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A Tribute to Carl Sagan

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A vision of human circumstance and condition in space
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Posted in "Society, Space" at March 17th, 2009

Carl SaganI’m pretty sure that most of you look at the stars in the night sky, especially now when the International Space Station is to surpass Venus as the brightest object in the night sky, second only to the Moon. But how do you actually look at space? What is your perspective on the cosmos? What does space mean to your person?..

I can spontaneously discern a few meanings of space to different people. To begin with, space is an undefined standard to be precisely measured to a scientist. It is a source for an argument of essence or nothingness to a philosopher. It is also darkness to the lonely ones and a starlight cover to the lovers. Moreover, it’s a nation’s agenda to the political leaders and a domain of operations to the military. On one hand, each of these perspectives is interesting, unique, but on the other, bounded and restrained by the limits of scale of each perspective.

So I was thinking… Wouldn’t it be great, if we could be scientists and philosophers at the same time, or if we could relate science to loneliness, or philosophy to romanticism. There are only a few of us who can truly do that. I believe Carl Sagan was one of them — a scientist with passion for pure knowledge and a philosopher with a visionary, deep look into the meanings of space and their significance to the mankind.

This time there will be no purpose of control, no plan for the future. This time Carl Sagan will give us a vision, mirrored by constant, silent and untouched deep space.

The Space Mirror

I’d like to call the method I’m about to use to look into space “The Space Mirror”. It’s the one Carl Sagan was using. Basically, what this means is that cosmos is a mirror of human circumstance and condition in time. By looking into space we can actually see space objects and at the same time metaphysically envision human destiny. This is so, because we’re destined by the laws of the universe. Therefore by understanding these laws we can partly predict our future, evaluate our current practices and qualities.

For instance, by looking at our Sun and far-off stars astronomers realized that each of these stars do not burn forever. Eventually they run out of hydrogen fuel. Our Sun will die too, which tells us that humans won’t be around before that happens. Our planetary civilization will be forced to leave planet Earth and look for alternative places. This clearly tells us about the human condition. Of course, we might be gone long before it happens, but the fact remains the same. We are not here to stay forever.

In this fashion, watching at the space, Carl Sagan realized that some things on our planet Earth just didn’t make sense as we are restrained and bounded by this tiny fraction of the universe, and accordingly restrained by our sometimes narrow thinking. Unfortunately, our evolution hadn’t had a chance to accumulate the empiric knowledge of space. It seems there is nothing we can do about it. The evolution is an inescapable, inline process, revealing only piece by piece and showing us the way only step by step.

But it’s okay. Along the way we have managed to develop clever qualities that help us not to lose the feeling for true sense. The word we use to describe this quality is learning. Suddenly, learning takes on a whole new meaning. It becomes kind of an existential characteristic, if you will, a useful instrument to manage this wild ride on evolution carousel. By learning we can be less distracted and more attentive to our future lifes.

I would like to briefly go through two lessons from Carl Sagan. One is about position and the other is about creation. What do these notions mean when we’re looking at them from the broadest perspective possible? What can we now learn from the space perspective that is yet to come?..

Multitude and variety over position and single-mindedness

By thinking about space we can easily realize that there’s no single position there. Position-minded will instantly be challenged by changing perspective and endless obscurity. Space requires an open-minded and open-ended way of looking at things.

This should give us a hint that we don’t have a privilege to position ourselves, because there’s literally no position, no meaningful consequence of our greed to have one. What’s the use of position, if space is boundless and therefore unreachable for those, who try to position themselves. We need a different perspective, a new look from within.

There’s always the road, the journey and the experience, which keep our eyes and minds open. In this journey we settle down to rest, but not to end the endeavor. In space we do not take a position. Instead we cross multitudes, go through experiences and saturate with energies. In space shapes lose their meaning, they become secondary as space is a totally different dimension. We can think of it in a sense of spiritual area, yet to be recognized and yet to be settled in our minds. Although we still do not have the consciousness of space dimension, we will in the far future, hopefully.

So far, let’s answer the call for multitude and variety. This seems to be the right way to go.

Creation over control

On this planet we’re creators, innovators and control freaks at the same time. How can that actually fit together?.. The space gives us an idea that creation is fueled by experiment, the beauty of eventuality. There’s no control in space. Control is a product of social activity. Therefore I’d like to argue that natural phenomena do not have a notion of control and maybe we don’t require it all the time.

Just take a look at an exploding supernova. You can see particles of star stuff glide through space in an organized fashion without any control. What kind of understanding does that invoke? Well, it tells us that we just need to create an idea and put it into live. There’s no need to try to control it. Real creations live and expand by themselves. The only thing we have to do is synchronize our ideas with gravities and energies, but not to try to pull the latter two to ourselves.

We have this problem in energy policy. This is very obvious nowadays. Decades ago humans decided that energy would come from modified sources, but now we are almost sure we were wrong. This conclusion can be drawn from global warning, which is a consequence of lack of synchronization between our ideas, desires and natural phenomena.

Thus, we need to replace the locus of control with a moment of creation. I’ll be honest I have locus of control, most of us do, but we should be looking for another way, a new perspective that would bring us the same results, but be less frustrating and restraining. This is another good reference, a fingerpost to our meaningful future.

Final thoughts

To sum up, I believe what Carl Sagan intended to say is that it’s high time to set new boundaries for our thinking, to include the space continuum — at least in our minds, if not practices. The earlier we begin, the smoother our journey will be.

I personally and humbly hope that space will stage a much better human condition. Call me an idealist, but this is my perspective on space for this last paragraph. I’ve been trying to relate philosophy to science, but which human qualities will prevail is unfortunately out of countable area, beyond our powers and pure reasoning. We maybe know that humans will eventually leave this planet, but what choices they make, what people they become is unknown. At the end of the day, what counts is that we continue to learn, in a true sense of this word, that we continue to preserve and cherish our tiny dot in the vast cosmic space, that we also have less control and more true creation and that we keep our eyes open and keep asking fundamental question to not be trapped in our sometimes narrow perspectives.

Above all, remember — our future lies there, in space. Your children’s children will inevitably reach for the stars. So the next time you watch those speechless operations in space remember that there is a broader story, a vision of human condition behind all of this. There’s a new step in our evolution to be taken, a new perspective to be seen.

I would like to leave you with Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot”. A truly extraordinary visual representation of Carl Sagan’s audio book by Lang Kasranov. If you get chills over your spine, make sure you leave a comment.

My name is Tomas Bagdanavicius and this is my tribute to Carl Sagan.

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