Monday, March 9, 2020

Carl Sagan on Evolution

"Now We Affect The Future of Every Branch of this 4 Billion Year Old Tree"

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There are many theories about evolution. This is a perennial topic among people who spend a lot of time thinking about space and whether life exists throughout the Cosmos. So far, there is exactly one place that we know of where life as we know it exists, and that is planet earth. However, if you are going to try to find life elsewhere, it helps to have a good grasp of how life develops from its earliest incarnations to highly developed species.

Having recently posted about Fox's new animated series "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey," it seems appropriate to take a moment and show something from the original master of animated television science, astronomer-astrophysicist-cosmologist Carl Sagan. Dr. Sagan pioneered this field with his classic public broadcast television "Cosmos: A Personal Odyssey" in 1980.

In this particular selection, we learn about evolution from the man who can say "now we affect the future of every branch of this 4 Billion-year-old tree" and make it sound as he was beating a drum with every first syllable. As usual, there is a mix of live footage, trees and animals and so forth, and of simple but effective animation. The orientation is not on how human beings developed, but on how all species branched off and flourished. While not comprehensive, it is a good introduction for those who wish to learn about the field, and perhaps will stimulate the interest of some viewers who might be interested in learning more.

There are eight minutes of crisp animation that take us from molecules in the primordial soup, to bacteria, to plants and polyps, to lampreys, to turtles, to dinosaurs and birds, to wombats, to baboons and apes, and finally to us. Towards the end, Sagan does the whole four billion-year evolutionary journey again in forty seconds. This illustrates graphically how relatively long the initial stages of cell development took and how late in the process we came along. It is a classic teaching method, where you tell your listeners what you are going to tell them, then you tell them, and then you tell them what you just told them.

It's a brilliant sequence, worth watching if you are interested in the development of television animation or simply want an engaging presentation of an important science topic.

2020

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