Cosmos (1980): Season 1, Episode 10 - The Edge of Forever - full transcript

Carl Sagan focuses on the origin of the universe by discussing the Big Bang, Galaxies, Dimensions, and the expansion of the universe.

Can you see me?

Can you hear me?


I could be
thousands of miles away,

and yet, when you turn on
whatever device

is bringing my image
and voice to you,

I'm there.


How is that possible?

To our ancestors,

it would've seemed like sorcery.

For them, speed of communication

was only as fast
as the swiftest horse

or sailing ships.

Our messages travel invisibly
at the speed of light.

How did we attain
such mythic powers?

It all began in the mind
of one person.

A child of poverty

of whom nothing was expected.

In fact,
if this man had not lived...

the world we know
might not exist today.

# #

# #

# #

Sooner or later,

someone would've
likely figured out

some of his discoveries.

But if Michael Faraday
had never lived,

we might still be living

as our ancestors did
in the 17th century.


of armies of invisible servants
awaiting our commands.

This is the story
of how we learned

to make electrons
do our bidding.

In a way, it begins

with the greatest genius
who ever lived--

Isaac Newton.

This is Woolsthorpe,
Newton's ancestral home.

He walked these fields,
tormented by mystery.

Newton, the man
who figured out the formula

for the motions of the planets
around the Sun,

wanted to know

how does the Sun make
the planets act that way

without touching them?

How do all the apples
know how to fall?

Another genius was puzzled
by another aspect

of the same mystery.

(water splashing)

(speaking in German)

You see, son?

No matter how I turn
the compass,

the needle always
points the same way.


But how?

They do not touch.

I didn't hear a
"Thank you," Albert.

I can still remember this.

The experience made a deep

and lasting impression on me.

Something deeply hidden

had to be behind things.

Between the lifetimes
of Einstein and Newton,

there lived another genius,

one of equal stature.

The man who solved the mystery
that stumped Newton,

also laid the foundation

for Einstein's
revolutionary insights.

And for the way we live now.

(birds chirping)


In 1791, in a squalid slum

in the suburbs of London,

- (baby crying)
- Michael Faraday was born.

He showed
little promise at school.

Pray tell us a word that begins

with the letter R.



The word is "Rabbit."

Once again,
and correctly this time.


Do you mock me?

Have I not told you how

to pronounce the letter R?

Surely you can at least
tell us your name?

Michael "Fawaday," ma'am.

Take this ha'penny,

and buy me a cane,

so that I may give
your insolent brother

a proper flogging.

(door opens)

DEGRASSE TYSON: History does not
record that Michael Faraday

ever attended school again.

Faraday took his family's
fundamentalist Christian faith

to heart.

It would always remain
a source of strength,

comfort and humility for him.

He was sent to work at
a bookbindery at the age of 13.

By day, he bound the books,

and by night,

he read them.

It was the beginning
of a lifelong fascination

with electricity.

After years of working
in the bookbindery,

Faraday, now 21,

yearned to escape
to a larger world.

His big break came

when a customer
gave him a ticket

to a sensational
new kind of entertainment--

science for the public.

And it started right here

at London's Royal Institution.

Humphry Davy was not only

one of the leading scientists
of his day,

he discovered
several the chemical elements,

including calcium and sodium.

He was also
a consummate showman.

And primitive demonstrations
of electricity

never failed
as a crowd pleaser.

May we have

the lights lowered, please?

I am about to unleash the might

of the 2,000 massive
chemical batteries

stored in the cellar
beneath our feet.

And now, behold the power
of the mysterious force

of electrical fluid
to illuminate our future.

(crackling, buzzing)

(audience gasps)


DEGRASSE TYSON: Faraday was too
busy taking notes to applaud.

Faraday created a transcript
of Davy's lecture.

Using the skills he had learned
as an apprentice,

he bound them into this book.

Perhaps such a gift would
bring him to the attention

of the great man.

Maybe this gesture
could be his means of escape

to a much larger universe.

Good day, sir.

I wish you to deliver this
parcel to Sir Humphry.

It was a long shot, anyway.

