Carl Sagan, Comic-Con 2013, and the Cosmos of Kabbalah

carl sagan cosmos

Carl Sagan

By Yonatan Gordon

If there was one bright spot in the world of entertainment this summer, it was the San Diego Comic-Con convention. Whereas journalists have been busy writing about the success or failures of recent blockbuster movies, Comic-Con 2013 seemed to provide media outlets with one success story after another.

But what we found most interesting was one event in particular. While Comic-Con appears to be a convention solely dedicated to all forms of fantasy and fiction, there was one event that seemed more factual than fiction.

As you probably guessed from the title of this article, the event we are speaking about, was the debut of the new Cosmos series, called “Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey.”

Many of you may remember the original series, hosted by Carl Sagan, entitled “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage.” While it ran only from September through December of 1980, many people credit the series for bringing scientific thinking to a broader audience, and pioneering a new generation of scientific-oriented programming. While another physicist will be presenting this time, the new Cosmos still aims to be true to the intent of the original: to present factually-based science, in a wondrous way.

That being said, we are still left with our original quandary. Why should a factually based series, generate such excitement at a fiction-oriented conference?

Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan

As I was pondering how to write this piece, an article entitled “Isaac Asimov’s Fan Mail to Young Carl Sagan” came up in the news feed. While it makes no mention of the new Cosmos series, or Comic-Con, it does quote from an extraordinary correspondence (one of numerous) between Asimov and Sagan.

What follows is an excerpt of a note that Asimov wrote to another friend on March 22, 1966:

Sagan has read half through my book on the universe and has caught one fundamental error so far. In my rendering of Eddington’s theories on stellar structure, I talked of radiation pressure. Apparently, I didn’t have to. Fortunately, it just means correcting a sentence here and there.

But that’s what I need Sagan for. Anything he doesn’t catch isn’t there to be caught. If only he were a little faster about it. I said to him I realized he was awfully busy, too, but then I added with my particular brand of ingenuousness, “But then, what is your work compared to mine?”

And he said, “You say it in such a way that I can take it as a joke. But you really mean it, don’t you?”

So I made the best of it. I said, “Yes, I do.”

A very smart fellow, that Sagan.

Science Fact or Science Fiction?

The exchange between Asimov and Sagan perhaps speaks to something more than their mutual admiration for each other. What we would like to now postulate, is that maybe, just maybe, Asimov himself preferred science fact books over science fiction ones.

To illustrate this point, the article also brings a letter Asimov sent to another friend on March 15, 1986:

Half a year ago, Carl Sagan published Contact and that knocked half the sales off Robots and Empire. (These days, who can afford to buy two hard-covers?)

While we don’t presume that every fiction writer thinks his works should be factually based, Asimov certainly thought so; at the very least, he felt that the futuristic science and technologies he wrote about, should be predicated upon our present-day understanding of our universe.

But this still raises the question of why Sagan’s book should be preferable to Asimov’s, or why they should even be viewed as competing with each-other? Sagan was a cosmologist, not a science fiction writer. Why should his success in anyway take away from Asimov’s work of Science Fiction?

What we would like to postulate, is something that we have mentioned recently in our articles. That given the option, many times fact is indeed preferable to fiction. But in order to bring about these future truths, we also need to increase our present-day sense of wonder. This we think is the great role of a science fiction writer especially. To think that he has done his job, when his readers are able to toss his books aside, in favor of the real thing.

Again, we are not presuming that every fiction writer, or even every science fiction writer, shares these sentiments. But what we do sense from Asimov’s words, is that he wouldn’t have been disappointed if his book sales were cut in half in favor of Sagan’s book. Likewise, there are also probably some science fiction writers out there, that wouldn’t mind if the new Cosmos series attracted more interest than their own writings.

Descent into a Fictional or Fallen Reality

Not content with this hypothesis alone, we decided to look for a reference to this “fiction over fact” concept in Kabbalah.

If there was ever a story that showed the importance of fact over fiction, it was the account of Adam and the Tree of Knowledge. Before the primordial sin, mankind was destined to reach the level of Elokim (God), as the verse in Psalms states: “I said [i.e. I desired] that you [mankind] be Elokim.” [Psalms 82:6] But because you ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil prematurely, you fell to the level of just being a mortal man.

In Kabbalah, we learn that when Adam fell from his original state, not only did his human psyche fall, but all of reality, all of nature, collapsed and descended by fourteen degrees.

Standing at the Edge of the Cosmos

One of the most prevalent scenes in both series is that of the presenter, standing on the floor of an observation deck, looking out at the great expanse beyond.

The concept of standing, while advising the public as to the wonders of the cosmos, relates to the rectification or “raising” of consciousness in Kabbalah. There is a verse from the prophets which reads, “A generous person advises generosity and he will stand with his generosity.” [Isaiah 32:8] While we learn a great many principles of symmetry from this verse,* we also learn what it means to advise or educate regarding the cosmos. A person who is generous himself, gives others the advice that they too should be generous. The root for the word “advice” (יעץ) is related to the word for “tree” (עץ).

While the literal meaning of “standing up” seems to allude to the resurrection of the dead (תְּחִיַּת הַמֵּתִים), interestingly, in Modern Hebrew, the word for “universe” or “cosmos” is also יְקוּם (yekum, “standing up”). So what does a generous person stand up and advise regarding? Perhaps the cosmos!

In Modern Hebrew “world” is translated as עוֹלָם (olam), whereas “universe” or “cosmos” is translated as this word, יְקוּם . Because yekum comes from the word קַ ים, which means “exists,” so “universe” or “cosmos” is taken to mean “everything that exists.” When Adam sinned, he fell, and he will stand up to eternal life (in the future) by virtue of his generosity.

Tree Coach

People are always looking for counselors or coaches. The purpose of a good counselor is to rectify your tree (the word for “counsel” or “advice” in Hebrew comes from the word for “tree”). The most wondrous counsel, the futuristic counsel#, is to be generous. The only one who can give this type of advice is a person who is essentially altruistic and generous.

The lesson then is that to be a counselor, you have to be a generous soul.

It is best to have both physical and spiritual affluence from which to be generous (yes, even “billions and billions” worth of both). And in virtue of his generosity, and his advice to others that they too be generous, this generous soul will stand up in order to instruct others.

What again is this generous soul “standing up” with? The secrets of the cosmos, or the good advice that will culminate in the futuristic counsel of Mashiach himself.

Back to Science Fiction

What this means (in short form) is that counseling or coaching should be more futuristic, than not. This is because in order to repair the Tree of Knowledge, we need to begin emulating Mashiach who will ultimately rectify and transform the primordial sin of Adam. But for the meantime, our advice (which again comes from the same word as tree) should be wondrous.

We also see from this that the intention was never that this wondrous advice should appear as fictional. If anything, the reason it appears as such today, is because of the primordial sin. But if we were to raise our consciousness a notch or two, then we would be able to accept this futurism as fact today.

This then is the deeper reason for why Asimov was happy to be outsmarted, and outwritten, by Sagan. The fact that people were buying Sagan’s book over Asimov’s, showed that the public’s consciousness had risen to accept these new ideas in the realm of fact, instead of fiction.

What Asimov, Sagan, and those fans at Comic-Con are waiting for then is the ascension of consciousness from fiction to fact. From the fallen state after the primordial sin, to the level of Elokim consciousness before it.

*See “Lectures on Torah and Modern Physics” by Harav Yitzchak Ginsburgh, Page 92-101. Portions of this article were excerpted from pages 90-93 of the book.

# More specifically, the Messianic counsel. The Mashiach is called one who gives wondrous advice (פלא יועץ).

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