Carl Sagan and his Cool Reflections

Pale Blue Dot WidePale Blue Dot Close

The photo above was taken by Voyager 1 in 1990 as it sailed away from Earth, more than 4 billion miles in the distance. Having completed its primary mission, Voyager at that time was on its way out of the Solar System, on a trajectory of approximately 32 degrees above the plane of the Solar System. Ground Control issued a command that directed the distant space craft to turn around and, looking back, take photos of each of the planets it had visited. From Voyager’s vast distance, the Earth was captured as a infinitesimal point of light (between the two white tick marks in the image above), actually smaller than a single pixel of the photo. The image was taken with a narrow angle camera lens, with the Sun quite close to the field of view. Quite by accident, the Earth was captured in one of the scattered light rays caused by taking the image at an angle so close to the Sun. Dr. Sagan was quite moved by this image of our tiny world. Here is an enlargement of the area around our Pale Blue Dot and an excerpt from the late Dr. Sagan’s talk:

 

Pale Blue Dot

-by Carl Sagan – January 25th 2010

“The spacecraft was a long way from home.

I thought it would be a good idea, just after Saturn, to have them take one last glance homeward. From Saturn, the Earth would appear too small for Voyager to make out any detail. Our planet would be just a point of light, a lonely pixel hardly distinguishable from the other points of light Voyager would see: nearby planets, far off suns. But precisely because of the obscurity of our world thus revealed, such a picture might be worth having.

So, here they are: a mosaic of squares laid down on top of the planets in a background smattering of more distant stars. Because of the reflection of sunlight off the spacecraft, the Earth seems to be sitting in a beam of light, as if there were some special significance to this small world; but it’s just an accident of geometry and optics. There is no sign of humans in this picture: not our reworking of the Earth’s surface; not our machines; not ourselves. From this vantage point, our obsession with nationalisms is nowhere in evidence. We are too small. On the scale of worlds, humans are inconsequential: a thin film of life on an obscure and solitary lump of rock and metal.

Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you’ve ever heard of, every human being who ever was lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings; thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines; every hunter and forager; every hero and coward; every creator and destroyer of civilizations; 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 supreme leader; every superstar; 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 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. 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. 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. 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. It underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the only home we’ve ever known.

The pale blue dot.”

 

 

I came across an old collection of mine from Carl Sagan and this film excerpt below in the hyperlink is from his Cosmos series. It pretty much encapsulates the very drift of the conceptual journey consuming my thoughts of late. The Cosmos series is a timeless, historical expression of the scientific outlook on the origin of life, the human species and the universal laws that eternally surround us. Carl Sagan’s humble and nonchalant demeanor is a very pleasant experience to ponder the perplexities of a life feeling the weight of its egocentric fixation on privilege, grandeur and selfhood…….In fact everything written for the public by Carl Sagan is worthy  of any person’s interest…

Carl Sagan on God

 

 

A poster-size image of the beautiful barred spiral galaxy NGC 13

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Ridley Scott’s Universe – fact or fiction?

 

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Ridley Scott is an accomplished producer and director. Having watched the sequel to his cult classic of 1982 – Blade Runner – just recently, I felt compelled to articulate some of my reactions to some of his work over the years. Who can forget the dysfunctional fear of extraterrestrial life generated through the film Alien in 1979 and the thought-provoking dystopia of the film Blade Runner in 1982 ? The driving forces underpinning both of these films originate in Ridley Scott’s existential dilemma with life itself. The growing friction that Ridley experiences with life and purpose that grind the realities of form and function, is a personal attempt to grapple with the essential question of what the hell this thing we call life is all about. In fact for Ridley Scott, life itself is a crime thriller without closure – an untenable realisation in anybody’s discernment.

