‘If you wish to make an apple pie, you must first create the universe.’
The first episode of Sagan’s series, Cosmos, aired in September 1980. I came to it late, through the clip I’ve posted here which shows the work of John D. Boswell, a musician based in Washington. Almost all the samples and footage in A Glorious Dawn – Cosmos remixed (part of Boswell’s ‘Symphony of Science‘ project), are taken from Cosmos, and Stephen Hawking’s Universe (1987). Shown the clip one winter afternoon in a friend’s living room, I asked, who was this man, and where could I see more of him? The episode that hooked me most was the first: Sagan re-creates, through digital wizardry, the library at Alexandria.
We see him in the only remaining part: a dank and dusty underground storeroom. Letting a handful of dust sift from his fingers, he declares that the library, when it stood, was the ‘brain and glory of the greatest city on the planet earth’. If he could travel back in time, he continues, this is the place he would visit: the library of Alexandria at its height, 2,000 years ago, where began the intellectual adventure which led us into space.
I’ve always had time for a man who likes a good library. The one at Alexandria, Sagan says, was a ‘citadel of human consciousness.’ I urge you to find his recreation, watch it, and marvel.
‘I believe,’ he declared, ‘our future depends powerfully on how well we understand this cosmos, in which we float like a mote of dust in the morning sky.’ It’s thanks to him that the sound of Blind Willie Johnson’s slide guitar is currently hurtling through space, all sealed up in Voyager II. As the on-board inscription from President Jimmy Carter says: ‘This is a present from a small, distant world, a token of our sounds, our science, our images, our music, our thoughts and our feelings. We are attempting to survive our time so we may live into yours.’ Sagan’s belief was that it was worth trying to reach out, just in case. Instead of building walls, then, his desire was to connect with people or beings different from ourselves. He expressed that desire most fervently, perhaps, with these words: ‘How lucky we are to live in this time. The first moment in human history when we are visiting other worlds.’