Critiquing Cosmos - Episode 13

Well, it's been a heck of a ride.  Three months ago we had no idea what to expect from this reincarnated program.  Thirteen episodes later, we've explored the history of the Universe and that of mankind.  We've seen the incredible calamities wrought by nature and those which we ourselves can wreak.  But endings are always tough - let's see how Cosmos did.

I loved...

"It's okay not to know all the answers":  This episode reiterated one of the core principles of science: that we must be comfortable, but not satisfied, with an incomplete knowledge of nature.  This, perhaps more than anything, is the characteristic that separates science from other systems of inquiry.  We should say it loudly and often.

"They all made mistakes": Cosmos was more upfront about the missteps of our great scientists than any other show I've ever seen.  Science is an intensely human endeavor and humans, every last one of us, err.  It's one of the most prominent criticisms of science and one we cannot hide from.  Fortunately, the scientific method has error correcting built right in. 

The grandest voyage: Back in November, I was at the main meeting of planetary scientists  in the United States.  One of the big, all-conference lectures was given by a man named Ed Stone.  He's guided the Voyager mission since its inception more than forty years ago and was there presenting the latest results from the edge of the solar system.  At the conclusion of the talk, he received a standing ovation like I've never seen at a scientific meeting.  Instead of questions, scientists approached the microphone to tell him what a defining moment Voyager had been in their lives.  Thirty-seven years after its launch, Voyager is a reminder of the awe that can accompany science if we're bold enough to think big.

"Where we make our stand": Ed Stone may have inspired a generation of astronomers, but Carl Sagan inspired a generation of people in all walks of life.  Few soliloquies are more powerful than his impassioned plea for us to put aside our altogether petty differences and work for the greater good of our planet and our species. 

I liked...

One last unsung hero: As someone familiar with the general outlines of the history of science, one of the larger pleasures of Cosmos has been the stories it has told.  Scientists like Fritz Zwicky aren't the ones you read about in popular science books or portrayed as fictional characters, but their impact on the way we view the world has been tremendous.  I mean, contributions to Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and gravitational lensing mean that Zwicky was involved in nearly all the major fields of 20th-century astronomy.

I didn't like...

Coming to an end: It's been a fantastic ride and I'm sorry to see it go.  Thanks, Neil, Ann, Seth, and all the others who made this project possible.  It's comforting to know that in 2014 we can still be awed and inspired by the world around us and the people striving to understand it.

 

Sagan's series was a landmark of science education.  Perhaps for the first time, an actual, honest-to-God scientist laid out what makes science powerful, beautiful, and personal.  Richard Feynman may have thrown up the pass, but it was Sagan who came down with the ball.  Now, decades later, the rules have changed, but the game is still the same and Tyson plays it nearly as well.  He might not be quite as profound or polished or credentialed, but he is one thing that the times never allowed Sagan to be: everywhere.  Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey is Cosmos for a new world and a new generation.  It was a heck of a ride.

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