On possibility, prudence, and a dangerous lack of wisdom

I’ve been gathering quotes on my haphazard bookmarks (aka library check-out receipts). Here are a few from Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot.

It is sometimes said that scientists are unromantic, that their passion to figure out robs the world of beauty and mystery. But is it not stirring to understand how the world actually works — that white light is made of colors, that color is the way we perceive the wavelengths of light, that transparent air reflects light, that in so doing it discriminates among the waves, and that the sky is blue for the same reason that the sunset is red? It does no harm to the romance of the sunset to understand a little bit about it.

There’s a new world next door. And we know how to get there.

All our self-inflicted environmental problems, all our weapons of mass destruction are products of science and technology. So, you might say, let’s just back off from science and technology. Let’s admit that these tools are simply too hot to handle. Let’s create a simpler society, in which no matter how careless or short-sighted we are, we’re incapable of altering the environment on a global or even on a regional scale. …

Such a world culture is unstable, though, in the long run if not the short–because of the speed of technological advance. … Unless there are severe constraints on thought and action, in a flash we’ll be back to where we are today. … And while such a devolution of the global civilization, were it possible, might conceivably address the problem of self-inflicted technological catastrophe, it would also leave us defenseless against eventual asteroidal and cometary impacts.

It will not be we who reach Alpha Centauri and the other nearby stars. It will be a species very like us, but with more of our strengths and fewer of our weaknesses, a species returned to circumstances more like those for which it was originally evolved, more confident, farseeing, capable, and prudent–the sorts of beings we would want to represent us in a Universe that, for all we know, is filled with species much older, much more powerful, and very different.

[But] If we continue to accumulate only power and not wisdom, we will surely destroy ourselves. … If we become even slightly more violent, shortsighted, ignorant, and selfish than we are now, almost certainly we will have no future.

Ok, so they weren’t all on the backs of check-out receipts, but that’s mainly because I was close to the end and wanted to finish before I distracted myself with copying the text. That and I tend to go for larger pieces of paper for the really long quotes. I love how optimistic Sagan could be – and how he didn’t lose sight of the fact that while humans could do even more amazing things than we’ve already done, we pose a significant threat of blowing ourselves up first.

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One thought on “On possibility, prudence, and a dangerous lack of wisdom

  1. Pingback: Carl Sagan on the pre-socratic philosophers (part 2) : World online news

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