The Cosmos E3 Reflection: Christy

EPISODE THREE: When Knowledge Conquered Fear (14/05/14)

In this third episode of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, the narrator Neil deGrasse Tyson introduces viewers to the contribution of pattern recognition in the advancement of humanity’s understanding of the universe. It was told that, as timely as the early civilization, humans utilized patterns in the sky to predict weather and seasons. At present, we understand that comets are celestial objects that heat up and outgas to display tails when their nucleases are exposed to solar radiation. In the past, however, humans perceived comets as omens for the future. Such gesture, in my opinion, reflects that, even since the first civilization, a part of human nature is designed to nurture the desire to believe in the existence of something bigger than ourselves – whether it’d be an all-encompassing God or destiny.

After an introduction on the basics of pattern recognition, the episode transitions to a story of Edmond Halley and Isaac Newton. Before watching this episode, I didn’t know that both Halley and Newton lived in the same time period (woops), let alone collaborated to produce Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematicathe first scientific work that examines the laws of physics through mathematics. I learnt that the publication of the work faced an array of hardships including the claim of plagiarism by Robert Hooke and lack of funding. Not surprisingly, the work was also deemed controversial as it challenges the notion that God designed and created the entire universe.

Left to right: Robert Hooke ("Hooke"), Edmond Halley ("Halley"), Isaac Newton ("Newton") and the Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica ("Philosophiæ")

To conclude, the episode focuses on Edmond Halley and his achievements – which were largely possible due to his ability to recognize and interpret patterns. I instinctively correlate the surname “Halley” to the famous Comet Halley, and instantly assumed that Edmond Halley was the one who pinpointed the comet’s characteristics. Nevertheless, I was surprised to discover that Halley’s work with Comet Halley is, in the words of Tyson, “his less significant contribution to the field of astronomy.” As it turns out, Halley was also the first person to determine the distance between the Earth and the Sun, chart motions of the stars and map out the Earth’s magnetic field!

All in all, through this episode, I mainly learnt about the role of pattern recognition in supplementing our understanding of the universe through case studies of humans in the early civilization, Robert Hooke, Edmond Halley and Isaac Newton.


“Halley.” Pinpoint Weather Blog. Web. 17 May 2014. <;.

“Hooke.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 14 May 2014. Web. 14 May 2014. <;.

“Newton.” Flash Sul Mondo … Di Tutto, Di Più: Isaac Newton: Primo Scienziato O Ultimo Alchimista. Web. 14 May 2014. <;.

 “Philosophiæ.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 13 May 2014. Web. 14 May 2014. <;.

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