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.
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.