What does it mean to be human? Is it a sense of shared history? From just a couple of hundred, we have grown to over seven billion in 200,000 years, or do common needs define us as human? Survival, meaning, autonomy, honesty, well-being, transcendence, regeneration, empathy, interdependence, and protection are driving forces in our lives. Maybe it is culture? There are over 193 recognized states in the world. Each state has a powerful culture. Within those state cultures, there are regional cultures. Within those regional cultures, there are city cultures. Within those city cultures, there are family cultures and so on and so on. Culture is like a set of Russian Matryoshka dolls. Each one is nested inside of a larger one. Is it culture or is being human defined by all or none of the above?
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.
Maybe having a common home defines our species? Circling around that idea could transform our thinking from incoherence to coherence. Instead of thinking in all sorts of directions driven by nationalism, ideology, or ego, humans could focus with laser-beam precision on how to preserve and cherish the Goldilocks conditions on earth. Venus is too hot and Mars is too cold, but earth is just right for human beings to flourish. Seeing ourselves in a new way through the Pale-Blue Dot perspective could be the cement or glue that allows us to start thinking together creatively. Population on Earth will reach nine billion soon. Where will food and resources come from? How will we cope with future environmental change? Seeing the human home as a common biosphere could transform our thinking for the better.