"Cosmos: Possible Worlds" Series Talkback (No Spoiler warnings necessary, because c'mon, man, SCIENCE!)

Fone Bone

Matt Zimmer
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Cosmos: Possible Worlds "Ladder To The Stars"

That was totally cheesy. And I loved every inch of it.

The music and visual effects in this franchise continue to astound me. It makes whatever cheesy thing is happening magical instead.

Lot of interesting things to learn here.

My biggest takeaways were learning that as a species of hunter / gatherers, human beings used to be able to get along and live in peace with each other just fine. Even after the agricultural revolution, humans remained so and the first generations of that society were egalitarian. Neil DeGrasse Tyson is smart to point that out because it tells us something that we had been led to believe the opposite about: The violence and darkness we see in the world was not necessarily a part of human nature this entire time. It probably wasn't even necessary had our societies made better choices. People used to live together as equals with no problems, before and after they plowed the land and built homes for themselves. It's the war and the fighting that is unnatural and the learned behavior. It's not an intrinsic facet to our species. I did not know that, and I feel better for knowing that. One of the selling points of this show is that I usually feel better about the world than I did before I saw a given episode because I learn positive things about the world I didn't know. And that's awesome.

The idea of Spinoza's controversial beliefs and writing, and his subsequent shunning turns the show overtly political in describing the fact that this was before the American values of democracy and freedom of ideas were fully established. It's a good way to say that the current intolerance and hatred we are suffering through is similar to what people had to suffer in the Age of Enlightenment. It also suggests we might come out of it okay.

We need to treat bees better. The return to the Hall of Extinction did not make me happy and Tyson did not look happy revisiting it either, particularly since between the show's brief hiatus and now, we have learned a great deal about our place in it in the meantime. The show isn't always entirely good news.

Very cool idea for the relay station to Alpha Centauri. I also learn neat stuff on this show.

They shortened the long theme song a bit. I prefer the longer one.

Whatever the problems Tyson was having in his personal life that caused the show to be postponed, I AM glad it's back. ****1/2.

Cosmos: Possible Worlds "Shadows Of Forgotten Ancestors"

I was not feeling this at all. And I think my problem is best exemplified by Tyson's admiring telling of the story of Ashoka. Here's an opinion: Ashoka sucked. Period. There are plenty of heroes throughout history who performed their good deeds without committing mass torture and genocide and killing their entire families first. I don't find the story of Ashoka about wisdom gained and redemption earned. I find it about justice escaped. There are some things that are simply should NOT be allowed to stand. Ashoka's rule after all of the evil things he did was one of them.

There were a lot of provocative images and notions in the episode including the idea that the kind of "us versus them" mentality leads to demagogues and supremacy. It's basically failed pattern recognition.

However, Tyson said there really wasn't a single thing humans did that you couldn't find in the animal kingdom. I thought of several, and that fact that he didn't mention them means there probably aren't any animals who can do these things. But only humans wear clothing, drive motorized vehicles, harness electricity, mass produce constructed products and inventions, and create fire. And that's just off the top of my head. I'm not saying human are special among Earth species. But a LOT of single Earth species have a talent only they possess, and that doesn't detract from how cool the talent is.

Speaking of which, the biggest laugh of the episode was Tyson's line about male fireflies' "glow-blocking". "Man, that's cold." Frankly, Neil, as far as sinister behavior goes, it's not ever going to top the first part of Ashoka's reign. But point taken, and funny one-liner appreciated. Carl Sagan never really did those.

Still, not my favorite episode. **1/2.

Cosmos: Possible Worlds "Lost City Of Life"

That Cosmic Calendar really makes it easier to keep things straight on this show.

I loved the story of how Goldschmidt constantly outwitted the Nazis in WWII. Riveting.

The stuff inside the water filled Saturn moon was wondrous.

I love that this show often gets Patrick Stewart to do voice work as some of the cartoon characters.

Great episode. ****1/2.

Cosmos: Possible Worlds "Vavilov"

That was amazing. I learned so much about history. Stalin and Lisenko were truly bad guys. It says how dull-witted Stalin actually was when Hitler was smarter than him about seeing the value of the seed bank. I never even heard of the seed bank before and I now learned that it probably saved my life. Amazing.

The different animation styles were great but the stop-motion sequences in Russia were truly stunning.

