Stephen Colbert Interviews Neil deGrasse Tyson at Montclair Kimberley Academy - 2010-Jan-29

Stephen Colbert Interviews Neil deGrasse Tyson at Montclair Kimberley Academy - 2010-Jan-29

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00:02
um for those of you who may not know the academy forum is a program that is organized and funded by pamka uh it is to bring to campus outstanding speakers who will engage our students and our faculty and our families and it is also our pleasure to be able to open it up to uh the larger community so we welcome you all we're really delighted that you've braved the elements to join us tonight before we get going uh with our program tonight they're just a couple people that i want to thank for making it possible for us uh first
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uh amy south amy where are you getting this around somewhere amy is our community vice president she is ultimately responsible for for the entire event tonight uh next is lucy boxing and lucy is in the doorway up there has executed every single detail for tonight we have trish perlmutter trish is has shepherded this program from the very beginning and last but not
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least judy palinovsky and debbie kozak who make absolutely everything happen for us here at mka so thank you very much so now without further ado it's my pleasure to introduce the headmaster the montclair kimberly academy tom nammick good evening and welcome um i'm delighted to welcome you to the montclair kimberly academy and i want to also thank again our parents association they have made this even possible for us while the program
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is free of charge it's not free of expectations for how we will conduct ourselves as an audience i have a couple of things i'd like to ask of you please there's to be no electronic recording audio or video please don't hold your phones up to take pictures mostly because it distracts the people behind me and we'd really like to focus on our very special guests this evening um it's my privilege to introduce our guests
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and uh i think they're well known to all of you but i do want to say a couple things about them dr tyson has been a frequent guest on the colbert report but for rapport i guess is the proper pronunciation we're delighted that he's here and we are also delighted and very grateful that mr stephen colbert has agreed to interview him for our benefit stephen colbert comedian author and host of the colbert
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report is both one of the funniest and possibly the bravest comedians of our time i want you to consider his performance at the national press club dinner in 2007 as he uh as he stood just a few feet from the president of the united states known to the rest of us as the most powerful man in the world dr neil degrasse tyson astrophysicist director of the hayden planetarium author of nine books teacher lecturer host of nova's
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four-part series origins and member of two presidential commissions on the united states aerospace industry and the future of our country's space exploration dr tyson has a gift for working successfully within the realms of research education and policy formation i owe you all an explanation about our theater tonight what you see on stage is the beginning of a set for seventh grade production of romeo and juliet this year's
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selection for uh what is as i said an annual performance and i think it's fitting that dr tyson is going to warm up the stage for the two most famous star-crossed lovers in all of american literature it occurred to me that there are a few things that stephen colbert and neil tyson have in common and i wanted to comment on them both of them share an overarching purpose to make sense of the world
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they also share a common strategy they often look to the stars human or heavenly for evidence of how things work though stephen colbert is far tougher on the objects caught in his gaze whereas dr tyson is only known to have obliterated pluto they share methods in their respective fields whether whether it is to search for evidence that makes sense of the world and the universe or the creative construction of questions and tests
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by which the truth and significance of who or what is before them are evaluated perhaps then they both have something in common with william shakespeare the desire to provide their audience with a lens to see the world from a previously unconsidered point of view and not just as others would have us see it so while the stars may be dazzling training and instinct appear to have taught each of them to look away from celestial bodies i'm
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really sorry i have to get that bad cliche in there somewhere and to consider the effects that those celestial bodies have on everything and everyone around them in addition to the challenging questions that each of them make us confront their work has given the world a little more of that very rare and gem-like substance known as the truth or in stephen colbert's case truthy ness and we are very grateful
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ladies and gentlemen mr stephen colbert and dr neil degrasse romeo romeo i don't know neal thanks so much for coming yeah thank you miss uh mr dr neil degrasse tyson is um he's been on my show six times and often when i come out to greet the
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audience before doing my show they asked me who's your favorite guest of all time and i say not just for volume but it's neil degrasse tyson because not only do i love what neil knows but uh i love that he loves what he doesn't know always interested in the next thing to learn and always roll to whatever idiocy my character wants to throw on him i think the only time i ever surprised you as you told me a little while ago
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uh was i asked you should should scientists go to argentina or hike the appalachian trail yeah i want people to talk about them the universe talking amplifier yeah that one what i i missed that one yes you missed that news story yeah so to go on a show it seems like the hardest interview ever i have to like i'm laden with current events just to mix with my science because i don't know where he's going to come at me and i got to be like ready with seven
