Several times in the last few years I’ve been surprised at how both new and old friends, even my partner Brian, seem uninspired by scientists and their perceived lack of imagination. I’m the poet in the family, so you’d think that I’d be the one with the wild imagination, and I am! At least I think I am. It’s just that I don’t have much interest in the supernatural. The natural world is fascinating enough for me—there is so much we don’t know that we don’t know, but to think how linked we are to everything around us, all of us coming, as Carl Sagan once said, from the dust of stars.
What interest I might have in mythologies and old religious texts, even the history of tarot cards and their symbolism, has mostly to do with a fascination with human thinking, story-telling, and imagination, and very little to do with belief in things like fate or higher powers. My divinity school days are a quarter of a century behind me and for good reason.
I came from a background deeply steeped in faith in a creator, and over time, as I came to know myself and all the ways my own understanding of the world did not fit that old framework, I allowed myself to ask questions again. And in doing that, my dependence on faith decreased as my curiosity about the universe increased.
How exciting it was to start with the phrase “I don’t know” and move toward discovering what we humans could begin to know. To me, there’s nothing boring about this view of the world at all. I can have what equals a religious experience while standing on a mountain observing migrating hawks overhead, knowing that with the birds in the air and the trees along the ridge, even the weeds and rodents among the rocks, I share something of a lineage, a real connection worth exploring.
The scientist who best conveys this sense of wonder and beauty, for me, is still Carl Sagan. For despite the perception of the lovely people I mentioned above, a naturalistic view of the world is very far from the dry, analytical, unimaginative stereotype that they might imagine.
It was thirty years ago on Valentines Day that at Carl Sagan’s suggestion, engineers at NASA turned Voyager 1’s camera back toward Earth to get one last image from 3.7 billion miles away before shutting down the probe’s cameras. The image I’ve included on this page is a newly released, tidied up version that you can read about here. Rather than making me feel that we are small and insignificant, the Pale Blue Dot image and Carl Sagan’s words about it (see the video below) instilled in me how much we need to be kind to each other and how important it is to make the most of the limited time and space we have in this universe.
Sagan passed away just four years after the Voyager photo was taken, only two years after the publication of his book, Pale Blue Dot, a Vision of the Human Future in Space.
If I have a creed these days, it’s contained in these words about that photo taken on February 14th, 1990. I include a second excerpt below the Pale Blue Dot video that further explains from Sagan’s point of view, and mine, how marvelous it is to think that we are a “way for the cosmos to know itself.” There’s nothing boring about that.