Eduardo Carli de Moraes
“L’infinie variété des formes sous lesquelles la matière nous apparaît, elle ne les emprunte pas à un autre être, elle ne les reçoit pas du dehors, mais elle les tire d’elle-même, elle les fait sortir de son propre sein. La matière est en realité toute la nature et la mère des vivants.” — GIORDANO BRUNO (1548-1600), quoted in Histoire du Materialisme, by F.A. Lange, pg. 213.
Back on the air, all dressed-up with fancy hi-tech special effects, and with Neil deGrasse Tyson as the spaceship’s pilot, the Cosmos TV-trip has descended once more among us.
Back in the late 70s and early 80s, Carl Sagan’s original series – Cosmos: A Personal Voyage – offered quite a mind-boggling journey through the universe in 13 episodes that did an excellent job in taking science to the masses and instigating mystical awe about such a grandiose spectacle as Nature-As-A-Whole. It remains to be seen if the new Cosmos will live up to Sagan’s, but the first episode of the brand-new Fox-produced Space-Time Odyssey has made in myself a good impression. It’s quite a ride.
The least that can be said is that Tyson doesn’t shy away from confrontation with worldviews that are hostile to the scientific endeavour. To depict Giordano Bruno’s murder by the hands of the Holy Inquisition is certainly quite a controversial point of departure. But it proves that Cosmos starts this new phase with no fear of revealing those episodes in the history of Science in which religious zealots serves as obstacles in the way of those who quest for the truth. Bruno engulfed by the pious flames tells us a quite realistic picture of what Science went through in very Un-enlightned times, where religious leaders – and the masses manipulated by them – would rather reduce a scientist to silence by burning them alive at the stake, for public edification, than let truth out of its cave and into the open air…
To denounce the horrors commited by the clergy in an epoch where their authorities were backed-up by a teocratic State is still a relevant action in our own times, methinks – and let’s hope Cosmos can spread a wave of benign scepticism in the United States, where the hysteria against the right to interrupt pregnancy or the research with stem cells is surround by fundamentalism, dogmatism, fanaticism. Its quite shocking that a country that considers itself developed and advanced there are so many millions of people that still cling to the idea that the Bible’s Genesis is literally true and thus the world is only 6.000 years old and mankind was born-out ready-made from the hands of Jehovah with no need for a single minute of protoplasmical evolution…
The new Cosmos is apt to thrown some more wood into the flame of a discussion that stills opposes bitterly antagonistic world-views: Creationism and Evolutionism will once again clash. And there’s little doubt in my mind about which side of the fence Cosmos will barricade itself in, together with its armies of empirical facts and astronomical observations (exposed with cinematic techniques that’ll take our breaths away…).
The curious thing to witness, as a sociological phenomenon, is how in the 21st century there are still legions of humans who refuse to open their minds to an explanation of the world that doesn’t rely on talking serpents, forbidden fruits, and wrathfuls god. To suggest that Christian cosmology has been proved false by centuries of scientific discoveries, made by generations of colaborating thinkers, is still felt by many as an offense. Some believers will surely refuse to see Cosmos, or will see it and then bully it, or will cry out for censorship against such an heretic TV-show…
It’s no use: the Cosmos powertrip will roll on, and let’s hope it has the courage to inform a wider audience about how Science works, and the discoveries it has made, without sacrificing truth in the altar of superstition or prejudice. Carl Sagan himself had quite a powerful voice in favour of secularization of thought and freedom of expression, and Tyson, it seems to be, truly gets the mood and the attitude that made Sagan’s ouevre so compelling. Science is not easy – it often gets attacked by those who believe they are already in possession of absolute and divine truth, and thus feel they have the right to send the infidels and heretics straight to hell. Baptised with fire right here and right now for daring to explain the world in such a way that contradicts what priests and popes preach.
