We don’t know about you guys, but NYCC 2018 was a fairly educational experience for us. Which isn’t the usual, at all. As I’m sure most of you guys do as well, I go to New York Comic-Con to get away from the world for a few days. To geek out, buy comics, see talented writers and artists, catch a few informative panels, check out some cool cosplays, and just have some fun. This year, however, I spent much of the weekend digging into some science. Particularly, I dug into the potential wonders of COSMOS: POSSIBLE WORLDS.

If you’ve heard of the show COSMOS, then you’ll likely also know the names Neil deGrasse Tyson, Ann Druyan, Jason Clark, and Brannon Braga. They’re a small but vital handful of people who make COSMOS: POSSIBLE WORLDS happen. At NYCC 2018, I got to speak with all four of them as part of a roundtable interview. I, along with several other privileged interviewers, got to sit down with the host, writer/director, and two executive producers to discuss what we can expect from COSMOS: POSSIBLE WORLDS, and how the show may be more important now than it ever has been.

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Disclaimer: Some quotes from the interviewees have been paraphrased.

Image courtesy of Fox and National Geographic.

On the Producing Side of Things

Executive producers Jason Clark and Brannon Braga gave us the most insight as to what we can expect from COSMOS: POSSIBLE WORLDS. They had tons to say on both the show itself and the climate in which this new season will be released.

We spoke with Jason Clark first. He recounted the mission of COSMOS: A SPACETIME ODYSSEY, which was to explore both space and time, in relation to both the universe and our own planet. With COSMOS: POSSIBLE WORLDS, the goal is to explore just that.

Executive producer Jason Clark shouldn’t be confused with the actor Jason Clark.

Jason Clark: We started filming well over a year ago, and the time before that was curation and the creation of the stories. Now, one thing that we discovered is that in the five years since the previous season, science and the discovery of possible worlds, whether that’s exoplanets… or whether it’s understanding how the brain works, has moved forward so much. We created these stories about what’s possible for us, and it has a positive and a hopeful sense to it.

It’s great to see Clark has a hopeful eye for COSMOS: POSSIBLE WORLDS, and the future of COSMOS in general. He went on to express his interest in the advancements science has made in these past few years since SPACETIME ODYSSEY.

Jason Clark: The technology that was carried on the Voyager spacecraft can now fit a chip the size of a pea. So, when you have a spacecraft that can hold as much information as Voyager, and yet fit on such a small thing, you can send thousands of them out. You can send these robotic emissaries out… and we might get to Alpha Centauri and send back information we’ve never seen before.

Words of Warning

However, as one of my fellow interviewers pointed out, and as I’m sure many of you who are tuned into the science community are aware, there’s some serious defunding going on at NASA. Not only that, but we’ve reached a point where the active denial of scientific studies and research is a tragically common occurrence, especially from people in power.

Matt: It’s been about five since SPACETIME ODYSSEY. In that time, science has changed, and so has the political landscape, which has, I think, been pushing people away from the sciences. What are you guys doing to draw in new viewers, including those who may not have any interest in science?

Executive producer Brannon Braga.

Brannon Braga: Something we learned from last time, young people watch the show. Our biggest demographic were teenagers and kids. I’ve seen some videos of cats watching, but that’s not really going to change things. But, look, Ann Druyan has a phrase she uses all the time, which is the show’s motto, which is “It matters what’s true.” This is a show about what’s true and what we know, and how we know it, and how we can know it. To your point, it’s the most important time for this show to come out.

It might not have been the answer I was looking for, but it’s an incredibly honest answer, and I applaud Braga for sticking to it. Hopefully, that translates well for COSMOS: POSSIBLE WORLDS.

Perhaps the most important word, though, from Braga was about the show’s commitment to the science, and how they would never dumb it down for the audience’s sake. “Just give it to the audience. If they don’t understand it the first time, they will eventually. Myself included.”

Exploring the Quantum Realm

Braga repeatedly expressed an interest in the quantum realm and the supposed microverse. One of the other interviewers asked what possible world Braga would most want to visit, and he answered he’d like to shrink down and explore the quantum realm.

