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New Worlds

We are trapped on this planet, among earthly problems without earthly solutions. Real change takes room to experiment. Think of the changes in the world over the past few centuries from the mutual discovery of new continents. I live in a country which was conceived and undertaken as an experiment, and has become the proof and example of democracy without mob rule or faction and of freedom without chaos.

Some conscientious voices say that before we look to the stars, we should fix our problems on earth. They have a point. But if we could solve our problems, we would have solved them already. I am stuck here in the earthly mud with all the rest of us. I cannot imagine what experiments are yet to be done. But I trust that what hope there is to better the human condition lies through them.

If you had asked an educated Spaniard of the year 1491 what the principal problem facing Spanish society was – provided you could communicate what you meant by “problem” and “society” – the answer would be: “The Jews.” 1492, the year of the discovery of America, was also the year that Ferdinand and Isabella expelled the last of the Jews of Spain. If our species survives, then our ideas of what the problems of society are, and how to solve them, will likely sound to our descendants as quaint, and as cruel, as the voice of Torquemada.

No more than we can sit and reason out nature without experiment can we sit and reason out human nature and human possibilities. It must come to experiment. To colonize our sister planets or the stars is not to repeat the world we know on a larger scale: it is to discover new worlds, not in the sky or in the stars, but in ourselves.

To see what we take for granted, to see unimagined alternatives, will take perspective broader than the narrow experience of Earth. We have come to the end of what continents can do; we need planets. If there is nothing new under the sun, we must have new suns.