But Faraday hoped
something would come of it.

And it did.

Uh, the experiment
is ready for you now, sir.

Ampere tells me that
poor Dulong lost an eye

and three fingers
working with this.


My eyes!

My eyes!

When a chemical experiment
blew up in the face

of the world-renowned scientist
Humphry Davy,

he remembered Michael Faraday,

the lad who had gone through
such lengths

to copy down and bind
the transcript of his lecture.

You have a first-rate
memory, young man.

And I shall have temporary need
of a secretary.

Sir, I dream of a life
in service to science.

I would advise you to stick
to the bookbinding.

Science is a harsh mistress.

Surely, a person of your
station and modest means

must have a trade.

Trade is vicious and selfish.

Men of science are amiable
and morally superior.

(scoffs) I take it
I'm the first man of science

you've ever met.

DEGRASSE TYSON: Faraday made
himself indispensable to Davy.

The temporary job became
a permanent one,

and the Royal Institution
became his lifelong home.

By day, he assisted Davy
in the lab,

at day's end,
he climbed the stairs

to the little apartment

where his beloved bride Sarah
was waiting.

(thunder crashing, rumbling)

Humphry Davy and the chemist
William Wollaston

were experimenting with
a mysterious phenomenon,

one with potentially
far-reaching implications.

This is the identical setup
to Orsted's.

Now close the circuit, Davy,
and watch closely.


What could be driving
the needle away from the wire?

Damned if I know.

But it's as if
the electric current

makes the wire behave
like some kind of magnet.

Electricity must have something
to do with magnetism.

Now if we could only get it
to turn continuously,

imagine what might be

if we could put
these forces to work.

After you've
tidied up, Faraday,

you might see what
you can make of it.

(quiet chuckle)

DEGRASSE TYSON: Davy may have
been having a bit of fun

at the expense
of his young assistant,

but Faraday was on fire.

Up to now, electricity had been
nothing more

than an entertaining
novelty toy.

It could make a light flash
for an instant

or turn a compass needle

but it had
no practical application.

Faraday immediately set about
designing the experiment,

devoting every moment of
his spare time to the problem.

If Faraday succeeded,

he would be putting
an infinitely large, invisible,

and as-yet-undiscovered army
of electrons

at the command of human whim.

How does a revolution begin?

Sometimes it doesn't take much.

A piece of metal,
a bowl of mercury,

a bit of cork.

Sarah dear,
send your little brother down.

I'm about to try
something knew,

and I want him to see it.

Why don't you do
the honors, Georgie.


There she goes.

There she goes!

(buzzing, whirring)

# #

This was the first motor

converting electric current into
continuous mechanical motion.

Looks pretty feeble, right?

But that turning spindle

is the beginning
of a revolution,

one that dwarfs
all the shots fired

and bombs ever detonated

in the sheer magnitude of its
effect on our civilization.

Try to imagine
all the businesses,

industries, technologies,

of the way we live

that have their beginnings
in that ecstatic moment

in Michael Faraday's

News of Faraday's invention
spread quickly,

and suddenly, Davy's assistant
was the toast of London.

Davy didn't take it well.

He had, after all,
discovered all those elements.

Now people were saying
that his greatest discovery

was Michael Faraday.

Davy made sure that Faraday

wouldn't be making
any more headlines anytime soon.

(door opens)

You sent for me, sir?

I have a new challenge for you.

I want you to take
over our efforts

to improve the quality
of British optical glass.

Those damned Bavarians

are running circles around us.


With all due respect, sir,

I know nothing at all
of glass-making.

Then you will learn, Faraday.

We all know what
a quick study you are.

Just analyze the chemical
composition of their glass

and work backwards to
see how they made it.

It shouldn't take you long.

# #

struggled for four years

without any success.

This is even worse
than the last batch.

No matter how hard he tried,

Faraday could not figure out
what Joseph Fraunhofer

had discovered years before.

What Faraday failed to grasp
was that casting

perfect optical glass
for telescopes was a craft

as well as a science,
and the masters

in Bavaria kept their secrets
under lock and key.