In the film Prometheus the stage is set to distinguish the concept of a benevolent hope  in nature’s designs with the contrast of brute survival coping in a universe of many life forms devoid of moral imperatives. In fact most of the motivational momentum in Ridley Scott’s films attempt to clarify the idea that survival is the be all and end all of life itself and that death is the necessary process towards evolutionary mastery of knowledge – a knowledge enabled to temporarily withstand the onslaught of a meaningless existence whose only purpose is survival of the species. Nature’s lack of propriety is the  recurring motif in nearly all of Ridley Scott’s films.

The film Blade Runner ignited the extended metaphor to deal with life and death by constructing a futuristic analogy through the dystopia of an industrialised and commercialised landscape mirroring the lives of city dwellers on this planet of ours.  Replicants became aware of their short life span and demanded to seek out their creator to force a change in their molecular structure to enable a longer life span to experience the joys they discovered in their new found freedoms escaping from their slave labour, mining for the Tyrell Corporation. The leader of the Replicants,  Roy Batty cleverly sets the stage to meet his maker, Dr Eldon Tyrrell and makes some strong demands seeking longevity in life, only to be sadly informed by the doctor that his internal structure is impossible to reverse or alter and that the sacrifice for Roy’s outstanding engineering marvel is unfortunately a short four year life span. The anger in Roy upon discovering this no-win scenario is played out in the violent metaphor where Roy exacts his revenge on his maker by squeezing Tyrell’s  eye balls until they bleed denying him the perceptions of the life he has created.

This situation I think illuminates Ridley Scott’s existential dilemma as well as his anger with the essential nature of life itself. In many of his films there exists a lingering trail of injustices and grievances borne out of the conundrum of a vast and lonely universe whose only reason to exist is to confound the rational mind.

Maybe this conundrum is a mirror to our sense of privilege and that life was never meant to echo human belief but to celebrate the occasion while it lasts…….

Yin and Yang of Existence

Tragedy befalls all of us during the moments we least expect. These grief stricken realities are forever present in the rhythms of life and in these times of confrontations with the nature of things I am compelled to commit to life’s transient pleasures – they are all the more tantalising and necessary as we all march forward into the wonderful abyss of oblivion.

Charles Bukowski says it all so beautifully with his cheeky eye to detail…….

Consummation Of Grief – Poem by Charles Bukowski

I even hear the mountains
the way they laugh
up and down their blue sides
and down in the water
the fish cry
and the water
is their tears.
I listen to the water
on nights I drink away
and the sadness becomes so great
I hear it in my clock
it becomes knobs upon my dresser
it becomes paper on the floor
it becomes a shoehorn
a laundry ticket
it becomes
cigarette smoke
climbing a chapel of dark vines. . .
it matters little
very little love is not so bad
or very little life
what counts
is waiting on walls
I was born for this
I was born to hustle roses down the avenues of the dead.

 

 

A refuge from the eternal cynic …….

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An Equation to Persuasion

Numbers are the universal language in the mind of humanity

They are the mathematical principle of our inherent tapestry

In nature designs and  heavenly equations

Rotate endlessly beyond our considerations

Why then do we conjecture about the logic of its proposition

That life is eternal with such antipodal opposition ?

In a universe of distinct and geometric symmetry

Where the laws of movement are governed by natural tyranny

The musical mastery in the octave of a tonal interval

Where two frequencies having a ratio of 2 to 1 are integral

Why then does the meandering minstrel of philosophical bent

Guide us through this hypothesis with an aim to circumvent?

Has a miscast chord aimed from above the celestial sphere

Forced us to reevaluate the reason  we are here

Is it some kind of mistune played on our minds

Focusing on the ancient  written designs

Whose words we ponder with urgent solicitude

Speculating the proof which nurtures disquietude?

All of life resonates the death of its image and likeness of its being

Is a ritual to the perfect harmony of its continual foreseeing

Like a harp from the heavens of an unknown destiny

Playing the tune of mystery mirrors the pain of history

With the force needed to make that leap in time

To take us into the higher octave into another paradigm.

