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“Our Place in the Cosmos?: Humanity, Spirituality, and the Awesome Universe,” Saskatoon, SK

Episode 5 "Hiding in the Light"
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4/6/2014 at 11:34:56 AM GMT
Posts: 142
Episode 5 "Hiding in the Light"
This topic is devoted to episode 5 of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

Last edited Sunday, May 11, 2014
4/7/2014 at 1:22:40 PM GMT
Posts: 41
Initial thoughts on Episode 5
My initial reaction is that Episode 5, like the last episode, is more what I expect from a series like Cosmos and, while I enjoyed the graphics, I would have enjoyed more in-depth science to go with those images, much as Randy and the rest commented about the last Episode.  I agree that they should assume more background knowledge in those tuning in to such a series to create a greater learning opportunity.  Perhaps they place a premium on creating a fascination for science in youth and want to avoid the risk of turning youth off with content that is too heady.  But, that could backfire.

For me, the action is still on Episode 2 where I just posted a follow-up to our discussion on randomness.  If interested, better grab a cup of coffee, or two or three...

Last edited Monday, April 7, 2014
4/7/2014 at 6:28:44 PM GMT
Posts: 142
Pin-hole camera
I probably learned more in this episode than in any other so far, but that may say more about my ignorance than anything else. For instance, I didn't really know anything about Mozi or Alhazen and their roles in the first demonstration of the pin-hole camera. And though I knew the name Fraunhofer very well, I knew very little about his life and his background. That was fascinating. Not that this knowledge will change my life very much, but it is still interesting.

Tyson seemed a little more interested in explaining how we know things. Tried to show how the different wavelengths of light traveled at different speeds in glass and therefore was bent at a different angle. OK, but after spending the previous session in telling us how the speed of light was constant for everyone everywhere, he didn't clarify the real story. His attempt at showing "orbitals" and photon emission during energy level transitions was different. I had the impression he simply made elliptical orbits to look "wavy" to indicate these weren't real planetary-like orbits. I didn't care too much for the visual representation of sound waves but it was creative.

I didn't catch much philosophy or metaphysics in this one. Looks like next week will be back to evolution, if I understood the preview correctly.

4/7/2014 at 9:46:42 PM GMT
Posts: 19
I agree with Keith and Randy. This was a much better episode than some of the previous ones, in that there was some good scientific and experimental explanations, and not a word about how bad religion is. I was hoping to see more about light and the ether, leading up to Einstein and relativity, but that will probably come later. I am relieved and hopeful for the rest of the series.

4/8/2014 at 1:11:10 AM GMT
Posts: 53
I too agree with the comments given by all.

The intro gave us another taste of science and how it is an ongoing adventure. I enjoyed the line, “The story of this awakening has many beginnings and no ending”. They did not exploit this important point quite as much as I had hoped they would. Serendipity plays an important and often dramatic role that has yet to be mentioned much. Serendipity is a fun word, too.

Seeing Fraunhofer’s 1 inch aperture theodolite was a treat. I wish, however, they would have used this topic to demonstrate more thoroughly the wonderful steps science encountered along the way that led to the introduction to astrophysics.

After Newton’s advancement of the spectrum, which they covered nicely, William Wollaston (not mentioned) was the first to discover those important dark lines in the spectrum. He had found five lines or bands, and he suggested these were regions separating the colors. Fraunhofer found several hundred dark lines, and he labeled the more prominent ones though it took the laboratory results of people like Kirchoff and Bunsen (not mentioned) to show that these lines represented elements such as sodium. They found a match between their emission (bright) lines with the dark lines found by Fraunhofer, and we now have astrophysics. This allowed Helium (for Helios; Greek for Sun) to be identified as being on the Sun, but not found on Earth (until later). The visuals of the undulating electron in its quantum orbit was helpful in getting us to the birth of astrophysics, but I wonder how many really understood what they were demonstrating?

It was nice to see the Arabic work of Al Hazen. When, however, their animation showed the crescent moon in front of him, I just knew it was how he realized that this light is from the Sun and not something emanating from our eyes. Yet, I guessed wrong. How could the phases of the Moon be explained credibly otherwise? Admittedly, even in Galileo’s day some argued against illumination.

From all the years of math classes, I have to say that Tyson should win the best zero drawing contest. It is so rare to see someone quickly draw a near perfect zero. :-)

I was confused somewhat when they dwelt on the state secrecy of Fraunhofer’s work, then told us that he openly published everything about his spectral discoveries, I think it was. Were the optical techniques the state secret and not the spectral work?