Faraday never did learn
their secret.

He kept a single glass brick

as a souvenir of this failure.

Years later, it would change
the course of his life...

and ours.

# #

Davy's death finally brought an
end to this fruitless project,

and Faraday,
the boy from the slums,

succeeded him
as Director of the Laboratory.

Faraday used his new authority
to do something unprecedented--

a series of annual
Christmas lectures on science

for the young...
beginning in 1825

and continuing to this day.

# #

# #

# #

At one of the first
Christmas lectures,

Faraday enchanted his audience

with displays of the new powers
that were at his disposal.

Suppose I want to fire
a portion of gunpowder.

I can readily do it
with the power

of electricity.


(cheering, applause)

If I receive electricity
through this conducting wire,

I can then give it
to anything I touch.

But I must stand on these
insulating glass legs

to prevent the electricity
from going away into the floor.

(buzzing, crackling)

Now I am electrified!

(excited chatter)

# #

Do you think I could light
this gas jet

just by touching it
with my finger?

No, don't do it! No!

No! Don't!

# #

Now, mind you,
don't try this at home.


(children cheering)

And now, my children,
you have seen for yourselves

how this invisible force
of electricity

can be made to serve
new purposes

utterly unattainable
by the powers we have now.


(applause continues)

The invention of a motor
that could work continuously,

eliminating countless
human hours of drudgery,

would be more than enough
to make you a fortune

and land you
in the history books.

But that's not how
Michael Faraday saw it.

He had absolutely no interest
in patenting his ideas

or personally profiting
from them.

And as for the history books,

he had only written
the first sentence

of an entry that
would be many pages long.

Mr. Anderson, may I ask you
to dim the lights, please?

Gentlemen, I am about to induce
a current of electricity

merely by moving a magnet.

Please observe what happens

in the gap between the wires
when I do so.

(buzzing, crackling)

Do you see how the current only
flows when the magnet is moving?

This is the conversion

of motion into electricity.

This was the first generator.

From here, electricity would
become available on demand.

Faraday was continuing
to change the world

and the way people lived,

and then, suddenly,

an illness attacked
his incomparable mind.

My dear Schoenbein,

I would be very grateful to
have your opinion regarding...


Dear Schoenbein...

My dear husband,
whatever is the matter?

I began a letter to Schoenbein

and could not remember
what I meant to say.

This is no cause for alarm.

You work too hard.

- You're exhausted.
- No.

Sarah, this is different.

Horribly different.

It's the third time my memory
has failed me in as many days.

I fear I'm losing my mind.

And what would I be
without that?

Why, my darling husband,
of course.

When Faraday was 49,

he began to battle severe
memory loss and depression.

His work came to a standstill.

And although
he never fully recovered,

his greatest achievements
still lay ahead.



had immersed himself so deeply

in electrical
and magnetic experiments

that he came to visualize
the space around a magnet

as filled with
invisible lines of force.

A magnet was not simply
the magnetized bar of iron

that you could see.

It was also
the unseen something

in the space around the bar.

And that something
he called a field.

A magnetic field.

Faraday believed
in the unity of nature.

Having demonstrated
the connections

between electricity
and magnetism, he wondered,

were these two forces also
connected to a third-- light?

If he could only show
a connection

among these three
invisible phenomena,

one of nature's
most intimate secrets

would at last be revealed.

So, what did he do?

He designed an experiment.

Faraday knew that light
can travel as a wave.

Waves of light vibrate
randomly in all directions.

But there's a way to isolate
a single wave of light.

It's called polarization.

When light bounces
off a reflective surface,

like a mirror,

it becomes polarized.

Faraday wanted to see

if that single ray of light
could be manipulated

by the invisible magnetic field.

The eyepiece contained
a crystal

that acted as a kind
of picket fence for light.

Light could only pass
through it

if it was somehow moved
by the magnet.

He placed a lantern
before a mirror,

one that he would only see
through the eyepiece

if its reflection could pass
through the picket fence.

If this is hard to understand,
don't feel bad.

Scientists could not explain
this phenomenon

for another 100 years.

