Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey – When Knowledge Conquered Fear


by Brandon Uhler

This past weekend was an especially interesting one for Cosmos. I know there have only been three episodes, but this episode has been, by far, my favorite. Titled ‘When Knowledge Conquered Fear,’ Dr. Tyson takes us on a trip that unveils a tale of two courageous geniuses that dedicated their entire lives and every bit of energy they had in it to one thing: knowledge. One of the biggest obstacles that humanity faces over time, and that we still face today in some instances, is the redefining of what is widely accepted as truth. People are most comfortable when there is a widely accepted truth, one that encompasses an explanation to the question “why?” It makes our skin crawl to imagine the unknown; we find it very unsettling to think that there exists questions that we do not have an answer to. An unfortunate consequence to this comfort is a resistance to change, a problem that scientists and philosophers faced far more frequently than we do today.

This week’s episode featured the genius of two scientific legends; Sir Isaac Newton and Sir Edmund Halley. We know today how important contributions from these two are and how they are still very present in work that is done in science today. The most commonly known example is Newton’s explanation of gravity, and his creation of calculus to do so. I can’t even begin to imagine how a person’s mind had to have worked in order to just be able create calculus to be able to simply the universe. (Some might know that Newton was not the sole inventor of calculus, that another mathematical genius formulated it around the same time he did, but both did it on their own, which maintains Newton’s incredible ability.) Anyways, I’m getting off on a bit of a tangent. (Math joke…) Strictly referring to the episode, to sum up, we are taught about how Newton and Halley, despite things such as plagiarism claims, and financial hardship, are able to achieve some of the most incredible discoveries that science has ever seen. This is where we need to look for the real knowledge we can learn from these scientific giants.

New knowledge usually is met with negative feedback. Rejection might be met as a result of doubt that new knowledge is incorrect, or maybe because of fear of new knowledge actually being true. In both cases, however, there seems to be a resistance that presents itself from either the masses, or authoritative figures in the respective field. You will often find criticism or disbelief at some point in your life. It will be difficult to ignore negative feedback, but I can guarantee you, everyone has experienced doubt at some point in their lifetime. Newton faced huge problems in publishing his works for the public. For one, the publisher was broke and therefore there would be no financial compensation throughout the process of publishing his work. In addition to that, the general disbelief from the public, as well as Robert Hooke’s attempt to steal Newton’s ideas so that he may receive credit for it would be plenty of reason to give up pursuit of discovery that demanded every bit of time and energy that Newton had. Newton and Halley decided that they didn’t care what the obstacles were. They decided that they had worked too hard to simply give up and let someone else have their accomplishments. They identified the tough road they had ahead of them, and they journeyed on and braved the storm. They dedicated their lives to their work, and as a result, the names of Isaac Newton and Edmund Halley have become immortal.

Do not be afraid of the unknown. Do not be afraid to discover and share with the world. Do not be scared to dedicate your life to your passion. No one has ever lived a life free from worry or criticism. If you follow what you’re passionate about, then the success will follow you. Don’t ever doubt yourself. Halley and Newton looked to the stars for inspiration with their work. Take a lesson from them and make sure you do the same. Let knowledge conquer fear.

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