Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: philosophical highlights (first six episodes)

June 15, 2011

I’ve been watching the 1990 version, where you get the episode – complete with great titles like The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean, The Edge of Forever and Who Speaks for Earth – plus a commentary from Sagan at some of the ends to bring you scientifically up to date for this release, which came 10 years after the original debuted in 1980. I have loved it from the start and it’s not just for the haircuts, which are awesome to behold. As are the snappy suits. When an astronomer gets this excited about the universe, being alive in it, and exploring its mysteries physical and … with that much engaging effervescence – even one who actually kinda grates every now and then – and i consider myself to be capable of a fair amount of cheese factor – it’s alright by me. I mean, this complete Enlightenment ideal scientist – you know, shared knowledge, courage to admit you are wrong and stick with the facts, exercise unbounded curiosity but temper it with rational discipline at all times purist kinda scientist – calls the trees our cousins – and means it. Science and animism actually come together and it is from the side of science. I think this is a very important discovery. It’s no surprise from the other side, of course. But that is another matter.

Where was i? Ah yes; almost entirely genetically connected, not just one of those vague we are all cosmic/star dust sensational comments, which are fine in their at-a-party or whilst meditating kinda way, but both as direct inheritors of this miraculously precious thing we call life. Generated out of a planetary cosmic soup. Sparked up by the sun, out of salt water (i can almost taste it now on my lips), based on carbon, the great material for building.

Sagan occasionally teases or chides any thinker taken in by hollow faith – Percival Lowell comes in for a pasting for wanting so much to believe there were canals on Mars that evidenced an ancient civilization – but he never buries the questing spirit prepared to ask for truth from their observations, which should be carried out at all times unhindered by such desperation. He notes at length how Johannes Kepler, by comparison, sought for years to manouevre Tyco Brahe’s calculations into his own false dream of perfect forms in the sky, yet did finally give in and thereafter uncovered fundamental physical laws of planetary motion… Success, as always, counts for a lot.

So, yes to questions, no to faith (but without the bullying of the religious that is the unattractive sight of Richard Dawkins nowadays; who was so much nicer to the memes). To wit: Cosmos is so ecologically conscious, i was really impressed. It sent a very strong message, something akin to the Rio Summit of 72 but without even vacillating about waiting for the science to come in, that we had to be very careful with the way we burnt fuel (especially) if we were to avoid creating a hell on earth. Sagan promoted science as a friend of the planet and i found this very refreshing; it was a neat reminder of something important, that the race wields awesome power and must think and act as if it does. Yesterday.

My final comment compliments Sagan – and his two co-writers Ann Druyan and Steven Soter – for the way they tease unscientific ideas almost mockingly but condemn their repression even more vociferously. For who knows, they ask, where new knowledge may come from?



  1. “Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep insights can be winnowed from deep nonsense.”
    — Carl Sagan

  2. Cool. Skepticism leading to insight is inherently valuable. Nice attitude to sit outside both science and religion with. Thanks.

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