Tag Archive: Carl Sagan


While the attempt to trivialize human differences by using cosmic comparisons is largely non sequitur, an attempt to distract from matters close at hand with others far more distant, that does not mean that the motivation for doing so is not a noble one.  Returning to Jill Tarter’s quote, there is a clear double entendre in the bolded section:

As Carl Sagan said, we are all made out of stardust. You are actually made out of the remnants of that star that blew up billions of years ago, and the connectedness of life to the Cosmos and the idea of thinking about, maybe, life somewhere else, I think has the opportunity to trivialize the differences among humans on this planet that we find so troublesome.

Taken literally, it seems that she is arguing to trivialize the differing characteristics of humans.  Certainly this interpretation makes a good deal of sense, particularly since she emphasizes the fact that “we are all made of stardust”, thus highlighting a shared characteristic.  However, at the same time, “differences” can also refer to conflict, and interpretation suggested by the descriptor “that we find so troublesome”.  The second interpretation also jibes with the passage of The Pale Blue Dot that I referenced in my last post.

Incongruence

Here is a sample of the collection of facial averages generated by Dragon Horse.  The ones below are from left to right: West African, English, and Taiwanese.

The contrasts are stark, not just between different geographic locales but also between the sexes.  It is true that all of the individuals whose pictures went into creating these averages consist of roughly the same balance of elements, which were in turn formed in the same collection of stars and supernovae, but it is clear that they are different.  Even when the features of any one individual is lost in an average of co-ethnic peers, strong differences remain.

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Last week, the NPR program All Things Considered ran a segment on sounds derived from the electromagnetic radiation of sources in outer space.  During the segment, they interviewed Jill Tarter, one of the co-founders of the SETI Institute.  The segment ended with the follow quote from her:

As Carl Sagan said, we are all made out of stardust.  You are actually made out of the remnants of that star that blew up billions of years ago, and the connectedness of life to the Cosmos and the idea of thinking about, maybe, life somewhere else, I think has the opportunity to trivialize the differences among humans on this planet that we find so troublesome.

The bolded portion struck me as a rather strange aspiration, but not one that is altogether uncommon.  Indeed, in the quote, she references the late Carl Sagan, who often expressed similar sentiments.

Sagan’s Vision

One of Carl Sagan’s most famous pieces was his meditation on the meaning of a photograph taken of the Earth by the Voyager 1 spacecraft as part of a solar system mosaic it took a few months after passing beyond the orbit of the gas giant Neptune:

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