If philosophy is to direct us towards contemplation, wisdom and humility, then Carl Sagan’s Cosmos is deeply philosophical. In describing the (then) latest discoveries in science, in narrating the courageous steps humans and individuals have taken over the ages since the existence of our consciousness that have led to those discoveries and in imagining an optimistic future, Carl Sagan, in his comforting voice and deeply insightful views, illustrates our place in the universe. Our place in the universe, unique not in our exclusivity but in the fact that we are inextricably connected to each other.
“Earth and every living thing are made of Star-stuff […]
(Our) ancestors were once atoms made in stars, then simple molecules, single cells polyps stuck to the ocean floor, fish, amphibians, reptiles, shrews.
But then they came down from the trees and stood upright.
They grew an enormous brain; they developed culture, invented tools domesticated fire.
They discovered language and writing.
They developed agriculture.
They built cities and forged metal.
And ultimately, they set out for the stars from which they had come.
We are star stuff which has taken its destiny into its own hands.
The loom of time and space works the most astonishing transformations of matter. Our own planet is only a tiny part of the vast cosmic tapestry a starry fabric of worlds yet untold”.
Car Sagan, Cosmos Episode 8 – Travels in Space and Time 1
Carl Sagan, with his evidence firmly based in science, opens a perspective where all our differences are nothing but insignificant in the light of the cosmos – the natural phenomena knows and cares nothing for national boundaries or sentiments, cultural differences. To it, we are inhabitants of earth and a very tiny fragment, yet a part nonetheless, of the omnipresent cosmos.
In discussing scientific concepts from the scale of the universe to those of the atoms and the struggles individuals and peoples endeavoured to bring them to light, Carl Sagan shows us, passionately, that in the Tree of Life which has developed over 4 billion years, the differences that separate us are nothing more than the differences in shape of one small leaf to the next in a very large tree. By humanising science and explaining it from a human perspective, Carl Sagan touches upon, even if only briefly, the unadulterated origins of religion.
In the days of gloom and when faced with a certain crisis of meaning, I find myself returning to Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. I’m then left with this deep and uncanny sensation of being connected with all the histories across time, I’m left not with mourning for the shortness of the human life but with the joy that comes with the knowledge that my existence is connected to the very beginning of time and will do so even after I’m gone. I’m left with an oceanic emotion that ushers a sense of deep compassion and humility and with that a sense of peace.
Carl Sagan’s Cosmos is a plea for the scientific approach, a plea for humanity to maintain what is humane. Though developed in the wake of the nuclear build-up and the tensions of the Cold War, the series touches an essence that makes it resonate across time. In spite of the shortcomings of human nature, Carl Sagan imagines an optimistic future for humans as wise and compassionate species who have abandoned those that divide them and instead cherish those that bring us together.
“One of the great revelations of the age of space exploration is the image of the Earth, finite and lonely somehow vulnerable, bearing the entire human species through the oceans of space and time.
We humans have set foot on another world in a place called the Sea of Tranquillity an astonishing achievement for creatures such as we whose earliest footsteps, are preserved in the volcanic ash of East Africa. We have walked far.
These are some of the things that hydrogen atoms do given 15 billion years of cosmic evolution. It has the sound of epic myth. But it’s simply a description of the evolution of the cosmos as revealed by science in our time. And we who embody the local eyes and ears and thoughts and feelings of the cosmos we’ve begun, at last, to wonder about our origins.
Our loyalties are to the species and the planet. We speak for Earth.
Our obligation to survive and flourish is owed not just to ourselves but also to that cosmos, ancient and vast from which we spring”.
Carl Sagan, Cosmos Episode 13 – Who Speaks for Earth? 1
And all the while, equally in moments of great turmoil and serene contemplation, what keeps ringing in my ears are Carl Sagan’s first ever words at the start of the series.
“The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.
[…]Lost somewhere between immensity and eternity is our tiny planetary home, the Earth”
Carl Sagan, Cosmos Episode 1 –The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean1
Link to the episodes