Watching in Wonder…
I can’t help but look at that first image from the James Webb telescope that’s popped up all over creation the last few days.
First thing that pops up, as it’s become a habit of doing is guiding me to Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot.
From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. 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.
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. 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 another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.
The second thing of course is the introduction of Star Trek. My favorite is the one from The Next Generation (which is also still my favorite Star Trek series. Fight me. )
Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.
Okay, I’ve gone with the obvious low hanging fruit here but…what’s the point?
What happens when I ties it all together in my mind.
There are all these dots and blurry spaces in this picture. Going back to our little blue dot, and know how this dot holds an amount of experiences that have occurred through and around me, so many I will not ever remember and yet they still were.
Almost 8 billion people possessing the same. And that’s just right now, in this moment. How many others, how many families, lineages, societies, histories, innovations, atrocities have already passed. Not only the ones we have any semblance of recorded history on, but what may have come before that we haven’t become aware of yet? Or what we might only know as legend now that we have yet to discover hard proof of? What will come after us, and what may it look like? Will it evolve from us smartening up, or will it resurface long after we’ve wiped ourselves away by our own greed and ineptitude? A little of both? Neither?
Not to mention the infinite other life forms that have, do, and will inhabit this planet.
That’s all a bit much for one brain to possibly comprehend. Or at least for this brain.
Now going back to that Webb image. The way I understand it (and I’ll be glad to correct if this is off), the big, bright lights are stars we’ve been aware of and the blurry dots in the beyond represent different galaxies.
That’s right, galaxies. Plural. Each one has what, millions of stars contained in it? Stars that may have billions of planets, moons, asteroids, and who knows what within their own solar systems?
And you can’t tell me that this is the only dot that has life happening. Just on probability alone there has to be other inhabited planets. There must be. Just because we (officially, haha) aren’t aware doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. I mean, for as bright and curious and explorative as we can be when we want to be, we likely only still know a fraction about us, and this rock. There is so much we haven’t learned how to discover or quantify yet.
Now multiply that by what, the billionth power, if that is even a quantitative thing? (Math was never my strong suit, honestly. )
But oh my goodness, what else is out there? How do they exist? How do they function? What are their habitats like? What other life surrounds them and how do they interact? How do they process their emotions? How do they love? How do they honor their past and wonder about their future? Do they know empathy? How do they entertain themselves and soak up knowledge? What are their families like? What are their stories? Do they know about us? Do they laugh at us, pity us, or do they see the potential that we still have despite our, um, shortcomings? When we finally see them officially, what impulse is going to win out-the one where we extend our arms out in friendship, curiosity, and wonder or the one where we fear everything that doesn’t look or act like us and do all the horrible things? How will they respond back?
If I allow myself to, I can have so many more questions. But for know I think I’m going to just wonder. I know that I’ll only know at most a sliver in this life.
But for now, it’s fun to just sit and wonder about the possibilities that have always been out there but feel maybe a little more tangible today.
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