Of course, being the comic book nerd that I am, my mind immediately went to the MCU. These concepts had an active presence in both ANT-MAN and ANT-MAN AND THE WASP. Given that, I had to ask Braga his thoughts on the matter.

Ant-Man in the Quantum Realm. Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

Matt: Terms or places like that, like the quantum realm or the microverse, have been explored in popular Marvel films, like ANT-MAN and ANT-MAN AND THE WASP. Have you thought about potentially winning over casual comic book fans and helping them find an interest in COSMOS: POSSIBLE WORLDS, on account of things like that?

Brannon Braga: I’m not sure there’s any cross-pollination. I know the new Ant-Man movie dealt with some quantum stuff. I haven’t seen it yet. But, on Star Trek, I used quantum physics principles for several episodes… And I think I really understand it now. I think. Hopefully, we can convey it to the audience in a way that they can understand. I’m sure Ant-Man used it in the ways I did, to have fun. But, when you really look at it, it’ll make you crazy.

No doubt about that. Braga referred to the quantum realm as “magic without lies”. I don’t know about you, but I find that to be downright poetic.

Ann Druyan Brings Passion to the Science

Perhaps the most passionate speaker of the entire interview session was writer and director Ann Druyan. She had a lot to say about the subject of lies and truths in relation to science. She’s also an absolute sweetheart. Hers is a name you should know and commit to memory if you haven’t already.

One of the other interviewers recounted when Brannon spoke on Ann’s phrase, and that COSMOS is “in the business of telling the truth”. As I mentioned, Druyan had tons to say on the matter.

Ann Druyan: I say you can’t get to Mars telling lies. You tell one lie in the hundred thousand steps that need to go right in order to get to Mars, then you’re not going to Mars. You’re gonna miss Mars by a lot. That’s the point. Yet here we are, living in this society, where all of us know every day we’re getting these stinging lies. I mean, I’m old, but I have never seen anything like this, where people just lie, without any fear that anyone would care that they’re lying.

Druyan then tied the argument back around to COSMOS: POSSIBLE WORLDS.

Ann Druyan: We know our future, but we can’t begin to get to that possible world, which is the star of the show. That possible world that we can still have here. We can’t get there from where we are if we lie to each other and ourselves.

Druyan also spoke of how we need an error-correcting mechanism, now. To put it less gracefully, we need to do a better job of calling each other and ourselves out on our bullshit. As she said, we’re not going anywhere pleasant in the future if we continue doing things the way we have been.

Ann Druyan.

On Profit as a Motive

Another one of the interviewers at the table brought up the idea of commercialization vs. exploration and asked if there could be a “happy marriage” between the two. Druyan had this to say:

Ann Druyan: No, I don’t think it can be a happy marriage. This is what I feel when it comes to going to Mars, when going to prison, when going to school: if the profit motive is in the driver seat, then we are all f***ed (she bleeped herself out, it was funny). We’re all going to suffer. Think of all the bad things governments do. Going to the moon was not one of them. Voyager is not something you have a feeling of shame for. Going to the moon wasn’t for the vanity. It was for the sake of all of us.

It feels like Ann Druyan is incapable of speaking anything but the honest truth. Seriously, keep politics and monetary gain out of science. Yes, you may need money to conduct science, but that cannot be the primary motive. Otherwise, as Ms. Druyan said, we’re all fucked (I hold no reservations for saying it outright).

Ann Druyan: How are we going to solve the problems we face if we have to conform to these people? We need to solve problems so that we’re thinking in terms of a thousand years, and what happens to our descendants then. Those are the time scales that matter. And yet, we’re being asked to look to the rich, who have such a fabulous record of being so deeply concerned about human and other species’ welfare? This is insane, and it’s a very sad chapter, I think.

On Being a Hero

Druyan’s repertoire of work in fields such as writing and producing, and in the scientific community, have marked her as a great unsung hero of science education and science in general. I asked for her feelings on this.

