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Episode 1 "Standing Up in the Milky Way"
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3/6/2014 at 6:52:26 PM GMT
Posts: 142
Episode 1 "Standing Up in the Milky Way"
This topic is devoted to episode 1 of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.

Last edited Sunday, May 11, 2014
3/10/2014 at 2:22:28 AM GMT
Posts: 19
As expected, the first episode was quite a thrilling experience. Tyson is a worthy successor to Sagan. I was somewhat less than thrilled by a few aspects of the episode, though. The amount of time spent on Bruno was way out of proportion, for a man who (as was admitted eventually) was not even a scientist, but a religious mystic. The cartoon approach to his life almost gave the impression of a Jesus-like figure, especially toward the end. The show had other probably unintended religious undertones, at least for me, which I found ironic.

While the visuals were great, I hope that future episodes will focus more on substance, and less on the wow factor. The constant stress on scaling for time and space (humans started in the last few seconds of the last day of the cosmic year, etc) I thought wore a bit thin. Although it wasn't in the script per se, there seemed to be an implication that we are tiny insignificant nothings in the immensity of time and space.

Just a few initial thoughts. I'm curious to see what others felt.

Last edited Sunday, March 9, 2014
3/10/2014 at 3:07:16 AM GMT
Posts: 1
Tonight, my heart soared as I praised the infinite Creator of the Uni/Multiverse whose work was being unfolded before me.

I am not sure the religious undertones of Cosmos are accidental. So far they seem, at least as I recall, less obvious than those that came directly from Sagan. "Science" being the new religion. The preoccupation with Giordano Bruno was for our benefit to help and prepare us to break free of the chains forged by Christian thought. I am not an expert on Bruno, but the charges of heresy read against him on Cosmos do reflect those for which he was burned. They were primarily theological.

There is for us, I think, a real warning here for those of us who handle and teach Scripture. Bruno's later heresies may well have been his disappointed reaction to the church's rejection of his ideas by what he deemed as human authority. We would do well to remember that what we often claim as "biblical" or "revelational" authority is actually based on a system of interpretation or a theological approach that is quite humanly derived. We create new enemies of the faith by using "thus saith the Lord" when what we mean is "this is my/our understanding of what the Scripture says." Truth will not change, but our vantage point is constantly moving.

Looking forward to the thoughts of others.

3/10/2014 at 3:10:49 AM GMT
Posts: 142
The first episode seemed to be a triumph of digital graphics technology with the spaceship of imagination hurtling into every planet and galaxy. It was a sharp contrast to the capability that existed for the first Cosmos series.

The science presented in the first episode was fairly basic and probably familiar to most people with an interest in science. Th well-worn device of the cosmic calendar contributed little new news, though it may be the best one can do to convey the inconceivable vastness of time. The only scientific issue that made me raise my eyebrows was his description of the formation of the moon. Perhaps I missed it, but I had the impression he was presenting essentially the accretion model which I thought was shown by the Apollo missions to be wrong, replaced by the currently-favored impact model.

Issues of science and faith emerged fairly often, though not necessarily explicitly. The episode opened with a repeat of Carl Sagan's famous lines "the Cosmos is all there is or was or ever will be." The selection of Bruno as the example of the reception given by the church to heliocentrism and the inordinate amount of time devoted to him, not to mention the cartoonish representation of him, seemed designed to set the stage at the very beginning of a contrast between science and faith. In his three-part interview with Bill Moyers in January, Tyson was much more explicit about his views that science and religion cannot be reconciled. We'll see how that plays out in the series.

As usual in a series like this, the insignificance of humans in the vastness of space and time are on grand display as well as the key role played by chance occurrences. The latter was specifically noted in this episode through the contingency of the asteroids coming in close proximity to each other. Indeed, these are issues that are a challenge for the integration of science and faith. Certainly not impossible to deal with but we do have to broaden our minds to a larger universe than we can easily imagine. And we must grant that God's continual action is in randomness as much as in the determinative laws.

A couple of quotes were notable. In one case, he attributed to Bruno the comment "your God is too small." Sorry, Mr. Phillips. And at the end, the assertion claiming this is "The Greatest Story Ever Told by Science" must surely have been a double entendre.

3/10/2014 at 5:15:34 AM GMT
Posts: 53
It looks like a great series is upon us.

