“We have heard the rationales offered by the superpowers. We know who speaks for the nations; but who speaks for the human species? Who speaks for earth?
Fundamental changes in society are sometimes labeled impractical or contrary to human nature: as if nuclear war were practical or as if there were only one human nature. But fundamental changes can clearly be made. We are surrounded by them. In the last two centuries abject slavery, which was with us for thousands of years, has almost entirely been eliminated in a stirring world wide revolution.
Women, systematically mistreated for millennia, are gradually gaining the political and economic power traditionally denied to them. And some wars of aggression have recently been stopped or curtailed because of a revulsion felt by the people in the aggressor nations. The old appeals to racial, sexual and religious chauvinism and to rabid nationalism are beginning not to work. A new consciousness is developing which sees the earth as a single organism and recognizes that an organism at war with itself is doomed.
We are one planet.
One of the great revelations of the age of space exploration is the image of the earth, finite and lonely, somehow vulnerable, bearing the entire human species through the oceans of space and time. But this is an ancient perception; history is full of people who, out of fear or ignorance or the lust for power, have destroyed treasures of immeasurable value which truly belong to all of us.
We must not let it happen again.
In our tenure of this planet, we have accumulated dangerous, evolutionary baggage — propensities for aggression and ritual, submission to leaders, hostility to outsiders, all of which puts our survival in some doubt. We have also acquired compassion for others, love for our children, a desire to learn from history and experience, and a great, soaring passionate intelligence — the clear tools for our continued survival and prosperity.
Which aspects of our nature will prevail is uncertain, particularly when our visions and prospects are bound to one small part of the small planet earth. But, up and in the cosmos an inescapable perspective awaits. National boundaries are not evidenced when we view the earth from space. Fanatic ethnic or religious or national identifications are a little difficult to support when we see our planet as a fragile, blue crescent fading to become an inconspicuous point of light against the bastion and citadel of the stars.
We are a way for the cosmos to know itself. We are creatures of the cosmos and always hunger to know our origins, to understand our connection with the universe. How did everything come to be? Every culture on the planet has devised its own response to the riddle posed by the universe. Every culture celebrates the cycles of life and nature.
There are many different ways of being human.
But, an extraterrestrial visitor examining the differences among human societies would find those differences trivial compared to the similarities. We are one species. We are star stuff harvesting star light. Our lives, our past and our future are tied to the sun, the moon and the stars. Our ancestors knew that their survival depended on understanding the heavens. They built observatories and computers to predict the changing of the seasons by the motions in the skies.
We are all of us descended from astronomers.
The discovery that there is order in the universe, that there are laws of nature, is the foundation on which science is built on today. Our conception of the cosmos — all of modern science and technology –is traced back to questions raised by the stars. Yet, even 400 years ago we had still no idea of our place in the universe. The long journey to that understanding required both an unflinching respect for the facts and a delight in the natural world.
We humans long to be connected with our origins so we create rituals. Science is another way to experience this longing. It also connects us with our origins, and it too has its rituals and its commandments. Its only sacred truth is that there are no sacred truths. All assumptions must be critically examined. Arguments from authority are worthless. Whatever is inconsistent with the facts — no matter how fond of it we are — must be discarded or revised. Science is not perfect. It is often misused. It is only a tool, but it is the best tool we have — self-correcting, ever changing, applicable to everything. With this tool we vanquish the impossible; with the methods of science we have begun to explore the cosmos.
We depend upon free inquiry and free access to knowledge. We humans have seen the atoms which constitute all of nature and the forces that sculpted this work and others. We have found that the molecules of life are easily formed under conditions throughout the cosmos. We have mapped the molecular machines of the heart of life. We have discovered a microcosm in a drop of water; we have peered into the bloodstream and down on the stormy planet to see the earth as a single organism. We have found volcanoes on other worlds and explosions on the sun, studied comets from the depths of space and traced their origins and destinies; listened to pulsars and searched for other civilizations.
We humans have set foot on another world in a place called the Sea of Tranquility, an astonishing achievement for creatures such as we, whose earliest footsteps three and one-half million years old are preserved in the volcanic ash of east Africa.
We have walked far.
These are some of the things that hydrogen atoms do given fifteen billion years of cosmic evolution. It has the sound of epic myth, but it is simply a description of the evolution of the cosmos as revealed by science in our time. And we, we who embody the local eyes and ears and thoughts and feelings of the cosmos, we have begun at least to wonder about our origins — star stuff contemplating the stars, organized collections of ten billion billion billion atoms, contemplating the evolution of nature, tracing that long path by which it arrived at consciousness here on the planet earth, and perhaps throughout the cosmos.
Our loyalties are to the species and to the planet.
We speak for earth. Our obligation to survive and flourish is owed not just to ourselves but also to that cosmos ancient and vast from which we spring!”
Excerpts from “Who Speaks for Earth” my favorite Cosmos episode (#13) written and presented by Dr. Carl Sagan
Cosmos: A Personal Voyage 1980
Watch the full episode here. It’s incredible.