Taedium Edax Rerum

If there’s a bright center of the Internet, you’re on the blog that it’s farthest from.

Starstuff Pondering the Stars

Posted by Doug on March 22, 2009

I did not know that the Cosmos miniseries—in which the late, great Carl Sagan explains a number of scientific subjects ranging from astrophysics to cellular biology—had a samurai battle in it.

“Those afraid of the universe as it really is, those who pretend to nonexistent knowledge and envision a Cosmos centered on human beings will prefer the fleeting comforts of superstition.  They avoid rather than confront the world.  But those with the courage to explore the weave and structure of the Cosmos, even where it differs profoundly from their wishes and prejudices, will penetrate its deepest mysteries.” —Carl Sagan, Cosmos

In junior high, the school library had a hardcover edition of the book version of Cosmos, which was intended to accompany the TV miniseries.  I must have checked that book out over nine th a hundred times.  I had always been interested in sciency stuff like this, but rather than have my appetite sated in the many science classes I took, I was cursed with an endless succession of lousy teachers, who believed that “science” meant “answers to questions they will give you on that standardized test at the end of the year that you have to do good on so we keep get a raise” (and I actually recall one of my teachers stating that rather bluntly one day, dattebayo).

More recently, I have read some of Sagan’s other works, like his science-fiction novel Contact, and his nonfiction tomes The Demon-Haunted World and Billions & Billions.  But other than a few short clips here and there, I have never seen the original Cosmos, a fact that always bugged me.

Fortunately, the entire Cosmos miniseries is available for viewing on Hulu, a fact I have wasted no time in taking advantage of, and yes, I am thoroughly enjoying it, late 1970s special effects and all.  It’s very different from most contemporary science-popularizing shows I have seen lately in that it has a very deliberate pacing that stands in stark contrast to the rather hyperactive style that seems to be the style du jour (unlike the lowest common denominator that Hollywood thinks they need to cater to for everything, I have an attention span of greater than thirty seconds).  Of course, this might be a side-effect of Carl Sagan’s narrating style, but it suits the material well.

And yeah, there’s a samurai battle in it—a depiction of the Battle of Dan-no-Ura in 1185 CE between the Genji and the Heike clans—which segues into a discussion of artificial selection, and from there into natural selection.  The series blends a variety of different scientific subjects like astronomy, biology, history, and pseudoscience into a compelling narrative of…well, of pretty much everything from the beginning of everything to now to the conceivable future.

Short version: Even three decades after it was produced, Cosmos is a great series, and you should watch it.

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