Reason; as the supreme authority in matters of opinion, belief, or conduct

Category: Environment

TED talk: Harish Manwani: Profit’s not always the point


For humanity to unify in our democratic systems and overcome the obstacles that we face in the coming decades and centuries, we will need two things: Education of our own fallibility and, more generally, of humans and the world around will mean we will be better positioned to elect ethical leaders. And secondly, leadership itself is key. Whoever we elect will need to make difficult decisions, and we will need people of great character to make those decisions. People who can take responsibility and lead from the front. Harish Manwani, in this TED talk, sets the kind of example our leaders should be making.


“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit in” -Greek proverb

A politician… and a good human too?


During his life I turned to Nelson Mandela as the near solitary example of a politician who had made it to the political elite without conceding ground on his personal ethics. Most of his counterparts raced feverishly into a land of dangerous and condemnable solipsism that they then scratch and bite at each other in; in contention of power and personal well being. Mandela had the mental fortitude to stand against the misdirection, lies, sensationalizing and character smearing that are the weapons of choice for the corrupt and hollow men and women that comprise the political average. As far as I see it, the ‘leaders’ of our world fall immeasurably short of leading their people. In democratic systems it takes great character to lead, to be willing to do what you think is right in those common circumstances where that move will damage your personal popularity. It is the quality of a leader and a great person to be able to put your brothers and sisters before yourself. To the question of why politics can be so empty of strong, good people, I need only say that firstly the truth is never as influential as what people want to hear, and secondly most good people don’t want a career of dirty, underhanded and ruthless fighting. The type of infantile squabbling I have been happy, in my own life, to have left in my primary school playground.

But with the passing of one rare beacon of light in this darkest of lands, I have become aware of another. Jose Mujica, Uruguay’s humble President, seems to be a man who is ready to do what is required, a man who is willing to lead his people; to lead from the front. A man who seems to be trying to see and do what he can discern as right. I am happy that after the passing of the greatest example of what most politicians fail to be, we have at least one other leader of conscience. It seems we have at least one repudiation to the tyranny of the selfish and unwise men and women who claw their way to our elected positions of power.


“In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.” – Carl Sagan

“We are the offspring of history, and must establish our own paths in this most diverse and interesting of conceivable universes – one indifferent to our suffering, and therefore offering us maximum freedom to thrive, or to fail, in our own chosen way” – Stephen Jay Gould

Carl Sagan’s thoughts on Voyager 1’s Image

Carl Sagan’s thoughts on Voyager 1’s Image

“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 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. 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.

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, 1994


A little perspective…

A little perspective…

Carl Sagan once said, in his profound and eloquent thoughts on Voyager 1’s iconic image looking back at Earth, that “There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world.” I think his point is exactly the right one to make, the kind made by a man who would not for a second consider passing up an opportunity to champion rationalism. The greatest thinkers seldom do.

Seeing this type of perspective is a good exercise for humans. It helps to thwart that tempting inner feeling that we are somehow special, somehow divine. That dangerous feeling that we will prevail. Below I include a link to an interesting wikipedia page that I think can have the same effect. When you think of the extreme dangers we are ignoring today, that threaten us on a time scale of hundreds of years or less, it is strange to think we will, in all likelihood, never have the chance to pit our collective wit against the myriad of far greater difficulties that lie ahead.


Poignant glacier calving filmed in Greenland

Poignant glacier calving filmed in Greenland

This exceptional footage challenges its viewers with a trying blend of striking beauty and tragic meaning. This violent destruction perhaps paints more vividly than ever before the extreme danger of our collective actions and yet it is hard not to also revel in its utterly awe-striking beauty.


TED talk: Phil Plait: How to defend the Earth from asteroids

TED talk: Phil Plait: How to defend the Earth from asteroids

This TED talk covers some fascinating facts on historic asteroids and discusses the potential dangers they could yet pose. More interesting still, Phil Plait goes on to describe some of the many creative solutions that have surfaced since the discussion began.


TED talk: Peter Ward: Earth’s Mass Extinction

TED talk: Peter Ward: Earth’s Mass Extinction

Peter Ward presents the findings of a study that makes for an example to fledgling scientific investigations. The study has followed evidence relentlessly until, at its fruition, a near-complete picture of the area has been painted. This is sometimes accomplished by many different groups working over many decades, but in this case the specific issue demands quickly nothing but complete and irrefutable evidence, an issue at the centre of a denial that is prevalent almost throughout our species – the denial of the rapid destruction of our planet.