cosmos

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“The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” – Carl Sagan

So I’m watching COSMOS by buying each episode individually as they come out on VUDU. I like the idea of paying for this. I like the idea of supporting each and every episode. Making sure that my money goes towards it in the most direct way possible. As I went to watch the second episode last night I noticed something irritating in the shows description paragraph on the episode menu screen, which I assume was written by some lackey at FOX. It said, essentially, that the episode was about how life “possibly” came to be on earth. “Possibly”, it said.

The episode itself made no such distinction. It was a full-frontal attack, though in its gentle tutorial way, on the idea that evolution is a theory with any less certainty than gravity. It even made a point to discuss the evolution of the human eye, which has taken center stage in the intelligent design/creationism v. evolution debate due to creationists quote-mining this piece of writing from Charles Darwin (more on quote mining here). The show runs directly at the “human eye argument”, and informs Americans that the reason a fish sees better than a human being is because the human eye evolved in water. And yet still, when selling the episode, FOX chose to use the term “possibly” for the existence of evolution.

Cosmos: 2014

Our ship of the imagination and its pilot: 2014

When the original COSMOS aired in 1980, these sorts of distinctions were unnecessary. There were small factions of the country that argued publicly against evolution, of course, some of them in my own family, but the cultural conversation of the nation as a whole tilted towards science. Now creationism, which really has no more or fewer proponents today than it did thirty years ago, has become a major cultural talking point, forcing science to exist side-by-side with it in the national conversation.  This is the eroding of the idea that scientific methodology and logical reasoning should be at the core of American scientific education. Giving educational credence in science subjects to that which does not adhere to scientific method is a type of national suicide . World powers were once measured by their armies, but we are in the age of information now, and America is falling woefully behind nations that place a high value on science and technology. Those are the nations that the future belongs to.

This is just one of the reasons why the new COSMOS: A SPACETIME ODYSSY makes me happy. It is unabashed, exciting, well-written, comprehensive and accessible. I hope everyone with a child is sitting them down in front of this show. Don’t watch it in live broadcast, if the kids start to look confused or begin to drift, you want to be able to pause it and discuss it, lock their focus back on it, then hit play again.

Our ship of the imagination: 1980

Our ship of the imagination and its pilot: 1980

“We are a way for the cosmos to know itself” – Carl Sagan

Another reason why the show makes me happy is that it’s also very much a love letter to the person who turned me on to the awesome grandeur of science in the first place, Carl Sagan. I was ten years old when the first COSMOS aired. I remember it very clearly, as clearly as I remember the first MTV broadcast. It was an event, or at least that’s how I recall it. It was like ROOTS (for those of you who remember how deeply that show affected the nation), or maybe like the last season of BREAKING BAD was for this era. It seemed that everyone, every single person I knew, was watching it and talking about it. At school – in Texas, a different kind of Texas than today – teachers asked about what we learned from the episode the night before. At lunch, kids talked about it, getting everything wrong except for their excitement about the ideas it imparted. For reasons that this little write up can’t quite tackle, society seemed to care about science in that moment. For thirteen weeks, Sagan, a warm, grinning man who seemed as spiritually awed by creation as any religious person you had ever met or heard of, this truly kind and generous and radiating dude who talked like a muppet and had all the calming presence of Mr. Rodgers, came into the living rooms of the whole country (on PBS, by the way) and he changed me and millions like me. A few years later, when I could handle it, I started reading his books. If you’ve never read a Carl Sagan book, you’re missing out.

Many people made me who I am. People I knew, people who raised me, and people I didn’t know, thinkers and artist, people I discovered through their work. Sagan was one of them. Some of the very best parts of me belong to him. And that’s a big reason why it’s so, so good to have COSMOS back.

But it’s not just good for me. It’s good for the country. It’s good for both our spirit and our future.

May the universe (Greek for “single song”) bless you Carl Sagan, wherever your star stuff has gone.

Carl Sagan shows the Dali Lama where his physical being resides in the grand scheme if things.

Carl Sagan shows the Dali Lama where his physical being resides in the grand scheme of things.

“It is the birthright of every child to encounter the cosmos anew. In every culture, in every age, when this happens to us we experience a deep sense of wonder. You are born to delight in the world.” – Carl Sagan

Posted on by Joshua Dysart Posted in Film & TV, Journal, Science & Tech

2 Responses to cosmos

  1. Martin Conterez

    I absolutely love the re-boot of this series. Of course I loved the original too. Great write up.

  2. Keith

    Beautiful essay, Josh! Sagan is one of my heroes too, and in the last few years, Degrasse-Tyson, as well.

    Your point about how the national conversation regarding evolution has changed since 1980 is noteworthy. I think one of the main factors is that today’s conservative media conglomerates, such as Newscorp, eat up more than their share of the national conversation “pie.” There was no Fox News back in 1980. There were only the four major television companies. CNN had just launched. The limited TV news choices meant there was no room for the lunatic fringe. Science was important because it made sense.

    Of course science still makes sense, but Rupert Murdoch has a bigger megaphone than anybody else.

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