Wonders of the Universe with Brian Cox

I’ve never felt terribly comfortable with the display of passion from believers. It isn’t that it bothers me that people believe false things (though it does) or that someone is claiming to be so emotionally moved by their belief. It’s that it lacks something. It’s one of those intangible things that’s difficult to really identify. It’s like the body from Weekend at Bernie’s. Yeah, it was moving and it fooled a lot of people, but it was ultimately lifeless.

That isn’t to say I think believers are being insincere or that they aren’t really wrapped up in their belief. Of course they are. But when they try and convey that, they lose me. And it isn’t merely that I find what they believe to be silly. Hitler believed a lot of moronic things (including creationism), but when he conveyed them, he didn’t lose anyone in the room. He had a real passion, awful as it was.

And the same goes for a lot of figures, including one’s much more revered in history. Sticking with the WW2 theme, Churchill and FDR conveyed some real passion in their words. Moving further up in history, JFK and MLK both passed on their passion. You could feel it. You knew they meant what they were saying.

I think the same goes for a number of scientific figures, but probably for different reasons. With the political and social people I just mentioned, I’m not so sure what it is that really drove them. For Hitler, it was probably simple hate. For the others, they probably had convictions fundamental to who they were as humans, I would hazard to guess. But I’m not sure there was one underlying thing that made their passion so real. For people like Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan, and Neil deGrasse Tyson, though, I think what makes their passion so special is that it is underlined by a deep understanding. When they speak their beliefs, they know they are as close to truth as anyone can get. Religious believers may think they’ve found truth, but since they have zero methods for determining as much, they can’t know it.

And that brings me to Brian Cox. He currently has a fantastic show on The Science Channel right now called Wonders of the Universe. Throughout every moment of the show, it’s obvious he has a passion. You can feel it. And along with the Dawkins’ and Sagan’s and Tyson’s of the scientific world, he conveys it in a way that is uniquely powerful, unavailable to mere believers.

I won’t be so bold as to call him the next Carl Sagan, but he has that same passion, that same fire. It’s really exciting stuff, under all of which lies an intensely deep understanding.

New Cosmos

A new Cosmos is in the works:

In partnership with Sagan’s colleagues Ann Druyan (who is also his widow) and Steven Soter, Seth MacFarlane — yes, that Seth MacFarlane — is going to produce a new 13-part series to serve as a sequel and modern update to Sagan’s masterpiece.

Taking over the hosting duties will be none other than well-known astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who has served as host of NOVA ScienceNOW on PBS for the past five years, so he has plenty of experience making science accessible to the general public. It would be difficult to think of anyone who would be better able to succeed the late, great Carl Sagan.

The folks working on it will take their time and do it right — it’s not scheduled to air until sometime in 2013.

It will unfortunately be airing on FOX, which means the commercials will be ridiculous, but I suppose it’s good that it will be given a broader audience than PBS gets. And it’s hard to go wrong with Neil deGrasse Tyson.

The erosion of progress by fundamentalism

I found this great video with Neil deGrasse Tyson where he talks about the rise in intellectual accomplishments by those in the Middle East between the years 800-1100 and how everything went downhill shortly thereafter. The rise was brought forth through free thought and inclusiveness of ideas from all walks of life. Unfortunately, one influential fundamentalist Muslim convinced people that mathematics was the work of the devil around 1100. From there everything started to fall apart. To make his point, Tyson notes that there are well over a billion Muslims in the world while there are about 15 million Jews. And how many Muslims have won Nobel prizes? A couple. How many Jews? Probably close to a quarter. It isn’t because there’s something inherently superior in the intellect of Jews; it’s because fundamentalism erodes scientific (and social and moral) progress. We face the same problem with intelligent design creationism today. If as a society we were to follow the course of the Christians (and Muslims and sometimes Jews and others) who advocate for that sort of anti-scientific/anti-science position, we would find ourselves down a very worrying path indeed.

Two final points. One, my post title is different from the video title because Tyson is not talking about religion in general. Two, you’ve got to love what he says at the end:

I want to put on the table not why 85% of the National Academy [of Science] rejects God, I want to know why 15% don’t.

Yet another Symphony of Science

This one includes some familiar and some new ‘singers’ (including someone without a penis for the first time in the series): Michael Shermer, Jacob Bronowski, Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Richard Dawkins, Jill Tarter, Lawrence Krauss, Richard Feynman, Brian Greene, Stephen Hawking, Carolyn Porco, and PZ Myers.

(Whoops. As a commenter pointed out, Jane Goodall was in the last one. But this one has two women, so, uh, there.)