Movies + TV

Literally the Best Thing Ever: Carl Sagan’s Cosmos

He was my favorite teacher.

I’ve never been a scientific person. For as long as I can remember, I would spend every science or math lesson wanting desperately to slink away to another reality and stick my head in a book. The only exceptions were those rare but precious lessons about OUTER SPACE. I couldn’t get enough of space! We never went far enough into the universe or explored as deeply as I longed to. It was like one lesson about the solar system, a few words on the Big Bang, and that was it until next year. Goodbye, only science lesson that ever held my attention. (Sorry, Mr. Perks.)

But then, one day, a hero came along. I discovered Carl Sagan and his TV show Cosmos: A Personal Voyage one cold, lonely winter several years ago, and spent many Saturdays snuggled up on the couch, traveling with Carl to the far reaches of the universe. I suddenly, through little to no effort of my own, was overflowing with knowledge, spilling it out of my mouth in front of my parents, trying in vain to understand the cosmos by talking about it out loud. When I listened to Carl’s comforting voice and watched his calm and friendly face, I would learn a hundred times more than any science lesson. Carl was my favorite teacher. (Sorry again, Mr. Perks.)

In the introduction to the 13-part series, which originally aired in the States in 1980, Sagan explains that in order to explore the cosmos, we have to use our imaginations. Maybe that is why Cosmos enraptures me so much? Yes, Carl uses the series to explain complex scientific theories that mostly go over my head, but that is not all there is. He doesn’t alienate people like me, who can be reduced to tears by a math equation. Instead I have had tears in my eyes for the split seconds when I can comprehend existence in this crazy world. Carl explains it all so well that even I can actually begin understand it.

There are countless mind-blowing moments on this show—I couldn’t even begin to cover them all. So many times my mouth has been agape, I’ve gasped with wonder, and I’ve laughed aloud at Carl’s fashion choices (turtleneck in the desert was my fave—also once he had this little special pouch around his waist to hold his glasses). I’ve also laughed with delight over how excited and enthusiastic he can sometimes get about the planets. He LOVED THEM, and his feelings on the subject are often contagious. Simply put, he had a gift. Not just for learning his knowledge, but for sharing it too.

Carl is also insanely quotable. My favorite thing he’s said was about books: “What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.” That might be when I fell in love with him.

Carl is like a friend now. He was only 62 when he died. I wish he were still alive to explain more-recent discoveries, to know all the things we know now. The brutal thing about science is it’s changing all the time, at break-neck speed. I wish Carl knew that he has made me, an avowedly un-science-y person, enchanted with certain aspects of science. If we were to ever come in contact with an alien species, he would be the first human being I would have liked them to meet. His list of personal attributes is miles long—Tavi sent me this, Carl telling the Explorer’s Club to take on female members, like a boss. He also has a devout cult following of stoners, being an advocate of marijuana himself, who if you look long enough tend to make incredibly amusing comments on any Carl Sagan YouTube video. Also, if you want to hear the most romantic science story ever, go listen to Carl’s wife, Ann Druyan, talking about how they fell in love.

On my worst days I have often resorted to Cosmos, because it puts things into vivid perspective. It never fails to make me feel intensely better and my heart flutter. I often think that it should be compulsive viewing for the whole human race. Carl Sagan was very adamant that we should look after the earth and be very grateful for our existence on such a habitable planet. He also showed me how important space exploration is. I am convinced we should have a permanent base on the moon by now—get on it, NASA. Cosmos and Carl has always reminded me that frustrating things like money, wealth, fame, grades, current beauty standards etc. are completely irrelevant. How could you think of wars and profits and power when the rest of the universe is so mind-bogglingly beautiful? When our existence is actually ridiculously small? We’re just a pale blue dot.

44 Comments

  • coralgirl March 6th, 2012 3:02 PM

    CARL!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Susann March 6th, 2012 3:03 PM

    No matter how interesting he may be – he looks super creepy!

    http://fashioninpepperland.blogspot.com

    • Naomi March 6th, 2012 3:19 PM

      maybe you should watch him speak? he is far from creepy

  • FashionHauties March 6th, 2012 3:04 PM

    Space! That show is literally wonderful. I also love sort of cosmo-inspired clothes- so ethereal and gorgeous, mysterious almost. -Abby
    http://fashionhauties.blogspot.com/

  • benji March 6th, 2012 3:08 PM

    Love Carl Sagan. These videos were the only good thing about first-year astronomy.

  • missblack March 6th, 2012 3:30 PM

    Just last night I was reading a book of essays and one of them was about Carl Sagan…I had never even heard of him before and now I am reading about him two days in a row! Clearly the universe is trying to tell me something. Will find and watch Cosmos ASAP.