Faraday knew that magnetism
had no effect

on light
that was moving through air.

But what about when it was
moving through other materials?

So what kind of material
could he use

to help the magnet
move the light?

He tried hundreds of different

transparent chemicals
and objects...

but saw nothing
through the eyepiece.

The light was not twisted
by the magnet.

He tried crystals of calcite,

sodium carbonate,

calcium sulfate,

and still, he saw nothing.

He tried acids.

Sulfuric acid,

muriatic acid,

carbonic acid.

He tried gasses...

oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen...

with no success.

The magnetic field induced

in these substances
could not twist the light

from his lamp back into view.



In desperation,
he decided to try...

the glass brick,

the souvenir

of his years
of bondage to Davy.


It did the trick.

The force of the magnet

twisted the light

so that it could pass
through the crystal.

So, what's the big deal?

Faraday had demonstrated
the existence

of the physical reality
that surrounds us,

but which no one had ever
been able to detect.

It was as dramatic
a breakthrough

as seeing the cosmos
for the very first time

through a telescope.

By showing
that an electromagnetic force

could manipulate light,

Faraday had discovered
a deeper unity of nature.

He had opened a door
for Einstein

and all the physicists
who came after him

to glimpse the interplay

of hidden, primal forces
in the universe.

Even as he approached
the summit of his genius,

he was plagued by depression

and doubts about his ability

to retain even
the simplest thoughts.

FARADAY: My dear friend, I find
a difficulty in answering

or even acknowledging properly
a scientific letter,

for I cannot now hold it
at once in my mind.

The memory
of the parts fail me.

P.S. You will be sorry to see

the tone of this short note,

but my dearest husband is not
quite so well as usual,

but I hope he will improve.

Yours very truly, S. Faraday.

As a young man,
Faraday had risen from poverty,

in one of the most
class-conscious societies

the world has ever known,

to become the most celebrated
scientist of his time.

By age 40, he had invented
the electric motor,

the transformer, the generator,

machines that would change
everything about the home,

the farm, the factory.

Now, at 60, decades after
the fertile periods

of the greatest physicists,

plagued by memory loss
and melancholy,

he fearlessly probed deeper

into the mysterious
invisible forces.

The world thought that
Michael Faraday was a has-been.

Despite his depression,

he remained
as passionately curious as ever.

Having discovered the unity

of electricity,
magnetism and light,

Faraday needed to know

how this trinity
of natural forces work together.

# this is the way
the ladies walk... #

This was nothing new.

Children had been playing
with magnets

and iron filings for centuries.

Everyone had always assumed
that this lovely pattern

was just something
that iron did.

Faraday knew that electric current
turns a wire into a magnet,

so he expected
to find related patterns

in iron filings around a wire
carrying electricity.

(Faraday whistles jauntily)

But where others saw merely
lovely shapes,

Faraday saw something profound.

The patterns were not simply
a quirk of iron filings;

they existed in the space
around a magnet

or an electric current,

even in the absence
of iron filings.

The patterns were the traces,
the footprints

of invisible fields of force,

that reached out into the space
around anything magnetic.

The compass needle
that people wondered at

for a thousand years
was not reacting

to some far away
magnetic North Pole.

It was detecting
a continuous force field

that stretched
all the way there.

Earth itself is a giant magnet.

And like any other magnet,

its lines of force
extend far out

into the space surrounding it.

They're everywhere,
all around us.

They've always been.

But nobody had ever
noticed them before.

Nobody human, that is.

(birds squawking)

Birds are the last living
descendants of the dinosaurs.

Pigeons and other birds
are remarkably good

at finding their way around.

They can migrate thousands
of miles without getting lost.

How? Partly by recognizing
familiar landmarks--

rivers, mountains, stars.

Even certain smells can serve

as signposts
for migrating birds.

But birds also have
an inner compass.

They can actually sense
the Earth's magnetic field.

Their brains process magnetic
data in much the same way

ours process visual data.

By sensing the direction
of the field,

birds can tell north
from south.

That's one way North American
birds know which way to go

when they head south
for the winter.

