Friday, July 6, 2012

A Book of Cosmic Power

In a time where a sadly large portion of my inspiration comes from a number of superhero shows aimed at Japanese kids, every once in a while I come across something that truly speaks to me.  I'll admit that through the years, I haven't exactly been an avid reader, which is somewhat disappointing, considering that when I was a kid, I would have been considered a bookworm.  It was probably the years of intense study, where the only books I had time to read were the ones that I was required to read for classes, and most of those were technical in nature.  In other words, school completely killed my desire to read.

Whenever I have slowly picked at books for my own reading pleasure in recent years, I have have only read works of fiction.  Even then, it seemed like I had to force myself a bit, like I was relearning how to read for pleasure and not for some looming and urgent assignment.  After being away from classes for a while, I think I started to crave some mental stimulation, so I ended up buying a copy of Cosmos by Carl Sagan to nourish my brain.  I had always liked Sagan, ever since seeing an episode or two of the Cosmos TV series some time ago, and I figured that it would be an interesting and engaging read, but nothing would prepare me for the epic journey across time and space that would follow.

One of my favorite things about this book, and one of the first things any reader would notice, is how Sagan's writing is not only fairly easy to read and follow, but is very poetic as well.  There are so many quotable lines in any given chapter.  The awesome John D. Boswell of Symphony of Science took full advantage of this, as many of his songs consist heavily of auto-tuned Sagan quotes from the Cosmos TV series, most of which correspond directly to the book.  Here's but a small snippet of the billions and billions of notable quotes:

“If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” 

"The beauty of a living thing is not the atoms that go into it, but the way those atoms are put together."

“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.” 

“The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence.” 

Sagan has a gift for turning things we consider mundane, things we take for granted all too often, into something thought-provoking and meaningful.  He makes you stop to consider so many things, from the universally-large to the infinitesimally small.  Within the first chapter, I stopped and thought about how the trees are our cousins, how we share a good portion of our DNA with not only monkeys, but the bananas they are so fond of as well.  You get a good feel for how far we've come and how amazing life is.  It's a very inspiring thing, to look at all of the things in the cosmos that Sagan decides to highlight in this book.

I wouldn't call my experience with Cosmos to be absolutely perfect (Nothing really is).  There are some portions that interested me quite a bit, and some other portions not as much.  I believe that comes down to personal taste and interest.  For instance, the passages about evolution, the surface of Venus, time dilation, and black holes were some of the most riveting during the course of my cosmic experience, while some of the other passages dragged a bit.  Somebody else may be glued to different sections.  The final chapter wraps everything up beautifully though, never ceasing to be poignant and thoughtful.

Overall, after reading Cosmos, I feel enlightened and invigorated, like the cosmos is calling me to a higher, more meaningful purpose. I only hope that my infinitesimally small speck of cosmic consciousness can contribute something meaningful to our tiny corner of the universe.

I saved one Sagan quote for last.
“One glance at a book and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for 1,000 years. To read is to voyage through time.”
No matter how demoralizing your studies get, no matter how sidetracked you get with life and modern distractions, always try to find time to read something for yourself (especially from the non-fiction section).  You will be a better, more enlightened person for it.  READ A BOOK.

Billions and billions of books!!