Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Why Cosmos still rules

Cosmos is still the best work of popular astronomy I've ever come across. As I dozed off last night during the NOVA: Origins DVD, I figured out why. It's the stories. More specifically, Carl Sagan weaves history, science, literature, and religion together in a way that proves his point: we are all interconnected. We are part of the cosmos, we are in the universe--our stories, our bodies, our science. He does it without becoming mystical or religious, but he takes the time, for example, to illustrate artificial selection with a live-action recreation of the Tale of the Heiki. Japanese fishermen's reverence for the tale explains why for centuries they have thrown back crabs that look like they have a samurai's face on their carapace. The crabs survived and reproduced, evolving more and more uncannily samurai features.

On the other hand, NOVA, and the earlier Expanding Universe DVD (featuring the ominous, sandpapery narration of John Hurt) only show you "what happened." This blew up, that blew up. They have great CGI recreations of astonomical events, but no analogies. No connections. The universe is just another movie we watch on a screen.

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