Carl Sagan was almost unique in his day for being both a respected scientist and a talented broadcaster. As an astrophysicist and planetary scientist he was advisor to NASA and over the course of his career published over 600 scientific papers. His TV programmes such as Cosmos (1980) brought the mysteries of the universe to millions, but this was not the usual boffin for whom the questions of ‘what it’s all about’ can only be answered by science.
Sagan’s interests in philosophy, spirituality, UFOs (and, it recently came to light, dope-smoking) has cemented his legend as an open-minded seeker.
Some of the visual effects in this programme, made before digital computer graphics and the images of the Hubble space telescope, may look a little outdated (or perhaps endearingly ‘vintage’), but Sagan’s story telling is masterly and his sense of wonder, infectious.
35 minutes in, Sagan turns his attention to the spiritual traditions of India. Walking barefoot around a temple, he discusses the parallels between modern astrophysics and ancient Hindu philosophies, which he describes as a “a premonition of modern cosmological ideas”.
Modern science is very rarely presented in the context of humanity’s long search for meaning. But as Sagan points out here, astronomers are only trying to do what religion has always done: “The big bang is our modern scientific creation myth”.