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?


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.

Habits of Mind

From as near as I can tell, the act of meditation entails practicing and cultivating habits of mind. Nothing more than that.

I’ve been thinking about meditation for a really long time, as I’ve read a bit about it, especially the lojong practice discussed in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. When you get into the whys and wherefores of it, you start approaching a rather religious discussion, but putting that aside, I’ve been wondering what will happen if I diligently practice it.

Maybe it’s not fair to say that I’m wondering, what’s the point? What’s the purpose? Is there a goal? I admit that sort of language crossed my mind at first. It doesn’t seem to be a useful line of questioning. Rather, those questions seem to impose a kind of value judgment on your practice: Am I achieving a goal? Progressing towards a desired outcome?

That’s not necessarily what I want. In fact, there’s no place for “want” in this. Just an exercise.

So along and along, I’ve indulged in the practice in quiet moments. Not a lot. Perhaps I haven’t been as diligent as I would if I were practicing under a formalized setting. But I don’t hold that against myself. I used to. I’m learning more and more to observe that fact and then let it go.

I can’t say that I’ve accomplished things. I can talk about what I’ve noticed, and I can talk about what I’ve focused on.

I try to focus on awareness. When I was having angst about the experience, like I said, I wondered where I was supposed to be going with this, but after a conversation with a friend, we talked about awareness, and I thought, well, there doesn’t have to be some end goal. Awareness is a nice thing to have. Who doesn’t want to be more aware?

I’ve noticed how quickly my thoughts blow me away from the current moment, how quickly they carry me forward in time. As I live and grow and accumulate time and experiences, the more quickly I tumble forward, out of control, my thoughts and experiences aggregating around me until the current moment is hard to see.

So I just want to be more aware, and this has this side-effect, one I’ve found really beneficial, of slowing down the passage of time. Maybe I shouldn’t call it a side-effect; that implies there’s some primary effect I’m chasing. Just an effect.

I don’t have much else to report. I just wanted to share that experience, in hopes someone else out there is thinking about meditation.