Boxing Pythagoras

Philosophy from the mind of a fighter

A Short Review of “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey”

The first episode of “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” aired, last night, on FOX.  The show, hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson and produced by Ann Druyan and Seth Macfarlane, is a 21st Century re-imagining of Carl Sagan’s incredible effort to bring science to the general public. I have been very excited for this premiere since I first heard whisperings that a new “Cosmos” was in the works, and I am very glad to say that I was not disappointed.

Visually, the show is absolutely gorgeous. Beautifully rendered scenes of everything from the tiniest particles to the most massive galactic clusters create exactly the image of wonder and awe that they are intended to convey. But the producers do not rely solely on CGI renderings of the cosmos. Neil deGrasse Tyson speaks to us from some of the most beautiful locations, right here on planet Earth. We see gorgeous cliffs overlooking the crashing waves of the ocean and tranquil forests of giant, verdant trees. Furthermore, there are animated shorts and cartoons which are very stylized and truly capture the emotions they’ve set out to grab.

The content of this first episode centered mainly on an overview of the incredible scale of the cosmos. The first section was intended to describe the massive size of the universe, and it accomplished this goal impressively. We are given an overview of our Cosmic Address, starting here– on Earth– and expanding out through our Solar System, to our Galaxy, to our local galactic cluster, to the Virgo supercluster, and finally on to the entire observable universe. In a very short time, we are given an amazing overview of just how tiny and insignificant our little blue dot is in the grand scale of the cosmos.

As the episode moved on, we are treated to a cartoon which dramatically depicts the events surrounding the life of Giordano Bruno, a Dominican friar and philosopher in the 16th Century. I thought this was a particularly inspired choice, on the part of the writers and producers of the show. They wanted to give us a story about how humanity came to realize that the Earth was not the center of the universe, but rather than focus on the well-known subjects of Nicolaus Copernicus or Galileo Galilei, we see the life of a relatively unknown historical figure. But, even aside from educating the public about a bit of history that is normally glossed over, this vignette served another, subtler purpose. The show pulls no punches in its depiction of the manner in which Bruno was treated by the Church– Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Calvinist, alike. This section made it very clear that “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” will not be likely to edit itself in order to appease theologically based assumptions about the universe.

Later in the episode, we are given an overview of the scale of Time, much like the overview of the scale of Size with which the episode opened. The history of the observable universe is compressed down to a scale coinciding with a single calendar year where each day represents almost 40,000,000 years, and every single second represents almost 440 years. This is even more effective than their depiction of the size of the universe, in my opinion. We are shown that, using this scale, the entirety of recorded human history– from the invention of writing through to the present– would comprise only the final 15 seconds of our Cosmic Calendar. It is truly awe inspiring.

The episode ends on a personal note. Neil deGrasse Tyson tells an emotional story about Carl Sagan and his dedication to both science and his fellow Man. In just a few short minutes, Dr. Tyson gives a very powerful and personal explanation of the motivation behind both Sagan’s original Cosmos series and this new successor to the role. This endcap to the episode is a touching inspiration for the viewers to learn more about the world in which we live.

“Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” airs Sundays on FOX, at 9pm EST; and Mondays on the National Geographic channel, at 10pm EST.

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