28 July 2004 | dlevine
Greatest of All Time
Cosmos is, hands-down, the greatest educational series of all-time. Even the wonderful (and highly recommended) history series Connections can't hold a flame to the perfection of Cosmos. If you don't believe me, look at the user ratings.
It makes me tear up that most of my friends and almost all Americans don't know what Cosmos is (or what "cosmos" means), yet they can name every Friends cast member and their character's name and quirks.
Computer graphics have come a long way since 1980, and just a few minor scientific updates are needed, but the series was so far ahead of its time that other than the spaceship deck set, the hair, and the clothes, it doesn't seem dated in 2004. It won the Peabody and Emmy awards, and remains to this day the most watched PBS series of all time (600+ million viewers in 60 countries).
The series is 13-hours, but ought to count as a three semester hour (~45 hours of class) Intro to Cosmology college course. Sagan's ability to communicate the essence of the cosmos and the history of scientific discovery is concise and absorbs the viewer.
If ever there was a series that explained "life, the universe and everything" (an appropriate quote from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), Cosmos is it. Cosmos takes the viewer on a journey from the origin of the universe to the end of time and displays it as easily as looking at a calendar on a wall (literally, at least from the origin until present time!). Evolution of all life on Earth is condensed into a simple animation only a few seconds long. A detailed history of the origins and interactions between religion and science is engaging and sure to provoke discourse between viewers. The series also explores the massive capacities of information available in the brain and DNA (virtually wiping aside "nature" in favor of "nurture"). Cosmos details Mars and Venus and uses them to eloquently describe the "greenhouse effect" and its possible repercussions on Earth. I could describe episode by episode, by suffice it to say, it encompasses almost every "big picture" question one could ask.
Some people knock Carl Sagan for seeming smug or turning from a researcher to a public entertainer. I think of his entertainment as education to a broader audience, and any smugness should be discounted in favor of the information being conveyed. Sagan did society a tremendous favor by making this series. This is the most digestible science series I've ever seen. This should be required viewing for all high school students (or elementary students in their later elementary grades).
Whether you buy it, rent it, check it out from the library, or borrow it from a friend, watch this series. Thanks to Cosmos, you will have a better understanding of your universe.
(Incidentally, Sagan's speech is suspiciously similar in style to Agent Smith's from the Matrix. I've never heard of Hugo Weaving crediting Sagan as an inspiration but, intentionally or not, the similarity is there.)