Cosmos: A Personal Voyage is an educational television series written and narrated by astronomer and writer Carl Sagan in 1980, and was also published in book form. It is best known for its presentation of a wide variety of scientific topics — astronomy, physics, biology, evolution, environmentalism, nuclear power, and more — in Layman's Terms, making both the wonder and the terminology accessible to the public. It also had cutting edge special effects for the time it was produced.The series has been credited with inspiring an entire generation of scientists and formed a template for nearly every mainstream science program that followed. It was re-released as a DVD collection with commentary by Sagan, mainly to discuss where Science Marches On. Even today, it remains remarkably relevant; although some of the facts are dated, the majority of the principles and theories discussed by the show remain intact.The full series is available on Hulu. And on Youtube (for those outside the US).Currently, a remake/update is in the works with Neil Degrasse Tyson as host, Sagan's widow as a producer, and... Seth MacFarlane as executive producer.
This series contains examples of the following tropes:
Ascended Fanboy: Seth MacFarlane is a huge geek for the original series and for Carl Sagan. He is also one of the producers of the updated version of the show starring Neil Degrasse Tyson. He admits that, in his opinion at least, he is the "least important" player in the remake, serving mostly as the means by which Ann Druyan (Carl Sagan's widow) and Steven Soter were able to meet with FOX and get the new series off the ground in the first place.
Beam Me Up, Scotty!: Sagan says "billions" with a strong "B" many times on this show, but he never utters the phrase "Billions and billions." That came from an affectionate parody of Sagan done by Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. Word of God has it that he found it annoying at first, but got over it. And the whole reason he said "billions" with a strong "B" was to emphasize that it wasn't millions, but three whole orders of magnitude greater. He lampshaded and did say the phrase years later in the prologue of his last book, mostly just to be able to say he actually said it. "So just for the record, Billions and Billions." He made it an Ascended Meme when he named the book Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium.
Book Ends: Both the first and last episodes feature discussions on the Great Library of Alexandria and of its last librarian Hypatia. The mood of the latter's discussion of it, though, is farmore somber.
Buffy Speak: Very occasionally. "These plants use carbohydrates to go about their...planty business."
Defictionalization: The Mars rovers that Sagan spoke of in Episode 5, "Blues for a Red Planet", were defictionalized 23 years later with the highly successful Spirit and Opportunity rovers, and later the Curiosity rover. Also, the spacecraft Cassini did eventually reach Saturn and is exploring the system to this day, and its Huygens lander did successfully reach and photograph the surface of Titan, as Sagan had hoped.
Erudite Stoner: Sagan was an enthusiastic marijuana smoker and makes a reference to it in Episode 9, when describing the restoration of gravity upon removing it and its effects on tea and people in Alice in Wonderland: "I've been to a couple of parties like that myself!"
Faster-Than-Light Travel: The possibility of this is discussed during the episode about relativity. Sagan's Framing Device spaceship is described to be completely unrestricted by the laws of physics so he can fully explore the universe.
Great Big Library of Everything: The virtual reproduction of the library at Alexandria, whose loss Sagan mourns as "self-inflicted radical brain surgery" for civilization as a whole.
The Great Politics Mess-Up: In an earlier version of the "Blues for a Red Planet" episode, there was an afterword discussing the possibility of the U.S. and the Soviet Union teaming up to explore and colonize Mars, ending with a shot of the U.S. and Soviet flags in front of a Martian landscape.
This was also acknowledged in the afterword of the new version of the final episode, "Who speaks for Earth", showing images of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shaking hands and the abolition of the Apartheid in South Africa, mentioning how "walls have fallen down and irreconcilable ideologies have embraced", and taking it as a good omen for the future.
Ghost Planet: Sagan theorizes about Mars in this manner before settling into the reality.
Hiroshima as a Unit of Measure: The combined explosive yield of all bombs dropped during World War II was about 1 megaton of TNT. As one episode pointed out, this is the warhead yield of a single, very small hydrogen bomb. If the U.S. and the Soviet Union engaged in a full-scale nuclear exchange, it would be like "A World War II every second, for the length of a lazy afternoon."
Holy Backlight: Applied to Sagan in the opening of the tenth episode, in a discussion of the concept of birth and its cultural implications.
Humans Through Alien Eyes: In "Who Speaks for Earth?" during the After the End scenario, Sagan wonders what the Encyclopedia Galactica would have to say about humans, and in the first episode he muses:
"For an extra-terrestrial observer, the differences between the human cultures would seem trivial."