    Little&Trivial

  • Alexia March 6th, 2012 3:52 PM

    He is my dreamboat! And also, project he did with Ann Druyan is one of my all time favorite art pieces.

    and have you seen the symphony of science remixes? So awesome. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSgiXGELjbc&feature=player_embedded

    And also, this was the best valentine I’ve ever received: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-CfeBeEol57c/Tzr3lY5NPVI/AAAAAAAABnE/cKfa4ij2Ya0/s1600/tumblr_lgmsccUFcW1qbmlo0o1_500.jpg

  • Elena March 6th, 2012 3:59 PM

    That last paragraph is exactly what I do to feel better! If just the outdoors of the earth can make us feel like that, the universe is like the ultimate hug. I love Carl.

  • Mariana March 6th, 2012 4:07 PM

    YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS

  • Lolita March 6th, 2012 4:09 PM

    HAHA, our physics teacher was in love with this guy. Every friday class, we used to watch a new chapter of COSMOS and we had to write an essay about the documentary. The fact is that we usually made fun of Sagan, he looked too 80′s for us! Although, I have to say that his documentaries are really interesting and helpful!

  • Mustachefan March 6th, 2012 4:16 PM

    Go Carl!! I had no idea what to buy my brother for Christmas and I ended up getting him Cosmos because we always loved Carl Sagan. He’s just the best.

  • ShakespeareRules March 6th, 2012 4:30 PM

    It’s so relaxing to watch; it just sucks me in. Why can’t all physics lessons be like this?!

  • Melody March 6th, 2012 4:38 PM

    I am an avid reader on Rookie, mainly I adore the fashion and motivational articles but this has got to be my favourite one to date. It’s so refreshing to read a post like this about someone so inspirational whom I feel not enough of our generation appreciates or even is aware of! An hour with Carl Sagan and you find yourself appreciating life more. Thankyou for writing this! Xx

  • youngfridays March 6th, 2012 4:58 PM

    I was watching a Darwin Deez video clip, Constellations, and I was like hey, you’re style looks familiar… anyway, after googling, he based it on Carl Sagan… So look it up if you’re interested :3
    xoxo

    faithmrljak.blogspot.com

  • Kathryn March 6th, 2012 5:10 PM

    I wish it was on Netflix instant!

    • starry March 8th, 2012 10:40 PM

      it actually *is* on Netflix instant!
      i just started watching it a couple of weeks ago.

  • ravenflamingo March 6th, 2012 5:31 PM

    I’m literally obsessed with Carl Sagan…thank you Rookie for always knowing what I want to read about!

    ravenflamingo.tumblr.com

  • Annie March 6th, 2012 5:44 PM

    I have a huuuuuuge platonic crush on Carl Sagan. When I first watched Cosmos I gained an entirely new view on nature and space and basically everything else. Also, I’ve made his birthday, November 9 (which, coincidentally, is two days before Kurt Vonnegut’s. Go science!) my own official Turtleneck Day.

    Oh, and I had no idea about the Explorer’s Club letter. He is so fucking cool.

  • Gi March 6th, 2012 5:50 PM

    Beautiful article Naomi! My dad had told me about Carl Sagan but I never watched any episode of his show. And now I have, thanks to you. Cosmos is so awesome. Thank you for allowing me to get to know it and to read the beautiful things you wrote. I love space too!

  • Airbear March 6th, 2012 5:58 PM

    Thank you so much Naomi for posting this! I can’t wait to start watching this. I’ve only encountered Sagan when I watched Contact when it first came out (by the way Contact is a great movie everyone should stream it on Netflix (Matthew McCounaghy (sp?) is actually likeable and appears intelligent plus hot!)). Though I was only six or seven at the time that movie has left such a powerful impression upon me and my views about life and death, wormhole travel, relativity, space, science, aliens, and love. So I thank you Carl Sagan and your beautiful brain!

  • queserasera March 6th, 2012 6:29 PM

    my fav science tv teacher is bill nye the science guy~

    http://mercurialmanic.blogspot.com/

  • borgie March 6th, 2012 7:16 PM

    He was the one that first pulled me into science, I remember being little and being completely blown away by the magic of our world. And he belongs to a very small group of people that can cheer me up when I am downright miserable. I truly, truly adore him.
    Thank you for posting this(:

  • prettyontheinside March 6th, 2012 7:55 PM

    carl sagan is a dreamboat, i could listen to him all day really.

  • Soleil March 6th, 2012 8:36 PM

    This too cool. My limited vocabulary prohibits me from describing my appreciation for this post. So I shall just :)

  • Natashis March 6th, 2012 9:09 PM

    AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA CARL SAGAN IS SO GREAT!!!!!!!!!
    PHYSISCS IS LOVE

  • MechaMech March 6th, 2012 9:52 PM

    He’s just amazing. Cosmos is nothing short of art.

