Encyclopaedia Galactica

(UFOs, Aliens, and Communication)
Cosmos
by Carl Sagan
A Personal Voyage
13 episodes
See below for
DVD purchasing options
(Carl Sagan's Cosmos episode no. 12)
  • written by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan & Steven Soter
  • series director & executive producer Adrian Malone
  • UFO sequence directed by Richard J. Wells
  • Champollion sequences directed by Tom Weidlinger and Geoffrey Haines-Stiles
  • Arecibo and Monterey sequences directed by David F. Oyster
  • Spaceship sequences directed by Rob McCain
  • edited by James Latham (film) and Roy Stewart (videotape)

  • Main Title Theme by Vangelis
  • Music by Vangelis, Dmitri Shostakovich, Wm. Jeffery Boydstun,
    Richard Wagner, and others...
  • 1 documentary @ 60 minutes

Data Capsule Review

by Martin Izsak


One thing that had initially made me reluctant to embrace the series "Cosmos" was something within Carl Sagan's reputation that had preceded him and rubbed me the wrong way - and this something gets a full blown outing in episode 12, particularly at the beginning. Sagan is, perhaps infamously, quite closed-minded in his approach to UFO phenomena, and quite prejudiced towards his own idea of how aliens will contact us.

It seems to me that he makes a lot of assumptions as he goes, and jumps to conclusions quickly whenever he wants to debunk something, perhaps in a hurry to try to move it out of the way to make room for his own ideas. And his own ideas are okay, as yet another set of possibilities. They're just nowhere near as definitive as he thinks they are in his presentations.

Participants include:

Dr. Carl Sagan

Astronomer, host, narrator

This episode opens with a dramatization of a famous UFO case involving Betty and Barney Hill. (I have to keep resisting the temptation to call them the Rubbles, in honour of the Flintstone cartoon characters.) Sagan recounts a lot of what supposedly happened, then drives hard to emphasize the unreliability of all of the information.

His key testimony concerns a map of nearby stars, which becomes a fascinating example of how arbitrary interpretation can lead people to fairly meaningless conclusions. What he doesn't seem to realize is how well this works both ways. Sure, those who attempt to use this to prove the accuracy of the Hills' story are reaching, and it doesn't hold water. But, I think, those like Sagan who attempt to conclude from this that the Hill's story must be bunk are also reaching. Exactly how well would you expect a groggy person to remember a map of pinpoints several weeks after the fact without taking any notes? The inability to remember a map with a high degree of scientific accuracy doesn't prove that Betty Hill didn't have an experience on an extra-terrestrial craft.

For that matter, one also has to wonder why scientists insist that science has to rule the question of our meetings with aliens. If someone says that they met a new neighbour from down the street one night, we don't typically doubt them until scientific proof can be brought to bear. Why is science so much more necessary for stories of alien encounters? I like to flip Sagan's usual questions around 180 degrees and ask if there is any solid scientific reason to doubt a story such as Betty Hill's, and practically speaking, the fact that the map isn't any more accurate than I would expect considering the path the information took going through Hill's story, it hasn't given me any more reason to doubt the story.

In fact, this begins to point towards a few false expectations in general from the scientific community in terms of how well any of us might believe that factors of states of mind and emotion can be isolated, and thus discounted as having any effect on the results of either controlled experiments or careful scientific observations. Typically, if a scientist isn't specifically testing for those things as their primary interest, he or she tends to be uninterested even in considering such things as contributing factors of perhaps secondary interest - at least traditionally, in Sagan's time. There does however seem to be a bit of a revolution in quantum physics, for those scientists who feel they have little choice but to look at such things in order to move their understanding forward.

Perhaps ideas of states of mind are much more naturally suited to the concept of "meeting one's neighbours" in space, which probably should be more about social graces and politics than science. Indeed, one of the common recurring themes of UFO reports and contact literature is the idea that intelligence evolved elsewhere doesn't necessarily inhabit the same range of brain wave rhythms and frequencies as do most animal minds on our own planet. We humans spend most of our waking, intellectual, scientifically pondering moments operating at something called the beta-wave frequencies, where our dominant brain waves fluctuate between 14-21 Hertz. (1 Hertz = 1 cycle per second.) Many scientific studies have shown that increased psychic awareness, creativity, and dreamworld processing occur in other ranges of brain-wave frequencies, such as the alpha (7-14 Hz), theta (4-7 Hz), and delta (0.5-4 Hz) ranges.

