Rock Dad (see the link to his blog on my page) recently reminded me of probably the most formative event of my life, the 13 glorious weeks in the fall of 1980 when Cosmos was broadcast by PBS. A few years ago my lovely wife bought me the 7 DVD boxed set (and I didn’t even ask for it; she is amazing!); I’ve probably watched it all the way through 4 or 5 times now.
I decided to start again Monday night.
First is the music. That sad, plaintive cry at the beginning with those gorgeous orange space scenes takes me right back to 1980, when a 12-year-old boy sat on the floor, inches from the TV, devouring every moment. Cosmos was probably the first time I really started to see science as art, science as humanity. To me, that song is the lone voice in the wilderness of a crazy, incoherent world, a voice that sayss, “And yet, it turns!”
“The Cosmos is all there is, or ever was, or ever will be.” Sagan right away gives us the scope of his subject – everything! His is a story of the universe, yes. But more, it is a story of us, of how we came to know the Cosmos, of how we came to recognize all those wonderful truths – we are all starstuff, a young species on an ancient world, a tiny planet lost in the immensity of a vast and mysterious. And then, perhaps the most important idea science has ever given us. “We are a way for the Cosmos to know itself.”
Sagan subtitled Cosmos “A Personal Voyage.” To me that means that the journey of discovery, from our first childhood questions to our last contemplative thoughts, is a journey open to all of us. Only Kepler could originate his laws of motion, but every one of us can revel in the regularities of the universe. Only Milton Hummason could make the images that proved that the universe is expanding, but we can all appreciate the solution to this puzzling and marvelous mystery. Only the scientists and engineers who built and operated the Voyager spacecraft could snap the first up-close pictures of Io, but we all can marvel at the bizarre wonders of that tortured world. The voyage of discovery is one every one of us can take, a truly personal voyage.
Next week, episode two!