Archive | March 2014

Giordano Bruno in Neil deGrasse’s “Cosmos” is a poor martyr for science

The other night I watched the first episode of the new imagining of Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” (as did quite a few other people, from the look of my feeds in social media).

I remember seeing the old series when I was younger—not a child, but as a young adult. It’s not that I was kept from Sagan or anything. My lack of interest in the miniseries from 1980 was more superficial and petty: the visual effects were too old to pique my interest.

I perked up when I learned about Seth MacFarlane’s intended remake. The inclusion of Neil deGrasse Tyson as the new series’ host was even more awesome. I put the air date in my calendar and waited. Finally, it was time and I watched it.

It was pretty good. The initial episode was a good primer of things to come—nothing overly groundbreaking. I always love efforts to get people interested in learning about the shocking immensity of our universe. It amazing to try to behold, and the concepts necessary to express the intricacies of reality are also mind boggling (link) (link).

I did have a “brow-furrowing” moment with the episode, though—not an outright problem, but one that made me question why the well-funded and much-anticipated show would go in this direction. The moment was the inclusion of the story of Dominican friar Giordano Bruno (link).

Several people reacting to the episode seem to have friction with this portion of the show as well (link)(link). Now, most are saying it came across as anti-religion. It did and I’m not bothered by that, even as a religious person. It’s just that, for a show that wants to introduce “heroes of science” to a new generation of viewers, Bruno isn’t really that scientific.

Giordano Bruno rises from his prison in standard crucifixion pose.

In his dreams, Giordano Bruno rises from his Earthly prisons in standard crucifixion pose.

Cosmos’ treatment of Bruno’s story obscured facts and exaggerated events to appeal to people’s emotions. And the inclusion of crucifixion imagery with Bruno (see picture…twice Bruno transcended his Earthy bonds by striking up a crucifixion pose) and the religiously-tinged jargon of his ‘martyrdom’ was just cheap.

For those who haven’t seen the Cosmos episode, the show takes several minutes to tell (and adopts a new visual style to accentuate) the story of Bruno, a 16th Century monk. According to Cosmos, Bruno, influenced by Copernicus’ heliocentric model, had a dream. In this dream, he saw the Earth orbiting the sun, but also that the stars of the sky were similar to the Sun, each with possible worlds of their own. Bruno was condemned by the Church for daring to think outside of tradition and burned at the stake. Bruno was a martyr for logic and science. Religion is bad. The end.

Two reactions: 1) That’s not the real story. 2) With no evidence either way, how does holding to one superstition over another make Bruno an example for science?

On the first reaction, the Church didn’t overly care that Bruno believed in a heliocentric model of the solar system (link). They didn’t overly care in his belief of Copernicus’ views (many people did…even the Gregorian Calendar, adopted years earlier in 1582, was based on Copernicus’ observations).

What they had a problem with was Bruno’s pantheistic beliefs (link). In saying God was everywhere and not in any one place in particular, he took away emphasis on Christ as anything special. He also denied that the universe was a created thing. Say that as a Christian monk now and you’ll get kicked out of the Church too—not burned at the stake (we’ve at least come that far…not defending the practice by any means), but it wouldn’t go over well. The Church objected to Bruno because of theological reasons, not scientific ones.

On the second response, the way Bruno’s story was told in the Cosmos episode made him out to be far more of a champion of faith than of science. He had no way of testing his theory. He never could witness his theory. He didn’t even put it forward as a theory to be debated or proven. He had a dream of a metaphysical reality—a dream he believed was divinely inspired. And he exercised faith in that dream as his own brand of religion, to the point of death. Bruno was a man of faith, not science.

Changing facts and co-opting an obscure religious figure’s beliefs to fit a secular agenda is something a show championing science should be above doing. Cosmos is the one who opened the science vs religion salvo this time (MacFarlane being pretty anti-religion). It’s unfortunate that the show tried to take things in this direction right out of the gate, and in such a half-assed way. It’s distracting to what the show could be about.

