Why you should read “Pale Blue dot” by Carl Sagan
Is there Intelligent Life on Earth ?
On the scale of worlds — to say nothing of stars or galaxies — humans are inconsequential, a thin film of life on an obscure and solitary lump of rock and metal.
This quote is a very good description of what this book is about. It’s about the universe, life, and the immensity of space around us.
It was written in 1994 by Carl Sagan, and the inspiration is of course the picture “Pale Blue Dot” that you can see at the top of this post.
This picture is absolutely mesmerizing. It was taken by the space probe Voyager 1 in 1990 from a distance of 6 billion kilometers from earth. And as you can imagine, the tiny shiny dot that you can barely see is Earth.
This tiny spot encompasses everything and everyone that you know. The author puts it in a beautiful way.
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.
Alone in the Void
A good enough reason to read this book is the existential crisis it will likely provoke. The author will show you the importance of life on Earth, but also its insignificance.
We haven’t yet found life somewhere else than on Earth. Of course, it’s not a proof of absence, but it sometimes reinforces the belief that we are alone in the universe.
But this dot — and this book — will show you that this assumption is just arrogance. How can we imagine to be of any importance when we are so tiny in the immensity of the universe ?
We can barely comprehend the size of the universe around us. But when we start to witness its immensity, it humbles us. We have to consider that we are not the center of the world.
We have not been given the lead in the cosmic drama.
The author goes on to explain why, and in many ways, we have to accept our insignificance in the cosmos. It’s not a theory, rather a fact.
But it doesn’t mean our life has to be meaningless. We can find meaning. And we have the incredible chance to select it ourselves. It’s not imposed by any divinity. We are the sole drivers of our fate.
Better by far to embrace the hard truth than a reassuring fable. If we crave some cosmic purpose, then let us find ourselves a worthy goal.
Science is amazing
You will be amazed by Science in this book. As I said earlier, this book was published in 1994. And of course, the author explains the most recent discoveries made at that time in the field of space exploration.
But reading this in 2021, it looks like we have literally exploded all expectations.
The science in this book is interesting, but what is mind-blowing is to compare it with the knowledge we have today.
The author tells that we might find the first exoplanets soon. He was right, we found the 1st one in 1995. But today we have found more than 4000. With several other thousands “candidate” exoplanets that needs further investigation.
We have also landed successfully on a comet with the Rosetta Mission. Showing that we can manage high precision task far away from Earth with software and a bit of luck.
We are inhabiting space continuously thanks to the International Space Station. Which is also the most expensive and complex object that humanity has ever built together.
The James Webb Space Telescope, successor of the Hubble telescope, is on its way to be launched at the end of the year.
We have rocket booster that are landing back on land or on boats. Which makes access to space cheaper.
Constellations of satellites are being built. With thousands of satellites that will provide access to the internet from anywhere in the world.
In a way, this book makes us take a step back, and see what we have accomplished in the past 25 years. Clearly, we have been working hard.
Is there intelligent life on Earth ?
I want to end with one of the best and provocative part of this book.
Sagan tries to imagine how an alien wandering in our solar system would try to detect life on earth.
The alien tries to analyze the atmosphere and sees oxygen and nitrogen, in concentrations that shows there might be a chemical process that helps maintain a good balance.
Then he looks closely and starts to see green forest everywhere. Clearly there is life on this blue planet.
But is there intelligent life ?
The Alien looks even closer and he sees patterns. Long rectiline patterns, absolutely everywhere on the planet. This cannot be natural, and has to be the results of intelligent life.
And what confirms this is what happens when the alien goes on the “night side” of the planet. He sees light absolutely everywhere and is amazed by how beautiful that looks.
At this point he his thinking that he discovered a genius form of life that has an absolute passion for Euclidian geometry. A form of life that understands beauty and shapes its environment on a large scale.
But looking closer, he starts to witness something alarming. Our atmosphere is actually not balanced. The concentration of CO2 is constantly increasing. He starts to wonder if we don’t know that we are artificially heating our planet, or if we do it regardless of the risk.
He also sees the other types of emissions, and he even manages to see some wars here and there.
After thinking deeply about it, the alien really wonders if there is intelligent life on Earth.