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tennis racquets to hit it back and upset because that one news story remember what the guy was it south carolina guy who remembers he goes to argentina and becomes well known for having done so and you asked me straight out should scientists visit argentina more often to become better known and it just went i just me you're welcome neil uh we've got a lot to talk about tonight a lot of subjects science is a big thing but i want to start off with this is not a bribe i want to start off
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with these chairs i see myself sliding this way i said oh welcome to the barn raiser make it tough to talk about science and technology all right neil i want to start um i want to start in a in a in a broad way are you tweeting now or are you actually no i'm just looking at i'm just looking at photos of myself work done i need a little freshen up now let me ask you a very basic question science
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from sky uh scientia latin meaning knowledge i didn't take latin but i'll take your word for it is it better to know or not to know i think well my blunt answer is it's better to know all right but that is debatable though why says my answer i mean somebody else might have a different answer for instance oedipus might have a different answer yeah i mean i think is is is knowledge
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always a good thing i have to say yes why because it empowers you to react and possibly even to do something about it if something about it needs to be done okay but who we are is what we know right part of who we are is what we know and our identity is often based on how we see the world yes and our personality for sure and if we learn something that does not
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jive with how we think about the world what we have to re-examine who we are yeah it could mess you up yeah once again i'll go back to edifice he plucked his eyes out rather than know anymore yeah well back you know people back then you know they did stuff like that yeah people back then not people today so so i think there's you know there are people who would not know who would rather i remember the old days i don't know if it still happens would doctor would find
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out if you had cancer they wouldn't tell you they wouldn't tell you yeah and why would you even have have to say give it to me straight unless there was a day when they didn't give it to you straight i'd like if i have five years left i want to know i have five years left because i'm gonna like do something different in those five years if i feel yeah i have some terrible news so i but there are some people who don't want there are there are some people who don't value science and if they don't value science are they valuing ignorance yes but i will not pass judgment on them what i will say
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is if they are at maximal comfort in their ignorance fine except that they will not be the participants on the frontier of cosmic discovery they will be disenfranchised hello i'm sorry i've got a phone call hello sorry i have to take this my mic is my mic isn't working not only will they not be on that frontier making any discoveries
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they're not in a position to enhance their life for having access to those discoveries themselves can knowledge ever be a bad thing i don't think so what about actions that knowledge takes us to do you think that oppenheimer when the bomb went off and he said i am become death destroyer of worlds do you think he perhaps questioned for a moment whether the knowledge they achieved that led to the creation of the bomb perhaps should have been left undiscovered do you know what he said in response to those kinds of questions
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yes he said because the people said do you have you usurped the power of god have you and he said if god didn't want this power to be there he shouldn't have put in any adam in the first place kind of an interesting point i think what are we saying is that the world is accessible to us so would you say don't smelt the oar and make iron and make a sword out of it because you could cut yourself back then that's what you would that's
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the counterpart statement from the iron age and if you were around back then you'd be sitting in this chair saying don't make the sword because you'd unleash evil on the world okay i'll step back from don't make the sword how about don't lick the flagpole in february you will learn something you will learn something but at a price you know that'd be data it's a data call for that isn't it also adam and eve the eight of the tree of knowledge
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of good and evil and they paid a price yeah so god does put things into atoms he doesn't want us to know about yeah however i think yes i don't want to blame the knowledge i want to blame the behavior of people in the presence of the knowledge so maybe we need better knowledge management do you think that scientists go you can applaud him well how about how about this do you think that scientists should be allowed
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to do anything they can i heard a big no someone just said no you know people made fun of him for doing this but uh during one of president bush's state of the union speeches which one or two uh bush ii um he said uh we have to he spoke about he warned against man-animal hybrids okay and a lot of people like me made fun of that by showing pictures of like senator alligator man going
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yay man animal hybrids and but if scientists could make man animal hybrids wouldn't they there are scientists who want to make man-animal hybrids should we make man-animal hybrids i ask you senator tyson should there be any limits like that i think there's some creepy things about that and i've met some scientists who who would think that be an intriguing thing to do yes okay um so i i think we as a society as a as a
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dem as a democracy what we should do is come to some understanding of what the prevailing social mores are and no science should not cross those barriers and not and by the way scientists are often ones to try to prevent that einstein among them for example he didn't want to make the bomb after he first told roosevelt he should make the bomb he changed his mind because his conscience his moral conscience descended upon him scientists are not without moral code
