“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.” Abraham Lincoln
We’ve all heard it said: “Perspective is EVERYTHING.” Henry Kissinger, during one of his many speeches, once claimed—I’m paraphrasing because I don’t have his exact words in front of me—that the TRUTH isn’t important; what people believe to be true is what’s important.
Many people define “popular consensus” and “perspective” as synonymous terms. But I refuse to do so. The former boils down to what most people believe as FACT, but it’s BASED on relative PERSPECTIVE.
And as such, it pays for us to be very careful; because a great deal of the time, popular consensus is pure crap. In absolute terms, if an idea is stupid, it’s stupid, and millions of people believing in it changes NOTHING. Think POLITICS.
But this piece isn’t about politics; it’s about perspective, more specifically, PROPER perspective.
While politicians are masters of manipulation when it comes to using popular consensus to get themselves elected, scientists tend to be brain-dead when it comes to getting their ideas across to millions of rationally-capable people, especially pragmatic shirtsleeve Americans.
People believe what their preconceived notions tell them to believe. Most of the time this is based solely on intuitive logic. But just as often, counter-intuitive reality shatters intuitive logic to smithereens. But for ideologues, this changes NOTHING!
We live on a microscopic spec of rock and gas that resides in a galaxy that is just one of APPROXIMATELY 176-BILLION others. And it’s a tenuous approximation at best.
The diameter of our own galaxy is approximately 100,000 light-years. And tucked in a remote region of that galaxy—nowhere near its center—is a solar system powered by an average size nuclear reactor called the Sun.
Our solar system—Earth is but ONE of its planets—is completely hidden by a proliferation of billions of other stars and a plethora of other microscopic specs.
In the interests of PERSPECTIVE, a light-year is a measure of distance, not time. It’s the distance that light travels in ONE year, approximately six TRILLION miles—that’s a 6 followed by 12-zeros.
This planet has been sending radio waves into outer space for decades, beginning about 1933, and they include those still being transmitted by both Voyagers-I and II.
We’re hoping to find some unknown extraterrestrial society with which we can make contact. Why, I have no idea.
Anyway, by NASA’s best estimate to date, our radio waves have spanned out over a diameter of about 200-light-years. WOW; that’s a distance of 200 TIMES 6,000,000,000,000 MILES.
This constitutes a distance so great that it’s virtually incomprehensible by all but a few scientific-minded human beings. It’s a LOT of miles, and after all this time with our signals traveling all that way, it would seem that ET would certainly have called home by now.
But now let’s put it into PROPER perspective. Two-hundred light-years is approximately 0.2% (two-TENTHS of one percent) of the diameter of JUST the Milky Way Galaxy—that’s OUR galaxy.
While we can use any two landmarks for a relative comparison, I’ll use two from my own neck of the woods.
The distance between the New Castle County courthouse in Wilmington, DE and the Kent County courthouse in Dover, DE is approximately 50-miles.
Had the NCCO courthouse been sending radio waves since 1933 while reaching a current diameter span of only 0.2% of that 50-mile diameter, its radio waves would have traveled a distance of only 528-FEET!
See the value of PROPER perspective? It’s critical, and the more complex the subject matter, the more critical it becomes.
In my opinion, scientists do not lack the ability to put things into a proper perspective. It’s a matter of not taking the time to reduce complexity to a reasonable level of simplicity without a cloud-nine aloofness.
The late Carl Sagan was a master at it. And since his death in 1996, Neil deGrasse Tyson has taken over the roll—at least in my opinion he’s done so.
To demonstrate the kind of ability I mean, I’ll leave this week’s piece with an excerpt from Carl Sagan’s book, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space.
“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 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.
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.”