Ann Druyan: Well, that makes me feel great right now! I have been really lucky. I came of age in a time when no female got to finish a sentence, and that was the rule. And I was stupefyingly lucky in that the guy sitting next to me was Carl Sagan, and he wanted me to finish every sentence. And, people would say, “Oh, Carl, your idea about this and that was so brilliant,” and he’d say, “No, that wasn’t my idea. That was Annie’s idea.” I was in a very unusual, privileged position. I had someone who commanded such respect, putting his respect in the service of me and my ability to express myself and to get things done. So, I feel super lucky. And a little guilty, because I had such a great person in my career.

From spending only 10 minutes with Ms. Druyan, I could tell just how driven and passionate of a person she is. I had never been so enthralled and captivated by someone’s words. The way she speaks, and how devoted she is to her ideals, I like to think she could’ve easily gotten to where she is today on her own. But, far be it from me to wish apart what sounds like the perfect partnership between two loving people.

I’ll stop being sappy now.

Speaking with Dr. Tyson

Neil deGrasse Tyson.

If Ann Druyan brought the passion and devotion, then Neil deGrasse Tyson brought the presence. If you’ve ever listened to Dr. Tyson speak, you know he is a powerful speaker. He does tend to ramble at times, but I found that to be extremely hilarious, and still highly informative. The people running the interview session were less enthused about that than I was, but I wasn’t about to stop Dr. Tyson from dropping all that good science.

I’m not really sure where to start with what Tyson had to say, because although questions were asked as I said, he has a knack for going off on tangents. In fact, very little of the conversation delved into COSMOS: POSSIBLE WORLDS. Dr. Tyson spoke about the show at the very beginning and very little after that.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: I’m learning why so many movies have sequels. It’s that you know how to do it. You already know what the characters are, you already know what the music should sound like. There are certain efficiencies that come in. So, even with the same budget, you’re now at least 30% more efficient. You can tell a richer story with more locations and everyone knows how to work with each other. This is a very real force operating on this season. And I know everybody says this, but it’s really true this time, this next season is the best of all three COSMOSs.

On Information Availability and Arguments

A fellow interviewer brought up the fact that information is much for readily available nowadays than it used to be. And, yet, despite all that information, people are still so quick to deny the facts and figures, and would much rather “rely on hearsay and Facebook”. Frankly, that’s not an entirely false point.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: It’s a failure of the education system. To teach people what science is. And how and why it works. And why the methods and tools of science establish what is objectively true in the world. I just uttered three sentences, none of which have ever come out in any science class. If science were taught where you learned in ways that have been hard-earned and established, you can say, “This is true, and that is not true. This might be true, we need more evidence.” It’s not how loudly you argue the point, it’s what is the quality of the evidence in support of it.

Tyson continued on, saying how our system is more reliant on “artifacts” and proofs of events (in court scenarios, for example), rather than eye-witness testimony. This is attributed to the faults of our own minds. Our minds aren’t always reliable, after all. We trick ourselves into remembering false events regularly.

Tyson then voiced that people should recognize science and argue against it rather than outright deny it. Keep an open mind, rather than dance around what is factual, you know? He also noted that religion needs to stay out of the science classroom, especially when science does a damn good job of staying away from religion classrooms. He put it more elegantly, but that’s a fair simplification.

If Bill Nye is the Science Guy, then Dr. Tyson is the Science Man.

On Science Media

Jumping off the previous question, another interviewer asked if science media could have an impact on such things.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: What I attempt to do is empower people’s capacity for thought. And when you do that, then you derive your own conclusions from those thoughts. Rather, you are empowered to see what is true. When you reach that point, it no longer requires reference to me. You take ownership of that truth. People think all you have to do is tell someone they’re wrong. No! That’s not how the brain works. The brain will dig in and defend what it wants to be true, even in the face of what is true, because of whatever cultural, social, religious, political bias they carry. They need to know that you don’t have a choice in what is objectively true in the world.

