BBC2’s recent documentary series The Wonders of the Universe is one of the most breathtaking and mystifying programmes to grace our screens in the name of science. Professor Brian Cox has taught us about the origin, life and death of the Universe, and explained how everything on earth is created during the life and final death throes of a star, just like our Sun. To top it all, he is only two episodes in.
At the beginning of episode 2 – ‘Stardust’, Professor Cox describes how the Hindu religion centres on the idea of death and rebirth. Many travel to Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, so that they can be cremated there and rejoin the earth. Professor Cox then starts to draw parallels with his own story of the Universe and how from the death of a star, planets, like our Earth are born and create life. With the youthful, bright eyed enthusiasm of a six year old at Christmas he says: “I have a different creation story to tell” and begins to describe the Universe’s own cycle of life from death.
Without saying it, he suggests that the more we discover about out Universe as a species, the more divine and majestic it becomes, all the while circumscribed by its own religion of science, a religion based on discovery. Professor Cox even makes the point that “we are all part of something much bigger”.
What is important about this series and what is especially important about Professor Brian Cox, is that he has the unerring ability to pluck analogies out of the sky and describe processes fundamental to the Universe as “child’s play”. It cannot be overestimated how difficult this is, and, I personally have found certain Horizon episodes fly over my head like a Stealth Bomber. The recent What is Reality episode springs to mind, which even admitted to itself by the end that the language of maths does a far better job of describing what is being suggested than English does.
Brian Cox in Wonders of the Universe on the other hand, like Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, draws you in, gets you excited and makes you understand how we are part of something beyond belief but stresses that we are also remarkably unique. So unique that he draws the tiny hole of time in the sand that we fit in as something amazingly special.
I would pay any sort of uncapped tuition fee if I knew Professor Cox was lecturing and he is quickly building up a reputation in the public eye. Even without him though this programme is something exceptional, and I cannot help but feel that what is to come in the following episodes may answer some of the deepest questions in all out minds.