We human beings are the most important aspect of the entire universe, they say.

April 11, 2009 | By | 7 Replies More

We human beings are the most important aspect of the entire universe. Or at least some people say.   They say that a Supreme Being created the entire disposable universe to serve us, and that HE visited us here on earth, the moral and spiritual center of the entire universe.

Others would differ. Unbelievable as it might seem to many Believers, perhaps we are big fish in a very very small pond.  Listen to the words of Carl Sagan, as he discusses our “pale blue dot”:

Share

Tags: , , , , ,

Category: ignorance, Meaning of Life, Religion, Science

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (7)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Carl was ahead of his time. Why can't everyone see things the way he did?

    I was in high school when that series was run on PBS. It helped shape my thinking about our place in the universe just as I was beginning to question my catholic school upbringing. Perfect timing!

    Also let us not overlook the important contribution of the composer Vangelis to that series. His beautiful soundscapes underscored Sagan's eloquent and passionate words perfectly.

  2. anti-supernaturalist says:

    ** the heavens are not showing the glory of god

    Xianity's nihilistic dualism and androcentric understanding of human nature are too damaging to contribute to a humane planet-wide ethos.

    Neither physical nature nor human nature *say* anything about a superordinate, supernatural realm populated by creators or law givers. Nature is silent. There is no concept of truth in nature. (Indeed, there are no concepts whatsoever in nature.) Nature *knows* nothing.

    Nature is neither meaningful nor meaningless. Neither a source of comfort (natural theology) nor a source of despair (existentialism). Both are rooted in the same mistaken presupposition that supernatural *meaning* can be found by searching the heavens for gods or quarrying human inwardness for moral laws.

    Instead, religions belong to cultures embedded in nature. And *cultures* are our distinctive human-all-too-human handiwork. Religions are obsolete, unnecessary, but tenacious cultural artifacts.

    Magical thinking and supernaturalism still thrive hidden away in stereotypically xian ideation and ritualistic behavior taking charge over even otherwise religion-free minds.

    The de-deification of western culture (including the sciences) is our task for the next two hundred years.

    anti-supernaturalist

    • If indeed "The de-deification of western culture (including the sciences) is our task for the next two hundred years" you're not going to get very far with language like that.

      "Xian ideation"? Really?? I'm sorry, but terminology like that is NOT going to connect with the masses of people for whom religion gives much comfort. All who want to rid the world of superstition better get off their academic high horses and begin to speak common, everyday language.

      That goes for many people here at DI. I respect the intellects of the regulars here, but we gotta start speaking the language of the people in order to convince them that setting aside the security blanket of religion would be a good thing.

      Smug attitudes and "big words" will not help our cause.

  3. Danny says:

    I'm sorry, but this video and this ideology is tedious. This is the same type of emotional appeal that freethinkers often criticize close-minded religious types of propounding.

    If individuals BELIEVE their lives to be of some consequence and meaning, I don't understand how the knowledge of the vastness of the universe in comparison to the speck-ness of our planet is persuasive in making anyone feel differently.

    I make this statement because I'm an artist/musician/avid reader/member of society and know that emotions are real things and can have a certain degree of congruence/incongruence with reality. Emotions are not right or wrong, but can be appropriate or inappropriate. For example, if I walked in on a murdered, bloodied body and didn't feel a sense of shock and horror, then I can confidently say I have an inappropriate emotional response. Likewise, if I contemplate the vastness of space or the amazing physical process behind all we know and do not feel the smallest sense of awe and wonder, then I would say that my emotions are incongruent with the given reality. Like Lewis said, “This is one of the miracles of love: It gives a power of seeing through its own enchantments and yet not being disenchanted.”

    To me, knowing our infintesimal place in such a vast universe does not diminish my sense of the dignity and beauty of humanity, but only enhances it. Anyone else agree/disagree?

    • Tony Coyle says:

      Danny: you said "knowing our infinitesimal place in such a vast universe does not diminish my sense of the dignity and beauty of humanity, but only enhances it."

      I think that is the whole point of the piece.

      We are, from a universal perspective, insignificant. Our significance is entirely of our own making, and it's completely anthropocentric. To be otherwise would be insane.

      However – that does not mean we should think ourselves more important than we really are. A little humility goes a long way. We are not the lords of creation! We are not the final act!

      We are insignificant – to the universe. But that simply makes each of us so much more precious and important to each other. Not in any intrinsic sense – but in a relative way.

      Knowing that we live on this fragile pale blue dot, and that it is the only island capable of supporting our lives in this vast universe (to our knowledge) makes me a lot more humble, but also a lot more determined to do what I can to sustain and nurture my home and my fellow island-dwellers.

      It makes my many disagreements with others fade into insignificance.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Danny: Good point. Doesn't this video make us feel LESS significant?

      I am certainly humbled to listen to Sagan. I had much the same reaction as Tony. At the same time, the video reminds me of how contingent my life (and our lives) are. Maybe the point is not to make us feel more important but rather more appreciative. Watching the video I felt more fortunate to be here, conscious of my predicament, out on this little blue dot. It makes me feel more "spiritual" in the sense described by Jonathan Miller (he prefers the term "transcendent"): "What I would say is, I have moments of – I suppose you might call them transcendent feelings; feelings which rise above what is immediately in front of me."

  4. Hank says:

    Tedious, Danny? I think it's a shame that you think offering a real perspective on our place in the universe is tedious. I also think you may have missed the point. In this video Sagan, as he always did, was attempting to get people to think that, using the entire universe as evidence, perhaps we're not the whole reason it all exists. Perhaps we should try to better understand it (within our limited capacities) before proclaiming that it's a sandbox made just for us. Perhaps if we understood exactly how tiny & insignificant we are compared to the entirety of the universe, we'd appreciate our own lives a bit more and use them more positively. Perhaps if we understood how fragile and alone our planet is, we'd stop treating it like a litterbox. Sagan simply wasn't the kind of man to belittle humanity with his big-picture perspective. He had faith in humanity & he always tried to get people to open their minds and use them, to be more inquisitive and to be more introspective – to be more human!

    The fact that we are in a cosmological sense insignificant & meaningless only strengthens my desire to inject my own short, unimportant life with things that give it significance and meaning – if not to anyone else and if not in any absolute sense, then at least to me. The universe is obviously vast beyond scope and while perhaps not literally infinite, to human perception, cognition & lifespan it is functionally infinite. But strangely, the more I hear about the enormity of space and our tiny little corner of it, the more 'human' I feel and the more I feel lucky to have ever been born at all.

    Sometimes I spend a lot of my finite time barking at ghosts I don't believe in and at the people who follow them. Well, here is what I do believe: in the end, as we lay dying, we will realise that despite whatever money, objects, friends and triumphs that we may acquire we don't ever possess them, rather we only ever grasp them briefly. Our only real possession, ever, is life itself. Even if it is just an infintessimal eyeblink on an isolated dot, it's (as far as we know) unique in this stupidly big universe and it's up to us to make it mean something – if only to ourselves – for as long as we have it.

Leave a Reply