Every so often I visit my girl friend in Tampa, and during my visits it is common practice for us to sit down and enjoy a night of watching Discovery Science. Don’t ask me how I found a dame as interested in Quantum Physics and parallel universes as I am; I still haven’t figured it out. I digress.
We were watching Wonders of The Universe, hosted by the delightfully casual Brian Cox, when it hit me: Brian Cox is Carl Sagan! This charming, laid back, rocker-turned-physicist is undeniably fulfilling some kind of ancient Nerd prophecy (presumably told around the campfires of yore, and more recently dissected at LAN parties across the globe).
Much like Anakin Skywalker (or every incarnation of Link from The Legend of Zelda) Brian Cox was born to fulfill a higher calling. In this case, he has been preordained to act as the “Cool Science Dweeb” – a torch that has rested lifeless upon the ground since Carl Sagan passed away in 1996. Submitted for your approval, here’s exhibit A:
All right, so fashion is superficial in most cases – MOST cases, but not this time. Ignore Sagan’s trademark penchant for turtlenecks, and these two are practically identical twins! At the very least they could be father and son. Or, perhaps, they are simply two physicists who harbor the same discontent for wearing dress shirts and ties. (Also, they distrust combs).
This is important for one simple fact: To most people, Nerds are the slimy kid with the Naruto shirt who doesn’t pay attention in P.E., or maybe the guy with the pocket protector and coke-bottle specs. This misconception carries over to successful Nerds. Really – just ask any one to describe, say, a doctor of physics. Odds are they’ll describe this:
While a shared sense of fashion does not a reincarnation make, let’s dig a little deeper.
If one were to watch Cosmos and Wonders of The Universe one after the other, one would likely fail to notice that the two are different programs. While I believe some of this is intentional on the part of the producers (the Cosmos-like score and cinematography of Wonders… seems waaaaay to convenient to be a coincidence), the presentation of such heavy, complicated information the two men share cannot be intended.
In Cosmos, Carl Sagan demonstrated how absolutely glorious science was while remaining relatively unexcited. He might have been telling us about the complex nature of Whale Songs, but as he told it he might as well have been telling us about the time he forgot his keys at the grocery store.
This calm, casual “I know the secrets of the universe, but no big deal” attitude is clearly engrained in Brian Cox’s delivery of the same information. Hell, scientists know more about the workings of the universe than they did during Sagan’s time, but Cox still manages to tell us the history of time as if he’s heard better stories.
This isn’t to say the two geniuses don’t/didn’t care about what they were telling us, not by a mile. It just goes to show the strength of these two minds to not only understand how things work, but to relate to the casual fan of space, time, and everything that may (or may not) exist in between the two.
I can’t even describe what I had for breakfast in less than ten minutes, so the fact that these shows normally run for an hour and cover eons’ worth of activity is simply staggering.
Whether you’re on the same page as I am regarding my “reincarnation” theory, there is no denying that both Cox and Sagan are vessels that serve the same purpose: To make people love science again. The conviction and passion both men hold/held for science and rational thought is inspiring.
Despite not creating theories that change the world of Physics forever, Sagan and Cox make science more of a playground than a difficult and often-changing area of study. They have opened it up for folks of any age, and have injected the heady material with a sense of magic and wonder that is all too rare these days.
This is especially heartbreaking when one considers how little support scientific studies receive from the government. It was a sobering reminder watching Carl Sagan wax poetic about space travel and where it was headed, only to watch NASA get thrown to the wayside. For all of his imagination I don’t suspect that Sagan could have predicted that turn of events, and I can’t help but wonder what he would have to say on the matter.
One of my favorite segments in Cosmos involved Sagan doing a guest lecture at his old elementary school in New York City. He was talking to 8-9 year olds about space exploration, how moons work, and so on. The children ate it up, and they even worked up a frenzy when Sagan started handing out black and white photos of Titan and other celestial bodies.
Where did this passion go?
We’re lucky to have men like Carl Sagan and Brian Cox, Nerd Prophecy or no. It’s just a shame that there aren’t more like them around. Imagine where we could be.