The Religion of Cosmos

Finally figured out what bothers me so much about the new Cosmos series on Fox.

I had a conversation today about it because I mentioned I hated it. I went on for a while about the little things I disliked—the overfond, slavish, and inaccurate cartoon about Bruno; the inaccuracies in describing the outer solar system; or the Eurocentric perspective on the development of heliocentrism.

That sounds like nitpicking, and it probably is. As long as more people get interested in science, right? That’s the point, after all, isn’t it?

I then mentioned that Seth MacFarlane bankrolled the whole thing, as executive producer. He’s a pretty disgusting human being in general, and that was enough to leave a bad taste in my mouth about the show. I muscled through, though, and watched the whole first episode. I think it was the long Bruno fable which turned me off the most. MacFarlane comes down pretty anti-religion in his various previous cartoons, and it shone through most nakedly during the Bruno segment. I’m speculating here in supposing that MacFarlane’s attested bias against religion in general influenced Cosmos, but I don’t feel like I’m that far out on a limb, especially given the degree to which facts were twisted to support their narrative. As a fable, it smacked of a moral which I found hypocritical.

It’s that narrative, which the fable props up, that gives me the most pause. To hear Cosmos tell it, you’d think that science were some sort of higher truth which simply reveals itself to its earthly avatars: like Copernicus being the first to dream of heliocentrism—which pit him in opposition to a false religion motivated by avarice. It gives no clue into the story of how he came to his conclusions or how they were accepted. Heliocentrism simply becomes truth, and woe betide those who deny it.

In other words, this new version of Cosmos robs science of its human element and simply erects its own divinity in place of the Catholic Church, which it rejects. It leaves little place for human inquiry and human ability, by simply presenting facts whole cloth with no room for the story of debate or discovery. We’re asked to trade one authority for another. That message isn’t empowering or inspiring. It isn’t even a message; it’s indoctrination.

That appeal to authority bugged me the most about the episode, and all the little details that seemed off to me speak precisely to this concern. For example, mentioning the Oort Cloud as a proven fact, without mentioning it’s still hypothetical and unproven, really bugged me—with no mention of the Kuiper belt at all! When Giordano Bruno, a non-scientific mystic, forms a core part of the narrative, what’s the lesson? What’s the point? When we come away from Cosmos that only a few may be initiated into the secrets of science through methods wholly unknown to us, how can Cosmos inspire new scientists?

Hosting My Own Code

I’ve gotten an instance of GitLab set up and running at emily.st/code, and I’m going to begin migrating anything of mine away from GitHub and the like and hosting it myself.

I’m not going to go into how I did all this (yet). For those curious, mostly, I was able to follow the recipe laid out here. I recall it didn’t work 100% as given for me, but it was damn close. I seem to recall the PUIAS repository neither existed, worked, nor was needed. Also, PostgreSQL auth didn’t work right away as expected (but it was a small change to pg_hba.conf to use “md5” for authentication). I also modified the environment to serve from a subdirectory on my primary domain (to use my existing SSL certificate), and my nginx configuration is a bit funky as a result. Aside from these things, that was a really good recipe, better than most I’ve seen, and it works swimmingly on an Amazon Linux EC2 instance.

Okay, now, why did I do this?

This was pretty easy to me, but I can imagine this kind of setup, as outlined in the recipe up there, to be challenging for those not use to setting up servers, especially ones that serve multiple jobs. I’m sympathetic. GitLab has done a cool thing, making Omnibus packages available (and virtual server images!) for quick setup. These are reasonable if you’re dedicating an entire server to this task, as I imagine some of you might do at work. Otherwise, I recommend muscling through a recipe, if you’re going to do this yourself.

Waiting

I keep repeating to myself, this moment has never happened before.

When I remember that, I find it disrupts my life narrative completely and brings me forcefully into the present moment. It’s one of the few coping mechanisms for impatience that I have. Most of the time, my narrative thread I carry with me extends into the future, attempting to impose my past experiences onto it. I live bound within expectations, whose tension I wait to resolve. I array my life along this thread and look both behind and ahead, longingly.

I feel like there’s a lot of waiting going on in my life right now, taking me out of the present moment constantly. So I have to say to myself, this moment is new, nothing like it has ever happened, and I find myself right here and now. I have no idea what’s going to happen. Sometimes it helps calm me, and other times it makes me even more anxious.

A Bit About My “vimrc” File

My configuration files (the so-called “dot” files) are in a private Git repo, which I use to keep my settings updated across various systems. That said, I’m going to make a special effort to keep my ~/.vimrc file updated in this public Gist. (As a matter of course, I keep my ~/.vimrc here now.) I use Vim a lot, and I’ve spent a long time customizing and elaborating on my setup, accumulating a lot of tricks that are useful to pass on. Someday, perhaps I’ll write a Vim autocommand that updates the Gist automatically, but for now, it’s a labor of love.

One of the things I finally got around to doing recently is organizing my Vim settings into a scheme I can keep up. Interesting tip to know about Vim: if you type :options, you get a window describing all the available core settings organized into twenty-six sections, along with a small description of each setting. The neat thing is that this window gives such a great template for organizing your existing settings.

Screen Shot 2014-02-27 at 20.10.37I took this to its extreme and put everything into this organizational scheme the best I could, moving everything around and tucking things into neat little folds throughout. When I open my ~/.vimrc to modify a setting, it’s easy to find the right section, open the fold, and go to town. Thanks to a modeline, I’m always presented with this compact set of folds ready to go. Best of all, when I have new settings, I know right where it goes. All of this adds up together to dramatically reduce the friction of improving my settings altogether. Truthfully, this cuts weirdly down on my anxiety around messing with my settings. I worried before about making an unmanageable mess even worse.

Is it weird to carry around so many feelings about a settings file?