“Our obligation to survive and flourish is owed not just to ourselves, but also to that cosmos, ancient and vast, from which we spring.” – Carl Sagan
I know sometimes I get a bit depressed, as though the beauty of life is not so great, as though optimism has been snuffed out. Sometimes I feel guilt for appreciating base human pleasures (like the joy of delicious food), for giving into the human condition (for giving into anger, for sometimes being irrational), when I see others better than me. When I see scientists who seem to love creation so much—the universe, and logic, and all that—I feel guilt because I do not always feel that strongly and passionate.
But even though I have my struggles, and sometimes I feel like the spark has burned out (maybe because I overwhelm myself, delving into a loved topic for too long without breaks), Sagan’s words there remind me that my life has value.
Sagan also said: “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” Below the YouTube video, someone commented their opinion that the following quote would be even better, and I agree with them: “Everywhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” I know Sagan wouldn’t take much offense to me correcting him, and would perhaps even appreciate it. Even though I admire who he was, he wouldn’t have wanted for me to think of him as being perfect, I’m sure: he believed authority figures’ words shouldn’t be believed just because they were authority figures. He knew everyone was capable of making errors. He was a rational person who desired truth. He reminded me I should be objective, considering other people’s situations and being open to different ideas and viewpoints. He’s the reason that today when I was dragged to church by my mom, I didn’t tune the priest out and harbor the usual contempt in my heart. I forced myself to be objective, and give the religion a chance. I thought: if I’m so certain being exposed to religion won’t change my mind and my agnostic status, then why should I object to giving the religion a chance? I decided to open myself to Christianity’s views, and try to understand those around me at mass. I began to understand them better, and the hate went away. I confronted my hate early on when I remembered how Sagan had loved the universe, and that these people were a part of the cosmos. I realized that I shouldn’t hate the cosmos, and so I agreed to allow myself to understand this aspect of it.
Hearing his reality made me cry because it broke down my irrational hope that we’re special. I’m agnostic, yet I’ve always had this feeling that I’m special, that we’re special, and I don’t know why that is. Maybe because I’m so privileged in so many ways, maybe because nobody’s ever made me feel otherwise, maybe because of my mom’s religion which I believed in for a significant amount of time, maybe because of all the stories I’ve read and all the movies I’ve seen where the audience is put in the shoes of the hero. This feeling that it’ll all be okay somehow. I don’t mind it, and I don’t hold it against Sagan at all, of course. In fact, it made me think that maybe if this feeling was erased from me—if I believed wholeheartedly that there is no afterlife or grander purpose—I would appreciate everything more.
Because every moment I have in my life would be a moment never again had, because there would be no guarantee I would live safely to old age, because I would know of how finite and insignificant I am, and that I don’t matter, and that there will be no after. That there will be an end.
Maybe then I would grasp desperately at life, consuming it and treasuring all of its precious moments. Maybe then I would feel awe for all my chemistry concepts, realizing, really, who I am—an insignificant speck, a brief moment, a handful of atoms with gained consciousness, an aspect of the cosmos which should take advantage of its life and do its best to understand itself before it dies.
Maybe then I would appreciate my family more, and the other people in my life, who one day will be gone permanently.
My mom made pancakes—even thought it’s the afternoon—so I was summoned from my so-called “cave.” I was craving the human interaction, so I asked her whether she thought that someone who was a complete atheist and didn’t believe we had any purpose and rather were simply an accident would appreciate their life more. She told me about her beliefs, and I listened. I didn’t stubbornly tune her out or have my usual disdainful attitude. This was semi-surprising to me, my change in attitude, but I knew why that was—because I sought to be more objective.
Then we went outside and talked while sipping tea. I told her some of my views and why I couldn’t just blindly have faith. Then she told me about her experiences and whatnot. We didn’t argue at all, we just listened to each other respectfully. Of us both, I’m the one that’s has the most difficulty listening, especially when I make up my mind. When I have my mind set, I have difficulty accepting opposing views, I guess maybe because I used to be afraid that my views would be changed and I would be influenced to have the incorrect opinion. The attempt to be truly objective and listen to many different perspectives has been a new one, but I truly enjoyed our conversation.
“We long for a parent to care for us, to forgive us our errors, to save us from our childish mistakes. But knowledge is preferable to ignorance. Better by far to embrace the hard truth than a reassuring faith. If we crave a cosmic purpose, then let us find ourselves a worthy goal.”
“[Death is] a long, dreamless sleep. I’d love to believe the opposite but I don’t have any evidence. But one thing that it has done is to enhance my sense of appreciation for the beauty of life, and of the universe, and the… sheer joy of being alive. Every moment, every inanimate object—to say nothing of the exquisite complexity of… living beings—yeah, you imagine missing it all and suddenly it’s so much more precious.”
I think that maybe I would appreciate this beautiful world more—this beautiful creation more—if I didn’t have this irrational hope, this irrational feeling I just can’t shake that there’s something more. My dreams have always been encouraged, and now I have this sense of great hope. This sense that anything is possible and I’ll be saved somehow. This great optimism has its perks. This great faith that all will be well can allow people to believe in themselves and accomplish great things through pushing themselves harder and taking risks they would not take if they did not believe in themselves and in their future. This great optimism is what drives me to learn, so that I may help to fix the world’s problems. And maybe I shouldn’t try to eliminate this great optimism because it may give me the power to make a difference that will help many people.
But maybe it’ll cause me to appreciate the universe a bit less than Sagan did, because of my feeling that it isn’t finite, and that my dreams will be realized, and that there won’t be an end. Maybe my feeling that I can get anywhere will never let me appreciate the universe for its limits, will never let me see my life is something that will one day end.
Which I guess is somewhat okay. I do appreciate things. I do enjoy concepts, and I do want to understand everything.
I just may not understand that I have limited time. But I guess that’s alright, because I don’t want to be sad. I love Creation in my own way. But I don’t want to feel sad about it. I don’t want to gaze upon Creation’s beauty and think about there being a last time. I don’t want to.
And I’m sorry if I won’t love it as much as I could if I was more realistic and less optimistic. I’m sorry about that, because I want to feel that deep affection that Sagan felt. But I don’t even know how to change this mindset if I wanted to.
But that’s what I have, this notion that everything lasts forever. Don’t take that so literally—I understand this planet has finite resources and I don’t mean to sit back and watch us waste them. What I mean to say is that I have seemingly infinite hope.
Sadly, it’s now time for me to go to bed. I’ve got wonderful school tomorrow. I feel great optimism. Sometimes I feel that the spark has gone out, like I said—the flame of passion. It’s because I get a bit overwhelmed by facts and figures and whatnot, and I lose the human contact for too long. So I seek out YouTube videos where I am exposed to other people, hearing their ideas and perspectives, and being reminded of their wonderful existence which gives my own so much more meaning. They fill me with hope and optimism.