A Sense of Perspective
Image credit: NASA (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI)
One of the major reasons we backpack, or spend time in wild places in general, is to gain a better sense of perspective. Seeing the enormous expanses of the western prairies, or the countless stars visible on a clear night miles away from the nearest city light, helps us remember that there is a lot more out there than meets the eye.
Take a look at the picture above. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft took this photograph in 2013. Most people can recognize Saturn in the top left of the frame, but what may be more difficult to identify is the “Pale Blue Dot” just below and to the right of Saturn’s Rings. That dot is Earth. From this distance, our entire planet appears as a tiny speck, just barely visible in the sunlight. It would be easy to miss if you didn’t know what you were looking for.
This photograph gives many people a similar sense of ‘perspective’ as we get when backpacking through wild places. It helps you realize that we are much smaller than we make ourselves out to be, and in the end, we are just passing through. It tends to make people consider what is actually important in life – it gives them a deeper sense of perspective.
This perspective, whether gained through a weeklong trek through the mountains or from photography, leads some people to engage in conservation efforts (If you haven’t already, check out our Conservation Page). ‘Conservation’ does not necessarily have to be associated with the stereotypical “tree-hugger” mentality or a “save the Earth” philosophy. Rather, it can start as a simple way of thinking that includes that sense of perspective.
Carl Sagan, an American scientist and popular science communicator, had an incredible sense of perspective. Moreover, he was able to articulate this perspective in a way that very few people are able to do. Here’s what he said:
“Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
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.”
–Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994
So, whether or not you are looking to gain a sense of perspective from your next backpacking adventure, try to remain open to the idea. It has led us to recognize the importance of conservation efforts, and it may lead you to explore new interests, hobbies, or passions. As always, the most important thing is to get out there and have fun. The rest will follow.