Saturday, July 2, 2016

The Cosmos by Carl Sagan

Yes, this is the famous book by the world-renowned 
The Cosmos by Carl Sagan book review
astronomer Carl Sagan. A TV series of the same title has also been done. I bought this book as a souvenir when I was in New York's Museum of Natural History back in 2010. I was fortunate to have a training in St. Louis, Missouri. On one of the weekends, I , with two of my very close friends, (we call ourselves the backpackers aka the mean girls) flew to the famous New York City. The book was sold in a souvenir shop right outside the observatory, bought it right after the space show. I thought it was just fitting to buy a book about the stars after that unique experience of watching a show of the heavens. The show was not like any regular show. It was by far the closest I could get to being in heaven. The screen was on the ceiling, the seats were designed so the audience are seating comfortably looking up into the roof. And true enough, it was like we were on a spaceship journeying through the stars and galaxies.

Cosmos is a Greek word for order of the universe, in a way it is the opposite of chaos. The book takes you on a journey through space by going through the steps the human race has taken in order to explore and conquer the universe. It takes you back as far as the earliest people who use the stars as their guide in navigating up to the latest explorations to discover a planet that is capable of sustaining life. 

The book talks of the advances made by humans in understanding the evolution of life here on earth as well as the universe. It's very well-written and I was enraptured up to about half-way of the book. Unfortunately, I have to put it down because there were parts that were too technical and was too much for me to follow. I picked it up again after reading a few light-read books. This book challenged me. It asked me to look beyond myself and into a whole galaxy of possibilities, beings and civilizations we could only wonder. I am thankful for those pioneers in Astronomy like Ptolemy, Nicholas Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, Galileo and Isaac Newton. These people started and opened the on-going curiosity of the universe.  These people made the stars, the moons, planets and the heavens not only heavenly bodies to be wished upon but have become subjects of studies and destinations for the search of other intelligent beings.

This book is a library of knowledge. I don't know why I was not able to read this book right after I bought it. Probably, I thought this was one of those nerdy books that drains your brain after reading a chapter. It's a shame. I realized I have not read this when my sister told me she'd been wanting to read this book . My bad really. Six years! Such wasted time not knowing what I know now. Anyway, I have finally rectified the deed. I have been much enlightened. The book chronicles the evolution of space exploration and I came to appreciate the contributions of the people who have put their heart and soul into learning more of the universe. 

I believe, everyone should be required to read this book. It teaches of humility and a perspective that not one person is the center of the universe. That we are just a minute speck in the whole of creation and we have no right to act like we are above anyone else. I can think of specific people who need to read this. I think a paradigm-shift would be good for them. I think, the world would be a better place if we are less self-absorbed.

Carl Sagan is such a gifted writer as much as he is an award-winning astronomer. I am in awe of how he has connected the dots from the evolution of man to space travel to the creation of nuclear bomb. One of the most memorable insights he mentioned in the book is about the R-complex, the part of the brain responsible for murderous rage. The part of the brain that evolved from our reptilian ancestors. This he cited as probably the cause for our wanting to create nuclear weapons as a defense for a world war. The part of us that will most likely cause us to self-destruct. And hopefully, not the one that will direct us to extinction. He said that instead of creating advances and technology in preventing wars, instead we are creating weapons of destruction which we fervently hope we need not use. But we are not to lose hope, the same technology that we use in military missiles is the same technology used in sending space probes and shuttles to explore new galaxies. There is still hope if we keep in this direction. With this explanation about the R-complex of our brains, I now understand a part of who we are as human beings. A being who evolved from the dust of matter, part reptile and mammal, of complex emotions and sometimes irrepressible urges. But we are not just all that, we are sentient beings too and capable of knowing what is right and wrong and we are to evolved into more advancement. The efforts we put in advancing and developing instruments to explore the outer space should also be the same efforts we put into developing our individual selves. Better beings with compassion for one another because we may just be the only beings in this universe. There are no other like us. We are the humans. The only humans.

Dr. Carl Sagan died in 1996. He served as Professor of Astronomy and Space Studies and the Director for Planetary Studies in Cornell University. He played a leading role in the Mariner, Voyager, Viking and Galileo spacecraft expeditions which he received medals from NASA. The Cosmos is an Emmy and Peabody Award-winning book. It has also become the most widely-watched television series in the history of American public television.

The Cosmos series is shown on National Geographic channel on cable TV. I have yet to see it.