I didn't know which thread to put it in, but I figured this forum would probably be more relevant.
Today marks 16 years since the American astronomer Carl Sagan passed away. Now, there are many people in history that I admire, including many Irish ones. But my all-time hero would have to be this man. He is someone that every person on Earth can look up to. Heroes are often admired by those who they represent; Patrick Pearse, for example, being an Irish republican hero, Marx a hero for communists, and Péle a soccer hero. But this man was a visionary of humanity's future. He envisioned a humanity which would overcome its inbuilt tribal, or "reptilian" prejudices and would wade into the "cosmic ocean", travel to the stars. Or, as he put it:
He was aware that this vision of humanity would only come to fruition if we were to avoid self-destruction. He spoke at a time when the world was threatened by the outbreak of nuclear war, which had the potential to destroy not only human civilisation, but also humanity as a species. He didn't always hold this view, however. He was human, and he did have his flaws. In the 1950s, he was involved in a reckless plan to detonate a nuclear weapon on the Moon's surface, in an attempt to reassert America's position the Cold War. Yet, undoubtedly after profound reflection, he turned away from this and campaigned for the reduction, if not the complete decommissioning, of nuclear weapons. During the 1980s, when the Reagan administration was involved once again in a second arms race with the Soviet Union, Sagan was arrested twice following protests against nuclear weapons testing.The sky calls to us. If we do not destroy ourselves, we will, one day, venture to the stars.
I only recently managed to watch his Cosmos television series, and in it, he describes how important it is to keep enthusiasm for astronomy and for humanity alive in new generations. He also describes the importance of science to humanity. After the Apollo Missions of the 1960s and 70s, he managed to reignite interest in space through this series. He was always a keen skeptic, and he believed that humans should always inquisitive, and not simply accept whatever is the given. Above all, he always maintained a belief in extraterrestrial life, and in recognition of our place in the Universe, as a small, vulnerable, Pale Blue Dot:
This is therefore, why I think this man can be acclaimed by everyone on Earth, as a true visionary for our future, a man never doubtful about our potential, and a man who encouraged curiosity and further discoveries.From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it's different. Consider again that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, 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 "superstar," every "supreme leader," 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 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. 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. 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. The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. 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. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.
I recommend Cosmos for any of you who have not seen it. It is an amazing series, you won't regret watching it:
Cosmos: A Personal Voyage - Episode 1 (Carl Sagan) - YouTube