“Each star system is an island in space, quarantined from its neighbors by light-years. I can imagine creatures evolving into glimmerings of knowledge on innumerable worlds, every one of them assuming at first their puny planet and paltry few suns to be all that is. We grow up in isolation. Only slowly do we teach ourselves the Cosmos.” – Carl Sagan, Cosmos 1980.
“We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.” – H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu, 1928.
Growing up in the later part of the 1970’s and 1980’s two people really influenced my “path” in life: H.P. Lovecraft and Carl Sagan. And I did not realize how similar their philosophies were until very recently.
Science and curiosity was extremely important in the development of both of their lives. Lovecraft was an excellent writer of fiction who would have made a good scientist and Sagan was an excellent scientist who would have made a good (at least decent) writer of fiction (which he occasionally dabbled in). Both recognized how small and insignificant the human race and our planet is relative to the Universe as a whole. However, while Lovecraft saw this as a source of fear and dread to use in his stories, Sagan embraced it with a sense of awe and wonder.
While Lovecraft may have given the impression that using science would only lead to our undoing this was more of a plot device for his stories than a philosophical viewpoint. Lovecraft’s inherent interest in science and general curiosity came through in his stories such as At the Mountains of Madness, which is filled with various scientific hypotheses and theories.
In turn, Sagan may give the impression that science would be the “cure all” for everything that ails humanity, he clearly understood how our science and technology could destroy us. Sagan constantly warned how nuclear proliferation and our anthropomorphic impacts on the Earth’s ecosystems and climate could be the ruin of all of us as a species.
In any event, I continue to find interesting parallels between Lovecraft and Sagan, while at the same time being on opposite sides of the same coin.