Telling the Story of Science and the Universe

From the Great Library of Alexandria, where among other things much of the knowledge of Antiquity, rediscovered only a thousand years later, was concentrated to the Voyager spacecraft, the furthest from our plant that human artifacts have reached, the Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, nearly 35 years after it aired, is still an inspiring masterpiece of Carl Sagan. It tells us a passionate story about the history of science and knowledge, about the origins of life and the Cosmos (the Greek word for order in the Universe), about what makes humanity special and precious as well as utterly small and insignificant in the vastness of time and space. Its 13 episodes, full of both hope and concern for humanity, are surely worth watching, even if one already has an overview of science and the history of science. Sagan is a magnificent storyteller, with a personality and charisma that are certainly unique. Perhaps only Richard Dawkins rivals him in his ability (in writing, but not on screen) to bring scientific topics to the masses, open them up and turn them into inspiration. His uniqueness is also why I am a bit skeptical about Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey, a sort of a  sequel to Sagan’s Cosmos that will air in a couple of weeks and that will be narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson. To be honest I have never read anything from him, but it seems that he has also not written anything that would be comparable to Sagan or Dawkins in terms of popularizing science. And although I appreciate his enthusiasm, his television appearances thus far have seemed a bit ‘artificial’ to me. But I am waiting for it anyway and will certainly give it a try.

The original series is also noteworthy in that it is one of the few instances that something on screen is better than something on paper. The story of the series was written into a book and published in 1980, which unlike the series was quite a boring experience. (Perhaps because I had watched the series already twice before getting to the book.) Something that is told on film just simply has a very difference pace and appeals to different things, has a different nature, than something that is told on paper. And if you transfer the former to the latter (much of the narrative of the series was written word by word into the book), you end up with something that seems empty, slow and not engaging. I started the book, but did not quite finish. Sorry, Carl.