I think I have solved one of the great mysteries of the universe: the question of why mop-topped stargazer Professor Brian Cox is so popular. It isn’t because of his looks, or his soft Mancunian voice, or his pop past in Blair-boosting band D:Ream. No, it’s because his wide-eyed cosmology is based on a view of mankind as insignificant, as a mere speck of dust in the post-Big Bang scheme of things, and that chimes brilliantly with today’s rather downbeat view of humanity. The floppy-fringed professor massages the fashionable prejudice that humanity isn’t all that special; no, we’re just a cosmological accident, which will exist only fleetingly before being wiped out by the explosion of our Sun or some other cataclysmic event.
He quite obviously missed the first episode of Wonders of the Universe in which Prof. Brian Cox has the time that we have, now, as a wonder.
From my experience (I'd like to know what other people have found), people seem to come away with one of two reactions when they find out how ordinary and insiginificant the Earth is.
They either get melancholy; or, they get a greater appreciation of how wonderful it is to be here, now.
I feel sorry for people, like O'Neill, who don't get a kick out of that. Who don't get uplifted by that.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.
Sagan did more than any other modern popular scientist to promote the idea that the massiveness of the universe, the unfathomability of it all, puts paid to the idea that either the Earth or the humans that inhabit it are special. Earth is a mere “pale blue dot”, said Sagan. There’s no “special significance to this small world”: the very hugeness of the universe mocks “our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe”. As one critic of Sagan put it, he “generalised about the cosmos from his own loneliness”, taking “perverse pleasure in contemplating modern theories about the insignificance of man in the great lonely universe”.
What a nobber.