That may seem a bit harsh on the surface, but it’s definitely not meant to be. In a world where people actively argue to deny what is definitively true, we need to be more viable teaching methods that curb bad decision-making and harmful though-processes. I’ve always known Dr. Tyson to be doing his part in healing the situation the best he can, but one guy can’t do it all alone. We all need to be more responsible for our own knowledge and knowing what is true.


On the Matters of a Space Force


The conversation had wandered pretty far off from COSMOS: POSSIBLE WORLDS. My next question was partially intended to get us back on track, but that’s definitely not what happened. I’m not complaining, though. I still found this to be a good question with an interesting answer.

Matt: It seems like COSMOS: POSSIBLE WORLDS will look farther into the reaches of space than previous season have, possibly to alien civilizations with faster than light travel and such. Given that, can you tell me your thoughts on Trump’s proposed Space Force?

Neil deGrasse Tyson: So, let me just affirm that just because it came out of Trump’s mouth doesn’t require that it be crazy. The idea has been around for a while. I remember proposing it 17 years ago. But, we already have a Space Force. It’s called the U.S. Space Committee. It’s a wholly owned division of the Air Force. (On making a proper Space Force) Really, it’s an accounting thing. Move the columns over to another page. Add a few things. I would add asteroid defense. Cleaning up space debris. If I’m doing commerce in space, I want my military to protect that. They don’t only protect your borders, but also your assets and interests.

So, possibly to your surprise, Dr. Tyson backs the idea of a Space Force. Honestly, it’s not a bad idea. Really, look at any sci-fi property out there. In more cases than not, alien civilizations (and even hypothesized human civilizations) span many planets and star systems. You need a military to protect that and enforce laws. Like he said, just because Trump said it doesn’t make it a bad idea.

If space travel were lucrative enough, we could create a ship like the Infinity from HALO. Image courtesy of Microsoft and 343 Industries.

Trump and Business

Because, really, there was no avoiding this. I opened the floodgates. Sorry, not sorry. I mean, it still kind of pertains to COSMOS: POSSIBLE WORLDS, so I think we’re good.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: Now, with Trump’s speech, there was a lot of bicep flexing. “We don’t just want to be there, we want to dominate.” But we’ve been in space since the 1960s. The second Gulf War was enabled by space assets, entirely. You say, “Oh, I don’t want weapons in space.” We already have weapons in space, if you include reconnaissance satellites that enable weapon deployment on the ground. This would just codify it. Now, do we need it to begin the exploration of space? Actually, the history of this exercise says yes. Private enterprise has never done anything singularly expensive, uniquely dangerous with uncertain ROI without governments doing it first.

The gist of that last bit is, really, that government has to fund space exploration more liberally before business can reach further out. That’s because governments have better funding and more time to figure out if something is worth the expense than private industries and businesses do.

Tyson later joked on the words of Elon Musk.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: Elon is not going to Mars unless we pay him to do that. There’s no business model to go to Mars. Elon has comically said, “You wanna know how to make a small fortune in space? Start with a large fortune.”

The interview officially closed out shortly after that. I can confirm, however, that we stood around sort of just shooting the shit with Dr. Tyson for a solid 15 minutes afterward. The guy really likes talking about science and stuff. It was a fun time.


Dr. Tyson aboard the Ship of the Imagination. Courtesy of Fox and National Geographic.

By the end of this interview, I felt like a changed man. It was a truly eye-opening and thought-provoking experience. It left me with this thought: science is now, more than ever, one of our most important resources.

Other than my self-proclaimed enlightenment, we got tons of great insights on COSMOS: POSSIBLE WORLDS from executive producers Jason Clark and Brannon Braga. Ann Druyan shared with us her passion for science, and why COSMOS: POSSIBLE WORLDS is so important to her. And Neil deGrasse Tyson gave us all manner of discussion on science and society, with a word or two on COSMOS: POSSIBLE WORLDS.

COSMOS: POSSIBLE WORLDS airs Spring 2019 on Fox and National Geographic. You can check out the trailer here. Get pumped, science fans!

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