Weekend is approaching and this means new episode of Cosmos is coming up while I still haven’t addressed the previous one, number eight, called “Sisters of the Sun”. Last episode was dedicated to trivial matters and another episode about something like asbestos or peanut allergy would have ruined the show completely (in my view, of course). Luckily, this episode was all about grandeur – the stars and their lives.
It started off with a note I found myself completely in agreement with – the observation that our modern civilization with electricity providing for 24/7 activities unhindered by natural darkness added a lot of excitement but killed the stars. With all the bright lights, and Neil DeGrass Tyson showed some very prominent ones, like Eiffel Tower, we cannot see stars anymore. No big deal, one would think, but gazing in the night sky and seeing all those stars provided people with deep wonder and appreciation for millions and millions of years.
I, too, loved to lie on the back somewhere far away from civilization and look at the stars for hours, especially if I had a good company. Clear skies, warm summer weather, distance from the rest of the world – a perfect recipe for seeking a better reality, seeking connections to the worlds that might have all the answers and that are certainly more exciting than our drub life there on Earth. I was young then and I didn’t actually think life here was drub but comparing to the silent majesty of the stars it was nothing, just noise and distraction. I wanted to freeze those moments in time.
Maybe that love of star gazing was just a preparation for my eventual meeting with devotees, I like to think of it that way, but since then I kind of lost appreciation for the universe as manifestation of Kṛṣṇa. Even when I read Bhagavad Gītā for the first time and there was description of the universal form there I was genuinely unimpressed. Today I look at it and think that it was a big loss, I think that it would certainly help if I was able to see the universe as God’s energy rather than dreaded illusion hell bent on separating me from devotion.
Anyway, next NDGT ventured into some fluff about women in science, how bright minds flocked to America where women had all the rights, how some short-sighted pranksters referred to one particular group as “Pickering’s Harem” and how it was a woman, two of them, actually, who discovered a method to determine the age of the stars.
This particular episode in science history, however, had very little to do with emancipation. They called this group a harem for a reason – women were employed there over men not for their brains and brilliance but because they had been assigned menial and repetitive work. Similarly, when they invented telephones they put women at switchboards because that suited better for female nature, like knitting. It was not a symbol of emancipation but a symbol of stereotyping and casting women as inferior. If they employed slaves no one would praise Pickering for introducing slaves to science but NDGT turned it around and called employing women to do women’s job a sign of recognition of their equality. Oh well, it’s an educational program, it’s meant to brainwash people into a certain way of thinking, can’t blame NGDT for staying on point, it’s just how modern science actually works.
The rest of the show was mostly about stars – what they are, how are they formed, how they evolve, explaining all those red giants, white dwarfs, novas, supernovas, and even hypernovas. NDGT is an astrophysicist and he was in his own element, clearly excited to tell the audience something he personally feels very passionate about.
What can I say about it? We don’t care much about stars, even in astrology they play a secondary role to our local planets. I seriously doubt that we have enough material in Vedic literature to argue with astrophysicists about their theories. I don’t even know our stories about constellations similar to the ones NDGT quoted from native Americans, Greeks, and Australian aborigines, I’ve never read enough about nakṣatras. Would our Vedic stories be subject to the same condescending look from astronomers? Probably, but what does it matter? We don’t expect anything else from them anyway.
Checking the facts, NDGT managed to screw up again, even when talking about his own field, though it’s not clear how much of that was caused by trying to simplify the narration for general audience. None of the mistakes really matter to us anyway, they have no effect on our argument for Lord Brahmā creating the universe.
For that matter, I’m not even sure how much of that was created before Lord Brahmā was born. Maybe he is responsible only for creating life forms and suitable conditions for them to develop, including planets. Was he responsible for work on distant stars? What about other galaxies? We certainly don’t see them as big and important as astronomy does. Modern Hindu astrology views the universe and the solar system just as modern astronomers, Śrimad Bhāgavatam description is not fashionable anymore and it’s certainly not something I could speak with any confidence about.
As for NDGT mistakes – one was about binary stars and Sirius as an example. It does have a white dwarf but usually the process of transferring matter from one star to another and igniting huge nuclear explosions happens with dwarfs that are much much closer and take only a couple of days to orbit their bigger neighbor. In Sirius’ case the dwarf is very very far and takes fifty years to complete its orbit. NDGT should have known that Sirius is not the best illustration for the principle he was talking about but the principle itself still stands, so general public didn’t lose anything, except their sanity, of course, as it happens with all science shows.
