“Our species needs, and deserves, a citizenry with minds wide awake and a basic understanding of how the world works.” – Carl Sagan
The new Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, is airing tomorrow on Fox. I am waiting with baited breath, anticipating great things from its creators and its very intelligent host/narrator, Neil deGrasse Tyson. This show is receiving a great deal of buzz, and rightfully so. It is perhaps the most important “television event” in the last thirty years.
From the standpoint of critical thinking and rationality, the original Cosmos: A Personal Voyage written and produced by Carl Sagan, is an epic of factual scientific information which packs more truth in just a few minutes of each show then entire seasons of other genres such as TV procedurals, situation comedies and “reality TV” dramas. If you are looking for how crimes are actually solved, you aren’t going to find that on any of the flavors of CSI or Law & Order. The Big Bang Theory is about everything else but the Big Bang. I don’t know if there is anything real in The Real World and if my wife was anything like the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, the only place I’d be taking her to is divorce court. None of these shows, in the end, really matter.
Both the original and this new version of Cosmos stand apart from every other “traditional” form of television.
Last year, when I left Scientology and had to start getting my head wrapped around the idea of reality and what life is really all about, I needed a stable place to land which offered facts, not speculation and not opinion. I wasn’t looking to replace one kooky religious belief system with some other crazy belief system. In fact, the only thing I was certain of when I was reading and listening to new ideas was that I was not going to let myself fall into that “belief trap” ever again.
It was Carl Sagan, one of the foremost critical thinkers of our time, who pointed out a path to follow which I have been walking since. It was not a path of belief or speculation or opinion. As he put it, “science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge.” He offered no dreamy after-world of love and bliss, nor any promises of a future utopia. Indeed, he stated quite plainly that spending your life on a quest for spiritual salvation was a waste of effort and time, because this life is the only life we know we have.
Yet at the same time, and unlike so many others I’ve run across in the field of skepticism and critical thinking, he always kept his mind open to new and different possibilities. “Personally,” he said, “I would be delighted if there were a life after death, especially if it permitted me to continue to learn about this world and others, if it gave me a chance to discover how history turns out.”
Through the original Cosmos, he opened my eyes to the breathtaking magnificence of the world that had existed around me my entire life. Not a world of hate or fear or loathing. Not a world to despise or try to escape from. Carl Sagan made the world new for me again, by offering nothing but the truth about what it consists of.
The very first part of Cosmos was a wondrous journey through the entire universe, a tour that was literally awe-inspiring and almost spiritual in nature. Sagan’s descriptions and the graphics which accompanied that first show – primitive by today’s standards – touched me and inspired me in ways no Star Wars or Star Trek movies ever had (and I’ve seen them all).
If there is one thing that is certain for me about Carl Sagan and his dream project, it is that his caring and his compassion for the human race and its continued survival are almost beyond compare. Not to make him out to be something more than he was. This article is not my attempt at hero worship. I simply want to comment on the profound effect that one man can have on the lives of others through speaking and publishing nothing but science and appealing to our better selves to use that science to create a truly better world.
I am not an atheist. I do maintain some spiritual beliefs. Sagan’s works, including The Demon Haunted World as well as Cosmos, helped me to firmly separate the world of fact from faith, science from belief. There’s nothing wrong with believing in things. There is everything wrong with being ignorant of facts and evidence, and using faith as a reason to not understanding how things really work.
Carl Sagan and his original 1980 Cosmos: A Personal Journey showed me a world that I had lived in all my life but was almost completely ignorant about. I’ve been on a journey of learning ever since, and I don’t know if that journey is ever going to end. One of Sagan’s lessons is that there is no end to the quest for knowledge. Now new generations of people, young and old, will have an opportunity to experience the wonder, awe and delight that I experienced with this new Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. I for one can’t wait to see it and I encourage everyone to do the same.