I think, however, it was unwise of them to attempt to make such a martyr of Bruno. I see it as a slip of the imagination. Though little is known of the details of the trial of Bruno, nevertheless there seems to be evidence that Bruno denied a number of key tenets of Catholocism including the Trinity, divinity of Christ, virginity of Mary, and transubstantiation. He was also an advocate of Hermiticism. He was an impenitent heretic in the minds of the clergy of that time. There is, nevertheless, some evidence that his many worlds view did make the list of accusations against him. [Why does Copenhagen suddenly come to mind? ;)]

It wasn’t until 16 years after Bruno was put to death that the book of Copernicus became banned (73 years after publication), so I don’t see cosmology being that important a factor in his sentencing. The Protestant world of Luther and Calvin were hardly bothered with it either. Quoting Luther's comment against Copernicus is overplayed since Luther may have only made this comment once and, reportedly, at a dinner table conversation.

Otherwise, I enjoyed the rest including the animation. They covered a lot of physical territory and did it rather seamlessly. This first episode seems to be a general overview of where we are headed. The Ship of the Imagination and its pilot is just getting warmed-up. I hope the anti-church shots are behind us.

Last edited Monday, March 10, 2014
3/11/2014 at 1:33:42 AM GMT
Posts: 41

Loved your intro, Sy.  Great comments, all!

Yeah, the first episode of the new Cosmos started off with a bang – the Big Bang, of course.  Never-mind the inaccuracy, like the moon accretion Randy mentioned above, with simulating the Big Bang as an explosion. I’m no physicist or cosmologist, but I keep reading that it wasn’t like an explosion (despite the heat) but an inflation.

Will it increase science credibility with evangelicals?

I am concerned that Cosmos will be preaching to the choir and that evangelicals will not be drawn to it to begin with.  A PhD biochemist ID theory proponent at church Sunday didn’t even know about it.   Even when they stick to the data without making metaphysical leaps to atheistic conclusion, I expect Cosmos will still be perceived as promoting an atheist agenda by most Christians who happen upon it.

Science isn't going to win any points by vilifying the church in the first episode on what I overheard our own Tom Burnett say were some dubious historical grounds.

Neither will science win points with the inaccuracies noted above.  Nor will science win points by mixing photos of space and simulations without labeling which are real and which are mere simulations (even when based on sound data).  If the viewer can’t tell which is which, it seems less real.  Hopefully, they will tease-out the realities revealed in Hubble and other photos in future episodes.

Whose God is too small?

On the plus side, I think one of the main points they appeared to be making with the Bruno story, that “your God is too small” [because the church is so locked-in on trying to protect their traditional interpretation], is a valid point.  That point turns on its ear the “your God is too small” phrase the way it is typically heard from young earth creationists (YEC) when then accuse evolutionary creationists of the same.  But, surely, if God indeed created the “natural” world to purposefully evolve high intelligence and advanced civilization as well as all the beauty, variety, functionality and complexity we seen in nature and do this automatically and inevitably EVEN in a universe where significant random events occur, then, OMG, what an invention!!!  It’s not the Christian evolutionist who’s God who is small.

Chance and the criticality, or not, of the K/T event

They emphasized the chanciness of our universe and took the position that we probably wouldn’t be here if the K/T impact event 65 million years ago hadn’t killed off all the dinosaurs. That may be consensus but it isn’t the only modern science view on this.  Richard Dawkins, no less, as well as other evolutionary biologists including Simon Conway Morris and Kenneth Miller, as well as astronomer, Carl Sagan, hold that high intelligence and an advanced civilization are INEVITABLE.  See my general Cosmos post.

Simon Conway Morris argues against the criticality of the K/T event at least on p. 96 of his book, “Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe”.   Small mammals existed at the time of the K/T event. Relatively present-day ice ages would have favored the mammals.  There is also the general evidence of convergence and a high-intelligence niche to fill.   Elsewhere he argues that warm-bloodedness is arguably needed for large brains.  Thus, the intelligent niche would not have likely filled with reptiles.  The K/T impact may have merely accelerated the process.

How do they know that?

I would have liked to have seen them explain more of they, “How do they know that?”, questions that arise in the minds of non-scientists, especially, like, “How do they know that the stars are light years away?”, as one of my kids asked.  Of course you can Google the answer in a couple seconds these days.  But, explaining simple things like that as they go along would go a long way in making the science accessible to non-scientists.

Signs of an agenda?

Then there was the not-too-subtle ending to make the point that atheists can be good people too, or you don’t need religion to be a good person – the narrator saw the kind of man he wanted to become in Carl Sagan.  Fair enough, I think.  I have a couple of atheists working for me who have been great employees.  Yet, I’m convinced no-one is good except God alone…and those to whom His goodness is imparted by common grace (of which all can be recipients) and saving grace (available to all though faith).