Seth MacFarlane's voice cameo as the Russian film-reel announcer was both funny and vaguely offensive.

I loved every second of this. *****.

Cosmos: Possible Worlds "The Cosmic Connectome"

That gave me a lot to think about.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson expressed an interesting opinion that I don't agree with. He mentioned that as bad as bigotry was in the past, since it was systemic throughout past society, misguided people like Broca perhaps should be forgiven for it. I don't agree with that, but he raised an interesting argument: Maybe a hundred years from now there will be beliefs that I currently have that are considered unforgivable by a future, more enlightened society. I think that's interesting to think about, and I can think of a couple of bad things society currently engages in that get little pushback (but that should). The first is killing animals. I expect that within fifty years science we'll be able to come up with alternate food sources that give the same great taste that meat does artificially. I think the Impossible Whopper is just the beginning. Therefore, I expect in a couple of generations people will question my barbarism of eating meat now. I also expect that the fact that segments of our society mercilessly mock and make fun of stupid people will also be frowned upon centuries from now (if those stupid people don't wind up getting us all killed before then). But those future evolved societies can go to Hell for thinking less of me for that because they probably won't have to live with them.

But do you notice the similarity both of those things have in common? There are people alive NOW, against, and in the case of killing animals, strongly, those practices. Just like even when racism was endemic in society, there were people who stood against it. Very few, but it's not like they didn't exist. What that tells me is that people back then don't get a free pass. Right is right and wrong is wrong no matter when it happens. Similarly, if a future society feels superior enough to look down on me for eating meat or making fun of dumb people, that's okay, because on some level I know I shouldn't be doing those things. Also, Tyson neglects to mention that those "unforgivable" bigotries are very much currently acceptable to a LARGE segment of society in 2020. I would argue that in the last four years they have actually come back in fashion. The reason I don't give past societies a pass on systemic racism is because systemic racist still very much exists, and is in fact entrenched. Until then my opinion of past societies will never be softened by it supposedly being a sign of the times. It's a sign of ALL times, including ours. It's still wrong and unforgivable.

I was fascinated by the story of the goofy scientist who spent his life searching for psychic powers and wound up creating the E.E.G. instead. It's amazing he committed suicide due to feelings of failure and inadequacy when he created that wonder that is still in use today.

I thought the visual effects as we traveled inside the grain of sand were quite marvelous. Tyson makes a compelling case that if the Universe runs under steady physics laws it can potentially be knowable. I personally find that to be a bit of wishful thinking, and possibly even human hubris, but the math he's using actually checks out there. I just don't believe the Universe's laws are purposeful as he thinks they are. That feeling of a muddled, chaotic Universe he described is how I've felt every morning since I've woken up for the past four years in this country. Tyson's positive view of our knowing the Universe might not be hubris or narcissism. It might simply be optimism. Of which I do not share.

Fascinating stuff that made me question my prejudices, which is always healthy. ****.
 

Fone Bone

Matt Zimmer
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Cosmos: Possible Worlds "The Man Of A Trillion Worlds"

I know it's a documentary, and not an actual narrative, but I still think the episode petered out at the end.

Interesting bio of Carl Sagan, but the various biographies of scientists the show does seem to be the least interesting thing about it.

The predictive drawing he did as a kid intrigued and alarmed me. What exactly IS "Nazi wear"? Do I even want to know?

The Floaters and Hunters were creepy. But so was the singing sea worm, so it was that kind of episode.

The show has done better. ***1/2.
 

Fone Bone

Matt Zimmer
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Cosmos "The Search For Intelligent Life On Earth"

That gave me a lot to think about.

The build-up to the bees was very well-done (Tyson knows how to milk his information to keep us waiting past a commercial break) but as smart and wonderful as they are, they still give me the willies. Tyson bringing up the political allegory he does about following objective truth and reality is correct, and would be if the science on the bees was wrong. It's a talent of Tyson to be able to preach a proper ethical human moral while discussing the science and lives of animals.

He also built up the reveal to the name Charles Darwin, but in hindsight, that was a MUCH bigger no-brainer. I like that Tyson calls him the guy who debunked Adam And Eve. And Tyson will get hate-mail saying that. But that's essentially what Darwin did. Also learning he was an early seer of racial equality makes me think more of him, and makes it easy to see why Tyson claims to admire him more than just about anybody else.