By simply pointing out he thousands of things about the observable universe, you’ll naturally get people to wonder if their views from religious texts alone are adequate enough to explain reality.

The way the Bruno case was portrayed with its tweaked version of history just seemed tawdry. Galileo was a contemporary of Bruno…even beat Bruno out for a teaching job as chair of mathematics at Padua University in 1591. He was persecuted and repressed for his beliefs too–and was much more of an actual scientist. He would have been a better example to make the same point, IMO.


Boundaries trump pacing in relationships

Taking a break from figuring out the world to lend a blog post about figuring out each other.

In my time I’ve been privy to seeing a lot of relationships. Most of us have. It’s just that since I was younger, my friends usually came to me for advice. Over the years (and decades), I’ve had my hand at talking my guy and girl friends through relationship drama in middle/high school, college, the military and now I guess, in the normal world.

Drama abounds, insecurity abounds. In many ways it’s the same now as it was in the sixth grade. Well…adulthood means the stakes are higher. Being told “nope” when asking someone to prom is a bit easier to deal with than finding out a spouse of 10 years is cheating or that swinging isn’t fixing that need for variety.

Regardless, people need a friend and confidant to check their perceptions of how things are going or get feedback on how to proceed. And, as such a friend, business as an amateur relationship counselor is as booming as ever.

I do think it’s interesting that most of my time listening and giving advice comes from a lack of personal experience. I’ve been single for all but a few scant months of my 33 years. But I’ve seen a hundred wonderful and terrible relationships. I’m happy to act as a sounding board.

And I’m not all together. My friends pour into me quite a bit too as I’ve had my go of things. I’m hardly someone with all the right answers, but I try to listen and grow.

One thing that has been coming up a lot recently with several friends, all in or at the cusp of significant relationships, is this idea of pacing. “Are things moving too fast/slow?” “Will I be able to keep the person’s interest?” “Am I scaring the person off?” That sort of stuff.

There are a lot of books and a general perception in culture about what is a good amount of time for certain milestones. The first/second/third date, long phone talks, first kiss, meeting the folks, meeting the kids, who pays, cooking over, sleeping over; there’s a cadence of cascading intimacy to this stuff. I talk with a lot of people or listen to podcasts. They give me timelines and formulas on when/how these things are supposed to take place.

Which adds stress to the already stressful enterprise of relationships. It also gives way to this sort of game that we play. Do I play hard to get? Does this make me seem too interested? Too clingy? How long should I wait before XYZ? Adding to the stress are the wildly different ranges of time for these things.

Yeah, screw that.

What I’m starting to discover is it’s more important to know yourself and define boundaries than it is to worry about the pacing. It’s more important to make sure you have a bucket to catch the water than to worry about how fast the water is pouring.

Now, there’s a lot of personal searching that needs to happen in defining this bucket (or “container,” whatever…relationships take on many shapes). Am I looking for someone to marry or just casually date? What are my views on sex at various stages of the relationship? What character traits do I need in my significant other? Where are my boundaries concerning respect, making time for the other person, being open, etc.?

All of these things help me figure out what I’m going to accept or reject as I interface with another person. It all helps shape my container and where water is going to land as it starts pouring. I might be flexible on some things, but the personal searching helps me see where I am and am not.

There are entire books about this sort of thing, so enough about all of that. The point is, when I have this idea of the sort of relationship I am ready for, let the water start. I believe whether it’s a trickle or a rush of water, that doesn’t so much matter as if it’s landing in or out of the container.

Make sense? I’ve met couples who rush through the relationship milestones and I’ve met couples who took the better part of a decade to get to the point where they make things permanent. Regardless of pacing, the couples who took the time to be themselves and stay true to what they wanted, lasted. The couples who didn’t have boundaries or expectations tended to fail, regardless of how slow or fast they took things.

So that’s my Dr. Phil moment, I suppose. Don’t be too worried about moving too slow or fast. Be worried about not compromising you. If you’re both pouring into each other in healthy ways that respect the other person, don’t be too stressed about timing.


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