Tuesday, December 15, 2009
The Persistence of Memory
I've been working my way through Cosmos, or I was until I lost five of the episodes 14 episodes I'd saved on the TiVo. If you're wondering how I ended up watching a twenty-nine year old science show while I eat my lunch, it's because of Henry.
Earlier in the fall Henry was on a science kick, and he requested that we record some DragonflyTV, and Daily Planet, and Dinosaur shows for him. Plus he watched all of the Nova Science Now episodes that Cary and I had neglected to sit through (Neil DeGrasse Tyson, you are no Carl Sagan). Anyway, I saw Cosmos was listed and jumped at the chance to get him to watch what had been one of my favorite science shows when I was a kid.
Fast forward a couple of months. His interest in science shows has been replaced by animal shows. He watched America's Cutest Dog yesterday twice when he was home sick, and showed particular affection for the dog that could say "hamburger." I started watching the episodes when I was recovering from that nasty flu back in October.
And, for me, watching Cosmos is like going to church. Sagan is as soothing and slightly nerdy as the best Protestant minister. Listening to him speak reminds me of how interconnected and fragile life is. Other than Sagan's omnipresent concern with nuclear war and how dated the cars look the show holds up remarkably well.
The Persistence of Memory isn't just a Dali painting, it's also the title of one of the episodes. In it Sagan explores whales as if they were alien creatures, reminding us that the largest are bigger than the dinosaurs. While I have no memory of ever watching the episode before as a kid, watching it floods me with so many other memories that I too feel like a passenger in Sagan's ship.
More than remembering much of the content of the show from watching it three decades ago, I remember how awed I felt watching the show. He discussed how life emerged from the oceans, and how the universe was expanding *right this very minute* and it was all a little much to hold in my eight year old head. It still is. But now I can also add layers of the science that I did go on to learn in school. When he covers evolution in about 12 minutes, it's pleasurable for my brain to retrace those steps. Instead of feeling unspeakably sad that Carl Sagan is gone, I feel only gratitude that I live in a world where the gadgets that I own actually deliver something this wonderful to my doorstep, even if it's only once every couple of decades.
And then I can't help wondering if Henry will ever discover Cosmos on his own, when he's ready, and of course I can't stop myself from hoping he too will have the same wonderful experience.