Another mistake was related to complex nuclear reactions that happen with super nova collapses on itself. Supernovae look like explosions indeed but on the whole they actually consume energy rather than release it, an interesting factoid that show creators probably skipped for its distracting complexity. I don’t understand it myself, it’s just something pointed out by actual astrophysicists.
It must be said here that NDGT also glossed over how the stars get born. He said something about interstellar gas but there are no satisfactory theories explaining how gas would form into a star. It’s not how gases behave in our earthly environment – they never never form into anything and dissipate instead, why would they stick together in vacuum of space? It’s a big question to the whole science, not just this one TV show.
There’s also a related question about existence of blue stars – they burn their energy very very fast and so must have been born very very recently. Only red giants could have been born at the beginning of the universe while all blue stars, and there are so many of them, are newcomers. This raises the question of where they come from and why we have never ever seen them taking birth? This leads to questions about alleged stellar nurseries and, interestingly, the theory that stars must be born from stars. Too big a field for my little head.
And, finally, NDGT again said that light from the core of our Sun takes ten million years to reach its surface. That is not correct, latest estimate is only about two hundred thousand years. Where did he get his number from? No idea.
There is another curious theme running through this show – strange obsession with partying and drinking. There was a brief reference to partying in some of the early episodes. In the previous episode one Greek philosopher delivered an entire lecture while holding a glass and declared drinking the best answer to the mysteries of universe – when you crack them you understand that you have nothing better to do then drink. In this episode NDGT chose to delineate how energy from the Sun transforms into grapes, which then transforms into wine, which then stimulates NDGT brain functions, which then manifests through his voice cords as some sort of wisdom.
Hmm, I might actually agree with him on this. First, I totally agree with his appreciation for the greatness of the universe, I said it in the beginning and as the episode progressed I shared in it more and more. NDGT might not believe in the Creator but he, imo, has a very healthy respect for the creation, which is a good step up from being a self-absorbed conditioned being. He also always refers to things, in this episode to stars, as being alive, being born, growing up, having relationships, aging, and then dying.
Despite his proclaimed atheism and belief in science he can’t see the universe as dead matter, and in this I agree with him – it doesn’t look dead and dumb at all, the difference is that we see God behind it byt NDGT doesn’t. Now, if you appreciate the greatness of the universe then, when you look back at our lives here, they seem petty and insignificant. If you have no place for God or any greater beings and relationships you have nothing to look forward to and this leads to trying to dull the pain through drugs and drinking. It’s just a natural answer to the emptiness of our lives and realization of our false hopes. Some people drink out of happiness but in this case I’d give NDGT the benefit of doubt and assume he drinks because of depression caused by his better understanding of our insignificance than that of ordinary people. I mean he drinks because he sees through illusion and because, after rejecting God, he has no other alternative.
Maybe I’m wrong about this but wouldn’t it be the height of irony – science presenter realizes that without God life is meaningless and empty? I hope many more follow his steps here and this means that more people should take science very seriously. Then they will see how shallow our lives are and that science only leads them to appreciation of Creator’s power.
It’s a roundabout way but it’s still a step in the right direction. As long as people are not envious by nature, and science is against envy as its driving principle, the more they learn about the world and the universe the closer it takes them to God and eventually they’d become happy and eager to meet the Creator.
Hopefully, it will not be in the form of death.
Here’s an idea, though – let these people fight us about our beliefs and about our Hare Kṛṣṇa explanation of the universe. As long as they heard the Holy Name and saw our appreciation for it, death will bring them to a much much better position in the next life. So what if they disagree with us now – comparing to the benefits expecting them in the future it seems like only a minor inconvenience for us? We should take it as a sacrifice for the sake of saṅkīrtana, that’s what all our ācāryas do anyway – patiently tolerate fools and voluntarily submit themselves to the possibility of offenses, including offenses against the Holy Name.
We should not shy away from preaching because it might produce unpleasant results, preaching IS desire to accept unpleasant results for the sake of the Lord, that’s what makes it so glorious.