Cosmos: Season 1, Episode 1

The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean (28 Sep. 1980)

TV Episode  |   |  Documentary
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Carl Sagan examines our planet's place in the universe by leading us on a journey from Earth to Deep Space.

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Title: The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean (28 Sep 1980)

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Episode credited cast:
Carl Sagan ...
Himself - Host
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Jaromír Hanzlík ...


Carl Sagan examines our planet's place in the universe by leading us on a journey from Earth to Deep Space.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis





Release Date:

28 September 1980 (USA)  »

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Did You Know?


[first lines]
Himself - Host: The cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.
See more »


Referenced in American Dad!: Escape from Pearl Bailey (2008) See more »


Comet 16
Composed and Performed by Vangelis
Closing theme on Collector's Edition
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User Reviews

Will We Make the Choice to Enrich Life Over Self-Destruction?
20 September 2009 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

The Voyage of the Imagination:

Carl Sagan's personal voyage through the cosmos and humanity begins here. He captures our humanity and our cosmos vividly, imaginatively, and factually. His documentary uses beautiful settings and well written words, and he's just as interested in human speculation, invention, intelligence, and knowledge as he is in the cosmos itself.

He draws from our 'world of dreams and of facts', but he promises to always separate speculation and fact because much of the cosmos still lies in mystery. Healthy skepticism is a must. And he loves numbers and specific examples. I wish more thinkers in our culture would so deeply portray us as imaginative and thoughtful beings for our use of science, experimentation, and free inquiry (and perhaps we are a symbol of the cosmos' way of producing intelligence and awareness into the world).

He dramatically begins and ends with an existential question. We have much promise, but we also have the possibility of self-destruction (our intelligence and power brings many dangers). We have seen it before: past civilizations destroyed the ancient library of Alexandria and fell into the dark ages -- Carl Sagan challenges us to better ourselves and our minds, to value our intelligence and its interconnections with the cosmos, and to follow truth wherever it goes (even if it locates us at a place and time of tiny importance in the immense cosmos).

Of course, he made the episode during the cold war, a time in which half our scientists were engaged in the mass production of weaponry. But Ann Durham tells us that very little in the series requires modification (even though the world has changed so much).

He tells his personal voyage with beautiful imagery and music: the waves of the ocean, a geometrical ship of the imagination, realistic images of galaxies and stars, ancient artifacts like bonfire networks, and of course Alexandria.

The Scope of the Episode:

Carl Sagan's "Cosmos: The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean (#1.1)" takes us on a journey to explore our local group of galaxies (called M-31) and back again to our place in the milky way and our solar system. It takes us through the birth, life, and death of stars and through our solar system's planets back to Earth. It then takes us back in our intellectual history to our time as a struggling people trying to understand our world with merely our 'eyes, feet, brain, ancient tools, and a zest for experiment'.

And, finally, we see our place on the cosmic calendar from the big bang, to evolution, to our use of fire, to our use of tools and the domestication of plants and animals, and to the first settled agricultural communities and then cities. We learn that recorded history is merely the last 10 seconds of his cosmic calendar, a tiny speck in the whole of our cosmic past.

At one point he focuses on the library of Alexandria ('the brain and glory of our greatest city' and the first research institution), the place he would travel to if he could go back in time to a place in our intellectual history. We learn of great thinkers, such as Eratosthenes & Aristarchus. We learn about the tragedy of being set back so much after the burning of the great library, entering the time of our intellectual 'sleep'. But the same ancient wisdom (the little that was leftover) stimulated our reawakening as free thinkers, who measured the speeds of distant galaxies and discovered that galaxies are expanding.

We discover many little gems of science and history (here are a few):

(1) Patterns of nature are the same, the same laws of physics apply throughout the cosmos.

(2) Black clouds of material carry life bearing molecules many places, making the possibility of life elsewhere highly probable (but still unknown).

(3) Eratosthenes measured the circumference of the earth by determining the difference in shadow angles from two distant columns (and the distance between the columns). Scientists virtually made our conception of the world in this way.

(4) Aristarchus put the Sun at the center of our solar system well before Copernicus.

(5) The library of Alexandria was the first 'serious and systematic collection of the knowledge of the world'.

The Love of Intelligence, Vision, Experiment and Our Mortality:

In an age with dystopian vision after vision at the cinema, with world leaders emphasizing anything but our enlightenment (which he comically says is true of ancient Alexandria as much as it is today!), with postmodern intellectuals despising our reason and scientific experimentation -- Carl Sagan stands as a candle in the dark, a glimmer of hope that humans may yet decide to value the rise of intelligence in the cosmos, our desire to experiment, and our speculative minds.

At every corner Sagan enjoys commenting on our past speculations, showing that a great intellectual genius may discover the curvature of the Earth from mere sticks, feet, brains, and love of science (Eratosthenes). But the same type of genius can be dead wrong (as in the case of Ptolemy)! He wonders whether other earth-like planets and other life exist, and what alien civilizations might look like. Are any planets terraformed by intelligent life? He debunks the mistaken view that pulsars are beacons from intelligent civilizations. He tells of Kepler dreaming of other worlds at night while working on the mathematical machinery of the cosmos in the day, a man ever devoted to the facts and not just theory.

Sagan has a courageous skepticism and equally courageous desire to follow the truth into controversial paths. He tells a story of our place in the cosmos. He places us at the outer edges of the milky way and at a tiny point in the history of time. Nothing lives forever, even us mere motes of dust. But we can choose enlightened lives if we overcome our self-created dangers.

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