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here so as a culture and as a society we decide what should be the prevailing cultural mores and i think we should all be beholden to those what do you think of the portrayal of scientists in movies because often often for instance the scientists who make um uh the terminator they're the bad guys scientists lead us to the terminator or they create the superbug that wipes out the world or or they enrage the monster at the bottom
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of the sea when you park the curtains and at the bottom of all of that there's a politician funding that research is this working again no it's not he says yes you say no yeah we got it we're getting we're getting bad data we're good that was good that's good you're good oh yeah so scientists don't lead marching armies scientists don't invade other nations scientists yes we have scientists who invented the bomb
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yes but somebody had to pay for the bomb and that was taxpayers that was war bonds there was a political action that called for it so everyone blames the scientists we are collectively part of a society that is passing that is that is that is using or not using to its benefit or to its detriment the discoveries made by science and at the end of the day a discovery itself is not moral it's our application of it that takes that that has to pass that test
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would you agree that there's a there's a distrust of science on a certain level in our country i mean unless it's you know going to grow my hair back the science there's some other things to your anatomy right exactly science exactly science i've gotten those emails science science is sometimes distrusted because it is it is more complex than the average person can understand i think that is the core of it it's distrusted not because of what it can do but because of what because people don't understand how it does what it can do and that that
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absence of understanding or misunderstanding of the power of science is what makes people afraid of it and so i remember back when they first split the atom you know shouldn't split the atom or shouldn't i mean you hear this at every discovery that happens in science there's a mystery to it for example irradiated foods in france they call it franken food all right which is kind of a cute word when you think about it but it makes food last longer and you're healthier for you don't get sick from it and so for from it turning bad in fact nasa does it all the time nasa
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can make a slab of meat you wouldn't necessarily put this in your refrigerator but nasa can make a slab of meat in the last 30 years i tasted it and delicious you know there's some rest some restaurants food reminds me of what that tasted like but i'm just saying that just because you don't understand it doesn't mean it's bad for you go figure out how it works that's why we need a scientifically literate electorate so that when you go to the polls you can make an informed
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judgment and you can draw your own conclusions rather than turning to a particular tv stations to have your conclusions handed to you now uh you know arthur c clark comedy central accepted exactly okay aren't they see clark's famous uh dictum about sufficiently advanced technology yes it is martin c clark had several um laws of culture and the world one of which was any sufficiently advanced
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technology is indistinguishable from magic so if something gets too complex for the average person to understand it's magic it's like magic and you have powers that i don't trust because i don't know what you're going to do with it next whereas if you understood how it worked you say hey give me one of those i mean that's that's how that would work that's how that's how that plays out do you think that's where the debate over i think that's where the debate over um evolution and creation science comes is that the complexity of
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evolution is so grand that it is hard to conceive of how the incremental changes come and once something becomes so complex that i can't understand it there's nothing between that and god saying let it be well one of the beauties of evolution is that that complexity does not come about from complex ideas the ideas are actually quite simple and you can show on a computer how those simple forces can generate complexity given enough time and enough variation in environment which is just what the history of the earth
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supplies so so science literacy is an important part of what it is to be an informed citizen of society let's get let's get away from our understanding of science or lack thereof and get to science itself okay okay here's here's here's a transition from talking about us mixing science and religion and getting back to science god is truth people think okay some believe god is truth uh truth is beauty is there anything in science to you that
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is beautiful or rather what is the most beautiful thing that you know of in science the equals mc square really oh it's awesome it is so that equation doesn't just have a great publicist it's actually because everybody knows it everybody knows it but also everybody knows coke you know it's like a coca-cola of science you learned equals fc squared before you even know what any of those symbols mean you you hear it in elementary school it's a gorgeous thing it's it's what is beautiful about e equals mg squared first of all
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tell everybody what all the pieces mean well e i stands for energy m is mass c squared is just the speed of light squared that's just ignore that for the moment the thrust of that equation is that energy and mass are equivalent to each other which means you can transmute one into the other and back what makes it extraordinary is that that hardly ever happens in our everyday lives yet it's going on all the time in the rest of the universe and so so so we're in this little pocket where e equals m c squared
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is not visible it's not visible it's not it's not happening in our lives no no but if it did the world would be really different light coming from that bulb would all of a sudden pop into a particle and the particle would combine and pop back into light again would it hurt it can yeah it would sterilize you there's a lot of yeah the kinds of particles that would do that that they would sterilize you yeah that'd be bad i've had my kids so it goes under the center of the sun it went on at the big bang it goes on throughout the universe wherever it's
