Today is Carl Sagan day, and I am stirred, as always, to take a moment to pause, look toward the heavens, and see in that awe-inspiring firmament all the hopes, fears, sorrows, and joys of our strange and beautiful lives.
As a child, I looked to the stars in wonder. We lived atop a hill in the boonies of California. This was before the march of industrial grape-vines eroded the precious land. Before the climate changes that scientists have warned of for decades were yet fully realized. I simply felt a raw delight in those stars, a visceral sense of their immensity, and my place within that cosmic experience.
As an adult, I still look up, and my hope is not diminished. There are trials for our species, great struggles ahead that we will force us to confront all our misconceptions about the universe and our place within it. But, there is so much room yet for wonder, for joy; we can look up and realize our shared common humanity with generations of our ancestors, and billions of our fellow creatures who share the ever-present now.
There are too few public figures, during the last one hundred years of this pale blue dot’s existence, who advanced so much that is good about our species as did Carl Sagan. He was an exemplar of the good scientist: someone who understood that rationality and kindness make fantastic friends. His work defending humanity from itself, his work promoting the exploration of the cosmos, and his gift for inspiration were all incredible lights in the world. Lights that continue to live on.
One of the ways Carl described the experience of life was as something “numinous,” an aesthetic experience of wonder and awe. I still experience that feeling, even with everything that is occurring in our world today. I believe that the pursuit of the sort of life that puts in in touch with the numinous is one of the greatest challenges in life, and that our fulfillment with the hours we have can be measured, in part, by how well we Wonder at the very experience of being alive.
These days, space exploration has been purloined by corporations and oligarchs: these rich men (yes, mostly men) have twisted the numinous to their own perfidious, short-sighted ends. Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are not nice people: they are not representing the best of our species. For one small example, as the Starlink satellites drive incredible dangers to space exploration, I see many people expressing anger. Anger that I share.
Space exploration should be a collective effort by all human beings, for all human beings: a great evolution beyond the cradle of our birth, into the vast and incredible unknown.
Space exploration should come about because we have recognized, as a species, that profit is not a reasonable driving force in our lives: that we must work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity as a shared social project of incredible artistic depth.
But the horror that we feel as the greedy and violent people in power lead the world astray can not stop at anger. Anger is a guide, but it cannot lead us into a better Tomorrow. Only solidarity can do this. Only kindness. Only love.
So, on this Carl Sagan day of 2023, that is my wish: more solidarity in kindness, more solidarity in love.
Go easy, friends. Or go as easy as you can.