Last edited Monday, April 7, 2014
4/8/2014 at 1:25:37 AM GMT
Posts: 53
There was one other timely point worth mentioning. I am surprised they didn't mention the wonderful lunar eclipse that will take place before the next episode. It could have been a trailer of some kind if they didn't know release dates, perhaps.

It is perfectly timed for those of us in the western hemisphere because we can see 100% of this multi-hour event, as opposed to some years where we see nothing whenever we are "sunny side up". This time the Moon will have an alignment that places all of it within the darkest portion of Earth's shadow - the umbra. About midnight (this coming Monday [not Sunday]), CDT, the Moon enters the penumbra. The real show, however, begins about 1 a.m. (Tuesday) when the Moon first enters the umbra. It becomes fully engulfed in our shadow by 2:10 a.m.  It should appear orangish-red, and darkest on the northern region as it is closest to the umbra's center. If volcanic activity is strong, due to selective scattering, it could appear purple. [I see we just had an eruption from Ecuador.] The Moon stays in the umbra for 1 hour and 12 minutes. At 3:22 am the Moon begins heading out the door (umbra) and is out of the eclipse right at daybreak.

Last edited Wednesday, April 9, 2014
4/8/2014 at 11:54:19 AM GMT
Posts: 41
Thanks for tipping us off to the eclipse, George, and nice summary. I did learn a lot of history from this episode, such as how infrared light was discovered as well as the role the Chinese and Arabs played.

I was struck by the Chinese instituting "legalism", which reminded me of and is not too far removed from the antithesis of grace that still seems to find its way into so many churches and hearts as it did mine in my college years when I thought I had to and could earn God's acceptance by my performance.

4/8/2014 at 3:42:41 PM GMT
Posts: 23
I was encouraged that in this episode the writers did not go out of there way to denigrate Islam but gave it its due for its major part in the development of science. Even if they must take a few shots at Christianity in order to make their mention of Islamic polymaths more palatable, so be it. Any recognition that not all religious cultures prevent careful study is probably a healthy thing to have out there in terms of restoring more historical accuracy to today's popular perceptions.

They put quite modern sounding mantras into the mouths of Mozi or Alhazen ... "Question all authority"... etc. It made me wonder how closely that actually matched anything these ancients actually were known to have said. I know that some of the Greek atomists had sentiments closely matching some modern sentiments, attributing nothing to the gods, for example. But the “question all authority” phrase that is so beloved to certain science enthusiasts today sounds a little suspicious placed into the lips of these ancient geniuses, fathers of science as they may be. I wonder if it would have been more accurate to translate that as: “Question Aristotle” rather than the blanket skepticism towards all authority generally (though to question Aristotle then often seemed akin to the same thing). The appeal to subject all authoritative declarations to the tests of empirical observation is I think a realistic expectation that would have been felt in various fits and starts in various polymaths through history. But I would like to know more before thinking that they targeted all religious thought with their skepticism as well.

Any thoughts on that?

4/10/2014 at 2:58:31 AM GMT
Posts: 53
I too was struck with the "Question all authority" phrase. Are rebels the best scientists? Perhaps sometimes they are, but there is a lot more to it.

I don't want to say much because I'm an active amateur in science only. Allow me to demonstrate this fact....

The lunar eclipse will not be Sunday morning, but will be on Tuesday morning. I have corrected these days in the post above. Ug. Perhaps the next episode of Cosmos will mention it after all.

This eclipse is the first of another of the many tetrads (4 lunar eclipses) that have come since the first century. I think there have been 62 of them. The next three eclipse dates are Oct. 8th / April 4th (2015) / Sep. 28 (2015), but these will be seen near the horizon, especially from the East coast. [Wiki shows April 8th, but it is the 4th, but I'm not criticizing... not now.]

Last edited Wednesday, April 9, 2014
4/10/2014 at 4:43:04 PM GMT
Posts: 23
"Are rebels the best scientists? "

We certainly remember them that way if the authority they are rebelling against turned out to be spectacularly wrong. But they are forgotten --or even ridiculed-- if the stand taken by the authority continues to hold.

So in terms of bringing on new revolutions to scientific thought, somebody had to be a "rebel in the mix". But if everybody in science tried to be a rebel, we would have no mainstream or established thought against which to rebel!

I think it safe to conclude that every self-proclaimed skeptic has, at best, highly selective skepticism --and necessarily so.