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hot and heavy uh that's what what is beautiful about it to you it's simple it's simple yet it accounts for hugely complex things and for me that is where the beauty lies in the truth if i had to give you a complex theory to understand a complex phenomenon you know send me home because what's the point what no now there's nothing there's no tablet in the sky that said it had to be simple to end up being complex and just a remarkable fact about the
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universe so why not celebrate it the fact that pi pi that pot pi right let's say the numbers together three 8.1415926 the fact that you take a circle of any size a circle the size of the universe itself
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and divide it by its own radius and you get that number that's beautiful i have to pause and i get misty thinking another one another that the atoms and molecules in your body are traceable to the crucibles in the centers of stars that manufactured these elements over its lifespan went unstable on death exploding its enriched guts across the galaxy scattering it into gas clouds that would
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ultimately collapse and make a star and have the right ingredients to make planets and people which means we are part of this universe as i've said many times and this goes back the not only are we in the universe the universe is in us that is a profound concept and it was i think it's the greatest gift that astrophysics gave culture in the 20th century it's a research paper 1957 and i say that because one of the authors just died like two days ago
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jeff burbidge burbridge burbridge fowler and oil one of the most famous research papers that no one ever heard of you know why i think because it had four authors not just one and it took decades to figure out and it wasn't just somebody burning the midnight oil so it doesn't lend itself to poetry or screenplays because it's a collaboration so nobody wrote about it but we knew that we are star stuff we knew that we are stardust at the middle of the 20th century that connects us to the universe like no other fact that's beautiful sounds like you have written poetry
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about it well once it gets in you you have you know the only way it comes out no you don't write poetry you write sonnets i don't know if they're sonnets but occasionally a word rhymes in it and i don't know what to call it but sometimes if if you feel deeply about something i think the greatest poetry not that i not that i'm i'm an astrophysicist right that's my disclaimer but some of the greatest poetry is revealing
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to the reader the beauty in something that was so simple you had taken it for granted that i think is the job of the poet and so the simplicity of the universe which started this part of our conversation i think if it doesn't drive you to poetry it drives you to bask in the majesty of the cosmos what drew you you said that this is the beauty of astrophysics or the gift that
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astrophysics gave us in the 20th century what drew you to astrophysics take us to neil degrasse tyson before he's an astrophysicist take us who you are i'm living in the bronx which in vernacular would be the bronx and i'm going to build down a lot of stars no there's like a dozen or so in the night sky so you do not have a relationship with the night sky as a city dweller and my parents would i have a brother and a
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sister they would take us to each weekend we go to visit museums and other sort of cultural things in the city and one of those weekends we went to the hayden planetarium the local planetarium the one right there in manhattan and you sit in the chair and the lights did and the stars come out and i thought that's a nice hoax you know that's that i'll enjoy it while there's it but not fast they think there's that many stars up there what kind of are they pulling my leg and a couple years later i'd go out to pennsylvania
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in another trip we took and i looked up at the night sky and what persists to this day in what is an embarrassingly urban thought i look up it's a night sky from the finest mountain tops in the world and i look up and i say it reminds me of the hayden planetarium wow so strong was that imprint that i'm certain that i had no choice in the matter that in fact the universe called me and i wondered that if i had grown up on a farm and the
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universe in the sky was just always there i wonder if that would just have become wallpaper to me and i wouldn't have then been struck by it as i was at age nine i'd never known anything of it and then it just slaps you in the face and from then on i was hooked it took two years for me to figure out you can do that as a career but starting at age 11 you asked me you know that annoying question adults ask kids where do you want to be when you grow up i heard a comedian saying you know why they ask because they're looking for ideas because paula poundstone said that all right so
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um if you ask me from age 11 where do you want to be when you grow up i would have told you flat-out astrophysics astrophysicist and my whole life aligned to got a telescope got a camera photographed it all my science fair projects one was uh getting a specter of the sun and analyzing features in the spectra i i i built the spectroscope so i was like nerd kid card carry but i was bigger than other kids so i was insulated from a lot of what might otherwise happen to nerd kids but you wrestled i was captain of my high
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school's wrestling i've seen you in that wrestling outfit so you you became you wanted to become an astrophysicist that leads me another question which is you know is it better to not know it's better to know um can it be beautiful yes it's gonna be beautiful is science a thing or is it a way to look at the world is it is it a verb or is it a noun it is both the world is not just is it this or that is it a planet or not a planet it's
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sometimes you must choose it's fuzzier than that sometimes so i know if i know if i have a lot of facts in my head if i can absorb a lot of facts am i a scientist no no you're you're a fact memorizer in fact i'll accept that as a compliment our academic system rewards people who know a lot of stuff and generally we call those people smart but at the end of the day who do you want the person who could figure stuff out that they've never seen before
