.
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Old 2008-12-15, 04:19   Link #18
Tiran86
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Quote:
Optimism is an existential choice. Sure, there's nothing stopping you from being a pessimist, but through personal experience, I find that being pessimistic doesn't help to get things done. You'd tend only to wallow in despair instead.

Hardly a productive way to make the best use of your only chance at life, I'd wager.
I'm not a pessimist either.

Quote:
Originally Posted by FateAnomaly View Post
Chicken and the egg issue.
So it is because we are flawed that we are called humans or is it because we are humans that we are flawed?
Not much of an issue. Eggs came before chickens (unless you want to argue a fully grown chicken magically appeared and laid an egg).

As for whether flaws come from being human or vice versa.

I agree with this.
Quote:
Neither. Perfection is an ideal. Flaws did not cause our humanity, and neither did being human cause our flaws. We merely are what we are: no more, no less. Imperfect.
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Old 2008-12-15, 05:12   Link #19
Anh_Minh
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Well, I'm a selfish little bugger. I don't want our differences to be erased. I don't want us to be equal. Because I don't want to give up my first world lifestyle so I can be the same as those guys in sweatshop countries. I agree with TRL: screw the big pictures. Our immediate interests are inherently different. That's not going to solved by the knowledge that the heat death of the universe is going to make all that moot in a few billion years anyway (how is that for a big picture?), if - and that's highly unlikely - something else doesn't get us before. (Global war? Giant sky rock? The sun going nova?)
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Old 2008-12-15, 10:08   Link #20
Liddo-kun
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tiran86 View Post
I don't really see why the fact that the scale of the universe is bigger than we can comprehend should diminish our sense of self-importance.
Quote:
Originally Posted by TinyRedLeaf View Post
I agree.
While the words are poetic, and the sentiment behind them noble and beautiful, I find Sagan too eager to condemn humanity for its petty flaws.
I have a similar interpretation regarding the video.

The video, background music and the Carl Sagan's voice all had a pleasant and almost hypnotic effect. As if asking people to take a moment and reflect upon themselves to be more humble. Video = 8/10.

However, I don't like Carl Sagan's interpretation of humanity and the earth. He only mentioned bad things commited by humans, those bad things aren't all that happened in history. Somehow, I feel the video is trying to belittle the achievements made by humanity and only emphasizing the wrong things that people made.

I refuse to view the earth as small and insignificant, this is our home and we should be proud of what we have instead of comparing it as insignificant to other planets (on other planets we can't live, but here we are alive). On my opinion, it's like Carl Sagan has a house (the earth), but he's thinks his house is insignificant because he sees in the distance there are other houses bigger than the one he lives in.

*goes off to listen to Shugo Chara mp3's to get back into a happy mood and remove the sad feeling I got from the video

Last edited by Liddo-kun; 2008-12-17 at 10:22.
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