Fleshing it Out

Snapshots of Our Political Pathology

Advancing Wholeness: The Beautiful Story (from COSMOS) of Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson– Part I

Much of the time here on NSB is devoted to the high-stakes battle now ongoing in America between the forces of wholeness and the forces of brokenness. I focus on the battle aspect because the forces of brokenness have been running rampant in recent years, degrading so many of the structures of wholeness in our nation.

But over the long haul much of the important work of building wholeness in the world goes on in ways that do not partake in any obvious way in the ways of combat.

A quite lovely illustration of that comes from a moment in the current television series, “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.” (If you haven’t checked out this series, you should know that there is much in it that is excellent, much that is important.)

This series is, of course, a kind of sequel to the famous series, “Cosmos,” that was hosted by Carl Sagan more than 30 years ago. It is at the end of the first installment of the series that we learn that the new host, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, is not just the replacement for the late Professor Sagan but that the connection between the two men goes much deeper.

Here’s how the story is told on one site:

Standing on the same seaside cliff in Northern California where Sagan filmed some of his scenes from the original series, deGrasse Tyson pulled out a 1970s ledger to show that Sagan had scheduled a day to meet with a then 17-year-old Neil, a kid from the Bronx who had applied to Cornell.

DeGrasse Tyson had his own artifact from that day — Sagan had given him a copy of one of his paperbacks, The Cosmic Collection, and had signed it to him, encouraging the aspiring scientist. DeGrasse Tyson explained how important that day was (even though he decided to go to Harvard instead)…

At the end of the day, he drove me back to the bus station. The snow was falling harder. He wrote his phone number, his home phone number, on a scrap of paper. And he said, “If the bus can’t get through, call me. Spend the night at my home, with my family.”

I already knew I wanted to become a scientist, but that afternoon I learned from Carl the kind of person I wanted to become. He reached out to me and to countless others. Inspiring so many of us to study, teach, and do science. Science is a cooperative enterprise, spanning the generations.

What is beautiful and whole in this is many-layered.

We start with the marvelous humanity of the older man, Carl Sagan. This eminent man reaches out here in so many ways to a youngster (African-American, incidentally), who aspires to be a scientist. He gives his time, his signed book, and an offer to help if help is needed.

Here is shown something that all of us, in countless ways in diverse situations, are in a position to do: to nurture the best in others, particularly but not only the young, to support and encourage our fellow human creatures to grow and flourish into the best of their potential. How much more whole the world would be if we all availed ourselves, as Carl Sagan did in this story, of our opportunities to support the best hopes and the hearts of our fellows.

The imparting of the pattern of wholeness is also clearly conveyed by the testimony of the recipient of this kindness and encouragement. Dr. Tyson decided then, he tells us, that he wanted to become not only a scientist like Sagan, but “the kind of person” Sagan had shown himself to be. (This is like Thomas Jefferson’s determination, described here a few days ago, to act “under temptations and difficulties” in the way the three mentors he so admired would have behaved.)

The pattern of “Pay it forward” is one of the ways that the force of the Good advances in the world. (Unfortunately, of course, the patterns of brokenness can also be “paid forward,” as when abused children become child abusers.)

In addition, the pattern of love and respect is here publicly perpetuated by the wonderful tribute that Dr. Tyson pays here to Carl Sagan. It’s a tribute of which the passage quoted here is only a part. And it was very moving. The generosity of spirit that Sagan showed the young Tyson is now brought full circle in this tribute by the generous and loving tribute he presents to the millions watching this series.

But there is one more way that what Sagan imparted to Tyson back nearly forty years ago has served the force of wholeness. That has to do with the ways in which the excellent series that Tyson is now bringing to American homes is entirely pertinent to the high-stakes battle being fought in America today.

That will be the subject of Part II, to be posted here soon.

2 thoughts on “Advancing Wholeness: The Beautiful Story (from COSMOS) of Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson– Part I


  1. Robin Pettit

    I do believe in paying it forward. I am trying to inspire those who are willing to be inspired. I hope to start influencing even younger kids. Time will tell. We currently work with CoOps in my job and I do try to provide inspiring work, vice drudge work so they see the possibilities and strive to do more rather than the drudgery and become less into expanding possibilities.

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