Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Cosmos: Revisited 40 years later

The title is well explained by Carl Sagan,  "The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be."  He further points out genetic connection between trees and animals.  In effect this subject is the most all encompassing blog I have ever attempted.

 Originally released to PBS in 1980,I can remember viewing it in parts with Dan Lovranski, a second cousin to my wife.   This version had updates and another more recent version with Neil DeGrasse Tyson is further updated.  A copy of the book has been on my shelf for a few decades and proved useful.

Science can be difficult to explain to non scientists.  They used animated segments, art work dramatized video reenactments.  Locations visited, included Siberia, Alexandria,Egypt; Calcutta, India; a Navajo reservation, Angkor Wat, Rome, Paris and Tokyo.  Carl Sagan is a good showman and very articulate presenting his case,

 Carl Sagan, not only was a legitimate scientist but has been a popularizer of science which some resented.  He inspired many and was thought provoking   Carl Sagan suffered a lot of criticism for his popularizing efforts, but also was able to penetrate the public's disregard for science.  For some he opened the door to a more detailed study of science and how science impacts public issues.  There is room for detailed studies, but honestly they don't have the impact with the public if they cannot be explained.  It is a similar skill to putting an 800 page book into a two hour movie--something gets left out and something is subject to distortion.

Carl was an advisor to NASA and helped develop some of the ideas.  Robotic mobile equipment and determining difficult landing choices.  He helped develop message to aliens on a disc to include different languages, music and mathematics symbols.  He failed to make contact with aliens.  The odds indicate there must be other developed life forms.  One speculation was that perhaps as other societies reach the technical capabilities to communicate they self-destruct, which hopefully makes us take a closer look at our own projection.  He advocated for more robotic missions rather than manned flights.

The concepts of infinity and eternity are incomprehensible.  He gives examples of large numbers and pointed no matter how large number one can devise you can always add one to make an even bigger number.   Sagan points out the Hindu religion is the only religion that deals with the infinite universe.  In addition to long time scales they have the concept of destruction and rebirth.  

He suggests perhaps the spark of life may have come from meteors. Likely life was one cellular for millions of years, but gradually we evolved towards the variety we see today.  Sagan points out that all life is connected including trees and humans.  Plants need carbon dioxide while animals need oxygen.  Plants convert energy from the sun that provide animals with energy and building blocks.  The brain evolved and Sagan points out we all have a connection to a reptile brain.  He speculates may that aliens might have  more developed neuron system that allows them to think much faster. 

Knowledge  is accumulated gradually.  One of the early breakthroughs was from Erastothenes, a scientist in Alexandria was able to calculate the circumference of the world by the shadows of a stick in two different parts of Egypt.  He posted that the world was about 40,000 kilometres around and that was amazingly close considering the primitive tools available.  

Science is built on small understandings.  Isaac Newton made a big breakthrough regarding gravity, but admitted that  "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."  Sagan recounts many small steps with such as Euclid, Hypatia, Johannes Kepler, Leonardo Da Vinci, Albert Einstein and many others.

The Russians were first to land a rocket on another planet, Venus.    We learned about the surface beneath an impenetrable cloud like atmosphere that was essentially lifeless.  Sagan was one of the ones that realized there was a greenhouse effect and further considered such a prospect could be in earth's future.

Mankind is vain, including many leaders and would be leaders.  Too many of us take for granted our good life and assume the best is yet to come.  As "Cosmos" points out life is fragile. It has taken billions of years for life to evolve to its current point with humans on top of the ladder.  Knowledge has gradually built up and  we truly do understand much more than our ancestors, but it has gone through many dark periods where we have lost many thoughts and calculations.   Best to remember that species have died, civilizations have disappeared, even stars die.  Climate change and a nuclear winter are real risks. Last episode was about the big risk--did other civilizations self destruct--nuclear war--lost knowledge

Communication with foreigners has always been a challenge, but more so with aliens.  Sagan suggests we look at animals, especially whales who have shown ability to "speak" over thousands of kilometers. Cuneiform writing on rocks was an early precursor led more sophisticated form and with the invention of paper, ink, and printing on wooden blocks in China.  Moveable printing in Europe allowed the more rapid spread of information.  Now of course ideas spread electronically.  Writing allows us to communicate across ages and over great distances where before we relied on word of mouth.

 Misinformation and misunderstandings are common.   Wild speculations (including his own) can capture the public's fancy, but real breakthroughs generally come through tedious calculations.

In short, Carl Sagan opened up our awareness to the Cosmos.   We are really very small, but part of a glorious entity.  Will we learn how to get along?  Will we use the accumulated wisdom of the year for a happy future? 

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