The Cassandra Dispatch

15 Jan. 2023
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.

Carl Sagan's famous passage about Earth, our Pale Blue Dot, in his book with the same name, is probably not new to most of you. But I think it's important to revisit his words once in a while. So, here is the passage read by Carl Sagan himself:

It often reminds me of the poem Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley. Here's a great reading of it by actor Bryan Cranston.

For me, this passage invokes incredible feelings of humility and hope. At the same time, it renders me just a bit sad. From a biological and evolutionary point of view, it doesn't make sense for any animal to take on this perspective. But sometimes I ask myself: What would the world look like if we could?

Here's the full passage:

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it's different. Consider 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 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.
1 Jan. 2023

In this interview, AI researcher and podcaster Lex Fridman interviews Richard Dawkins. They cover a wide range of topics, from pondering if we live in a simulation to memes.

Watch the video of the interview here

Expectedly, with Dawkins, religion and morality come up. Dawkins argues that we shouldn't base our morality on religious texts such as the bible, and that in fact, we are not doing that anyway. Rather, that religious people cherry-pick moral guidance from the bible using their 21st century morality - so, why not cut out the middleman altogether?

18 Dec. 2022

In this report produced in 1973 by the Yorkshire public television, Richard Feynman talks about the importance of original ideas.

Another topic that comes up is simplicity. According to Feynman, nature is usually much simpler than our thoughts. Therefore, when trying to explain phenomena, we tend to overcomplicate things. Often, in the end, reality can be explained by much simpler terms. We just need to look at it from another point of view.

4 Dec. 2022

Christopher Hitchens died over ten years ago in late 2011. This conversation between Richard Dawkins and Hitchens was recorded in October 2011 by Dawkins, however it was only released by him earlier this year. He had thought that he had lost it, but luckily rediscovered it. This is Hitchens' last recorded interview:

Unsurprisingly, their conversation revolves around atheism and religion. Some interesting topics include the role of atheism in Hitler Germany and if determining a child's religion should be considered child abuse. Also, is it ok for a professor of geography who thinks that the earth is flat to teach geography?

18 Nov. 2022

Welcome to the first issue of The Cassandra Dispatch!
The simple idea behind this newsletter is that I pick and send one video every two weeks that features a speech or discussion by a great science communicator like Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins and others. The “accessible” part is important - you won’t need any specific background, just an open mind and curiosity.

Without further ado, here’s the first video featuring the amazing Dr Carl Sagan.

In this hour-long keynote speech Dr. Sagan talks about why global warming is dangerous and what we can do about it. It’s striking that 32 years ago, it was already crystal clear what mitigation measures we needed to take. It’s saddening that humanity failed to take action more swiftly.