Advancing Wholeness: The Beautiful Story (from COSMOS) of Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson– Part II

In Part I, I described the beautiful way that Carl Sagan encouraged a 17 year-old Brian deGrasse Tyson back in the 1970s and now, all these years later, that Dr. Tyson in turn paid beautiful tribute to Sagan in his new series– a second coming of “Cosmos,” the TV series that originally made Sagan a scientific celebrity.

My point in Part I was that wholeness gets imparted in many ways, many that have no direct connection with good “battling” against evil.

But such are the complex interweavings of forces in the world, the interplay of cause and effect, that the viewer of this outstanding new Cosmos series can see something important about the long-term nature of that battle: i.e., how the wholeness in the form of human kindness that Sagan extended is now bearing fruit quite relevant to the battle between good and evil in America today.

The series that Dr. Tyson is hosting is clearly not only about teaching people some important scientific truths about our universe, and about the unfolding of life on earth. It’s about all that, but also more than that.

One might say that this new Cosmos series is a long advertisement for science. But it would be still more accurate to say that it is a forceful argument for the honest and open-minded pursuit of the truth and against those forces that impose dogma as a tyranny over the human mind.

Again and again in the series, Dr. Tyson tells us of heroes who, asking questions, followed the truth wherever it led. And repeatedly, he contrasts these heroes with those who, with closed and narrow minds, insisted on blocking honest inquiry and on using raw power to impose their falsehoods on their societies.

Here are two examples.

One of the heroes is Giordano Bruno. Bruno had ideas of the vastness of the universe that have proved correct (by a “lucky guess,” Dr. Tyson suggests). But his ideas differed from the dogmas being enforced by the Inquisition, and Bruno ended his life imprisoned for years and then burned at the stake.

A second hero was the ancient Chinese philosopher, Motze, who propounded much of what might be called the scientific method. Dr. Tyson presents his open-mindedness in a suitably positive light, and then shows how a tyranny known by the name “Legalism” subsequently arose in China to snuff out that movement, burning books and burying alive those scholars who would not yield to the dogmas of the new rulers.

But it’s more than just the stories. In Dr. Tyson’s entire presentation one intuits an implicit awareness that his voice is being raised in a cultural/political context in America today in which the spirit of truth-seeking is embattled. One can sense in Tyson’s persistent advocacy of the spirit of honest inquiry that science represents an effort to counter those forces in America today that partake of the same spirit that burned Bruno in medieval Italy and burned the books in ancient China.

The battle between the forces of wholeness and those of brokenness, of which I speak repeatedly here, takes many forms. But surely one of the most important is the battle between the spirit of the truth and the spirit of the lie.

Truth is one of the vital forms of wholeness. For our beliefs to correspond to reality is a kind of wholeness. For our beliefs to be in conflict with reality is a form of brokenness. And a force that continually works to spread falsehoods — which is one of the most striking aspects of the spirit that has taken possession of the American right in our times — is a force of destruction, of brokenness, of evil, of death.

(In the cosmos series, the image of skulls is used to accompany the stories of those earthly powers that use force to strangle the truth.)

As Dr. Tyson now talks to a mass audience of Americans through this series, we see one of the long-maturing fruits of what Carl Sagan sowed in encouraging the young 17 year-old kid from the Bronx. The generosity of heart shown some forty years ago has become a force to battle to rescue our nation whose integrity is now under siege from the spirit of the Lie.

Admittedly, the series is not an expression simply of Dr. Tyson. But his role is important. And we might suppose that had that positive exchange between the older man and the younger man not occurred in the 1970s, we would not have this powerful, appealing, and effective voice talking to America — on the Fox network no less– to call us to the better, and more honest, angels of our national nature.

Such are the workings, over time, of the force of the good.

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  1. I am a strong believer in the need for paying it forward. I have adopted a child and hope that he will end up better than he would have if we had not done so. I have done a fair amount of volunteer work and in retirement hope to do even more. Unfortunately, retirement will not come for at least 15 years, at least not voluntary retirement.

    I have seen both Carl Sagan and Neil DeGrasse Tyson speak in videos both on TV and the web. They are people we should be proud of and seek to emulate. One person who I looked to growing up was Subrahmanyan Chandrasekar. A famed Physicist who advanced many fields of Physics. I understand he was a fairly humble man. I have always aspired to be humble myself, at least in my personal life. I have a son who has FASD. I finally found a source for insight into his brain trauma and what difficulties he has due to his FASD.

    It is something that both Carl Sagan and Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and Subrahmanyan Chandrasekar and many other intellectuals have a desire to do more, understand and pay it forward. When you have the humility to understand that where you are is to a great degree dependent on those who came before you, do you learn to have the humility to pay it forward so those who follow can advance the knowledge and improve humanity and it’s understanding of both the world/universe and our place as a species embedded in that world/universe.

  2. I have noted over the years that, to many conservatives, the four-letter word “liberal” implies someone who has no values and for whom everything goes. That’s not at all my sense of the word. It has the same Latin root as “to liberate,” as in the biblical adage that “the truth shall make you free.” As Andy suggests, truth is a powerful ally of wholeness, and dogma is a powerful ally of brokenness. It is particularly revealing that a recent study exposes a startling fact not widely known: only 6% of American scientists identify with the GOP. When I first heard this, I thought it was a joke. It’s not. Today’s GOP is anti-science, anti-truth, pro-dogma, and impervious to facts, all of which contributes to our nation’s brokenness, not wholeness. By the way, one of Giordano Bruno’s “heresies” was to hold the belief that the stars are suns like our own sun. For this and other equally sound theories, he gave up his life on the stake to the defenders of the orthodox dogma.

  3. Re Dave Pruett’s “only 6% of American scientists identify with the GOP”, I had seen that mentioned several times on David Brin’s blog “Contrary Brin” along with Brin asserting that during the 1960’s the figure was 40%. I hadn’t seen it elswhere until Dave mentioned it here.

    Not having seen the surveys myself I have to tread both figures as hearsay. Not false, mind you. Hearsay.

    A little synchrony, perhaps. Brin’s most recent blog entry contains the following:

    “I had been waiting and hoping for a person like this to arrive. A smart and scientific conservative with deep, heartland values, who can communicate with Red Americans that their Christianity and conservatism do not have to automatically align with a trumped-up War on Science. I figure millions are ready for the message — that they can pick and choose, and maybe escape the simplistic narrative being crammed down their throats by hate-media.”

    “That was the hope! An lo — here is Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, an evangelical Christian, married to a pastor, living in conservative West Texas, and widely regarded as a top-notch climate scientist, actively engaged in weaning heartland folks off of anti-science dogmatism.”

    “Liberals, too, should study this person and shuck their own preconceptions. She appears on Showtime’s new documentary series Years of Living Dangerously, which explores humanity’s impact on climate change.”

    I remember reading an article about Dr. Hayhoe a year or so ago. It said that though she is fairly well known as an Evengelical Christian within that circle, she has received several death threats from other Evangelical Christians. I should have kept a reference to the article but I didn’t.

    Reference to Brin’s (as of this writing) latest blog post I quoted:

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