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or the person who could rattle off a bunch of facts the end of the day i want the person to figure stuff out and scientists were trapped on an island exactly exactly what you know the professor on gilligan's island it's not a matter of how many facts he can recite it's like there's a coconut and there's a thing and you have a ham radio exactly okay so it's an understanding of the relationships while we're on it ginger or marianne
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totally did it ginger complete that was like she came around the wrong time of my life it was like ginger all the way for sure so it is a way it is um it's a way of approaching the world it's a way it's not only approaching the world it's a way of equipping yourself to interpret what happens in front of you i think of science the methods and tools that enable it that's kind of like a utility belt
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that you walk around with you know and you come upon something are you a superhero in your mind are you super science actually when i was a kid i wanted to be mighty mouse when i was a kid really and i want to sing opera as i went is a tool belt you know if you have a hammer as they say you can hammer in the morning yes i am in the morning if i had a hammer the problem is if you start wielding a hammer then all your problems look like nails and maybe they're not maybe it's more
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subtle than that and so your toolkit has to be able to morph into what is necessary for what it is that you confront at that moment and so yes there you're equipped with methods of mathematical analysis methods of interpretation you know some basic laws of physics so when someone says i have these two crystals if you rub them together you'll get healthy so rather than just discount it because that's that's as lazy as accepting it both of those is lazy brain what you
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should do is inquire so do you know how to inquire and every scientist would know how to start that conversation they would say well where'd you get these what kinds of ailments does it cure how does it work what does it cost can you demonstrate that it works and you go through this one and at the end the person is in tears because they weren't prepared for that level of questioning and so science literacy is vaccine against charlatans of the world that would exploit your ignorance of the forces of nature neil if you don't like the crystals i gave you you
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can just say and they're not working for you because you don't believe is there any science fiction you admire or that you enjoy or do you see the holes in science fiction ago i can't enjoy that of course he would know the effects of a neutron star he doesn't know title forces like you don't you have that problem right do you think the other problem i only have the problem if the movie is marketed for its accuracy number one number two
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they gotta get some basic science right after that i'm okay so for example in the latest star trek movie they had this like this red this this liquid the red matter the red matter thank you release the red matter release the red matter and you drop it into the core of a planet and it turns a planet into a black hole i thought that's kind of cool look what was a little weird was why didn't it turn the ship into a blast because they had the special apparatus that surrounded it effort it's the anti-black hole apparatus
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see i was not losing sleep over what held the black hole i don't have an issue with that but probably what i had an issue with was they needed this drill which is a very cool kind of that was the coolest thing i'd ever seen exactly a drill that would drill to the center of the of your planet and they dropped i'd say if that would turn a planet into a black hole from its center it surely would turn a black hole and turn into a whole from its surface i know right they have to fight on the platform so i'm okay
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i got angry with jim cameron in about titanic that's how i got angry i tell you i'd never tell you the story you did not oh no i've never seen you this angry before hold me back i can't wait to see what you have to say about avatar there's a colleague of mine who saw avatar and he got home and he told his wife he wanted to paint her blue and that didn't go over very well is she 10 feet tall so titanic you may remember was marketed as a film of
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high accuracy because cameron had funded this submersible to go down and and checked out the state rooms and the wall sconces and the china patterns and so they reproduce that to detail and so here they recreate the ship for the movie can you double check that no because he had the submersible you just have to trust him okay no you gotta trust him so now the ship sinks yes right did i give away that one okay so the ship sinks i do i remember you remember okay very sad and it's kate winslet
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on the on the floor remember that and she's a little she's delirious this isn't the scene where she's naked no she's on the floor on the on the whatever the plank and all right she's looking up we know the day the day the time the weather conditions the longitude the latitude we know all of this about the sinking spot of the titanic there is only one sky she should have been looking at and it was the wrong sky worse worse than that worse than that
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the left side of the sky was a mirror reflection of the right side and i wrote a letter to jim cameron no reply five years later i bumped into it he was on a nasa committee and my sort of presence with nasa was growing by then but i bumped into him in a meeting and i said mr cameron i just want to i just have to ask you know the sky it's not the right blood what what he says well actually that happened in post-production so he's absolving himself of guilt but i
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wanted him to grovel in front of my feet when she didn't so i was angrier after that later on wired magazine honors him for discover of the year explorer of the year and they want to hold their party at the rose center for earth and space you're loud enough you don't need a microphone yeah so he's in my house and as a courtesy they extended me an invitation to have dinner with a small group of them after this award ceremony so
