"A Series of Great Demotions"

“A Series of Great Demotions”

As you may have heard or seen in the last couple weeks, a lot of the work we’re doing here on Science Knights is due to our love of Carl Sagan. He was a forefront in the realm of modern science communication and is someone that I aspire to be or to emulate. As such, I’d like to try to explain something I read about in his book Pale Blue Dot. The sense of the Great Demotions mankind has faced.

Carl Sagan

Demotion, the opposite of a promotion. Instead of moving up, you move down a rung on a ladder or backwards a step on set of stairs. In this case it is the ladder of humanity’s self-claimed importance or significance in the cosmos. From a creationist perspective how could we not be the most special, most important creature in the universe. Being made in God’s own image would mean that we are incredibly significant. But looking at humanity from the perspective of science and the natural world we instead see something different. Let’s start small and work our way out into the universe, shall we?

Humans are the most unique creatures on Earth. Well…not really. Yes we have developed technology, language, society, and have a great capacity for abstract thought. But if you look at our genetics, at our biology, we find that we may not be that unique after all. Primates share a vast majority of our genes and have organized their families into something akin to a social structure. Dolphins and whales communicate with diverse types of language using their larynx in ways similar to how we make sounds.

Fine then, if we’re not unique on the planet, then we’re unique as a planet. Well….sort of. Earth is the only KNOWN planet to have life, but the building blocks or records of life have been seen or theorized elsewhere in our solar system. It is now widely speculated that Mars itself is a fossil-ish planet…meaning that there is evidence that life might have thrived there billions of years ago. And there are moons of Jupiter and Saturn that have the proper conditions for microbes and single-cell organisms. So while Earth is unique to us, it may not be all that special.

Ok…well our solar system is unique and at the center of the galaxy. Nope. We are located on an arm of the Milky Way galaxy, about 100,000 light years from the great big exploding center.

"A Series of Great Demotions"
Our place in The Milky Way

Damn….well then the Milky Way is the only galaxy in the universe. Nope. Adam, Tyler, and Adam were just in Eastern Oregon for the Total Solar Eclipse. And for the first time Tyler and Adam saw the Andromeda Galaxy with their own eyes. So, no the Milky Way isn’t the only galaxy in the universe and it isn’t even at the center of it. The universe is expanding and it’s taking us with it.

"A Series of Great Demotions"
Galaxies in the known universe as seen by Hubble

All of these characteristics can seem depressing. Especially for a generation raised on participation awards and constantly reminded that we are special snowflakes. And while it is true that we are humbled by this, I find it encouraging. If we want to truly distinguish ourselves from our evolutionary and cosmic obscurity then we need to further embrace the role of science and strive to understand more and more about the world around us.