Carl Sagan’s Cosmos

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

 

Sagan - Voyager Plaque
Carl Sagan with the Voyager plaque 2

 

 

 

References

1 – Retrieved from https://www.springfieldspringfield.co.uk/episode_scripts.php?tv-show=cosmos-carl-sagan

2 – https://www.seeker.com/space/pioneer-plaque-replica-shows-humanitys-first-spacecraft-flown-message-to-aliens

 

Link to the episodes

 

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As you like it…

It was late evening. Tucked away in a small alley off the main square like a glass prism spilling out its contents among dark solid, opaque silhouettes of the buildings on either side of the alleyway was the Toneelschuur in Harlem. Through the dark alleyway, illuminated by the light from the foyer I walked towards the obscure entrance. I was there to have my first proper experience of a play.

The play I was supposed to witness was supposed to be staged in an auditorium of what must have been able to accommodate 120 spectators in about 10 rows but now shortened in size by screens to show only 4 rows. There must have been forty or less people when I entered, everyone much older than I was. Four actors, also old, were setting up the props and adding, to themselves, layers upon layers of both masculine and feminine clothes suited to a play that was supposed to explore the general themes set in Shakespeare’s As You Like It.

And that was as far as my understanding of the content of the play went. For the rest of the play, my innocence as to the language and the theatrical experience proved as reliable obstacles in keeping me comfortably distant from any kind of understanding. But all was for good I suppose.

I entered this auditorium and was immediately struck by the intimacy of the setting. A sense of intimacy and familiarity that grew only stronger with the auditorium doors shut from the rest of the world that I might have suspected to have intruded upon a family event if I hadn’t know any better.

No level separated what was to be the place where the play was supposed to be enacted and the level onto which one entered the small auditorium. The stepped rake upon which we, the spectators, sat only seemed like a natural addition to the floor level that was soon to become a stage. It was a sense of feeling that we were not just mute spectators but part of the events that unfolded in that room that has momentarily been isolated from the rest of the world. Not to mention the individual chuckles from the old man who was sitting two rows in front of me that broke into a funny laughter much like the ones that slip out despite one’s earnest attempts to restrain it; the restlessness of the slightly older woman effected by her half amusement and half annoyance at this aural addition to the dialogue of the characters in play; the chair that began to grow increasingly uneasy and people shifting in hope to find that elusive comfort while all the while losing not a bit of concentration over what was being enacted reinforced that sense of intimacy.

A smile broke out from me when someone laughed hard at some occurrence over the course of play. I tried to decipher if the action was scripted or not by trying to decipher the general mood of the audience. In short, I was trying to keep my bearings and make up for what I lost in language in reading the general emotion of the people who watched it. How uniquely different was this experience then compared to screened projections even in the cosiest of home-theatres?

As for the play itself, I was constantly left trying to grasp what it was about. The most perplexing part of the play for me was to follow if the characters stayed in their imagined world or reached out occasionally to the world we as spectators inhabited. I suppose they did both. I have no means of judging the quality of the play simply because I do not have many, if not any, examples to go by.

Chances are that I might have seen some brilliant unfolding of a theatrical play and I wouldn’t even know. Something similar to what Ernest Hemmingway warns of the person who is ignorant of Spanish bull-fighting seeing a bull-fight for the first time and never have the means to experience it fully in all its nuances. A more personal example would be  my first experience with wine. It was initially only a sour tasting liquid that cannot be taken in more than smaller sips at a time whose taste changed with time between the sip and while the taste lingers. But with time, I began to know better, better enough to appreciate it as art that has seen its refinement over several centuries. The same I can say of Indian classical music.

But nevertheless, my first experience of a play has not been bad I’d say.

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Hello world!

Who am I?

I am an observer, an observer of the world around me, trying to find beauty in simple and extraordinary things alike. I am a dreamer. For me, hidden within plain sight are layers of meaning, interpretation and more beauty.

This blog is a tool for me to document my time in Europe, the impressions the different places have on me, and above all an attempt to capture the emotions that flow through me during these travels.

I try to use this blog also as a medium to think aloud on matters concerning architecture and the like.

Long after my tryst with Europe has ended, this blog has the additional burden of having to serve myself as a reminder of the time that I had here. So pardon the very subjective writing!!