A Little Revulsion to Be Free

 

1930 - from the top left: Paul Eluard, Jean Arp, Yves Tanguy, Rene ClevelBottom Left: Tristan Tzara, Andre Breton, Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, Man Ray

Funny how history has thrown up so many variations of looking at the world. Human kind has never had a shortage of what to think or make of the world.  The Surrealists of the early 20th century are a case in mind.

Surrealism was a movement born out of the remains of madness and terror. After the Great War, the writings of an obscure psychologist in Vienna, Sigmund Freud suddenly seemed relevant. Soldiers had experienced what was called “shell shock” in the early twentieth century to a degree never experienced in the warfare of previous generations. The Great War produced such numbers of afflicted soldiers that no excuses of cowardice or treason, no amount of executions could make vanish the effects of war on the mind. The madness of war lingered and altered the rules of public engagement for so many individuals. It also set the tone for a movement that rejected outright the institutions of a society that allowed so many to die horrible deaths and with apparently little to show for but piles of dead bodies, rubble and wounded spirits.  As a wartime nurse, André Breton had observed the power of the wounded mind over the helpless body and in 1921, he visited Freud to learn more of what the doctor called the “unconscious mind.”

For Freud, dreams were “the royal road to the unconscious,” meaning the mind was capable of communicating at various levels, and perhaps the least of which was the conscious level. The deeper buried layer of the mind “spoke” in codes, whether linguistic or visual, and these clues had to be decoded by the psychologist who could translate the obscured messages. What he learned from Freud gestated in the mind of Breton and so began a movement of artists from every discipline to shake the shackles off a hypocritical, uncaring and morally bankrupt society whose rigid conventions of social behaviours carved the road to so many senseless deaths. Contemporary society holds on to a delusion that this war and others that follow evoke noble and commendable acts of self -sacrifice which are still commemorated as some kind of testament to the courageous spirit of our species, but the Surrealists cut through this social facade and dismantled the propaganda  of the Great Hoax  and saw the power games of the rich which lured so many unsuspecting young men into illusory notions of King and Country  to kill their fellow comrades across the vast trenches of Europe. The Surrealists rejected everything that society and civilisation deemed to be normal and scoffed at the hypocrisies of institutionalised society by looking into their subconscious and releasing a primordial instinct based on emotional relevance.

Salvadore Dali was one among many artists, including writers, sculptors, playwrights, poets who absorbed this new freedom to explore, express and to test the limits of the human imagination in direct defiance of social codes of conduct and attitudes and created some of the most wonderful Surrealist Paintings of this era. The Surrealist works of art remind us that the unconscious imagination is another window to another reality.

The Persistence of Memory (1931), Salvador Dalí

The Persistence of Memory (1931), Salvador Dalí

Dalí described his meticulously rendered works as “hand-painted dream photographs,” and certainly, the melted watches that make their appearance in this Surrealist masterpiece have become familiar symbols of that moment when reverie seems to uncannily invade the everyday. The coast of the artist’s native Catalonia serves as the backdrop for this landscape of time, in which infinity and decay are held in equipoise. As for the odd, rubbery creature in the center of the composition, it’s the artist himself, or rather his profile, stretched and flattened like Silly Putty

From the Other Side !

