Saturday, July 18, 2015

A review of Carl Sagan's Cosmos

Let me start out with an up-front disclaimer that I am not an expert on natural science. I am a layman when it comes to this subject, as I have never even taken an introductory class about astronomy. But expertise in the subject matter is not required to enjoy this documentary, as my love of it demonstrates. This is a good documentary for laymen as well as subject experts.

This is not to say that I agree with everything that Carl Sagan says. He is both a liberal and an agnostic, which means I disagree with him about politics and religion. But when he sticks to the science, his documentaries have much to offer. And his exposition of his views tends to be interesting, even when I do not agree with him. I have enjoyed classes from a number of liberals I disagree with, and learned a lot from even the most far-out ones. And Carl Sagan is someone I have learned a lot from.

Part of my enjoyment of this series might come from my childhood fascination with science fiction. This documentary is more about science fact than science fiction, but it has a space setting, which is something it shares with such classics as Star Trek and the Foundation series. And it does not shy away from speculation about subjects we currently know little about. As Carl Sagan puts it, "We will not be afraid to speculate, but we will be careful to distinguish speculation from fact."

Another part of my fascination with this series might come from the fact that it talks a lot about the history of its particular topics. They talk about the history of the European exploration of the Earth, for example, or the history of human knowledge about such faraway worlds as Venus, Mars, or Jupiter. And it's fascinating to hear about time dilation (the fancy word for time warp), and time travel - which, if possible, would be highly relevant to my interests in history, because of its ability to change history.

And another part of my love of this series might come from the natural curiosity about the things beyond this Earth. Who hasn't wondered about whether there is extraterrestrial life, or whether human beings will ever colonize another planet? And who hasn't had a sense of the smallness of Earth, or the uniqueness of its having known life? And there is also the fascinating parable of Flatland, which helps to understand the possibilities of beings (and other things) that exist in more than three dimensions.

A tesseract (or four-dimensional hypercube) performing
a simple rotation about a plane which bisects the figure

For all of these things, I am fascinated by Cosmos, even though I have nothing but layman's knowledge about its subject matter. Carl Sagan's series has the power to captivate ordinary people, without dumbing down the basic science that it attempts to teach. The writing of the series is wonderful, and I have even turned on the Spanish and French subtitles on these DVD's, and used them to practice my foreign languages. (The hardest language practice I've ever done ... ) No matter what language you speak, Cosmos is a powerful series, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in things beyond this Earth.

DVD at Amazon

Some fun facts about the solar system

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