But, can't wait for the next one...

That being said, and all knit-picking aside, I really look forward to the next one.

3/11/2014 at 6:12:42 PM GMT
Posts: 1

The first episode was pretty close to what many of us expected.   There were better parts of the original Cosmos that they could have repeated than the purely metaphysical initial quote "The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be."  

The main theme was placing us at our cosmic address and our time in cosmic history.    Cosmology is on a much more solid empirical footing now than it was in the late 1970s.  At that time, big bang cosmology had just emerged as the dominant picture a little over a decade ago.  Now with confirmation from the cosmic microwave background imaging results (COBE and WMAP) and a host of new measurements of the early universe by ground and space telescopes, it is a story that everyone should know.    But Sagan had it mostly right 35 years ago, so it is maybe less impressive to hear it again.

As Randy notes, it was computer graphics that were most on display.  The huge progress in computer graphics made the spaceship of the imagination much more effective that the original version.   I particularly like the idea even though the original implementation was a bit crude.  Many people misunderstand the central role that imagination plays in science.  The ability to imagine what the universe might be like is an essential first step to comparing what we observe with what we expect.   The ability to visualize how things work in one’s imagination is a great joy that comes from understanding science.

It would be interesting to understand why they made so much of the 'Bruno as martyr' animation.  I guess they liked the expansive vision of space and time and a repetition of the simplistic story of science rising above resistance from religious superstition.    It is really a story about how humans tend to persecute those who persist in holding unapproved viewpoints…lamentable, but maybe not at the center of the story of our place in the universe.

I liked the personal story at the end of the meeting with Carl Sagan that inspired Neil deGrasse Tyson.   Testimonials are effective communication and personal investment inspires the next generation.    But it also highlights a primary objection many of us had to the original series…that it presents science as a personal and spiritual quest for identity and meaning that is competing for the loyalty of people with the chief competitor being implied to be traditional religious ideas and communities.

I will be very interested to see what they do with the limits we face in understanding and predicting the behavior of complex systems. 

3/11/2014 at 7:07:40 PM GMT
Posts: 1
Reflections on Tyson’s Cosmos, episode 1

Seeing the opening episode of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s new Cosmos brought back many memories of the opening episode of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. The setting was a spaceship for exploring the cosmos, with Carl at the controls. The intention was to have an animation that could zoom in on planets, fly around them, steer through the Milky Way, and on to distant galaxies. Today this is everyday stuff (as witnessed by the new Cosmos), but in 1980 that was cutting-edge technology. The investment approached a million dollars for a subcontractor who did not, in the end, produce, and as deadlines approached, it was necessary to have a different transition from one scene to another. Substituted were all-too-schmaltzy close-ups of Carl at the controls. Carl was fully aware that the scene breaks make him look goofy, and he tried (without complete success) to have the sequence revised.

Carl had insisted on having final authority over the spoken script, which had brought about a clash with his executive producer, Adrian Malone, who had produced several blockbuster series including Jacob Bronowski’s Ascent of Man and who was accustomed to pushing people around. By the time they had come back to the opening sequence, Sagan and Malone were no longer on speaking terms, and they communicated only through intermediaries. “You may have control over the text,” Malone reportedly said, “but I have control over the images.” When I mentioned this to one of the producers, Geoff Haines Stiles, he replied, “But you should have seen it before we cut it!”

Carl’s dramatic lines that opened his Cosmos were repeated in Cosmos II: “The universe is all there is, or was, or ever will be.” When I told Haines Stiles that many people took that as a statement of atheism, he responded with surprise. “Really?” he said. “We just put that in because it sounded poetic!”

Over the years I used several episodes of Cosmos I in my Natural Sciences course at Harvard. Students reported feeling an anti-religious spin to the way Sagan told his story. This aspect of Sagan’s Cosmos was a principal reason that Bob Herrmann, the then-executive director of the American Scientific Affiliation, envisioned a TV series that would address scientific issues in an accurate and more sympathetic way than Carl had done. We started out with considerable naiveté, supposing that if we could get loans to make a blockbuster series, TV channels would pay to show it. Quite the reverse! We would have to pay the television stations to show it, and pay even more for the publicity to bring an audience. In any event, we worked long and hard with Haines Stiles in planning a six-part series, generating many wonderful visual ideas that, for lack of funding, never came to be.