Image result for graveyard at sunset

Whenever I happen to perchance walking past or into a cemetery there is a timeless feeling of relief and tranquility washes over me like a cleansing agent for my emotional stresses. Walking past all of the rich and varied epitaphs on the grave sites offers a beautiful tapestry of singular moments caught in the memories of the deceased. I sometimes feel humbled at these precise moments of contemplation questioning, what is more important than celebrating communal life in all of its glory and transient wonder? I have never been obsessed with the thought of dying and I am not into living my life waiting for death but the absolute and final exit from this stage holds an unbelievable fascination for me. The idea that a close friend or relative or even a personal role model was with me in flesh and blood and we communicated once upon a time, undergoes a hard process to accept that this physical encounter will never happen again. I do not feel morbid or emotionally anxious about this inevitability that befalls everyone but at times I ponder the various platitudes surrounding the thought of death and also scan the mental images of this thought as perceived through the passageways of history. The conceptual reality that we walk into this room of life through the front door and then exit through the back door into a land unknown and from where no-one has returned leaves me stunned,  in a sense like being stung with a strong dose of medicinal reality.  I reflect on all of the trials and tribulations, all the hopes and the aspirations of so many; in fact all of humanity who have preceded me. In this realisation there is a comforting thought that emanates from a socialist perspective. All the riches, all the powers, imagined or real vanish once we pass that threshold. I empathise with my ancestors and imagine the sensual mysteries that life would have held for our progenitors; I witness the soothing theories of after-life and trace their natural demise with the ongoing rationale of contemporary science. And still as I meditate the discoveries of the modern world, the legacy leaves me with stunned silence and reverential respect for all that have passed by and for all who will enter into the beyond.

I use these ponderous thoughts to whip up a mock epitaph using an image to bounce off……

From Beyond

Welcome stranger to my final rest

I come to you from the other side

A faceless person emerging from this nest

With a passion to guide

In life as in death the sad truth

Is captured in this prism I hold

The  wonders of  eternal youth

Of celebrations foretold

Do not deny me the dignity

Of your reflective thought

Strike a light on my memory

Immortalise what I sought !

Reality is Drowning – A psychological overview of the politics of drowning.

It is quite insane how people identify with a religion or social group or cause and label themselves as such without a thought towards what they are supposed to represent.

Take any case in point.

The Christian. Or the Agnostic. Or the Feminist. Or the Liberalist…….

To call yourself a Christian is nothing more than a force of utterance. It is a label you strap around your head and it makes you feel you belong to some kind of clan, to some kind of oppositional camp that has a better grip on reality than the other labels. But they are all labels and shameful labels at that. Their real inspiration derives from feelings of superiority and the holier than thou nonsense, as if the perceptive arrangements your group has concluded have an exclusive right to judge others and deflate what others subscribe to.

Why do I say this? Well just focus on Christianity for the moment. 

One of the basic premises of Christianity is Love……Love Thy Neighbour and all the other remaining basic Commandments.

If you consider yourself a Christian then you have to agree that you consider yourself a practising Christian, one who is guided by these all pervasive tenets of Christian dogma.

If you identify as a Christian then I take it  you strive to live by these commandments however difficult it may be to achieve these Christian ideals. Your aim in life is to practise through trial and error the basic commandments of the Christian faith and apply these principles into your everyday behaviours and attitudes.

This is not rocket science. It is very simple and straightforward. Where there seems to be a problem is in the idea that somehow an interpretation needs to be factored in.

This is where the hypocritical insanity takes over and the reality is lost at sea and floating on a flimsy raft of meaningless words.

e.g. Thou Shalt Not Kill. This is a very simple request and a basic commandment. It probably arose in a setting where killing got out of hand and it was borne out of necessity. Taking aside the functional purpose of killing and eating other animals the commandment is very straightforward.  But after the initial calm settles in some argue that this generic definition does not meet socially accepted standards, for example the reality of tribal wars, and the need to recruit, so therefore  a need arose for expediency and necessity- the need to change the original wording to the socially legal term of “murder”. This makes the commandment less hypocritical and better equipped to face the expectations of community aplomb.

So the commandment changes and becomes, “Thou Shalt Not Murder.” The nuances of the word “kill” are forever altered, confusion takes over, snowballing into a mixed bag of treats waiting for entrepreneurial ingenuity to pick and package a particular interpretation and forcing reality to take a nose dive, sinking into the depths of culpability and human fondness to conflict.

