A couple of weeks ago I purchased Carl Sagan’s 1979 TV series, Cosmos on DVD. Actually, it aired in 1980 but was filmed in 1979 and 1979 sounds way cooler than 1980.
It totally rocks!
Sure, he’s wearing beige and, sure, there has been progress in astronomy since the series was produced but I found myself learning plenty of new stuff with every episode. (Did you know that Eratosthenes calculated the earth’s circumference to within a margin of 5-10% back in 240BCE?).
What I love about the scientific method is that when done properly you present the facts as best you know them but remain open to future discoveries and you also disclose known weaknesses. In this series at the end of many of the episodes Sagan appears (looking greyer) with a “10 years later update” and very little of the original content needed revision. The only bit that stands out is that in one of the episodes he presents some of the experiments showing the creation of organic molecules in the laboratory and 10 years later added that they now believe it’s likely that the organic molecules may have formed in the icy bodies of comets.
Also, this was produced at a very uncertain time when the threat of all-out nuclear war seemed quite possible and many of his comments about the future of the human race are bracketed with “if we don’t destroy ourselves first”.
This series is a brilliant way to get an excellent perspective on our place in history and in the universe. It’s factual, balanced and remarkably well-produced. They even managed to avoid the temptation to use the snazzy synthesised music of the era (or is that ‘error’?) and instead opted for tasteful classical music.
Sagan had a very broad understanding of our universe and had a knack for presenting it in an extremely digestible way. With that understanding came an enthusiasm that remains contagious even after his death.
If you come across this series in your video store or for sale in a shop I’d encourage you to do yourself a favour and pick it up. And if you know me (this includes Dale, Ken, Frank and Jack), give me a yell if you want to borrow it and I’ll get it to you.