Jidai Geki: A recreation of the era when it's explored how the artificial selection of crabs happened due to a random resemblance to a fallen samurai.
Insignificant Little Blue Planet: When discussing the final photo of the entire solar system by Voyager 1, Sagan shows us the Earth as a single pixel in a huge image. However, he goes out of his way to mention that Earth is special due to the presence of life.
Layman's Terms: Possibly the best example among educational programs, and certainly the inspiration for nearly all the shows that have come since.
Lies to Children: Carl resorts to analogies to explain extremely abstract concepts like gravity, infinity and extra dimensions. To his credit, he immediately explains why the analogies are imperfect.
Living Gasbag: In one episode, Sagan theorized that life existing on a gas giant planet such as Jupiter would be most likely to evolve into this form.
Books, as explained in Episode 11, "The Persistence of Memory," let us transcend time and death.
"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. "Books permit us to voyage through time, to tap the wisdom of our ancestors. The library connects us with the insights and knowledge, painfully extracted from Nature, of the greatest minds there ever were, with the best teachers, drawn from the entire planet and from all of our history, to instruct us without tiring, and to inspire us to make our own contributions to the collective knowledge of the human species."
A bit earlier in the book, he quotes Charles Sherrington, who makes the act of waking up into something of cosmic importance.
The brain is waking, and with it, the mind is returning. It is as if the Milky Way entered upon some cosmic dance. Swiftly, the cortex becomes an enchanted loom where millions of flashing shuttles weave a dissolving pattern, always a meaningful pattern though never an abiding one; a shifting harmony of sub-patterns.
"The Lives of the Stars" begins by showing an apple pie being made- in a dramatic manner reminiscent of "Also Sprach Zarathustra".
Not Drawn to Scale: The DNA helicase and DNA polymerase enzymes are much larger relative to a DNA molecule than they're depicted as in the CGI simulation.
One World Order: Played with. While Carl Sagan points out the folly of radical, fanatical nationalism compared to loyalty to the species, planet and cosmos, there's never really any call to a unified world government, rather hoping for the world to cooperate better. Neither does he treat humanity as a mere amorphous mass, acknowledging diversity in its myriad cultures, nations and communities while encouraging that same diversity to work together.
Orion Drive: Mentioned as the only presently possible way of achieving space travel at any noticeable fraction of the speed of light, and also the best use for nuclear weapons. The related Daedalus drive concept was also mentioned.
Patrick Stewart Speech: Sagan is incredibly effective at delivering these in regards to Real Life, as is Ann Druyan in the intro to the updated version of Cosmos.
Plant Aliens: The civilization who are self-described as "We Who Survived" in the Encyclopaedia Galactica are mobile autotrophs who implement Selenium, Bromine and Chlorine in their biology (along with the ubiquitous CHON elements, of course), and engage in arithmetic poetry. Ironically, they ended up self-destructing. Just before we did.
Puny Earthlings: At the beginning of episode 12 ("Encyclopedia Galactica"), Sagan narrates, "In the vastness of the Cosmos there must be other civilizations far older and more advanced than ours."
Ramscoop: Mentioned shortly after the Orion Drive, as a possible means of circumnavigating the universe within a (subjective) human lifetime. (The limitations of the Bussard drive, such as the drag problem, were not addressed.)
Recursive Reality: Carl Sagan speculates that our universe could be the equivalent of a subatomic particle inside a "superuniverse".
Science Hero: Sagan himself. As heroic as you can be in a documentary, anyway. Also some of the historical scientists portrayed in the series, like Huygens, Humison, Einstein, Leonardo, and Kepler.
Science Marches On: Interestingly, although many of the details are no longer accurate, remarkably few of the theories and principles Sagan discusses have been completely supplanted by more current research. The DVD commentary discusses this.
One episode speculates on what life might be found within the atmosphere of Jupiter or a similar gas giant. It included microscopic "sinkers" that had to reproduce before sinking too far into Jupiter and being crushed or fried, mile-wide hydrogen-filled balloon "floaters" that filter-fed on the sinkers, and winged predators that hunted the floaters.
"The sky calls to us. If we do not destroy ourselves, we will one day venture to the stars. A still more glorious dawn awaits - not a sunrise, but a galaxy-rise. A morning filled with 400 billion suns - the rising of the Milky Way."
The World Is Just Awesome: Sagan was fond of pointing out just how majestic and grandiose the natural world is, compared to the ability of our imaginations to understand it. In one part, he describes big numbers and then points out how far from infinity and eternity they are.