The field is stronger
near the poles

than it is at the equator,

a fact that birds use
to figure out their latitude.

There are also small
irregularities in the field,

locations where the field

is a little weaker or stronger.

Just like a distinctive
mountain or river,

these magnetic anomalies
can serve as landmarks.

For thousands of years, humans
have used carrier pigeons

to send messages
to distant locations.

It was a crucial method
of communication

as recently as World War II.

When you think about it,
we've been using

magnetic fields to communicate
for a long time.

We just didn't know it.

So why does our planet
have a magnetic field at all?

What causes it?

The answer lies
deep inside the Earth.

Liquid iron, circulating around
the solid part of the core

as Earth rotates,

acts like a wire
carrying an electric current.

And as Faraday showed us,

electric currents
produce magnetic fields.

And that's a good thing.

Our magnetic field protects us
from the onslaught

of cosmic rays, which would be
very damaging to our biosphere.

Cosmic rays can rip through DNA.

Without our magnetic field,
the rate of mutation

in living organisms
would be much higher.

Fortunately, most of this
cosmic shrapnel gets trapped

in the Van Allen belts,
donut-shaped zones

of charged particles corralled
by our magnetic shield.

Knowing that the Earth itself
is like a giant bar magnet

explains one of the most
beautiful sights in the sky,

the aurora.

Charged particles from the Sun,
the solar wind,

are constantly bombarding
the Earth.

You can think of the solar wind
as a kind of electric current.

Our planet's magnetic field

channels that current towards
the North and South Poles.

When it hits our atmosphere,

the oxygen
and nitrogen molecules

in the air glow like
giant fluorescent lightbulbs.

When Faraday pursued

his last
and most profound discovery,

the poverty
of his childhood stymied him

as it never had before.

He needed help

and found it in one who had come
from another world.

Michael Faraday
had solved the mystery

that baffled Isaac Newton.

This was how the Sun
told the planets how to move

without touching them.

The Sun does touch the planets

with its gravitational field,

and Earth's gravitational field

tells the apples how to fall.

(children laughing)

All this is a dream.

that was the prevailing view

among his fellow scientists.

Faraday was dreaming.

They admired his inventiveness

and his genius
for experimentation,

but they regarded
his invisible "lines of force"

and his ideas about light
and gravity as hand-waving,

meaning there was nothing solid
to back it up.

Some openly ridiculed
his theories.

They needed
to see his ideas expressed

in the language
of modern physics,

precise equations.

This was the one area

where Faraday's
childhood poverty

and lack of formal education

actually held him back.

He couldn't do the math.

Faraday had finally hit a wall
that he could not overcome.

And then, the greatest
theoretical physicist

of the 19th century came along.

James Clerk Maxwell was born
into a world of wealth

and privilege,

an only child
of doting middle-aged parents.

By his early 20s,
he had made a name for himself

as a mathematician.

While other scientists had come
to think of Faraday

as old-fashioned;
a great figure of the past

but no part of the future
of physics,

James Clerk Maxwell
knew better.

He began by reading everything

Faraday had written
on electricity.

He became convinced
that Faraday's fields of force

were real,
and he set out to give them

a precise
mathematical formulation.

# #


An equation in physics
is just a shorthand description

of something that can be
represented in space and time.

For instance, the equation that
describes the arc of a pendulum

shows that it can never swing
higher than its initial height.

When Maxwell translated
Faraday's experimental

observation on electromagnetic
fields into equations,

he discovered an asymmetry.

See that bottom one?

It cries out for something else.

Great mathematician that he was,

Maxwell added a single term
to balance it.

This tweaking of the equation
changed Faraday's static field

into waves that spread outward
at the speed of light.

It wasn't long before we found
a way to turn those waves...

(over speaker):
into couriers

for our messages.

Can you see me?

Can you hear me?

This is how.

This technology has transformed
human civilization

from a patchwork of cities,

towns and villages

into an intercommunicating

linking us at light speed...

to each other...


and to the cosmos.

# #

FARADAY: Nothing is
too wonderful to be true,

if it be consistent
with the laws of nature.