archive: SETI Carl Sagan Speech from 1995

SETI Carl Sagan Speech from 1995

Larry Klaes ( )
Wed, 26 May 1999 16:07:33 -0400

>From: "Gerard Madden" <>
>Here is a speech delivered by Carl Sagan and I felt it is
>relevant to the role science can play in ethics and morals.
>It was delivered to an ecumenical gathering at the Cathedral
>of St John the Devine in NY in 1995
> Gerard

Where to purchase the tape:

>Introducer : I'm honored to introduce Carl Sagan. Carl Sagan
>has been a teacher to so many of us. For so many years he
>has been warning us and causing us to look at the terrifying
>problems we have created with our Nuclear capacity. Carl
>Sagan inspires us to turn our energies away from materialism,
>from our small concerns and to focus on saving the life of the
>planet. Dr. Sagan first spoke in this Cathedral in 1983 on our
>first New Year's Eve Concert For Peace. He is not only a friend
>of the Cathedral and a messenger of peace which technically
>means Carl that you are a kind of Angel, think about that. But like
>some of the great miracles we have spoken of tonight,
>having Carl here after almost a year of fighting a dread disease
>and having him well is another miracle. Carl Sagan!


>Speech: It is a pleasure to be invited once again to one of the
>gorgeous ecumenical celebrations in the Cathedral of Saint
>John the Devine. The sense of how many ways there are of
>being human and of the underlying unity in human diversity
>is very clear. I'd like to thank my friend Dean James Parkes
>Morton for this more than decade long series of beautiful
>demonstrations of what is needed above all a sense of Global
>Community. (applause)

