Cosmos: A Personal Voyage

The cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be. Our contemplations of the cosmos stir us. There’s a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice — a faint sensation, as if a distant memory — of falling from a great height. We know we are approaching the grandest of mysteries. Carl Sagan

A year or two ago I took notice of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, where I learned that it was a remake of a television series from the 80’s, where Carl Sagan hosted Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. Since then, I’ve learned a bit more about the series, and Sagan’s wonderful legacy.

I’ve watched a few episodes of the Cosmos remake on Netflix (it released in 2014), but then I decided — after watching a few clips on YouTube — that I wanted to own the DVD version of the original Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, since there’s no way to buy the series digitally as far as I can tell. So, I purchased the DVD set via the internet, got it delivered, and started watching.

If you have a little bit of time, please take a while to listen to these two segments. I wrote down the transcript of the first one:

Our own planet is only a tiny part of the vast cosmic tapestry: a starry fabric of worlds yet untold. Those worlds in space are as countless as all the grains of sand on all the beaches of the earth. Each of those worlds is as real as ours. In every one of them, there’s a succession of incidents, events, occurrences, which influence its future. Countless worlds, numberless moments – an immensity of space and time. And our small planet, at this moment, here we face a critical branch point in history: what we do with our world, right now, will propagate down to the centuries and powerfully affect the destiny of our descendants. It is well within our power to destroy our civilization, and perhaps our species as well. If we capitulate to superstition, or greed, or stupidity, we can plunge our world into a darkness deeper than the time between the collapse of classical civilization and the Italian renaissance. But we’re also capable of using our compassion and our intelligence, our technology and our wealth to make an abundant and meaningful life for every inhabitant of this planet – to enhance enormously our understanding of the universe, and to carry us to the stars.

Carl Sagan’s message to the world feels very on-point and very much contemporary, even though this series is approaching its 40th birthday. Especially that last part, where he talks about how technology can help us build a more meaningful world, seems like something to keep in mind when you’re building software, whether big or small.

I also decided to grab the audio book of The Pale Blue Dot, also written and narrated by Carl Sagan. I’m listening to it right now. At the very start of the book, there, perhaps my favorite quote of him can be heard. As I reflect on day-to-day matters and the larger things in life, I try to keep one particular phrase of that segment in mind. It’s one that I keep in mind whenever I end up in a situation where I could be annoyed at other people. Sagan, reflecting on the absolute minuscule nature of the earth, said this:

There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.

So, be kind to one another — and take care of the earth. After all, Elon Musk hasn’t gotten us a colony on Mars (yet). I’m thrilled to see us looking at the stars: I think there’s something profoundly beautiful about the cosmos, and our longing for discovery. I look forward to seeing what else we might discover out there, in space.