Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Cosmos slips into a black hole: Thoughts on Episode 4 "A Sky Full of Ghosts" Air Date 3.30.14

I'm constantly trying to push the new Cosmos on anyone that will listen.  I've been posting all over the place urging everyone to watch.  But this week's episode (S1:E4 "A Sky Full of Ghosts") left me with some mixed feelings. 

My concerns are mostly about the goofiness the show allowed itself in slipping over the event horizon of a black hole. IMHO, the show should stick with what it's made abundantly clear it's about: the observable universe. I fear that the show risks some credibility and opens itself up to charges of hypocrisy if it allows itself to engage in gross speculation, and even fantasy. NDT has pulled no punches in going right after people who don't believe in evolution, who believe the universe is only 6,500 years old, etc. Maybe a little too directly, given that this show is about turning people on to science, not settling scores. NDT can make these sort of pugnacious statements because he can always say those beliefs don't hold up in the face of the physical evidence, the observable universe. But when the show allows itself a "thought experiment" that it admits has no basis in observation, then we're entering fantasy land. To be consistent with its core approach, IMHO, the show simply should've stopped at the event horizon and NDT should've admitted that that was the limit of our knowledge -- so far.

I also was not a big fan of the Sagan bit at the end.  I loved the ending of the first episode, when NDT pulled out Sagan's calendar, and showed that appointment with the young NDT. That was incredibly moving, and you could see that NDT was getting emotional just talking about it. I choked up watching that bit. That is the kind of thing that works well in an introductory episode, and sets up the relay from mentor to student, from Sagan to NDT. But I felt like going back to that event again in this episode was a bit gratuitous, and felt a bit maudlin. It also a felt a bit too on-the-nose with its parallels to William Herschel and his son.

All that said, this remains the most important television on the air today, and I'm a committed fan. I do think the show should be consistent, and stick to the observable universe, instead of trying to get a bit wild in an attempt to blow our minds. Reality -- as we can see it so far -- is already mind-blowing enough.