The Intersection

Pale Blue Dot

‘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. It is up to us. It’s been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, 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 and other and to preserve and cherish this pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.’

– Carl Sagan


  1. #1 Linda
    October 15, 2007

    Amen, Carl Sagan… I miss you and your wisdom.

  2. #2 Fred Bortz
    October 15, 2007

    Click my name for a number of links to book reviews concerning Sagan at my Science Shelf web site.

    I admit it: I admire him!

    He surely knew how to “frame” his arguments. I wonder what he would think about Matt’s taxonomy of frames.

  3. #3 Dark Tent
    October 17, 2007

    If Sagan were around today, some people would undoubtedly be viciously attacking him because of his message, his popularity with the public and his effectiveness at getting his message across.

    That is not to say that there were no such attacks on Sagan in his day.

    There certainly were. In fact, there is pretty good circumstantial evidence that such attacks kept him out of the National Academy of sciences.

    But in pre-internet days, the attacks were much less coordinated and hence much less effective.

    Today, there is an entire internet “machine” (comprised of some very prominent blogs) devoted to “swift-boating” that targets prominent scientists like Sagan who speak truth to power — NASA climate scientist James Hansen, for example.

    In some regard, I think Hansen has weathered the attacks better, since they are not coming from “scientists”* community (as the ones on Sagan were).

    I hesitate to call them that because many of them were “weapons technicians” (ie, not real scientists) who did not like Sagan’s stance on nuclear weapons research and testing.

  4. #4 Geoff Haines-Stiles
    November 3, 2007

    Following links from Andy Revkin’s new blog, I came across your “Pale Blue Dot” thread and read some of the comments about attacks on Carl over nukes and nuclear winter. I had the life-changing good fortune to work with Sagan on “COSMOS” as a producer/director. (I used to worry saying that made me a fossil, until realizing the DVD release and re-runs on Discovery/SCIENCE channel made the series as current as Sagan’s timeless ideas.) In the early ’80s, at the height of the Cold War, we were developing a sequel, to be called “NUCLEUS”, about the science from Marie Curie to the present, and the psychology of the US/Soviet arms race. During one research meeting, we were unclear about some issue in the development of the hydrogen bomb and the reference texts were silent. With his usual commitment to getting the facts right, something his critics never appreciated, Carl realized he had the phone number of someone who would surely know what really happened. Soon we could hear him speaking with Edward Teller, a person whose politics could not be more different from Sagan’s. I don’t recall the specifics of that discussion, but reaching out to ground opinion on objective substance, even when the politics were antithetical, was typical. Yes, we do miss him, and his comments on climate change, from his comparative planetology perspective, expressed with a poet’s felicitous choice of words and metaphor, would grace today’s discussions. But quoting his “Pale Blue Dot” comments does help. Asking “What would Carl say?” might broaden the audience willing to take steps for collective action to preserve the planet and our future. The wisdom lives on.

  5. #5 Jill
    March 19, 2008

    This reminds me why we must strive to treat each other more kindly all the time.