My Faves: Carl Sagan’s Cosmos

Where we talk about stuff we love…

Programmer Brendan Anthony talks one of his favorite documentaries, Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: A Personal Voyage.

How did we come to be? What is our home, the Universe, like outside of Earth? What is in store for humanity’s future? Huge questions like these have been at the heart of scientific, religious and philosophical conversations since the dawn of human thought. Even though it’s all too easy to lose track of in our near sighted and distraction oriented culture, taking a step back to appreciate the big picture can be not only educational but can help ground our lives and put our petty squabbles and concerns in perspective.

Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: A Personal Voyage is an attempt to communicate the magnificence and importance of our world to the average viewer. In the 13 part PBS series and the book of the same name, Sagan teaches us about the history and scale of the Universe, the planets of our solar system, the stars in the night sky, as well as the very workings of space and time. It is not just a tour of Astronomy or Physics; since the Universe, like The Force, is both around us and within us, Sagan also spends time helping us appreciate the miracles of life, evolution, and intelligence.

What separates Cosmos from documentaries with similar themes is his focus on humanity. Descriptions of abstract topics such as the motion of the planets are told through stories of the human beings whose hard work made such knowledge possible. A overview of the history of life is accompanied by a reminder of the tragedy it would be if we in our hubris were to jeapordize that billion year old legacy. And when the extreme scale of the Universe is made clear, it serves to remind of us how precious our own tiny “pale blue dot” really is. Science is often thought of as cold, dispassionate. Cosmos shows us how objective science gives life to and feeds from a view of the world that is not only passionate, but also moral and grand.

Sagan thought of scientific inquiry as “informed worship”; after spending some time in his worldview, I’ve found it hard to resist his almost religious enthusiasm for the cosmos, in all it’s forms.


Carl Sagan and Bill Waterson: kindred spirits.
-Brendan Anthony

Reader Comments

  1. Thank you for the nice words to a real hero in my life. I anxiously watched all of the Cosmos episodes as they were released and even did a book report on it in Jr High School. For years I was hoping to see it again and was given the DVD copies last year. Unfortunately, the set was flawed as I ended up with TWO discs with episodes 8-9 and none with eps 6-7. The gift giver had thrown out the reciepts so I have been stuck with it.

    Anyway… Sagan was seriously made fun of back then (SNL, et al)but his quiet demeanor and articulate way of speaking is what endeared him to me. He had a way of explaining very complex ideas with incredibly simple language. That’s why I, as a 12-13 yr old, could really digest what he had to say.

    What I considered a tragedy was that he died about 6 months before they released Contact. Hopefully he got a chance to see some of it put together. I think they did a pretty good job with that movie.

    Anyway… thanks again.