The Great Demotions and the Promotion of the Human Race

Sagan had talked of the “great demotions.” Humanity had learned, painfully, that it did not live on a planet at the center of the universe, and further demotions followed. We were not (in Sagan’s view) the purpose of the Creation, not specially chosen by a divine authority, and were in fact just one evolutionary twist in a complicated biosphere shaped by the mindless process of natural selection. If we were ever to make contact with another intelligent species, those aliens would in all probability be smarter, because they’d be older, more advanced, just as a statistical likelihood. Sagan’s view of human ordinariness was framed as the “principle of mediocrity.”

But here was the younger Grinspoon talking about the Anthropocene—the idea that human beings are changing the Earth so rapidly and dramatically that our presence is becoming part of the geological record. And we can’t pretend it’s not happening. We have to learn to manage this place. Grinspoon made an analogy: It’s as though we’ve just awoken to the fact that we’re at the wheel of a speeding bus on an unfamiliar road. And we realize we don’t know how to drive.

“We have to figure out how to drive this thing in order to avoid catastrophe,” Grinspoon said. Doesn’t this sound, he said, as if we’re giving ourselves a “great promotion”?

“Yes, kind of, we are, and it is disturbing,” meaning we are not cosmically inconsequential after all—we’re planet-changers. “But really the point of science is not to comfort ourselves with stories that make us feel good,” he said. “Science can’t ignore the Anthropocene because the Earth is becoming unrecognizable from what it was before we became a geological force.”


History has shown us how small and insignificant we are, but it has also revealed the profound impact we have on our own little world.

Folksonomies: environmentalism perspective

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/science/weather/meteorological disaster (0.407912)

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Grinspoon:Person (0.978983 (neutral:0.000000)), Sagan:Person (0.676593 (neutral:0.000000))

Earth (0.970841): dbpedia | freebase
Human (0.920396): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Universe (0.775122): dbpedia | freebase
Natural selection (0.732461): dbpedia | freebase
Meaning of life (0.648473): dbpedia | freebase | yago
Science (0.634098): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Evolution (0.566754): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Rare Earth hypothesis (0.540210): dbpedia | freebase

 Why Carl Sagan is Truly Irreplaceable
Periodicals>Magazine Article:  Achenbach, Joel (March 2014), Why Carl Sagan is Truly Irreplaceable, Smithsonian Magazine, Retrieved on 2014-03-03
  • Source Material []
  • Folksonomies: science science popularization