‘This is a story about you and me and your dog.’
Did you know that your puppy — that slobbering, peeing bundle of lovable fur — is super important to understanding evolution? Because it is. That’s because dogs are a prime example of artificial selection and breeding.
Once upon a time, you see, cavemen like Neil had to fend off wolves with fire. Then they offered the animals a bone instead, which was much better for everyone. Eventually, the bone-eating wolves were bred into dogs over the course of the past 30,000 years or so. And then we got pugs. Not even “Cosmos” can explain pugs.
Along with dogs came farming and all sorts of domestication. Unless you just collect nuts and berries and hunt with wooden spears, you should be happy about this.
‘Cosmos’ impregnates a bear or something like that
But the story of dogs is a story of artificial selection. Evolution typically depends more on natural selection. Unfortunately, natural selection is super-inefficient, which is why it takes so darn long to make a brown bear into a polar bear that gets to munch on seals.
“Cosmos” does speed things up a bit by diving into a bear’s cells to
impregnate it discover things about DNA and mutations. There is a lot of DNA in a bear (or a person or whatever), and that holds the code for digestion and reproduction and making people not look like iguanas. When the cells divide in order to grow, the DNA makes a copy.
Sometimes, however, there are faulty copies. If these mistakes don’t kill the bear, then they can cause potentially beneficial mutations like white fur and cuteness disguising the fact that polar bears totally want to eat us given half the chance.
Hating evolution is because of chimps throwing feces?
“Cosmos” wants to make sure its viewers understand that all of this works with randomness, and not just with a Biblical creator pulling the strings. Of course, it works with pulling the strings too, but that doesn’t really matter in this story.
Whatever causes mutations and evolution and whatnot, there’s been a lot of it. That’s how we get embarrassing chimpanzees and orchids wanting to have sex with wasps and **way too many beetles. It may have taken three and a half billion years (see above, re: inefficiency), but evolution does the trick.
It even gives us eyeballs. Thanks to “Cosmos,” we now know that it’s cool to blame fish for any difficulties in eyesight. Stupid fish.
Nature is pretty cold-hearted
One point needs to be made here: There isn’t a real memorial to mega-death like the Halls of Extinction. “Cosmos” made up that building, so don’t start planning a field trip.
But extinction? Yeah, that’s real and messy and unpleasant. Just ask the trilobites: 250 million years ago, cataclysms killed off all those armored hunters and 90 percent of all life at the end of the Permian era. It was so bad that life took something like 10 million years to recover and make dinosaurs.
Neil has feelings about this.
Earth rules, Titan drools
Moving away from the sadness of trilobites and dinosaurs and creepy little gum-like bugs that are all around us (!!!), what about life on other planets?
“Titan reminds me a little bit of home,” Neil shares, which indicates that he needs to move to a better neighborhood. Despite the fact that Titan has a thick atmosphere and rain and lakes and all sorts of cool things like that, it’s also super cold and all of that liquid is methane.
Basically, living on Titan would be freezing and stinky.
Some life might like that though, which is why space buffs always want to go to Titan and see what’s there. “Cosmos” may even be making a pitch to private industry to fund this, pointing out that the place is full of oil and natural gas.
Let’s mine Titan, guys! Woohoo!
We don’t know everything, but we do know ‘Cosmos’ has descriptive line drawings
Science doesn’t know everything — like how life started — so don’t go yelling at Neil and the “Cosmos” people for not explaining everything. They can’t. They try, of course, but there are gaps that not even the funky imagination ship can fill.
There are also line drawings (probably from the original “Cosmos”) that show how to make a girl out of an amoeba. The drawings are far more efficient than actual evolution, fortunately. “Cosmos” only has an hour per week, after all!