Other things I learned:

Tardigrades snuggle. I did not wake up today expecting to learn THAT specific thing, so kudos to the show.

Maple Trees secrete chemicals to ward off pests when they sense caterpillars and bugs snacking on them. That is also something I didn't know.

Insects evolved from Crustaceans. This last bit of information seems outright crazy to me, and I half think Tyson is putting me on. Which is why I love watching this show. Truth is stranger than fiction. And I think the only other show with weirder stuff happening in it is Twin Peaks. Although I'll confess the Universe there is a LOT easier for me to understand.

Fascinating stuff. ****1/2.
 

Fone Bone

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Cosmos: Possible Worlds “The Sacrifice Of Cassini”

That felt very long. Often the show feels very fast paced because it is so interesting, but that was deadly dull. Bonus demerits for me finding a couple of the ideas sketchy.

Neil deGrasse Tyson doesn't pronounce Uranus the funny way.

It might have oceans of liquid diamonds? Yeah, that world is nuts.

I thought the scenes of Tyson talking to Galileo and the other scientists about what they discovered beyond painful and awkward. I get that this is the one Seth MacFarlane show that doesn't do self-awareness or irony. But those things exist, right? Do none of the producers realize how corny that is?

I always find the animation on the show interesting. Probably because it is so far outside most Fuzzy Door animation.

The Soviet Union sucked. I am no fan of current Russia, but that place must have been Hell to live in in the early 20th Century.

I think the thing that made me most unhappy about the episode and why it gets a failing grade is because Cassini is treated like a living being making a sacrifice and fighting against it. Those are human feelings placed upon an inanimate object to attach extra significance to their project concluding. I think the project was significant enough without having to add magical thinking to it. Maybe this is normal for scientists and a way to cope with and relate to their subjects. But seeing as I'm not in that club, it seems like a lot of b.s. to me. And Tyson does that far less than most TV personalities. But stuff like that is why I wish he never did it. And he sometimes does. That is example 1.

I was not a fan of this week. *1/2.
 

Fone Bone

Matt Zimmer
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Cosmos: Possible Worlds "Magic Without Lies"

The visual effects on this show continue to be astounding.

On a scale of 1-10 on the "Eyeaugh!" scale, Newton sticking the needle in his eye was a 9.7.

It's interesting to think that Hoygans came up with the idea for a movie projector in the 1700's. He was born in the wrong century.

Tyson says the most disturbing thing is yet to come before the first act break. A promise he couldn't deliver. Nothing on this show is more disturbing than the needle in the eye. Nothing.

I actually fundamentally disagree with Tyson that the paradoxes he's describing are disturbing. It might be because I'm not a scientist which is why I'm not bothered by it, but I am pretty good as philosophy. I think not knowing stuff is cool. I think if we had the answers to everything in the Universe it would be a let-down and give us nothing to strive for. Tyson describes the notion of the Uncertainty Principle (which is basically he's talking about) kept Einstein up at night. I like not knowing things. I'm not saying I'm scientifically incurious or that I believe ignorance is a virtue. What I am saying is not understanding something is not inherently bad. In fact, it's something I quite often enjoy. I think the paradoxes Tyson describes are cool and mindbinding, and I actually LIKE that about them. It's like active proof of the supernatural that nobody has disproven yet. That's wild. (And the uncertainty principle are WHY matter transporters as seen on Star Trek will never exist.) Why does this upset scientists? It's awesome!

I always planned on reading the sci-fi romance novel Flatland at some point. I'll get around to it eventually.

The Multiverse Theory is the entire basis for my comic book Gilda And Meek. Good to see it getting some play here.

I don't like the Super-Determinism Theory. Aside from robbing people of free will, and saying nothing anyone can ever do is actually right or wrong, or even matters, I mistrust it because there is no evidence for it, and the only reason scientists think it's plausible is that if it were true, it would plug a great big hole in some of their biggest unanswered questions. That's how the faithful see God-worship, you know. Super-Determinism strikes me as a faith-based belief system for scientists. And I think it should be treated with as much credibility as religion is since there is no proof of either. And it may comfort scientists, but it sure as heck bothers me. Again, I'm thinking it's possible scientists are outraged about the wrong things in the Universe.