Neil Tyson, following in Carl’s footsteps, zooms out beyond the solar system in a much better staged and more abstract spacecraft. Like Carl, he includes a sequence on Giordano Bruno, “martyr for science.” If memory serves, Neil’s is longer, better researched, and more graphically memorable since it is done with animations. The details are true, but the thrust is false. It is as if Bruno were a young Carl Sagan, foresightedly declaring an inhabited universe on distant planets around sun-like stars, but for such heresy Bruno was condemned to incineration. The problem is that while such a futuristic vision irritated the churchmen, it would hardly have been enough to have him burned at the stake. Bruno was full of theologically offensive ideas, including the notion that he was a better magician than Jesus and could do greater tricks, that Moses had contrived his laws by magical arts, that the Trinity was an impossibility, that the cross was stolen from the ancients and it was only a pretension that it had been used to crucify Jesus, that the world was eternal and hence not created by God, and so on. These, not multiple inhabited worlds, were the unrepentant Bruno’s downfall.

We can all lament Bruno’s cruel treatment, a tragedy for him and ultimately for the Church as well. But it’s not at all clear what his serious heresies have to do with our place in the universe, and therefore why so much time needed to be given to Bruno. It was certainly a distortion of the historical record and seems to be part of a deliberate anti-Christian story line. Perhaps they thought that they had given “balanced treatment” since they gave Copernicus, a churchman, a couple of sentences in the lead-in. But Tyson’s statement that Copernicus was a priest is, in fact, incorrect. Copernicus was a canon of the Frombork Cathedral, that is, he was essentially a member of the board of directors having taken minor orders, but he was never a priest. That idea was invented by Galileo as part of his own defense of heliocentric ideas.

Neil deGrasse Tyson is an articulate spokesman for astronomy, and his Cosmos has many attractive visuals. A particularly moving scene came near the end of episode one where he showed Carl Sagan’s appointment book at the place where Carl had invited Neil, a young high school student, to spend a day seeing the astronomy facilities at Cornell. It connected the two Cosmos series together in a beautiful way. But the take-home message seems to be the same: we are mere specks in time and space on this pale blue dot, and not that the human brain, in the only known creature that can contemplate the sky with awe and wonder, is the most complicated thing we know about in the entire universe. Nevertheless, I still consider both Carl and Neil to be among my friends.

Owen Gingerich
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

3/12/2014 at 3:01:26 AM GMT
Posts: 6
Episode 1
I have little to add to other's insightful comments, other than thank you Owen for your insights on the first series and the fallout. A personal note: strangely, I don't think I ever watched the original series and I honestly have NO idea why I never watched it. Being in about 8th grade at the time, you would think it would be something I would have wanted to check out. (I do know we didn't watch much TV in my family.)  I thoroughly enjoyed the top-shelf special effects in the episode. Nobody can deny the vastness of the universe, and the humbling recent arrival of us thoughtful humans on the scene. But what are we to make of this fact?  The knowledge of this makes me think it unlikely that we humans are the only thing God cares about. Surely God revels and takes glory in the entire universe.    Another thought... What about the multiverse idea is so compelling to physicists?     Other thoughts: Contingency plays a huge role in what actually happened for sure, but it seems likely that given the processes of natural phenomenon that exist that a kind of intelligent life is inevitable given time: It is amazing how much happens in the last days of the cosmic calendar. Is it so hard to hard to imagine complex multicellular life emerging in a different "replaying" of the tape?  God caring about us really is mind-blowing in light of this stuff.  Oh, a final thought, who would want to be a part of the church depicted in the cartoon?  Good grief!

3/16/2014 at 1:51:10 AM GMT
Posts: 1

I am very much looking forward to the rest of the series and am so thankful to be one of many who believe that science and God are not mutually exclusive.

I was too young to watch the original Cosmos, but I remember watching something similar to this on the Discovery Channel when I was about 13 years old. I also clearly remember walking away from it thinking that Christians are narrow-minded fools and there's no place for God in the universe. The first episode of the new series alluded to this notion many times, particularly with how Bruno's story was portrayed. One thing that stood out to me in the narration of Bruno's story was that Bruno "was not wise" when he returned to Rome. I can see a lot of people agreeing with that statement and eventually coming to a similar conclusion about Jesus' return to Jerusalem. However, instead of being a downfall, I see it as an opportunity for us to start a dialogue about what true wisdom is, the difference between religion and faith, and the wonder of our omnipotent and gracious God.