A Matter of Perspective

Fellow blogger, A Frank Angle recently treated us to a review of Carl Sagan’s famous video clip on “the blue marble”. It is one I never tire of.  Thanks, Frank.

credit:  timebinders.wordpress.com

credit: timebinders.wordpress.com

I too greatly admire Carl Sagan. He was not only an able astronomer but a philosopher and poet as well. The scientific knowledge gained since his death only confirms his conclusion that this pale blue dot is the only home mankind is likely to have. The reality of galaxies, the age of the universe, the existence of other planets, all this has been revealed by science, but the utility of this knowledge is likely to be small, except for one thing – that if nothing else it may provide the motivation for mankind to collectively cooperate in keeping the Earth a good place to live. As Sagan says, this is it, our only home.

As I watched the clip I couldn’t help but reflect on how far human-kind has to go to reach that level of cooperation. We are still morally and ethically primitive. The Syrian civil war, the Palestinian situation, North Korea, global warming, the pollution of the ocean (there’s really only one), and the Russian invasion of Crimea, are but a few examples. Cooperation is lacking on a smaller scale as well. The cover story in the USA Today newspaper shows that even here in what we think of as the most advanced country, murderers, rapists and other felons are easily escaping justice simply by fleeing to other states. It turns out that states are unwilling to spend the money required for the manpower and transportation that extradition entail. If the crook is out of the state, then he’s someone else’s problem, it’s that simple.

I submit that the greatest and most wondrous development in the history of the universe, so far as we know, is the evolution of a brain capable of abstract though and self-awareness. This is something that has occurred in only the past 2.5 million years or so (human predecessors). That is 1,440 times less than the time since the first simple cells formed, 3.6 billion years ago. Mankind has only had writing, as we know it, for less than 10,000 years. That is 250 times less than the time abstract thought has been around. We have had science and machines for only about 1,000 years, which is 10 times less than writing. Now consider the internet and weapons of mass destruction, existing for only a half century. This increase of physical ability and technical knowledge is occurring on an exponential scale, but human instincts and cultures have progressed not much at all. We are tribal still. In this context, Sagan’s exhortation to cooperate is more cogent than ever. But how many are listening?

In looking up the numbers I found a Wikipedia site on the timeline of evolutionary history that I hadn’t seen before. For those interested in the subject, I recommend it. It’s quite well done.

credit:  en.wikipedia.org

credit: en.wikipedia.org

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About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Independent, tending progressive as the GOP recedes from its Eisenhower roots.
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7 Responses to A Matter of Perspective

  1. Jim in IA says:

    Yes, sadly I must agree…’We are still tribal’. It is a feature of humanity that will persist. I am also glad to find and commune with those who know how to express some of the most positive traits of humanity…creativity, humor, empathy, art, … When the spirit is right and the stars align, so to speak, we can do awesome things like go to the Moon several times, or eliminate a disease.

    I like the timeline. Last weekend, I enjoyed the first of several episodes of Cosmos v.2.0. I think Carl would have been pleased to see it. In the show, Tyson used a calendar-year metaphor to illustrate how vast is the history of the universe and how tiny is our human share of it. We barely show up at the last second.

    Thank you for your post.

    • Jim Wheeler says:

      I recorded Cosmos v2.0 but haven’t watched it yet. We need more of that – public unawareness of the reality of science never fails to amaze me. And, I appreciate you optimism, Jim. You are a glass-half-full kind of guy. And, thanks for your post that inspired mine.

  2. PiedType says:

    Certainly hope you caught the first episode of the new Cosmos with Neil deGrasse Tyson, possibly my favorite scientist and a worthy successor to Carl Sagan. He repeated the calendar timeline we’ve heard before, where the earth was formed on Jan. 1 and most everything mankind has done has occurred in the last minutes or second of the year, etc. For me that calendar has always been the easiest illustration to understand.

  3. aFrankAngle says:

    Jim … many thanks for the mention and the link. I thought I responded earlier, but it obviously didn’t take. Oh well.

    Thanks for sharing your great perspective. When you mentioned various conflicts around the globe, I keep thinking for a Star Trek movie (I believe First Contact, but I’m not a Trekkie) … but the Vulcans called use barbarians for the way we solve conflicts. So yes, we humans have so far to go.

    … and thanks for stopping by during my absence.

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