Cosmos Review: A Voyage Across The Universe
So far I am loving Neil De Grasse Tyson’s Cosmos reboot. I saw the original one with Carl Sagan only sporadically, so I can’t really compare the two. Tyson has managed to bring the wonder of science alive. That amazement often gets lost when you are in the weeds, either doing research or even taking a science class. It is easy to forget that behind all the math and the jargon is the eternal longing of the human spirit to answer the question, why?
The ebb and flow of great civilizations has one thing in common, our curiosity is rewarded while close-mindedness eventually leads to stagnation and decay. Ignorance and superstition leads to darkness and fear. Although rigid dogma may win the battle, it ultimately loses the war. This is the reason that antipathy towards science of a small but politically active minority should give everyone a pause. A show like Cosmos that gets non-scientists interested and invested in science and reminds practitioners why they do what they do, is exactly the kind of TV we need.
Episodes one and three focused mainly on astrophysics and astronomy, while episode two’s focus was evolution. I learned something new in every episode, despite years spent as a physics major and a grad student.
Episode one’s main takeaway for me was Giordano Bruno’s story, which I did not know about. Tyson also managed effectively convey our humble presence on the cosmological scale. Far from being the center of the Universe, we inhabit a minor planet circling a minor star in one of the many galaxies in the Universe. On the cosmological time scale, we have been around for less than a blink of an eye. If I ever to make any changes, I would have included Galileo in this episode, both for his scientific discoveries and his struggles with the Catholic Church. Galileo’s contributions were vital to the Newtonian revolution that has shaped science as we know it.
Episode two focused on evolution, especially that of the eye, something creationists love to argue about. Tyson made the biology accessible for a non-biologist like me. Now I want to find out more about it.
Episode three zeroed in on the Newtonian revolution but Newton was not the protagonist of this episode, rather it was Edmond Halley, of the comet fame. It was due to Halley’s efforts that Newton’s magnum opus, Principia Mathematica was published. The episode covered Newton’s laws of motion, his law of universal gravitation and his invention of calculus. I remember reading about Halley and Prinicipia , when Halley’s comet made its last appearance. The animations brought out the human element behind the science. Two minor quibbles, it was hard to tell Halley and Newton apart, and the music at times was obtrusive and loud.
Two quotes attributed to Newton, summarize science at its best, a collaborative enterprise to find the truth.
If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.
Plato is my friend — Aristotle is my friend — but my greatest friend is truth.
Do you like this iteration of Cosmos and how does it compare to the original?
Programming Note: Cosmos airs on Fox on Sunday nights.