Ecce COSMOS

Nice day so far. The temperature was definitely warm enough to assay a constitutional at the park and that was followed by a lusty defecation. So I am not well placed to do a blot.

It seems de rigeur these days that I shall have to do a review of the first episode of Tyson’s revisitation of Sagan’s COSMOS. I have to admit to a bit of prompting and even spoiling by reading Chad Orzel’s “Uncertain Principles” blot-review, [Link] particularly the animated vignette on Giardano Bruno.

The vignettes are in keeping with the original series although they have swapped live for cartoon, presumably for money reasons, possibly to appeal to a younger audience. The treatment of Bruno is new and signals visually that Tyson is going to follow in Sagan’s footsteps but with improvements. Nonetheless, the initial cartoon on Bruno was a bit startling.

I rather quickly rationalized this by recalling E. A. Burtt’s  “The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science”, Dover 2003. He states, in the Preface, that

“The prevailing world-view of the period was marked by a deep and persistent assurance that man, with his hopes and ideals, was the all-important, even controlling fact in the universe.”

In other words, man was unique because of being the creation of the diety, and the planet of man was unique and central in the cosmos. And religious organizations, such as the church of Rome, were the self-appointed arbiters of that uniqueness.

And since Bruno came along and said Tellus was one planet among many, and Sol one sun/star among many, and thence that man was one intelligent species among many, the entire philosophical basis of society, and the validity of the church of Rome, was threatened. And so when he would not shut up or recant, they killed him. In the most horrendous fashion possible, by burning.

If ever there was a means of execution that justifies humane concerns it is burning. If ever there was an illustration that Greek society was superior to Italian, it is the difference in execution means between hemlock sipping and either burning (or crucifixion.) This inhumanity was deliberate and illustrates that organizations have neither morals nor ethics nor sentiment and must constantly be disciplined and restrained to their purpose of serving humans rather than the other way about.

More importantly perhaps, the vignette of Bruno demonstrates that in a society where thought and speech are not free and open, then there can be neither humanity nor science. Despite the new “freedom” of protestant religion in addition to the church of Rome, the society of Europe (and much of Tellus) was one where thought and speech were controlled by religionist organizations. Several organizations for a change, but tyrannical and totalitarian none the less. And they all executed people who thought and spoke for themselves.

Beyond that, the episode is a mixed bag. On the good side, Tyson is much less pedantic and directive than Sagan. When COSMOS first came out I gave up on watching it, so repellant was Sagan’s speech and tone. I managscience, television, entertainment, scientisted to watch a lot of it last weekend with only minor nausea and desire to rebel. But I didn’t get to view the new version until yesterday. And it was much more thought provoking and lighter handed than the original. I find it amazing that Sagan, a scientist, came across as an autarch and tyrant while Tyson, a scientist-pitchman, comes across as mentor and philosopher. The student seems to have surpassed the teacher even though the establishment of lineage is clumsy and sob sisterly.

On the bad side, too much of the program time is wasted on credits and commercials. I suppose the former is an indication of how much more insecure our society is today but the latter are just annoying. They made me glad I was watching a recording and could fast forward through the organizational stercus tauri, the modern burning at the stake of the mind. I also found the music to be entirely too star warsish but I suspect that is my nature. I always thought folk was the music genre of science, not the symphony. I suppose that is also one of the perversions of our age.

But the high point of the episode was Tyson saying,

Test ideas by experiment and observation,build on those ideas that pass the test, reject the ones that fail. Follow the evidence wherever it leads and question everything.”

Proper Disrespect for False Authority

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