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 – Science for Today

 

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…….

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 !

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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 !

A Humble View on a Life Unwasted

In this thing we call life I would like to document the ways I see the world and how I experience contemporary news. I understand that I do change and that my perceptions are products of my context. The winds of change will affect my context over time and it will be an interesting experiment to see how my voice transforms itself Image result for a life wastedinto a vocal instrument for responding to the world I inhabit.

Creating an online depository of these reflections might offer an interesting read and insights into the purpose and grand scheme of a life I would like to think is unwasted.

The Overtures of Time

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I look into the mirror of my memory and I see stardust. A vortex of imagery encircles my imagination and I begin to fall under the pressure of gravity. In the midst of the corner of my eye – I descend – and witness a sea of humanity. In an instant echoes of time explode into a myriad of colours. The tapestry of history is draped before me… Oh, how I long to suspend  self – righteousness, to disengage  logic and pierce the barriers shackling my existence. I need to disentangle the crusts of calcified social conditioning and open the door to reality and view a world  that is less inhibited, less influenced by the musings of wise but staid old men we are taught to esteem from ages past.

The science of conscience seeps through the cracks of reasoning and I am catapulted to a lonely summit overlooking a moral landscape struck and blinded by the thunderings of unconscionable nature. It is a cold, hard power of a frightening epiphany that ironically soothes me whilst waiting for the signatures of mortality. I live to participate in this thing we call life and I breathe to extricate this thing we call sanity….29af2-artclockeyeimage

Photons of endlessness float rhythmically in and out of the pores of flesh and a mind glimpses radiance in unison…My thoughts are incomplete – there is no other way- unable and incapable to articulate the systemic harmony experienced in this pulsating certainty we call time… a reflection and a direction mesmerised by the sun’s setting once again over and over….painting the kaleidoscope of humanity’s crimson horizon.