The Backbone of Night

The seventh episode of Cosmos was once again a joy to watch. As I mentioned earlier I haven't see this series for many years but it is amazing how applicable it still is, and how some of the things that Dr. Sagan mentioned have indeed come true. In the beginning of the episode we see him speaking to a class of grade 6 students in Brooklyn (it turned out that this was the school he attended), and the episode ends with these students as well. Near the end he explains how we might be able to search for planets around other stars and predicts that by the time the students are as old as he is, theta we will have done this. Needless to say we have accomplished this feat with many planets having already been found, and its about forty years since the show first aired, etc.

From this introduction Dr. Sagan goes on speak about mythology and mentions the !Kung who call the Milky Way "The Backbone of Night" and believe - primarily because they live at a latitude where it is always visible that it holds up the sky. He goes on to explain how it got the names we know it as - because it was seen as the milk spurted from Hera's breast.

The next segment dealt with various important people such as Ptolemy (with his earth centred universe) and Copernicus (with the sun centred version). The Ionian philosophers Democritus (who is credited with coming up with the idea of atoms), Anaxagoras (who was charged with heresy because he thought the sun was the centre of the solar systemm) and who influenced Copernicus when he read his books. He then spoke of Pythagoras and Plato who were essentially mystics, suppressed science and influenced many modern religions. Until people such as Leonardo da Vinci, Copernicus, and other rediscovered the Ionian philosophers and started thinking again.

All in all a very well done episode



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