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yeah so we go to dinner there's six of us at the table the wine is pouring so i said jim i don't know if you remember but i brought this up some time ago about the sky and i wouldn't be so upset except that everything else you boasted was so accurate and we can't even check how accurate that is but anybody can spend fifty dollars for a planetarium sky program and look at the sky and know that you got the wrong sky what gives and you know what he said he said last i checked worldwide titanic has grossed
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1.3 billion dollars imagine how much more it would have grossed if i got in the sky right oh that that if i had a tail it would have been like between my legs and i would and i think you won that conversation no actually i did which he retreated into his bank account you know but that money will all eventually be gone and he would still have gotten the skyrocket oh that's an interesting point that's right this guy will outlive even james cameron however however as dejected as i was
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two weeks later i get a phone call forgot the guy's name he calls me up and says doctor tyson i said yes he said this i forgot johnny said i work in post-production for jim cameron he is releasing a 10-year director's cut anniversary edition of the titanic and will be adding new footage from the deck and he tells me you have a sky that he can use you know if you're gonna make if you're gonna claim it's right then i'm going to
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hold you to it if you're not then i'll just sit back and enjoy it you know what i don't like no i don't like it because the people you go see a movie with who read the book first get rid of them they don't belong in the movie theater all right it's like i don't know the book was better well get the hell out of there get out of the movie get back to your book leave me alone those people i can't stand stay home we should not go to the movies together now okay what is the what is i got three
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different things what is the latest discovery in astrophysics that we should all know about uh one of my favorite i to go back maybe six months for that eight months man uh um okay okay uh well we discovered water on the moon that's kind of cool because where you're going you want there to be water right that's a good thing for life but what struck me the most earlier in 2009 we discovered methane
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on mars methane if you have a gas stove and you live in a city chances are it's methane it's a flammable gas you say well so what who cares except that methane is the byproduct it's it's a part of the of the gaseous effluences of anaerobic bacteria which on earth operates deep in the intestinal tract of farm animals that's a very scientific way of saying there are mars farts
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or is that or is that yeah there's life but no one will come out and say it it means while you can generate methane other ways such as well it's sunlight it's it's a combination of pressure temperature and energy source you can manufacture methane magic so what chemical magic chemical magic but it is a natural byproduct of bacteria that thrive in the absence of oxygen and you don't have oxygen deep in your
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intestinal tract neither do any farm animals and if you're down under the mars doesn't have oxygen so it's tantalizing to think that maybe there is there are life reservoirs in aquifers beneath the martian soils as i was saying before about is better to know or not to know there are things about our own identity that we take from the knowledge that we have or the things or the things we don't know the assumptions of things that are not there to be known instead of using the word identity i'd say they have an impact on our ego yeah the more we learn about the
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universe the smaller we get right in time and space in size and so not the way you just described it the way you described it you're a supernova well what makes you bigger well i think if you know about what's going on then it's not mysterious and you're a participant in the unfolding cosmos otherwise you are consumed by it and you fear it and you shun it and you say i don't want to know that i live on a speck called earth orbiting an undistinguished star
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in the corner of an ordinary galaxy in an expanding void of the cosmos there are some happy thoughts in there like like understanding how that worked recognizing that the human brain figured that out that's kind of cool there's a lot we still don't know but what we do know i think we can sit proudly and celebrate what we know about the universe maybe now not every one of us figured it took a few key people like newton and einstein but but we learned what they taught us and each of them stands on the soldiers of giants that came before them
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just as the quote goes let's celebrate it not fear it but if we found out that there was life someplace other than earth what do you think that would do to our identity or our ego it may signal a change in the human condition that we cannot foresee or imagine i think it would now i think the issue would be not if we find bacterial life which is kind of what's what we're
45:01
looking for now bacterial life there's no question about whether in our mind's eye we reign supreme over bacteria although it can win bacteria do you know in one linear centimeter of your lower colon lives and works more bacteria than the number of people who have ever been born in the history of the world so in fact we are just hosts for bacteria to lead their lives so from the point of view of bacteria we are we're just a place to live but you know a dark warm place to live
45:32
but we're we're a planet and they don't believe there's bacteria in any of the other planets that'd be interesting sci-fi yeah so the real issue is if we find life on another planet that's smarter than we are that would totally mess with our ego that'd be the last like nail in the coffin of our ego that used to be well we're humans we're on earth and earth is small and so the sun is insignia we that'd be the last one and i don't know how we'd be able to handle that do you think that there have been
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discoveries that have happened for instance i have heard discoveries that have changed our point of view about the universe that we are not aware of that they've changed in other words the change has been so gradual we don't realize we see the world differently has e equals mc squared because that's coming up on 100 years i'll tell you yes it is actually well no it passes last year was 100 no 1905 so has that changed i got one for you i got one for you in the 1920s which was a watershed decade in the history of science
