Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey Ep 3 (TV Show Review)

I am a bit behind on Cosmos at the moment. I’ve only seen up to episode 3 and tonight the fifth episode will be airing. So I really need to catch up. Plus, Game of Thrones airs tonight as well, and that’s another show that I have to watch in my already severely-crammed week. But the big and major thing is that Cosmos has been brilliant thus far. It has opened my eyes and my imagination, quite a valuable process for a writer. In its first two episodes the show dealt with the scope and birth of the cosmos and then with evolution. All great topics that inform us about where we came from and where we might go.

In episode 3, “When Knowledge Conquered Fear“, host Neil deGrasse Tyson explores the origins and states of the celestial phenomenon we call comets. Not a phenomenon per se, but a celestial body. Insignificant in the grand scheme of things, and yet comets have informed our entire civilisation for millennia and been an object of fear and dread. That is, until the greats of scientific history such as Edmond Halley and Isaac Newton stepped in. Of course, the show deals with more than just that, it also talks about how science triumphed over ignorance and superstition thanks to the tireless work by these two of science’s notables.

Cosmos Logo 0001

Neil starts off the new episode by talking about how, across our many civilisations, comets were seen as heralds of doom, promising calamitous changes across all societies. This is a common superstition and one that was held for thousands of years of recorded history and even before that. When man learned to exercise the ability for pattern recognition and turned it towards the heavens, man noticed the most startling of things, stars arranged in certain orders, comets and more. What couldn’t be reached became the domain of multifarious gods and goddesses. The shapes in the sky came to resemble myths and legends. And out of all this was born astronomy and astrology. And yet, despite the incremental achievements of many scientifically-oriented individuals, the heavens were shrouded in superstition as taught by holy texts across the world. For the Christian masses of Europe, the workings of the heavenly bodies were due to the influence of God as a clock-master, who made them move at his own whims. And knowing the mind of God, well, that kept people in line.

But there were men in those days, as the 1600s began to draw to a close, who were looking for more. Patrons of the Royal Society of London, they were great thinkers and inventors who sought to study anything and everything. Chief among them were Edmond Halley and Isaac Newton. Halley spent months, perhaps even longer, trying to divine the workings of the planets and the sun. He knew and understood that there just had to be some kind of a force that kept the movements of the heavenly bodies orderly, that it obeyed some mathematical formulae that could be understood. But he failed. He failed until he heard about the eccentric Newton at Cambridge and went to see him one day to ask for his help.

The results of that meeting were momentous, for Newton had already divined it all. What he lacked, and what he had no interest in, was in publishing his theories, for he had already suffered once before when a charlatan had stolen his research and his findings and advanced his own cause. And that’s the core of the episode’s story.

Over the entire hour, Neil explores and informs how a reluctant Isaac Newton gave in to Halley’s impassioned entreaties to publish his work, and thus change the course of their future and our history. Can you imagine what a life we would lead if Newton hadn’t listened to Halley? Might we still be as ignorant of the workings of the cosmos as those distant men and women who lived so long ago? Many of the inventions that sprung out of these men’s minds resulted in the greatest achievements of our civilisation, such as space-rockets, and thus, space shuttles. If not for their tireless work, then we might never have put man into space, let alone set foot on the moon.

Our history is defined by the choices made by great men and women, many of them scientists and thinkers of great renown. They made our present possible and it is well that through Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey we explore how that came about. The show is, in my opinion, an unparalleled resource of scientific knowledge. We delve into the mysteries of our planet-bound life and imagine life out there in the stars, free from the grip of the planet that we call home.

You know, when you see that comet streaking by on the distant horizon, you gaze in wonder at its appearance, how there is that big flaming tail at one end. And you wonder even further how it came to be like that, even as you make a wish on the so-called shooting star. Neil deGrasse Tyson provides some of the answers. Even as he talks about those late 16th century scientists who changed the course of history for ever, he also gives the spotlight to a man called Jan Oort, a 20th century Dutch astronomer who has had a great impact on our knowledge of the solar system and beyond. The concept of the Oort Clouds that supposedly surround our solar system, although at such a great astronomical distance that it is practically unimaginable for the layman to grasp, was borne out of this man’s research, who also pioneered radio astronomy.

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I mean, how can you not love a show that pays such great homage to and recognises the contributions of so many of our most influential forward-thinking in history? These are people who are remembered for their contributions to understanding the world around them hundreds of years after the fact. And they should be remembered for several more centuries.

Informing viewers more and more about the world around us, and making us realise our place in the grand scheme of things is one of the show’s objectives, as it seems to be, and I’m enjoying the ride full on. Every week I tune in and I am exposed to something I didn’t know before. I am exposed to concepts and theories that give me great ideas for my own writing, which get me firing on all cylinders and filing the information for later. Imagine a classic science fiction story in the vein of Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke in which we explore the Oort Clouds. Imagine a story where we step outside of the confines of our solar system for the first time, although hopefully without running into the Borg!

The possibilities are endless. They are endless for our imagination to grasp all of them properly and perhaps that’s the point. When you are flying about in space within the Spaceship of the Imagination, you shouldn’t be restricted in your thinking, you should be imagining anything and everything. That’s the true message of this episode in particular.

Just… imagine.

More Cosmos: Ep 1, Ep 2.


Posted on April 6, 2014, in Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Review Central, TV Show Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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