Book of the Week #32: [Guest Post]

Yashas:

She is back, Ladies and Gentlemen, and quite frankly, we could not be more glad!

And this week, she picks out a book that falls directly into her own backyard.

She says she hadn’t written this post with my blog in her mind; she just wanted to share her love for the book with the entire world, and isn’t that the very purpose of our blog?

Needless to say, I managed to badger her into sharing her words here. Such avaricious, you know.

For the uninitiated, might I elaborate just a little on the significance of the phrase “Pale Blue Dot”. It is actually a reference to the photograph of the Earth taken on 14th February, 1990, by Voyager 1 from a distance of roughly 6 billion kilometres.

pale_blue_dot
Pale Blue Dot

Really puts things in perspective, does it not?

So, here we go…


Shruti:

Pale Blue Dot,

by Carl Sagan

Literally the best book I have ever read!

You might think I am enlisting the book in that category because I am an Astrophysics student. I won’t deny that I might be ‘biased’ that way, but in all honesty, I feel that this is one book that every person should give a read.

Having watched and thoroughly enjoyed the Cosmos series by Carl Sagan, I couldn’t wait to read his books; although, I did wait. I watched that series more than three years ago! Insightful, inspiring and refreshing.

Was the Pale Blue Dot just what I had expected? No, it was much more.

This is one of the richest books I have read, in terms of content, style and language. Sagan has the ability to capture the imagination of even those people who are least interested in space science. His words are arresting, his style intelligent; what else could you expect from a world-renowned astrophysicist and science communicator?

This beautiful excerpt from the book, known to probably every science enthusiast, is just an example.

“Look again at 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.” 

(Read Full Quote ⬇︎)

In the 380+ page-long journey that Sagan takes us, he talks about a variety of things. The central theme of the book is the human race: our past, present and future in the cosmic arena. He talks about our ‘wandering’ ancestors, the times of Copernicus and Galileo when the geocentric theory was popular, the various advances humankind has made in technology and space science, and what the future is expected to hold for us.

He also addresses a point that would concern any ethical person: the use and misuse of science and technology, and its repercussions.

Is it right to spend billions of taxpayer money on space research that does not guarantee immediate tangible positive outcomes?
Is space travel really important?
Are we, as humans, capable of preserving this pale blue dot we call our home?
Are we prudent enough to settle on other worlds, not destroy them and form another civilization off-Earth?

Questions of human race, questions of science, and answers to them. This is what Sagan talks about.

Needless to say, Sagan was a brilliant astrophysicist and a visionary. He was aware of the follies and complexities of human race, our incredible potential to achieve things unimagined before and also our great capability to destroy ourselves.

As a budding astrophysicist and an advocate of science, I think everyone needs to hear what Sagan has to say. I greatly recommend the Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space.


Full Quote:

Look again at 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 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.

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.

—Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot

(Return ⬆︎)


Yashas:

There is not much I can say to follow that…

Of course, we highly recommend you read this wonderful book, though I personally believe you should read Cosmos first.

That is all we have to say, tonight. We stay hopeful that Shruti will return next week as well.

Au revoir!

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Published by

Shruti Badole

PhD student at the University of Manchester. Masters from Uni of Sussex, B.Tech from IIT Madras. Astronomer. Music passionate. Physics enthusiast. Part time Philosopher and big time Dreamer!

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