>We are all cousins, if you trace our ancestry back far enough,
>you find, that all of us ultimately come from a small area in east
>Africa. The species Homo Sapiens began there a few hundred
>thousand years ago. The human family began there a few million
>years ago. Initially, we were small, struggling, groups of family
>members, itinerant, wandering, following the game, our numbers
>were few, our powers were feeble. In the intervening years we have
>expanded to every Continent on Earth, some of us even reside at
>the ocean depths and for brief periods a few hundred miles over-
>head in space. We now number 5.6 billion of us and our powers
>have reached formidable if not awesome proportions. A celebration
>like this is a kind of gathering of the tribes, a bringing together of
>the far-flung members of the human family and a recognition of
>our common origin and common goals. We are in the process
>of a great unification of the human species. We have only recently
>and quickly moved from the fastest rate of communication being
>how fast a human could run to the speed of light, according to
>Special Relativity the ultimate speed limit. Comparable increases
>have been made in the speed of transportation. We now are
>entertained on a Global scale. The economies of the nations of
>the world are now integrated, the stock markets coalesced, the
>economic well being of one country affecting the economic well
>being of many others. The global environment, changes in the
>global environment are a common threat to everyone on earth.
>A molecule of chlorofluro carbon that rises over Chicago affects
>the health of people in Chile. A carbon dioxide molecule that
>rises into the atmosphere over China affects the climate in
>Europe. These molecules do not have passports, they are
>foolishly unaware of the importance of national boundaries and
>national sovereignty. In the current, serious, environmental
>crisis, we are all in the same boat. No one generation and no
>one nation has been responsible and no one generation and
>no one nation can by itself solve the problem. This is a multi
>generational, multi national task and if we fail in it we fail the
>future of our species. We are forced not by ideology, not by
>philosophy but by our common interest in survival to work
>together. This is also true in the somewhat receding threat
>of nuclear war, a major thermonuclear exchange would affect
>not only the people in the so called northern hemisphere
>target zone but through changes in the climate people every
>where on earth, people who had no possible connection with
>whatever the quarrel might have been to initiate global thermo-
>nuclear war. And lately another common threat has arisen one
>which sounds like the sheerest science fiction but which is
>very real and that is, that a comet or an asteroid one kilometer
>across or larger would impact the earth and the resulting climate
>change pose serious problems for the continuance of our global
>civilization. Sixty five million years ago an asteroid or comet ten
>times as large hit the earth, resulting in the extinction not only
>of all the dinosaurs but of most of the species of life on earth
>this too is a threat common to everyone on earth and the
>solution to this problem involving at least inventorying these
>asteroids and comets and ultimately learning how to effect
>small changes in their trajectories is also a task for all
>humans together. The powers, the incredible powers of our
>technology, what we can do not just on purpose but even
>inadvertently forces on us levels of prudence, foresight and
>responsibility that have never been required before, not just
>on those who devise the technologies but on those who
>employ them, and of course this requires a widespread
>understanding of science and technology, otherwise the
>decisions will be made by a very few people who may by
>no means represent most of the people on earth. We have
>designed a civilization based on science and technology
>and at the same time have arranged things so that almost no
>one understands anything at all about science and technology.
>This is a clear prescription for disaster. (applause)
>We may for a awhile get away with this mix of ignorance and
>power but sooner or later it is bound to blow up in our face.
>It is not the technology is by itself and without amelioration
>dangerous, much less evil. We have always been
>technological. Our ancestors of a few hundred thousand
>years ago were technological. It was a stone-age technology
>to be sure but we chipped and flaked stones to make tools
>which were the means of our survival. It was the only
>edge we had on the other animals. Today we are still
>tool using, our tools are much more powerful but they
>are responsible for a great deal that we tend to forget
>about. If not for agricultural technology the earth would
>support only some tens of millions of people, instead
>of more than five billion people. The vast majority of people
>on the earth owe their lives for this reason alone to
>technology. Medicine, not just antibiotics but the full
>sweep of public health and medical technology and
>pharmaceuticals is responsible for the fact that in
>many parts of the earth, the expectation value of the
>human life expectancy is seventy or seventy five or even
>eighty years now, when only a few hundred years ago
>it was only twenty five or thirty years. And I myself am
>a recent beneficiary of the recent only over the last few
>years advances in medical technology. And by the way
>I would like to thank from the bottom of my heart the
>fact that people in this congregation, so many of them
>produced prayers and good wishes for my health and
>survival, I'm deeply grateful and while I think it would
>be too much to say that it worked, the net result is
>that I seem to be fully recovered. (applause)
>There is a widespread view that the alienation and
>loneliness that is so endemic especially in the non-
>traditional societies of the planet can be blamed on
>science. But I think it is clear that this alienation and
>loneliness are really due to a decline in the traditional
>societies especially the hunter-gatherer style extended
>families, to our immense numbers and to our ethnic and
>cultural diversity and also to deficiencies in our educational
>system. Science is merely an extremely powerful method
>of winnowing what's true from what feels good. Without
>the error correcting machinery of science we are lost to
>our subjectivity, to our chauvinism, to our longing to be
>central to the purpose of the universe. One of science's
>alleged crimes is revealing that our favorite most
>reassuring stories about our place in the universe and
>how we came to be are delusional. Instead what science
>reveals is a universe much older and much vaster than
>the tidy anthropocentric proscenium of our ancestors.
>We have found from modern astronomy that we live on
>a tiny hunk of rock and metal, third from the sun, that
>circles a humdrum star in the obscure outskirts of an
>ordinary galaxy which contains some 400 billion other
>stars, which is one of about a 100 billion other galaxies
>that make up the universe and according to some
>current views, a universe that is one among an immense
>number, perhaps an infinite number of other universes.
>In this perspective the idea that our planet is at the center
>of the universe much less that human purpose is central
>to the existence of the universe is pathetic. Does life
>thereby lose all meaning, I think not. I think we make our
>lives meaningful by the courage of our questions, by the
>depth of our answers, by how widespread our understanding
>is of the essential tools for managing our future, for how
>skeptical we are of those in authority and of our obligation
>to care for one another. It was my great good fortune. It has
>been my great good fortune to be involved in an extraordinary
>enterprise over the last thirty five years in which the human
>species sent robot exploratory vehicles to rummage through
>the planetary part of the solar system to survey our local
>swimming hole in space. One of these spacecraft, a two
>spacecraft mission, was called voyager and in 1989 after
>its brilliantly successful explorations of the Jupiter, Saturn
>Uranus and Neptune system, it became possible to do
>something I had wanted to do from the very beginning of
>that mission and that is to turn the cameras around and
>look back from beyond the outer most planet at our world.
>We succeeded in doing this and the image that resulted
>was of a single pale blue dot momentarily in a sunbeam.
>I look at that dot and I think that's here, that's home,
>that's us. On that dot everyone you love, everyone you
>know, everyone you ever heard of, every human-being
>who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all
>our joy and suffering thousands of confident and mutually
>exclusive 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, every
>hopeful child, every inventor and explorer, every revered
>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 the dot on the 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. Think of those who
>derived their self esteem from dividing the dot into two
>hundred still littler patches. 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 a great enveloping
>cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness their is
>no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from
>ourselves, it is up to us. It's been said that astronomy is
>a humbling and even character building experience. There
>is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human
>conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. For me
>it underscores our responsibility, our profound responsibility
>to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and
>cherish that pale blue dot the only home we have ever
>known. (applause)

> Carl Sagan Speech "Visions of the 21st. Century"