Armed with this consideration, it would be presumptuous of us to assume that extra-terrestrial beings would also evolve to function in this exact same range for their primary day-to-day physical/social activities, or more specifically, that they would be as limited to beta-wave brain frequencies as we are. According to much of the contact literature, they can combine beta, alpha, and theta operations much more efficiently than we can - and in fact this has a side effect on us when we encounter them. If we listen to what they're communicating to us on the alpha or theta ranges, our beta range shuts down - we nearly fall asleep, and we feel like we're dreaming the whole thing.... and this is all about us following our own habits of keeping these aspects of our own minds compartmentalized.

Ever try to show a book to a cat? Most of the cats I have known refuse to even look directly at a book. Put it in front of their face, and they turn away. It's as if it's too complex a concept for them. And yet we know cats are smart. It shouldn't be beyond them to appreciate a photo in a book. Yet most of them won't even look at one, and refuse to buy into its existence. Are we humans doing the same with our encounters with extra-terrestrials, while also believing we are oh-so-smart?

But I digress...


Champollion

A fairly significant chunk of this episode is devoted to the story of Champollion deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics and marveling at their culture and architecture. I like this section, as it is an interesting piece of history to learn, it celebrates the diversity of culture within our own species, and it appeals to my code-breaking instincts as well.

But at the same time, I don't feel it is quite as relevant to the central extra-terrestrial theme as Sagan thinks it is. It seems to me that the previous episode's segments of dolphins and whale songs were actually more poignant and relevant. At least there, communication between different intelligent species could be examined, even if both are from the same planet. With Egyptian hieroglyphs, it's the same species AND the same planet - less close to the big challenge that we're warming up for.


Radio-Astronomy

At the episode's midpoint, Sagan makes his greatest pitch for E.T. contact, focusing on radio-telescopes. Part of the build-up here includes his criterion that the method of communication should be FAST - to cover interstellar distances quickly. If it's true that the speed of light is constant between all stars in interstellar space, then I would conclude that radio signals are FAR TOO SLOW to be considered practical. The human species has yet to possess radio technology for the length of time it would take for a signal to reach most stars, let alone go out and come back. The really BIG question concerning this is: How long would any species remain excited about using a technology with these limitations, not before they blow themselves up, but before they discover a much better technology that works much faster?

In fact, if we really work with alpha and theta brain frequencies, we may discover that there's a great psychic internet already in existence between all specie, regardless of their interstellar locations. Telepathy may already be the great connector of truly intelligent, advanced specie all across the galaxy, and the human race has yet to develop its own faculties in this regard. What little telepathy we know how to use isn't considered all that reliable for us yet - likely because it's more associated with interpretation and the world of our dreams rather than the beta-dominated frequency range of practical daily usage and scientific endeavours. If we knew how to integrate the various aspects of our minds, perhaps it would appear more reliable, feasible, and attractive. As far as the speed factor goes, it's got radioastronomy beat by a longshot.

At any rate, Sagan's push for radioastronomy to be THE primary method for initiating extra-terrestrial contact feels to me like a primitive tribesman getting excited about lacing North America up with empty tin cans connected by strings. Okay, the string-can phone might seem exciting if you never had anything else previously, but the continent went for fibre-optics some time ago. Move with the times...

Also quite noticeable is how Sagan's ideal E.T. contact scenario laid out here is pretty much a perfect blueprint for what happens in the Jodie Foster film "Contact", which was made from Sagan's novel. I'd put money down that (a) the first E.T. contact has already happened, and (b) the first publicly acknowledged E.T. contact, even if it is a future event, will play out rather differently.


The Drake Equation

The Drake Equation is an interesting concept, and Sagan spends a good chunk of time explaining the details of it and using it to make some calculations. What is interesting is how the equation becomes the eye of the needle for the entire Cosmos series. Most of the topics covered in previous episodes turn out to be pre-requisites for understanding this one equation, topics which now thread themselves through this one simple segment in a radio-telescope control room. One more topic is new here, and the Drake equation kind of sets it up and gives it an unforgettably different sense of importance before Sagan goes on to tackle it for his final Cosmos episode.


