So, when I heard that the Science Channel was going to show the series again, I was pretty excited. But I was unprepared for the depth of emotion I felt at hearing the first few notes of the main theme. I felt a potent mixture of nostalgia and wonderment, of happy recollection.
I’ve watched a couple of the episodes now, and I’m beginning to realize a couple of things. For one thing, after years of hearing bad imitations of Carl Sagan, I am confronted with the fact that he DID sound pretty goofy. Sort of like James T. Kirk on Quaaludes. But he was also a brilliant communicator, able to put complex concepts in terms anyone could understand. And he was passionate about his work, about the nature of the universe, about how we find out what is true and what is false. He was truly a treasure of the twentieth century.
And I am beginning to realize just how much of an impact “Cosmos” made on me, personally. How it gave me a sense of my place in the Universe, that I was part of a reality so vast I could barely comprehend it. And it taught me to be proud of the accomplishments of mankind, not just ashamed of our barbarism.
Through watching Cosmos, I learned that every atom of matter heavier than hydrogen and helium was the result of stellar fusion. That everything around us, including ourselves, was made of atoms forged in a sun. Dr. Sagan waxed poetic (as he often did), saying “we are all of us, made of starstuff”. But that beautiful turn of phrase could hardly represent the impact this concept had on me, personally. The very atoms that made up my body were once in the heart of a sun! How could anyone ask for a more intimate connection to the universe than that?
I have been accused, more than once, of adopting Science as my religion. I believe the people that have accused me of this have a flawed understanding of science. Science is merely a process, although I suppose faith in that process could be taken to an unhealthy extreme. I don’t advocate replacing Faith with Reason, but I also don’t advocate discarding Reason in pursuit of Faith. Everyone has to find their own path in this reality.
I feel awe and wonder when I contemplate the inner workings of a tree, or the astonishing scale of the Universe, or yes, the elegant economy of evolution. But most of all, I am amazed that you and I, buckets of complicated and delicate chemicals tied together by weak electrical impulses, can contemplate such miracles. That we have invented a system of mathematical notation that permits us to jot down numbers larger than the number of particles in the Universe. That we can build a robot that can travel to another world, and explore it for us. That we can image structures that are made of individual atoms. These are miracles, indeed, and I fear that as I grow older I am in danger of taking them for granted. So I am profoundly grateful for the opportunity to once again hear the impassioned voice of Dr. Carl Sagan, and be reminded of exactly how miraculous I am.