After millenia believing the Earth was the center of the Universe, and the Sun and all other stars flew around us, this narcisistic delusion crumbled apart, especially after Copernicus, Bruno, Galileo and Kepler, among others. I’ll not venture here to remember this saga – you might consult Arthur Koestler’s The Sleepwalkers for an excellent survey on mankind’s changing cosmologies throughout history. The thing is: Cosmos has got its audience reflecting once again upon what Sigmund Freud described as the first “wound” to our narcisism (that was to be followed by other blows by Darwin and by Psychoanalysis). Since Science has shown the Earth as a speck of dust in the infinite ocean of matter, and the star we call Sun was revealed to be just one inflamed star among billions of others stars (with trillions of orbiting worlds), biblical delusions of grandeur tend to get démodé.
What’s intriguing and exciting about Science is its crooked ways, its winding path – it doesn’t follow a straight line, and it doesn’t necessarily evolve. The Middle Ages prevailing cosmology – in tune with theocracy and a powerful clergy – was a thousand-year denial of our true position in the cosmos. When we look back to the past, we discover that since ancient times there were astronomers and physicists who already suspected that theocratic-geocentrism was a delusion of egotistical creatures who were blinded by their self-interested perspectives.
But the long-term survival of Ptolomaic cosmology shows us how stubborn an illusion can be – especially when it satisfies the inner Narcissus we all carry around with us within our breasts. Sometimes a delusional cosmology sticks with mankind for centuries, transmited for generations, until finally truth breaks through and a leap of consciousness is achieved. By crooked ways, mankind leaps forward into a more authentic awareness of cosmic reality, shedding its religious skin for another cosmology that does more justice to the Universe’s complexity.
In Alejandro Amenábar’s excellent epic Agora, for example, we get acquainted with Hypathia (embodied by Rachel Weisz in one of her greatest performances as actress). The film portrays her life (estimated between 350 and 415 AD) as a philosophy teacher and astronomical researcher in Alexandria at times where religious war was raging. Christians against Pagans, and later Jews against Christian, killed each other savagely and burnt each other’s cultures in bloody rivalry, while Hypatia devoted her mind to deciphering the mystery of stary skies and planetary motions.
Inspired by the ideas of the Greek astronomer and mathematician Aristarchus of Samos (310 – 230 B.C.), this Egyptian woman end-up concluding, a thousand years before Copernicus, that the Sun was at the center of our planetary system and the Earth was but one planet locked in an elliptical orbit around it. But Hypatia lived in troubled times and soon her work in Alexandria would be deranged by the outbreak of war all around her. Centuries of philosophical, astronomical and scientifical endeavours were reduced to ashes and dust by the flames that the Christians set to Alexandria’s Lybrary, where fragile treasures of the ancient world were kept alive.
Hopefully, the Cosmos come-back will be a mind-opening, consciousness-expanding, awe-inspiring trip. The time has come for us to do justice to figures of our past – such as Hypathia or Giordano Bruno, among many others – who ended-up persecuted or murdered for their discoveries and their teachings. We no longer live in times where witch-hunts and genocide of infidels are day-to-day occurences, and let’s hope that Cosmos new encarnation can help us out on our journey to a world with less dogmas and zealotry, and much more awe and dialogue.
Every single atom in our bodies was cooked in the burning belly of a star: we’re all made of star stuff, drifting in orbit around one of billions of suns, a planet bursting with life and newness and locked in a gravitational embrace while we journey through space-and-time at frantic speeds. Amidst this spectacle that defies expression in words, consciousness arises and emerges as a feature of life in this spec of dust, and the whys and hows of consciousness and its way through the evolution of lide are still our task to understand. For Sagan, we are the cosmos finally awaking to itself, witnessing itself, mirroring in on itself – conscious matter awakened to the cosmic soup that whirlwinds its way towards eternity with no beggining nor end.
Well, I confess that I can’t find anything in the Bible as awesome as that.
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You might also like:
Neil deGrasse Tyson interviewed by Bill Moyers
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GIORDANO BRUNO (1973) – FULL MOVIE – Subtitled
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Carl Sagan’s Cosmos (13 episodes) – DOWNLOAD (8 GB / TORRENT)