  • decemberbaby March 6th, 2012 11:11 PM

    For years, I thought the Beatles song Across the Universe went, “worlds are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup…” and it terrified me to think of how insignificant and fleeting my world could be. Thank you for introducing me to Cosmos and Carl Sagan — he makes that thought seem comforting and exciting rather than scary.

  • lua March 6th, 2012 11:21 PM

    Oh my god, this man is the LOVE OF MY LIFE.
    When I read that this month’s theme would be “exploration”, he was the first thing on my mind.
    I was actually going to write to you guys to make sure that you wouldn’t forget to cover it.
    But, once more, you didn’t let me down!
    Just like him, you are great inspiration.

    (sorry for the bad english, i’m from brasil!)

  • Adrienne March 7th, 2012 12:18 AM

    Haha this sounds so great! I must check it out.

    However, Bill Nye the Science Guy is my favorite science teacher hehe. Bill Bill Bill Bill Bill Nye the Science Guy!!

    http://theaverageasiangirl.blogspot.com

  • Sonja March 7th, 2012 12:18 AM

    this is so beautiful and wise and eye opening. thank you, Naomi! Now i’m going to NPR and listen to how they fell in love! xo

  • lua March 7th, 2012 3:07 PM

    BEST COSTUME EVER -> http://fandom.memebase.com/tag/carl-sagan/

  • katycruel March 7th, 2012 6:25 PM

    That love story makes me cry every time.

    I call for a companion piece on Feynman – he used to break into his colleagues filing cabinets for fun. As an intellectual challenge.

  • EmilyL27 March 8th, 2012 2:05 AM

    Read Contact by him. My now boyfriend gave me a used copy when he was just a (best) friend and said I’d like it.

    Carl killed me when he said was talking (as a girl) about a good relationship (the best she ever had) and she said she loved the guy because she could be every version of herself with him.

    Very true. And now My friend and I are together. He writes great sci fi with a very human perspective. I’ve never seen him on tv but that book changed my life. You got to be yourself. :)

  • sarahbrooke March 8th, 2012 6:20 AM

    naomi you should watch the “through the wormhole” documentaries. they are about all the mysteries of the universe (is there a god? how did we get here? what happened before the big bang? etc.), and they are narrated by morgan freeman. he wears an earring and always relates it back to his childhood. i hated physics when i had to study it but man, these are so good!

  • Hedwig March 8th, 2012 2:47 PM

    <3

  • christinabee March 8th, 2012 8:40 PM

    I have a quote of his etched into a bracelet I wear every day: “we are a way for the cosmos to know itself” It makes me always know that the cosmos and I are one.

  • Jenn March 13th, 2012 11:52 AM

    I was wondering where I saw him before, because, unfortunately I’ve never watched his series (but I will!) And then you mentioned the cult following of stoners, and I knew ahaha.

  • poppunkgurrrlx March 21st, 2012 10:28 PM

    so happy you guys featured him. my hero, no doubt.

  • northernground April 24th, 2012 6:05 PM

    YES! I swear I was just going to send a suggestion for you guys to do something on Carl Sagan… then I found this. THANK YOU FOR DOING THIS!

  • evalavendar April 29th, 2012 4:22 AM

    Holy Shitaki! Thanks so much for this post. Outer space is seriously one of my greatest obsessions. I can’t wait to stalk this show in YouTube/Netflix tomorrow! I could seriously eat outer space on the daily with my brain. I think outer space and courtney love are two things I could not live without.

    Xx Eva
    Stylewandering.blogspot.com

  • Lomo July 3rd, 2012 11:36 PM

    You have NO idea how much I freaked out and squealed when I saw this article on here! I absolutely LOVE Carl Sagan (He is the background on my phone right now, no joke). I could never get my hands off of astronomy books since elementary school, and I could never find the perfect balance between childrens’ explanations and in depth scientific jargon… until reading Cosmos. And then I discovered that the series was on Netflix Instant (Hello marathoning!). I talked to my super cool Latin teacher about the series (which he also loves) so we wound up having an after school Cosmos watching club. I’m so so so happy that you appreciate Sagan! This totally made my day.

    Ps. Sorry for the abuse of parentheses

  • rivahgirl April 3rd, 2013 10:07 PM

    COSMOS!!! When I was little, probably from the ages of 7-10, my favorite thing to with my dad was to snuggle and watch Cosmos. It was the only thing besides sports I was allowed to watch if I was up past my bedtime, supposedly because it would put me to sleep, but my dad always ended up being the one who fell asleep, while I was the one who would always stay up until the very end. And by far the best episode was the one about light speed :) I think I’ve seen that single episode 10+ times.