By the end of episode Tyson basically agrees with me in that he respects science because the answers are not given and never will be. But I don't see why he was spending the rest of the episode acting frustrated if that IS his belief. Is he doing that on behalf of a TV audience he knows is not as smart as he is? If that's true (and it probably is) he's not really getting what will and won't upset people like me.

The episode raised interesting questions, but I don't like that the fact that we don't have answers is treated like a problem. Mysteries are wonderful and beautiful, and something to be appreciated. And not all of them will be, or even need to be, solved to have value. And Tyson's words of frustration in this episode suggest him and I value very different things. **1/2.
 

Fone Bone

Matt Zimmer
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Cosmos: Possible Worlds "A Tale Of Two Atoms"

The CGI effects on this show must have cost a mint.

Tyson neglects to mention that Marie Curie died of radiation poisoning.

I have to say this is the first episode we've dealt with evil scientists. And they all wanted what was worst for everyone. Normally scientists solve global problems. When it came to nuclear weapons they created them. What's infuriating is that this episode is saying none of them actually had good intentions. Most of them simply wanted to kill a bunch of people to see what would happen. And that was not relegated only to the Germans. We had those guys on our side too.

Truman is portrayed as a cartoonish d-wad here (voiced by Seth MacFarlane). Truthfully, I'm not sure he deserved a more flattering portrayal.

The story of the volcano on St. Pierre is a similarly tragic story because people sort of knew it was coming, and refused to prepare for it because they had other trivial commitments. If they had taken what was happening seriously, far fewer people would have died. I thought the story of the guy in the dungeon who survived was pretty amazing.

Normally this show makes me feel hopeful about the future. This was kind of a drag. But it was still a good episode. ****.
 
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Fone Bone

Matt Zimmer
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Cosmos: Possible Worlds "The Fleeting Grace Of The Habitable Zone"

I know how much Carl Sagan means to Neil DeGrasse Tyson, but I have never liked listening to him, and that's why I find Tyson so refreshing. Sagan was a pessimist, a cynic, and a bummer when it came to humanity. While he wasn't necessarily wrong, I much prefer the faith Tyson shows in humanity and our future. The whole episode has evolved from science facts to science speculation, and the light sails and the faster than light drive are all amazing to think about. Until you hear Sagan's bummer speech about how if humans get even SLIGHTLY less evolved than they are when he currently made the speech, we wouldn't survive. Guess what? We are actually less evolved than we were when Sagan was alive. I don't like Sagan's perspective because it seems a little bit too self-involved and based on his own philosophies and prejudices rather than science. I admittedly did not see the first season of this show when Sagan hosted it. But it was subtitled "A Personal Voyage" which is my problem with Sagan in a nutshell. The Cosmos is NOT a personal entity to any human being alive. I have similar complaints about Gene Roddenberry but at least he was dealing with fiction.

Maybe I'm misreading Sagan. He obviously believed the Universe was "vast and wonderous" and that "life always finds a way". But I think his cynical view of humanity simply made whatever science he was teaching us less fun to ponder and more of a case of having to listen to a doomsayer. There is a place for that. Al Gore is pretty great at being a red flag. But I don't think it's the right attitude for someone trying to get across the wonders of science, evolution, biology, and spacetime.

I am alone in this this, and I'm aware this is an unpopular opinion. But I spent most of the episode with a grin of my face and the potential of humanity's future in the stars in my eyes because of Tyson, only to have that completely stomped on by a fairly typical morose Sagan monologue at the end. I much prefer listening to Tyson on this show. ***1/2.
 

Fone Bone

Matt Zimmer
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Cosmos: Possible Worlds "Coming Of Age In The Anthropocene"

I was not aware we had fixed the Ozone. Although it makes sense since I hadn't heard about it in awhile.

Greek Myths are always such bummers. That's why I never liked them.

Tyson promising the baby to fix the world at the end is probably more optimistic than warranted. But it's why I prefer Tyson to Carl Sagan.

Good episode. ****.

Cosmos: Possible Worlds "Seven Wonders Of The New World"

I love Neil DeGrasse Tyson. He is so humanistic and optimistic. I don't feel the despair for our planet I usually do whenever I listen to him.

There are over 100 Million landmines buried on Earth? That's a humbling and troubling thought.

I loved learning about the ancient civilization that had plumbing and toilets. It amazing the things I have learned on this series.

I could definitely do with another season of this show. *****.
 
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