Finally, we get another sequence of imagination, from which the episode takes its title. Sagan gets to browse through an Encyclopaedia Galactica, provided by some imagined space-faring E.T. race, examining planet after planet to see what the conditions and life-forms there might be like. This is one of the cooler sequences on Cosmos as a whole, and remains one of my favourites as well.


Finally, we get the "Cosmos Update". This is almost funny, as Sagan appears genuinely amazed and frustrated that people haven't yet dismissed all those pesky UFO reports to embrace his viewpoint instead. Sorry, life doesn't work like that!


Overall, this is not too bad an episode, and it contains a lot of excellent and enjoyable sections. When Sagan's dismissive bits are taken with their fair share of grains of salt, it remains a palatable and worthwhile episode to watch multiple times.




The Music - Episode 12

(Anything written in green text represents a name I made up to help keep some music better identified in my own head.)
Composer/PerformerTitleNotes
VangelisSymphony to the Powers B, Movement Three
also known as "Theme from Cosmos"
Title Music
Wm. Jeffery BoydstunAlien Images 01
Wm. Jeffery Boydstun
Alien Images 02 What's this? Let's listen...
Richard HarveyThe World About Us
?? unknown?? unknown bassoon
Richard Wagner
Das Rheingold - Entry into Valhalla

VangelisBeaubourg - Side 2 - Champollion Intrigued(short opening sting)
Richard WagnerDas Rheingold - Rhinemaidens' Lament
Alan HovhanessSymphony No. 19 - "Trekking Theme" excerpt
Richard WagnerDas Rheingold - Entry into Valhalla
Alan HovhanessSymphony No. 19 - "Trekking Theme" excerpt
Richard StraussAlso Sprach Zarathustra - section 3 of 9:
"Von der grossen Sehnsucht" (bewegter)
("Of the great Longing")
Richard Wagner
Das Rheingold - Entry into Valhalla

Dmitri ShostakovichSymph. 11 Mvmt. 1 - "The Palace Square", part A
Dmitri ShostakovichSymph. 5 Mvmt. 3, "Holy Geometry" excerpt
Dmitri ShostakovichSymph. 11 Mvmt. 1 - "The Palace Square",
part B - Kepler's Theme
Richard HarveyMigration
VangelisCreation Du Monde
Gustav Holst
Neptune

VangelisBeaubourg - Side 2 - Ominous(final portions)
VangelisBeaubourg - Side 2 - Champollion Intrigued(middle bit)
Vangelis
Beaubourg - Side 2 - Winky and Whacky
What are all these?
(final sting[s] )
Vangelis
Alpha

(original version)
VangelisBeaubourg - Side 1 - "SOL Prospects"(beginning)
?? Vangelis???Comet Movement? - Code Generator Bubble(funky electronic)
Wm. Jeffery Boydstun
Shadows What's this? Let's listen...

-- no music --

(for most of "The Drake Equation")
Dmitri ShostakovichSymph. 11 Mvmt. 1 - "The Palace Square",
part A continuing into B
@ 40:06
VangelisBeaubourg - Side 1 - "SOL Prospects"(finish)
VangelisBeaubourg - Side 2 - Ominous begins(overlapping previous cue)
VangelisEntends-Tu Les Chiens Aboyer? #1
(drone sound)
?? Vangelis???Comet Movement? - "À Voir La Lumière"
Dmitri ShostakovichSymph. 11 Mvmt. 1 - "The Palace Square", part C
Dmitri ShostakovichSymph. 11 Mvmt. 1 - "The Palace Square", part B
VangelisTheme from Cosmos
?? Vangelis???Comet Movement? - Alien Vista 2 (end)Cosmos Update
?? Vangelis???Comet Movement? - Alien Vista 1 (beginning)Cosmos Update, from "This program called Meta..."
Alan HovhanessSymphony No. 19 - "Trekking Theme" excerptend credits
VangelisComet 16Collector's Edition 2000 Credits



This documentary has become available on DVD.
Cosmos - by Carl Sagan: A Personal Voyage


13 hour-long episodes, 1980
U.S.

Canada

U.K.


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Read the data capsule review for the next episode: "Who Speaks for Earth?"



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