At a time when scientific temperament and interest in science have eroded so much across America it is just as well that Dr. Carl Sagan’s iconic television series ‘Cosmos’ is coming back in a new avatar.
‘Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey’ makes its debut tonight on Fox and elsewhere. It is being hosted by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, regarded as the perfect successor to Dr. Sagan. In the intervening three decades or so since the original ‘Cosmos’, science and technology have undergone an extraordinary transformation in the way they are pursued. I am not sure if I would say the same about human understanding of the cosmos because we still seem to stumbling along trying to make sense of something as incomprehensibly vast and as disconcertingly pointless as the universe.
If Dr. Sagan, despite the relatively low-end technology of his day, could make his ‘Cosmos’ so eminently watchable and compelling on the basis of his own unique perspective, Dr. Tyson, with such spectacular advance in technology, should be able to make it much grander. The promo above looks promising albeit somewhat predictable in terms of its sweeping score, slow motion “Men in Black’ walks and soaring imageries, narrated with whispering earnestness. Those are all good things for the new generation of television viewers who may find the original somewhat visually antiquated.
There is no dearth of spectacle and scale as well as mystery and magic when it comes to anything about the cosmos. To that extent this is an easy story to tell any time and any number of times. Dr. Tyson’s own effervescent enthusiasm about the universe allows him to make the subject greatly fascinating. We all have a primal curiosity to understand what makes the universe the way it is and hence the way we are.
I have spent my almost entire life trying to get a handle on the universe and am happy to report that I am no closer to achieving that objective than I was over 40 years ago. One is as clueless as ever. There is the illusion of greater knowledge and therefore greater comprehension. In reality, it is nothing but vast cluelessness.
I will, of course, watch the new Cosmos but not with any expectation of greater understanding about the mindfuckness* of it all.
As the new Cosmos begins, the news comes of the discovery of a lost theory of Albert Einstein. Since a lot of Einstein’s work was accomplished before Edwin Hubble’s observational cosmology showed an expanding universe, the great man felt compelled to add a cosmological constant λ or lambda to his equations to support the idea of a static universe which was the wisdom of the day. Without that the universe could collapse on itself. While Einstein came to regard the cosmological constant as the “greatest blunder” of his career, it now seems that in the latter part of his career he did return to the idea. That constant is now seen as a possible explanation for the expanding universe. There are those who think that lambda, in fact, explains the dark energy which prevents the universe from collapsing on itself.
That’s the thing with being a genius. Even your blunders, no matter how great you might consider them to be, have much greater value than the kind of blunders that a miniscule mind like mine might make.
* Mindfuckness is my coinage. I think it is elegant in a crass sort of way.