Now this is what happens when the politics of any social group manipulates a simple tenet to accommodate a specific context. Certainly reality is not a simple cut and dry affair so the idea of tightening the definition to embrace a changing context is nothing new. But why?

It can be understood that social, legal terms need to be strictly defined and leave nothing open in the equation for meaning because that is the way the law operates. Leaving a law open to individual interpretation and therefore misinterpretation would render it almost meaningless and ineffectual in a society looking to construct uniformity and civilised behaviour patterns. First degree murder, manslaughter all have their role to play in law. And the law does constantly adapt and change to suit new circumstances and contexts in an imperfect way, but nonetheless evolutionary in its purpose to embrace a concept of unmitigated fairness. 

But do the same procedural practices apply to a spiritual quest for personal salvation? Or a pragmatic search for a better lifestyle? Or set of attitudes? Isn’t the basic foundation underpinning religious belief or improvement in lifestyle attitudes that people begin in these journeys as uninitiated, imperfect prototypes? That individuals have an inherent need to undergo a personal process of trial and error to achieve a personal ideal and in this way forge spiritual or pragmatic fulfilment? What is personally and morally right or wrong is a deeply personal discovery and there is an underlying assumption that a person’s instinct, conscience, humanity helps to override any misinterpretation and guide the unenlightened to some kind of personal awakening.

 If the wording does not fit or meet the needs of a contemporary context then the belief system is outdated and therefore an anachronism. It  should be discarded into the wastebins of history. Trying to adapt it to a new set of circumstances is like grasping on to an alien life- jacket floating on the seas of Jupiter. 

Forcing an interpretation on a simple request such as ” Thou Shalt Not Kill” should set the alarm bells clanging away warning the individual that something is amiss,  to question who exactly has the right interpretation. When people start toying with the basic tenets of Christianity or any social cause then this process sets off the chain reaction of political manipulation whose imperative is to confuse, divide and rule.

This process of obfuscation is very much like George Orwell’s  “Animal Farm” when the pigs are defining their authority by reinterpreting the revolutionary manifesto of equality and insert the notion that some are more equal than others. This ofcourse is to justify their ongoing ascent into privileged lifestyles and outcomes of authority over the rest of the animals on the farm.

These techniques share many  similarities with the processes underpinning advertising. What advertisers do to a basic product is to offer a reinterpetation of that product. Advertisers do not sell a basic product but a carefully designed manipulation of how we identify with that product. So associations of strength, coolness, power and individuality, for example are toyed with for the prime purpose of harnessing unsuspecting individuals into buying something and satisfying an emotional identification. These processes of advertising are also used to divide and reinforce brand loyalties and to construct group loyalty.  

If you indulge in a simple experiment and exchange the label from Christian to any other one including,  feminisim, islamism, protectionism, isolationism, atheism, deism, judaism, patriotism, liberalism to name just a few off the cuff, I think the argument of the title rings true; our collective sense of reality is drowning, and it is drowning in a quagmire of self perpetuating conflict and hostility, divorcing us from our humanity and reflective compassion for our species.

Proclamation of the Mending Spirit

“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”

George Bernard Shaw

In moments of reflection I gather my thoughts and consider the nature of my life as it is….

The way I see it, is always changing and the beauty is in the ways I can define myself through the imagination….

The emotional journey that each day has in store for me triggers associations and memories that capture fleeting predilections….

Should I abandon these feelings all is not lost and the place of unguarded moments follows another sequence of imaginative thoughts and the journey begins once again ….

At times I am led into dismal caves of unpleasantness usually provoked by the symptoms of social stresses that unwittingly codify and compartmentalise my creative self and so I lock myself in to these cages of despair unknowingly…

I eventually escape, reinvigorate, reinvent my intentions and restore to empower my journey to continue into areas of depersonalised and neutralised zones of discovery

Oblivious to the sacrifice that buffers the sadness of my fellow comrades I must proclaim… 

 It is I who will die one day and it is I who should live my life in the way I create.