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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Wonders of the Solar System

I was watching Brian Cox present one of his splendid 'Wonders of the Solar System' shows on the BBC Knowledge channel and - as he always does - he had me absolutely riveted.  These shows are a visual feast but also startlingly lucid in how the science is made to feel accessible.  Cox is an extraordinary communicator.

(He describes himself as an atheist but when he does that I also remember how on many occasions he speaks in glowing terms of 'the magnificent story of the universe'.  Note: 'A magnificent STORY'.  It's a minor point but a significant one: even allowing for him speaking metaphorically, the concept of 'story' implies creation or shaping purpose - and so rather undermines pure atheist credentials.   Strict atheism is so difficult to maintain!)

Cox's programmes make me see space in dazzling colours and he populates the universe with an endless creative energy.  Last Sunday night the presentation was built about the notion of gravity - and he had me spellbound as the narrative unfolded.

This did however also make me remember something from C.S. Lewis (wonderful how one can keep coming to him) where in Out of the Silent Planet he gives an imaginative description of how his character Ransom, experiences "a progressive lightening and exultation of heart" as the spacecraft takes him away from earth into space.

"A nightmare, long engendered in the modern mind by the mythology that follows in the wake of science was falling off him. He had read of “Space”: at the back of his thinking for years had lurked the dismal fancy of the black, cold vacuity, the utter deadness, which was supposed to separate the worlds. He had not known how much it affected him till now—now that the very name “Space” seemed a blasphemous libel for this empyrean ocean of radiance in which they swam…. He had thought it barren: he saw now that it was the womb of worlds, whose blazing and innumerable offspring looked down nightly even upon the earth with so many eyes—and here, with how many more!"

That last sentence could have come from Cox himself!
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