Cognitive Dissonance: Cosmos - Carl Sagan Would Be Proud!

Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive Dissonance: a discomfort caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance. They do this by changing their attitudes, beliefs and actions. Dissonance is also reduced by justifying, blaming and denying.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Cosmos - Carl Sagan Would Be Proud!

Last night I sat down on my couch after a long day at work looking forward to watching the recording of Cosmos, (hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson) I'd made the previous evening. My hopes/expectations were high, though I doubted anyone could stir my emotions and enchant my mind the way Carl Sagan once did. Cosmos was a major catalyst of my deconversion, the picture Sagan painted of the beauty and complexity of nature, the size, scope and truly awesome origins of our universe and life on earth helped open my eyes. His words and the passionate way in which he delivered them cut through the fog that shrouded my mind. The fog created by more than 20 years of trying to reconcile infantile, bronze age explanations of life and the origin of our universe with what I saw through the lens of a microscope, a telescope and between the covers of books. Though Carl Sagan possessed one of the most brilliant scientific minds of all time, he never seemed condescending or aloof, his explanations of concepts like space and time were captivating, perspicuous and elegant and in my case his words were also provocative. Having grown up in an environment where "truth" was taught with a capital "T" and only being allowed to spend time with children and families from my private, Christian School and church; the concepts and ideas Sagan presented were in many cases entirely novel to me. As far back as I can remember I was taught that God spoke the universe into existence in 7 (literal days), that the earth was 6,000 - 10,000 years old and that ideas like evolution or the big bang were contemptible and anyone who subscribed to such preposterous and deplorable notions deserved mockery, ridicule and shame. Oh the irony... I am ashamed to admit that the words, "evolution is only a theory," and "there are no transitional fossils" have passed my lips. However, in my defense I can claim ignorance as an excuse. I was indoctrinated long before I reached an age where I could be held accountable for my beliefs and shielded from "secular ideas" which included most of what science/scientists had discovered about the natural order of things.

Returning to my earlier comment about having high hopes and expectation for the "new" Cosmos series and my skepticism about it being as moving and impactful as the original... This is one of the rare instances when I can say I am truly delighted to be wrong! By the time Neil deGrasse Tyson was standing in the famous "spaceship of imagination" looking down on our planet from space, I was entranced. Tyson's delivery was just as eloquent, equally moving and thanks to major advances in science and technology, even more educational and informative than that of the late Carl Sagan. The icing on the cake was the moment at the end of the episode when Tyson produced Carl Sagan's personal calender and showed his name written in it. As Tyson recounted the snowy Saturday he spent with Sagan in Ithaca and the lasting effect it had on his life, I was literally moved to tears. I think because I was able to identify with the feeling of excitement and wonder that Tyson felt that day, at age 17. I might not have had the chance to visit Carl Sagan's lab or share a cheeseburger with him, but he had the same effect on my life as he did on Neil deGrasse Tyson's. He opened my eyes to the awesome and wonderful world of science, he inspired me to learn all I could about nature, he was my first exposure to the scientific method and he played a major roll in setting me free from the oppressive ignorance of religion.

I'll leave you with a quote from another late, great thinker and atheist, Christopher Hitchens. As always, "Hitch" sums up my feelings in a way I only wish I could.

One must state it plainly. Religion comes from the period of human prehistory where nobody—not even the mighty Democritus who concluded that all matter was made from atoms—had the smallest idea what was going on. It comes from the bawling and fearful infancy of our species, and is a babyish attempt to meet our inescapable demand for knowledge (as well as for comfort, reassurance and other infantile needs). Today the least educated of my children knows much more about the natural order than any of the founders of religion, and one would like to think—though the connection is not a fully demonstrable one—that this is why they seem so uninterested in sending fellow humans to hell.

See full episodes of "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey" at: - Hosted by: Neil deGrasse Tyson

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