Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson
Comparisons are odious (Oh, how I detest the word odious) but if Dr. Carl Sagan was poetic, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson is somewhat prosaic. Having just finished watching the first episode of ‘Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey’, I was struck by that contrast. While Tyson has many attributes that go into making a successful science popularizer, he lacks that singular quality of intoned wonderment that set Dr. Sagan apart.
I just checked out a random episode of the original Cosmos on YouTube as a comparison and found the one titled ‘The Lives of the Stars’ which begins with Dr. Sagan introducing it from the Cambridge University in England. He is served an apple pie by a very propah English, well, butler. And then he says, “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, at first you must invent the universe.” The way he says that line immediately lures one in simply by saying it the way he does. Of course, as lines go this is a pretty good one.
In contrast, Dr. Tyson, hugely aided by a breathtaking array of special effects that Dr. Sagan could barely imagine, while doing an efficient job as a narrator, comes short in intoning wonderment. My view should be taken with dollops of salt because I am not the intended audience for a series like this since its purpose is to fan the flame among those who may be interested in science without fully realizing it and start a flame in those who may not have it at all. Without sounding boastful, I fall in neither category since science in general and physics/astrophysics/quantum mechanics/universe in particular have been the defining feature of my life.
That said, Dr. Tyson does an attractive enough job of contextualizing our position in the grand scheme of things from Earth right out to Observable Universe; observable because there could well be universes whose information has still not reached us because of the ceiling on the speed at which anything can travel. We are barely getting around to knowing our own solar system.
Directed by Brannon Braga of the Star Trek fame, the new Cosmos is loaded with spectacular CGI that do justice to the scale of the theme. As the grab below shows the whole effect is that of Dr. Tyson on a spaceship exploring the universe.
The return of the iconic series in brilliantly dressed up imageries comes against the backdrop of science coming under increasing strain in America. The purpose of telling the unconverted viewers how truly awesome science is barely hidden and rightly so. Dr. Tyson’s urging to “Follow the evidence wherever it leads and question everything” is essential for the unconverted because science is not about handed down certitudes but relentless empiricism. So watch Dr. Tyson’s ‘Cosmos’ even if it may lack Dr. Sagan’s soaring poetic enunciation.