COSMOS CliffsNotes - Episode 3


Life Lessons as Told by COSMOS

I’m starting to learn that the goal of COSMOS is not simply to educate the public about astronomy and science in general. Each show proves to be much more than that, for better or worse.  Episode 3 in particular provided us with 3 life lessons to walk away with…

1. Hey parents, support your curious kids

NDT used the example of Edmond Halley, an English astronomer, to make the point that kids are naturally curious about the world and that parents should find ways to support this inherent curiosity.

“He was lucky to have a father who encouraged and nurtured his curiosity” - NDT

Because of the support from his father, Halley made great contributions to astronomy and science in general.  He worked to complete star maps that could enable sailors to use the sky for navigation purposes regardless of where they were located in the world. He also invented the weather map (the symbols that he used to indicate prevailing winds are still used today). It was Edmond Halley who gave us the actual scale of the solar system. He also later proved to be an incredible influence in Isaac Newton’s life and may be the only reason why Newton is credited with his famous Three Laws of Motion.

2. If your life sucks, try science

NDT told the story of Isaac Newton, an English boy whose father had died before he was born and whose mother left him when he was a toddler.  His mother came back to him when he was 11, with an entirely new family and husband – who Newton despised.  Newton’s refuge from his miserable family life was his passion for understanding how nature worked.

Newton dedicated his life to mathematics and science. His work led him to become one of the most influential scientists in history. Newton is now credited with 'discovering' the principle of gravity, demonstrating that light could be decomposed into a rainbow using a prism, inventing calculus, and lastly proving his Three Laws of Motion.  So maybe it was a good thing that his family sucked? Well, good for us at least.

3. Even science is plagued with real-world constraints and human imperfection

This brings us to the last message that was revealed via the bromantic story between Newton and Halley.  Newton was a brilliant recluse who proved – what is now known as – Newton’s Three Laws of Motion. In a time where the predominant answer for movement in the universe was simply – God did it! – Newton, instead, came up with mathematical answers that could precisely predict the movements of celestial objects. Instead of God, he proved that gravity is the force that dictates motion on Earth and everywhere else in the cosmos.

With such a revolutionary discovery, you would think that the scientific world would scream it from the mountaintops.  But in order to do that, these scientific discoveries must be made communicable.  Newton just had all of these discoveries written down on stray pieces of paper.  His BFF (and apparently his only friend?) Edmond Halley, had to beg him to put these discoveries into a readable book. This way, the leading scientific body at the time, the Royal Society, could publish it and make it known to the world.

After Newton created such a book, Halley went to the Royal Society to get it published immediately. Unfortunately, as it turns out, there is a force more powerful than gravity that dictates which science gets known to the world. That, of course, is money.  

At the time, the Royal Society had already spent nearly its entire annual budget on a book called “The History of Fish.”  And that book, not so surprisingly, was selling terribly. Because of this, they had no money available to print, publish, and distribute Newton’s book any time in the near future.  So instead, Halley dedicated his time and his own personal savings to revising and publishing Newton’s book himself.

NDT notes that the only reason Newton’s book was written, published and brought to the scientific community was because of Newton’s one true friend in the entire world, Edmond Halley.  Which begs us to ponder – how many other scientific discoveries throughout history have been lost because of the discoverer’s inability to bring it to our attention?

What other life lessons are you learning from the COSMOS?  Let me know - Twitter: @EmCalSpaceGal

Emily CalandrelliComment