Dissecting Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

Dissecting Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

Exploring the thresholds of the known Universe and the realities of everything we know, the new television series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey presents a refreshing look on a somewhat exhaustive topic – science. It’s safe to say though, that this is not just another boring high school lecture about dull rocks flying through space. Instead, Cosmos takes you on an honest and clearly presented journey through human knowledge, in a way that’s both interesting and quite enjoyable, at least for those willing to absorb the knowledge it offers. For others it can just be a pretty animated movie, which I guess is fine too, if it gets people watching it.

Accompanied by hyper-realistic computer-generated graphics and a clever, inspiring script, popular scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson is our guide throughout the series, imaginatively flying in his CGI vessel through all of space and time, all while teaching us about the origins and fundamentals of our very existence – atomic life, planets, asteroids, galaxies, and how everything fits together in a universal jigsaw puzzle.

Sagan’s Legacy

The new series is based on and has been referred to as a “sequel” to the 1980 series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, which was presented by Carl Sagan, who some see as the previous generation’s Neil deGrasse Tyson. Both are vessels for the popularisation of science and the discovery of knowledge in mainstream culture. Tyson makes multiple references to Sagan, which is understandable as Tyson wouldn’t be the scientist he was today without the influence and inspiration of Sagan, who he met once as a young student and based his career on throughout his life.

Seth MacFarlane, creator of animated series Family Guy and American Dad, surprisingly enough played a vital role in the development of Cosmos. He is an executive producer for the series and along with Carl Sagan’s widow Ann Druyan helped to fund financially and support Sagan’s continued dream of Cosmos.

The Battle Rages On: Religion vs. Cosmos

Before Cosmos even aired wars were waged in forums online between two polarised groups of people – young-Earth creationists and science-enthusiasts – a spark which ignited again due to the apparent offence that Cosmos dealt to the credibility of some fundamentalist religious beliefs. Young-Earth creationism, a subset of creationism (the belief that everything in existence was created by a god), is based on the unquestionable belief that the Earth and Universe is younger than the nearly 14 billion years old that scientists and evidence suggests it is, and claim that it is instead somewhere between five and six thousand years old. This belief stems from a literal interpretation of Christian Biblical parables, which I guess explains its believers unwavering defence of its legitimacy in the face of evidence.

Cosmos cheekily attacks young-Earth creationist beliefs at various moments throughout the first few episodes by illustrating the sheer impossibility of this view being at all realistic. And it’s not just young-Earth creationists who are upset by Cosmos – many “old-Earth” creationists are upset too, instead by the show’s portrayal of “anti-Christian” sentiments and by the belief that the show is propaganda aimed at luring people away from their religious beliefs.

Creationists Respond to Cosmos

In retaliation to the program, creationists of all kinds have taken to the social networks to vent their frustration at this “blasphemy”, choosing to boycott the show and completely deny any facts presented by it.

Here are just a few examples from Twitter, written during and just after the first episode aired:

cosmos-objection-4 cosmos-objection-3

cosmos-objection-2 cosmos-objection

You may think these people are just web “trolls” setting out to get a rise out of proponents of science on social networks, but these people do exist and these beliefs are unfortunately widespread. Cosmos (and all scientific pursuits for that matter) set out to extinguish ignorant and misinformed opinions like these, and though maybe not for the people in the screenshots above, I think it has done just that to a fair few people who watched it. We just probably won’t hear from those people on Twitter, unfortunately.

The Importance of Cosmos

Science thrives on the reevaluation of knowledge and the new understandings of the things we thought we once knew, and through scientific discovery the world generally becomes a safer, more connected and empathetic place.

Whether or not Cosmos dismantles fundamentalist belief systems, changes the world entirely or instead gets forgotten about in a few months isn’t important – what matters is the knowledge it presents and the message it sends: science is everything, knowledge is powerful and the very nature of existence is out there to be explored.

Then of course there’s the potential inspiration it provides to the next generation’s Neil deGrasse Tysons and Carl Sagans, who right now are sitting at home in their bedrooms with their cheap telescopes pointing to the blackness of space, wondering what’s out there and why it all exists. They’ll grow up asking questions, thinking critically, impervious to the influence of anti-science ignorance, and they’ll lead the next generation to the pursuit of scientific discovery, thanks to the detailed education that these documentaries provide.

Shows like Cosmos stimulate dormant minds by promoting science as more than just the study of flying rocks or lifeless plants growing under a lamp, which is fairly uninteresting to most people, and instead show it from an intriguing and exciting point of view, which is what people use to relate to these usually foreign topics in order to comprehend them.

Scale: Everything is Nothing. Nothing is Everything.

Cosmos - Galaxy (Point of Light)

On a more personal and spiritual level, Cosmos helps us connect with the world around us by showing us that we’re not as large and important as we think we are – we are the dust of ancient exploding stars, in the form of a measly virus-like growth on a tiny planet orbiting a tiny star in a miniature galaxy, floating around in the vast emptiness of the space inside of an ever-expanding Universe, and that it’s completely okay to be that. In fact, it’s freaking amazing. Understanding the grand scale of everything doesn’t diminish the importance of life, it fortifies it.

Cosmos reminds us that after countless battles against each other and nature, through our very beginnings as bacterial growth to our first steps on land, to bombardments by asteroids, floods, fires, births, deaths, gods, idols, leaders, religions, evolution and extinction, war and peace, abundance and famine, and the very unlikelihood of our existence, life is still here thriving better than ever.

“The cosmos is also within us. We’re made of star stuff.
We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.”

― Neil deGrasse Tyson, Cosmos

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