Pale Blue Dot, by Zac Thoday

Carl Sagan’s speech on the famous image of the Pale Blue Dot of Earth taken in 1990 manages to be both hopelessly pessimistic and oddly optimistic simultaneously. Carl Sagan does not singularly adhere to either side, which might be the reason for why it this piece was chosen as the theme for this festival. There are so many possibilities to how this speech can be interpreted. For the most part he simply states the fact of the matter which is brought up by the titular image. The Earth is simply a dot in the vast infinity of space and the globe which seems so large and endless is really just the size of a pixel. Sagan makes light of this but, for the better part of his speech, does not state what he, or anyone else, should think of this, allowing the recipient of his words to formulate their own opinion on his musing without the bias of a philosopher’s viewpoint.

For me, Sagan’s introspection on the apparent folly of human aspiration is more optimistic than hopeless. Why ponder the significance of our existence when we could ponder its unlikeliness? The chance of that black empty space even containing the pale blue dot are small enough to be proud of the seemly insignificant space that we inhabit. Perhaps this is what Sagan means by saying the Earth is where we make our stand. The Earth’s existence may be insignificant or unperceived by the rest of reality but the chance of its existence at all is so miniscule that we should take pride in it.

This proposal of the minisculity of the Earth and its inhabitants is not, of course, a new one, it has been a source of countless existentialists. Of course this picture can spark the idea that the lives that we live are meaningless which can for most be a bleak revelation, but for Sagan, it elevates the human condition. It can for many be a liberating discovery, for if the lives that we live are meaningless then surely so must be the barriers that we place in front of ourselves that prevent us from achieving our aspirations.

Perhaps the best and most intelligent attitude to have to this is ironically the most ignorant one. Because it is a fact that the earth is a pointless, irrelevant pixel on a computer monitor. It is undeniable and the evidence is in the pale blue dot picture. But the fact that this is a revelation is its redeeming factor. We don’t have to see this picture, notice our insignificance, and then accept the fact of our irrelevance and promptly commit suicide because we can just ignore the picture. Before this revelation was made clear to us it didn’t matter, so why should it matter after it has? It is human nature to illogically ignore the facts right in front of us because we have no other choice. Even so, ending our lives because of our irrelevance is just as illogical anyway. Because our death is just as insignificant as our life. This is how existentialist thoughts become paradoxical, and the reason why ignorance of the “folly of human conceits”, as Sagan puts it is the best option. So by Sagan’s speech he is not claiming that humans and human life is futile and pointless, he is offering a way to accept this and move on to how this can fuel our aspirations and our pride for the “pale blue dot, the only home we have ever known”.
Zac Thoday (Age 14)

Pale Blue Dot
Planet Earth

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