In my last post on the book Cosmos I suddenly remembered an article I had just read about Neil deGrasse Tyson's current series that's a tribute to/continuation of/update of Carl Sagan's tv series. I haven't watched any of it yet, but I've read some of Tyson's writing and seen him on several tv programs - let's just say I don't have any worries about what he'll do. I trust his vision.
But I did get very nostalgic for Sagan and how welcoming he made science for me while I was reading this last bit of an LA Times article on the show from earlier this month. Here's the last few paragraphs, which sum up a lot about the series:
Review: Neil deGrasse Tyson's 'Cosmos' a fascinating, fun place to be
'Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey,' enthusiastically and expertly hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, premieres Sunday on Fox networks. It's a sweeping, smart exploration, a celebration of scientific inquiry.
By Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times Television Critic, March 8, 2014
"...He [Tyson] begins his journey on the same cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean that Sagan did - and ends the first episode there as well, with a tribute to his predecessor and role model who took an interest in him as a teenage astronomy prodigy. As in the original, he sets off in an imaginary spaceship to get a better view of things, locating the Earth within the vastness of space and time, overflying extraterrestrial vistas, passing by Voyager and establishing a cosmic address that should work for any mail headed your way from outside the solar system, galaxy, Virgo Supercluster or even the observable universe.
It is a small world, after all, we are shown; our own presence on it would make Methuselah a mayfly. (Or, as Sagan had it back in 1980, "We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it is forever.") We are shown the incomprehensibility of time as a calendar year, of which all recorded human history occupies only the last 14 seconds.
But cheer up: "We're small," Tyson says. "But we don't think small." "
As a kid watching the 1980s Cosmos episode (Shores of the Cosmic Ocean) where Sagan takes a journey on that white spaceship - well, I was of the generation that saw the first Star Wars movie in the theatre, and I remember how amazing even the first seconds of that film were, because when that giant ship rumbled into view (YouTube link, 42 sec clip) you felt you were seeing it actually fly over your head, you felt the audio rumble through your feet, the whole audience murmured in amazement, and it was Damn Impressive. (It helped that I saw it in an uber wide screen theatre for 1977, which had an incredible audio setup. For Kansas. And the audio was that epic even pre THX.) For 14-year-old-me Sagan's travel in his Ship of the Imagination was the opening of the door of science and space and DNA and history and how they were all inter-related - and it was just as impressive as anything I'd seen at the movies.
I not only watched the show on PBS but also in my biology class at school, where the teacher showed us certain episodes that demonstrated what we were reading in our textbooks. I'm pretty sure it was thanks to Sagan and his presentation of science (and yes, that biology class) that helped me with tests in college - you know, the whole "let's give you a test to see how much background you've had in subject x" kinda of thing. And even now any time I read/hear any reference to DNA and any of its components, I mentally see Sagan walking down a spiral staircase.
I never really knew how strongly I felt about all this until I started trying to watch some of the episodes of Cosmos - for some reason I get misty just hearing the theme song and listen to Sagan talk.
One of the greatest things about the internet is the affirmation that so many of us really were touched by that series, and by the book, and were part of the continuing fascination with the person Sagan was and the questions he gave us. Note I say the questions, because in this area those are more important than the answers. It's the asking of those questions - and that others wondered the same things in the past and that people continue to wonder and research them now - that makes science such an engaging and continually interesting field. Sagan made the topic something that anyone could be curious about and participate in, and did so much to popularize science books that were written for a larger audience than just academia or elementary schools.
It's been 34 years since Cosmos was broadcast. It's really good to see it getting revisited, and a sequel of sorts.