46:33
in that decade we discovered that not only our galaxy the milky way is not the only existence of anything in the universe there are other milky ways out there that recently 1920s was it just the opposite optics didn't exist for that we needed a big enough telescope and edwin hubble wielded all the glass that necessary to accomplish that back in the 1920s he's a hubble before the telescope was a man and and had his own telescope the biggest of its day and he made that discovery
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that there were these spiral fuzzy things in the night sky we thought they were just local to us to hold other systems of stars 100 billion stars unto itself outside of our system not only was that discovered in 1926 1929 he discovers that the universe is expanding which means it may have had it beat back then and man had a beginning if it's expanded that meant it was littler in the past well there must have been a day when it was all together in the same place thus was born
47:34
the big bang okay so now also in that decade quantum quantum mechanics quantum physics was discovered that is the science of the small the science of electrons protons neutrons particles nuclei at the time you'd say this is just the this is just physicist burning tax money because who cares about the atom i got my horse to feed i got kids i got you know you got issues in society
48:05
yet it's quantum mechanics that is the entire foundation of our technological revolution there would be no computers there would be no there would be none of what you take for granted your ipod your iphone cell phones the space program without our understanding of the laws of physics as they operate on that atomic and molecular and nuclear level and so the the chemist has no understanding of the periodic table of elements without quantum mechanics to them it's just a list of elements quantum case tells you why this column
48:36
is there and that's there why this mates with that and why that makes a molecule with that that's quantum mechanics and it's unheralding you asking is any discovery that has changed how we live it is quantum mechanics and i make this point because i'm ready to today you hear people saying why are we spending money up there we got problems on earth and we and people don't connect the time delay between the frontier of scientific research and how that's going to transform your life later down the line so
49:08
all they want is a quarterly report that shows the product that comes out of it that is so short-sighted that that's the beginning of the end of your culture so it's so it's better so it's better to know that's a really long answer to my first question my second question is let's take some questions do we have time to do that wavy but it hit me in the head with a rubber band okay very quickly before we get the questions here how many can i ask you ask one do we have microphones are we going around the room we can repeat the question if there aren't enough
49:45
microphones to go all right let's start right here with just one please sir is there a brown dwarf star approaching is there a brown dwarf star approaching okay uh dare i suggest that i think i know much more deeply about what's behind that question he's asking about planet x that would swing by earth in the year 2012 and tip us on our axis and have it be the end of civilization as we know is that right sir well i heard about that yeah yeah i'm
50:16
digging a subterranean chamber yeah me and my kids are gonna be fine yeah go on once again here uh it doesn't exist but moving on planet x all gravity and all principal sources of gravity in the solar system are present and accounted for and yes we discover now tiny and insignificant like pluto's relatives yes an asteroid the size of the rose bowl discovered december 2004 headed towards earth it's not alone among asteroids headed towards earth
50:58
except that this one is headed soothing there's a whole set of asteroids that cross earth's orbit that alone is not a problem you cross the street all the time but at different times the trucks drive by okay so the issue is are you crossing the street when the truck is driving there at the same moment that simultaneity is what matters apophis when you ran the calculations showed that there's a chance of it hitting us in the year 2036 with a close approach in the year 2029 on april 13th
51:29
of friday by the way and but here's what's significant about that we've had close approaches before but none this close this is the size of the rose bowl and into on april 13th 2029 it'll come close enough to dip below our orbiting communication satellites do you think two and a half percent is a big number for that asteroid to come to work right now the best estimates are several in a million that will hit us in 2036 and if it does it will likely hit the pacific ocean plunge into a depth of three miles
52:00
explode cavitate the ocean send waves of tsunamis the first one from the impact the second one because the water splashes back into the cavity goes high into the air drops back down and sends another pulse this will go on about 40 times there'll be multiple tsunamis i was just on the santa monica beach two nights ago because santa monica is the first city to get hit because it's it's the bee line right up for santa monica 600 kilometers into the pacific five-story tall tsunami would take out the entire west coast of
52:30
the united states but nobody has to die because we know this well in advance and but i think two people will die the stupid surfer who wants to surf that scenario you know we know people like this right you know movie tonight there's a wolf moon can you explain what that means what's a wolf moon okay each full moon of the year has a name and depend and their regional variations among those names and the wolf moon it's when it's snowing
53:17
and the wolves howl you can see the wolf in the light of the moon because it's all the landscape is white and the wolf doesn't the wolves don't turn white so you can see them against this and so depending on where if you live in a region where there are wolves that would be what you would call it other full moon names you've heard of the harvest moon is one of them the honeymoon is one that's the the moon that's in june the honeymoon because that moon actually never gets very high in the sky and it's amber the entire time it takes on the color of honey
53:48
it's just called the honeymoon and you get married in june and that's where you get the name honeymoon for that yeah anyone over here no yes sir um i think you know in astronomy probably dark energy was sort of a real game changer about 10 years ago the discovery that the expansion universe is speeding up if there's a game changer in the next 20 years what is it uh the question is uh dark dark energy he said 10 years ago was like a game changer can i foresee any game changers
