“The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be. Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us — there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation as if a distant memory, of falling from a height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries.”
Happy Birthday to Carl Sagan, who would have witnessed his 78th revolution around the sun had he not lost his battle with cancer.
Though his life was cut short, he continues to inspire me in a way I never could have imagined, and for that, I am grateful.
Posts tagged humanity.
Pale Blue Dot: Reflections on a Mote of Dust
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 in 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 the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. 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. It is up to us.
Will we learn to use the tools with wisdom and foresight before it’s too late? Will we see our species through this difficult passage, so that our children and grandchildren will continue the great journey of discoveries into the mystery of the Cosmos?
Carl Sagan Reflects: 10 Years After COSMOS - Achievements And Future Of Humankind.
“You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.’”
-Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell
“In my opinion, cities are one of the greatest creations of man. Cities themselves are organisms, incredibly complex and beautiful. There is an astounding brilliance in the operation of a great city. The grid of Chicago makes the city look both like a beautiful organism and an astounding machine. Each city has its imperfections, but the night view makes Chicago glimmer.” - Matthew Meltzer
The Kowloon Walled City
An estimated 33,000 people lived in the 6.5 acre Kowloon Walled City as squatters between WWII and when it was demolished in 1993. (In case you are still trying to do the math, that’s 3.3 million people per square mile!) This was the densest population of humanity ever, and it functioned entirely without governmental support.
Sounds like an anarchists paradise, you say? Far, far from it. Ruled primarily by the Triads - a Hong Kong Mafia - it is probably as close to a experiment in unbridled capitalism as we are likely to ever see. Without regulations, it produced cheap food, textiles, grocery bags and other products to sell to keep the Hong Kong economy flourishing as a cheap travel destination. The only parallels I can draw are to dystopian fiction: people doing the work of robots, unable to break from the system of control or to build enough equity to make a better life for themselves or their children.
The city of Samsara
I am still dumbfounded by the living conditions these people endured: open sewers, stale and moldy air, roach and rat infestations, water almost constantly coursing down every wall, virtually no sunlight, hijacked electrical wires and plumbing crossing through every street, cramped living and working conditions day in and day out. Not to mention the slavish work hours. Not to mention the mafia pushing a heavy drug trade. Not to mention the thousands of other pressures that are unimaginable to someone not living in that situation. Presumably these people were hiding, unable to come out and live under the Chinese or British governments. What else would keep them here?
Yet it has a familiar smell to it - the stench of humanity in directionless motion - like the man in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. These people might seem to have uniquely poor fortunes, but we all know this life to some degree. We each concede some greater or lesser part of ourselves to the machine that feeds us, clothes us, puts a roof over our heads, and connects us to the people we know. How many of us are willing to walk away from everything we know in defiant pursuit of a better life?
Herman Hess’s Siddhartha could do three things:
“I can think. I can wait. I can fast.”
“I believe, that’s everything!”
“And what’s the use of that? For example, the fasting— what is it good for?”
“It is very good, sir. When a person has nothing to eat, fasting is the smartest thing he could do. When, for example, Siddhartha hadn’t learned to fast, he would have to accept any kind of service before this day is up, whether it may be with you or wherever, because hunger would force him to do so. But like this, Siddhartha can wait calmly, he knows no impatience, he knows no emergency, for a long time he can allow hunger to besiege him and can laugh about it. This, sir, is what fasting is good for.”
Perhaps these things are more valuable than they sound. The Kowloon Walled City is quickly becoming a sort of archetype for me of human failure. It is impressive, to be sure, but it reduces people to their lowest roles, puts them in the ugliest conditions, and gives them only enough to keep them coming back for more.
I don’t mean to advocate choosing one path in opposition to another, but I am curious: how can we reject this? How do we ensure that the world we create is better than this?
It has been said many times that man’s knowledge of himself has been left far behind by his understanding of technology, and that we can have peace and plenty and justice only when man’s knowledge of himself catches up. This is not true. Some people hope for great discoveries in the social sciences, social equivalents of F=ma and E=mc^2, and so on. Others think we have to evolve, to become better monkeys with bigger brains. We don’t need more information. We don’t need bigger brains. All that is required is that we become less selfish than we are.
Kurt Vonnegut in his address to the graduating class at Bennington College, 1970 (via hardenthefuckup)
The man had a way of making points. God bless you, Mr. Vonnegut.
We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.e.e. cummings (via psychotherapy)
See the Joy of Giving
THIS MAN. WATCH. Narayanan Krishnan
i love this so much..
Violence, manipulation and the like are not the way to raise children. Do not bring children into the world if you cannot master your personal demons first. It’s time to take the next step as a species and leave behind such destructive behavior.
“What are your thoughts about child abuse?”
Though the abuse factor is relatively low in this video (she catches her son lying and dishes out punishment via a serving of hot sauce with a cold shower - yeah, disturbingly…
Umberto Eco, one of the great authors I have never read, is apparently a lover of lists. He was approached by The Louvre to curate an exhibit, and this was the theme he chose. If you are interested in the power of lists, please read on…
SPIEGEL: Mr. Eco, you are considered one of the world’s great scholars, and now you are opening an exhibition at the Louvre, one of the world’s most important museums. The subjects of your exhibition sound a little commonplace, though: the essential nature of lists, poets who list things in their works and painters who accumulate things in their paintings. Why did you choose these subjects?
Umberto Eco: The list is the origin of culture. It’s part of the history of art and literature. What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible. It also wants to create order — not always, but often. And how, as a human being, does one face infinity? How does one attempt to grasp the incomprehensible? Through lists, through catalogs, through collections in museums and through encyclopedias and dictionaries. There is an allure to enumerating how many women Don Giovanni slept with: It was 2,063, at least according to Mozart’s librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte. We also have completely practical lists — the shopping list, the will, the menu — that are also cultural achievements in their own right.
Eco: Education should return to the way it was in the workshops of the Renaissance. There, the masters may not necessarily have been able to explain to their students why a painting was good in theoretical terms, but they did so in more practical ways. Look, this is what your finger can look like, and this is what it has to look like. Look, this is a good mixing of colors. The same approach should be used in school when dealing with the Internet. The teacher should say: “Choose any old subject, whether it be German history or the life of ants. Search 25 different Web pages and, by comparing them, try to figure out which one has good information.” If 10 pages describe the same thing, it can be a sign that the information printed there is correct. But it can also be a sign that some sites merely copied the others’ mistakes.
…But Mr. Eco: Why lists?
I realized immediately that the exhibition would focus on lists. Why am I so interested in the subject? I can’t really say. I like lists for the same reason other people like football or pedophilia. People have their preferences.