Gurdjieff International Review

This “Paltry Earth” of Ours

Go out one clear starlit night to some open space and look up at the sky, at those millions of worlds over your head.... Look at the Milky Way. The earth cannot even be called a grain of sand in this infinity. It dissolves and vanishes, and with it, you. Where are you? And is what you want simply madness?[1]   –G. I. Gurdjieff

Carl Sagan


his image of Earth is one of 60 frames taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft on February 14, 1990 from a distance of more than four billion miles. In the image the Earth is a mere point of light, a crescent only 0.12 pixel in size. Our planet was caught in the center of one of the scattered light rays resulting from taking the image so close to the Sun. This image is part of Voyager 1’s final photographic assignment which captured family portraits of the Sun and planets.

The Pale Blue Dot of Earth

We succeeded in taking that picture, and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, 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.[2] □

Jacob Needleman


he yearning for knowledge from a higher level, the longing for the level of understanding that may be called wisdom, begins actually to be fulfilled when we willingly stand in between truths, between levels of truth. When we are silenced between light and darkness, clarity and mystery.

Which means, ultimately, in between two fundamental movements within our own being, our own inner life—between the movement outward of in-the-world discovery and movement inward toward that higher Source calling to us from within ourselves.

It is only in between that we begin to live in the invisible element of feeling that can make us truly human and offer us truly human understanding. Only in between levels of ourselves do we begin to discover the meaning of the Earth and of our own life on the Earth.

Was this what lay behind the wonder and joy and humility we felt when we saw the photograph of Earth brought back to us by the Apollo 17 mission to the moon?

Was ever a fact so mythic? Was ever a photograph taken with a physical camera so like a revelation from above? Was ever the Earth so visible and invisible at one and the same time?

In that photograph, when it first appeared, fact and meaning became one. Objective fact and objective meaning became one—the former in physical space; the latter in the awareness of inner presence that is meaning itself, without words, without form.

And yet there was form, image, fact. The round Earth was alive, breathing, three dimensional—that is, the real Earth existed. The real Earth had being, was being, beyond all interpretation. An immense living thing huge and tiny all at once. Begging to be nursed and cared for; at the same time ancient, massive and all powerful.

The Earth was alive and we all, nearly everyone in the world, felt it as alive with a feeling that came from the unknown center of our own Earth, our own body, our own organic reality. Without so many words, we saw, at one and the same time, that we, human beings, mankind, are both of the Earth and, in that quality of seeing, beyond the Earth. And here the vast invisible reaches of space itself were sensed as symbolic icons of the pure, endless Void, the creator-consciousness that defines Man, what the ancients called “microcosmic Man.”

The Earth as seen from Apollo 17 in 1972

That photograph of the whole Earth still has this power—sometimes, sometimes when we have become a little quieter, a little more serious, a little freer from fear and desire. We can almost see her breathing, a great sentient being breathing the same air as we do, accepting the same emanations and radiations from Father Sun and His own enveloping universe of celestial worlds rotating in time measured in eons, worlds coming into being and dissolving back into the unknown Void, the fertile void that is the source of all going forth into form and manifestation and all dissolving and returning to the ancient beginning.[3] □

[1] G. I. Gurdjieff, Views from the Real World (1973) New York: E. p. Dutton & Co., p. 58.

[2] ‘The Pale Blue Dot of Earth’ photograph was taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft as it passed by the planet Saturn in 1990. Later, during a public lecture at Cornell University in 1994, Carl Sagan presented the image to the audience and shared his reflections on the photograph’s deeper meaning.

[3] Jacob Needleman, An Unknown World: Notes on the Meaning of the Earth (2013) New York: Penguin Group, pp. 177–179


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Featured: Winter 2019/2020 Issue, Vol. XIV (1)
Revision: August 13, 2020