Monday, March 17, 2014

Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey Episode # 2 "Some of the Things That Molecules Do" - Review

Cosmos airs on Fox and National Geographic Channels

The second episode of Cosmos takes a look at the evolution of life on our planet.

The host and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson first explains the differences between artificial selection and natural selection. An example of artificial selection is the domestication of wolves by our human ancestors. The wolves that were more submissive were accepted and the more aggressive ones hunted.

The genes of the domesticated wolves were passed down, leading to the species we call today “Man's Best Friend”: Dogs. This technique is referred to as Selective breeding”.

This practice is still continued today and can be seen in shows like Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Dogs are subject to unnatural grooming and sometimes eugenics to promote their chances at winning the title. The show is very similar to the beauty pageants that objectify women. 

Polar Bears have flourished by the Natural Theory of Evolution as explained in Cosmos Some of the Things That Molecules Do

Contrast this with the theory of natural selection proposed by Charles Darwin in 1859. Neil gives the example of how the population of bears evolve over generations.

In the Arctic regions, Polar bears enjoyed a distinct advantage over other bears with non-white colored bodies. This coloring helped polar bears camouflage themselves better and enjoy higher levels of success in hunting their prey. This led to the slow dying out of non-white bears over the passage of time.

Neil then focuses on the fact that that we human beings share a common ancestor with not only apes like chimpanzees and gorillas, but also trees, mushroom, sharks and owls. The only difference is in the DNA. Each and every living being has an unique DNA.

Human beings share a common ancestor with many living things in Cosmos episode Some of the things that molecules do

This is very significant in today's world where the exploitation and abuse of other living beings by humans has become the norm. Man is killing animals indiscriminately for superficial reasons like non-existent health benefits or trophy hunting or for making decorative items.

Take for example, the practice of killing rhinos for their horns or bear bile farming or the dog meat industry. In certain parts of the world, these objects are believed to hold medicinal value. For this reason, dogs are brutally tortured and killed (usually right in front of other dogs). Bears are kept in small cages for their entire life and subject to inhumane farming for their biles.

There is no scientific basis or proof for any health benefits from consuming these products. Rhino horns are made of Keratin, the same substance that constitutes human fingernails.

People need to see this show to realize that all living organisms share the same DNA. We humans need to understand this fact and respect the right of other living beings to live their life to the fullest on our planet.

The tree of life in Cosmos episode Some of the things that molecules do

We are then introduced to the Tree of Life, which represents the beauty of evolution. The trunk represents the common ancestor and each branch represents close relatives. The tree is 3.5 billion years old. The beauty and power of the natural theory of selection evolution is that it can disguise a bird as an animal and vice versa.

Another proof of the natural theory of evolution is the human eye. It is far more complex than any man made device.The show explains how a microbe would have developed the power of sight. Each living being that exists today has a different set of eyes, that provide them distinct advantages for survival.

The episode then takes a look at the natural calamities that have resulted in widespread destruction of life. There are five Halls of Extinction”: Ordovician, Devonian, Triassic, Cretaceous and Permian. Each of these has led to mass extinction of life on earth, a process Neil refers to as The Great Dying”.

Tardigrades Waterbears have survived all five mass extinctions in Cosmos episode Some of the things that molecules do

Neil then introduces us to the Tardigrade or the Waterbear. This amazing organism is about the size of a pin head and can live in boiling water and solid ice. It can survive for ten years without a drop of water. It can travel naked in the cold vacuum or intense radiation. The Waterbear has survived all five mass extinctions.

The final part of the episode explores the possibility of life on Titan, Saturn's giant moon. Titan has a nitrogen rich atmosphere, similar to earth but is four times denser. But the atmosphere has no oxygen and is much more cooler than any parts of earth.

Using the Ship of the Imagination, Neil is able to visit Titan. Titan is so cold that rivers are frozen solid and are made of ethane and methane. These two elements form natural gas on our planet.

Titan, Saturn's moon has rain composed of ethane and methane in Cosmos episode

Life on earth depends on liquid water. We earthlings inhale oxygen and give out carbon dioxide. Neil theorizes that living beings on Titan would inhale hydrogen and exhale methane.

The episode concludes with a beautiful montage of how life evolved from an one celled organism to the most dominant species on our planet: Humans.

Dogs are my favorite animals and I enjoyed understanding the process of domestication. I also found the section on Titan very enlightening. I often read reports of UFOs and the possibility of extra-terrestrial life has always intrigued me.

But the most revealing part of the episode was the information about Tardigrade, the organism that has survived so many natural catastrophes and still continues to thrive.

As I mentioned earlier, the ending montage has been executed very well.

A very informative episode and a must watch for everyone.

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Image Sources: Cosmos Studios, Fuzzy Door Productions, National Geographic Channel, Six Point Harness, Fox Network


  1. That's not a review, that's a synopsis. It's like a 4th grade book report.

    1. Thanks for the comment.

      Feel free to post the link to your write-up. I am always willing to improve my writing skills!


  2. The animated sequence at the end was taken directly from the corresponding episode of the original series. I've been watching one episode of the original series each week with one episode of the new show and I loved that my favorite part of the original episode two was in there.

    1. Thanks Eric for the info. I need to watch the original series.


  3. this was very useful! Thank you very much!

  4. Another one to add to my list! I remember the Carl Sagan ones! How long ago was that? BTW - loved the courteous way you handled the rude comment at the start. As usual, you show class, my friend!

    1. Thanks GK for the compliment.

      I think you will like this series as well, if you have watched the Carl Sagan series.

      I have enabled comment moderation due to spam comments - that is why your comment does not appear instantly when you post it.


  5. Are you doing episode 3?

    1. Yes, I will be posting episode 3 post shortly.


  6. It's been a long time since I've received your emails. Glad you're back.

    1. Thanks Kathleen :)

      How are things at your end.

  7. very helpful thank you