Carl Sagan Revisited

March 11th, 2013
in econ_news, syndication

EconintersectGEI reader and occasional contributor Sanjeev Kulkarni forwarded us a link to Episode 13 of Carl Sagan's "Cosmos".  Cosmos:  A personal Voyage was a series produced for television in 1978-79.  It was broadcast by PBS in 1980 and was the most widely watched series on public televison before 1990.   Sagan co-wrote, co-directed and narrated the series.

Episode 13 is the final segment of the series.  If you watch only one episode Econintersect believes that this hour is by far the most important.  It is a summary of 15 billion years of history of the Universe and yet a detailed dissection of the essence of the relatively short time of the development of life.  In the same hour Sagan manages to challenge the intellect to confront assumptions of modern society.


Follow up:

The following summary is found at YouTube:

Cosmos: A Personal Voyage is a thirteen-part television series written by Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan, and Steven Soter, with Sagan as presenter. It was executive-produced by Adrian Malone, produced by David Kennard, Geoffrey Haines-Stiles and Gregory Andorfer, and directed by the producers and David Oyster, Richard Wells, Tom Weidlinger, and others. It covered a wide range of scientific subjects including the origin of life and a perspective of our place in the universe.

Editorial notes: The hour of this broadcast contains the philosophical foundations of mankind - the shoulders upon which the thinkers stand who guide many in our modern world.  And yet the scope of modern thinking is sometimes seemingly shallow by comparison.  When the scope of the foundation detailed by Sagan is compared to modern paragons who have influenced economic thinking, they may be perceived to come up short.  The thinking of many most influential in economics and political economic thought, people such as Adam Smith, Ricardo, J.S. Mill, Marx, Keynes, Hayek, Samuelson, Friedman and Ayn Rand, among others, may seem diminished when compared to the foundations described by Sagan.

Yet the current dichotomy of great foundations and defective later structures is not a new phenomenon.  It is almost certainly a problem of focus by society at large.  At one point in the program Sagan describes the role of the great center of early learning, the Library of Alexandria.  This was  a (the?) primary environment for fundamental scholarly investigation in the world from 283 B.C. until its final destruction (along with most of its ancient scholarly records over a period of perhaps several hundred years) sometime before 640 A.D.

In Sagan's view, the scope of intellectual accomplishment by scholars at the Library of Alexandria was astounding.  But he is also obviously amazed at the lack of impact that the activity had on the world at large.  He laments that great achievements in science, mathematics, medicine and engineering found limited application outside the library, except for perhaps some advancement in the technology of warfare.  He further criticizes the lack of effort of the great thinkers over those nine centuries to address the assumptions of politics, economics, commerce and religion.

At about the 30-minute mark, Sagan says (maybe slightly paraphrased):

"The permanence of the stars was questioned, but not the justice of slavery."

It was probably not lost on Sagan that his reflections of the activities two millenia ago reflected as well on current times.

Econintersect recommends that you set aside an hour and watch again one of the great hours ever presented on television.

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