54:18
on the horizon well turns out dark energy was not as much of a game changer as you might think because that just we already had a slot for it in einstein's equations we already had a placeholder no one had ever measured it before so we just assumed it was zero and got on with life the moment it was discovered we said hey now we can stick it in the equation it's like whoa it's presence in the equation shows that there's this fork this is pressure operating against the action of gravity making the universe accelerate
54:49
in its expansion and that's extraordinary because it means that they will come where these galaxies that hubble discovered will expand will move away from us with such speed that they will disappear beyond our horizon and the total known universe at that time will only be the milky way restoring the state of mind of our universe that existed before 1920. that's a spooky time we would have to hand down the annals of cosmology from previous
55:20
centuries to hear about the galaxies that were once in the night sky so game changers going forward if we discover the dark matter particle that'd be kind of cool if we if dark energy and dark matter because we don't know what's causing either one of them but we measure them so they are real in their action on the universe we just don't know what they're what what it is okay as this thing from the ether 100 years ago we never measured it we just assumed
55:50
it was there there was no data it was just a pl dark matter dark we could call it fred and wilma don't think it's matter or energy we don't know what it is don't let the name fool you i'll for henceforth call it fred and willman okay so with fred and wilma these two things it may be a game changer once we figure out what it is it's a new particle that then we can exploit to our benefit in the same way our understanding of quantum physics enabled us to exploit the behavior of atoms
56:21
and nuclei to our benefit so a new kind of physics would transform how we live yes will pluto not only be humiliated by neil degrasse tyson you may not know this excised from uh from the the family of planets neil was on the group that uh gave the recommendation that pluto be demoted correct we uh we we thought differently about pluto's identity than pluto did and other supporters of
57:11
it we just grouped it with other icy bodies in the outer solar system that at the time were being discovered you know don't you know don't shoot the messenger pluto was alone for 65 years and so you can't have a category of one you that doesn't work in science you need a few things to make a category so it's okay it wasn't a category there was a planet well you know my very elegant mother just sat upon nine porcupine now now she just sits upon nine it doesn't make an issue where's the porcupine if she's then i'll
57:41
get she wouldn't have sat on a porcupine i don't think uh but so once we found other icy bodies we all we did was group them together we said pluto we found family for you in fact we think you're happier there because now you're one of the biggest icy bodies and i'd rather the pipsqueak you sent pluto to a farm upstate to run and chase rabbits it's much happier there it's happier there and i didn't do it is there a supergiant beyond pluto that pulls comets in is there is there a chance there's
58:12
something out there that's drawing there was a hypothetical star which is related a little bit to what led to this invention of this there was a suggestion that there was a companion star to the sun provisionally called nemesis that would have to say long orbit that would jostle comets in the outer solar system and send them raining down on earth creating mass extinctions accounting for the extinction episodes in the fossil record but it was an interesting hypothesis that was never
58:48
supported by data and so when you're not supported by data you discard the hypothesis that's how science works you don't believe something just because you want to or think something's true just because it feels good at some point you gotta confront the data so getting back to the point you've never been in politics so getting back to the point the recognition that pluto was made half ice and ice evaporates so we'll totally one day disappear no clue it's too far away from the sun for that to ever meaningfully evaporate and disappear
59:21
completely yes what was the plan to do the point the point what was the point he speaks in past tense as though we're done with it we just turned on the switch the large hadron collider in switzerland the point of the large hadron collider was to embarrass america to make us feel bad that we didn't have our collider built back in the 1980s when it was first funded that's the whole point of the large hazard collider it's europe saying gotcha this time now apart from that ego bit
59:54
it's to probe nature on levels of energy never before seen and right now it's hard it's practically impossible to discover a new law of physics on your tabletop we've been there we've done that and almost the entire history of physics is go to the edges of your points of exploration and then take a step beyond that you're bound to discover something new it's like climbing the next mountain crossing the next valley so the large hadron collider the energy inside that particle
01:00:26
accelerator will exceed the energy of all accelerators that have never been built before probing nature has never uh previously imagined what is the higgs boson higgs boson that's a particle proposed that you can think of it as a kind of a it's like a think of it like molasses okay uh well okay not molasses um it's a field through which all particles move and the interaction of those particles
01:01:05
with that field endows them with the mass that we measure for them it is granting them the property of mass we have yet to find this particle but if we do so mass is not explained presently that's correct we just mentioned we don't know why we get fat we don't know we don't know why something has mass right now that's correct and so we now now let me ask you something if you have if you build uh let's say you build an
01:01:36
equation this way you've got an equation over here you built it and it's a house okay and you've got another equation over here that works it's another house but in your mind you think uh these two houses are actually probably should be one house you invent this you invent something that fits into the shape between the two houses right like you've got a ship that does okay there's something in the universe that is the shape of the space between these two houses yes does that necessarily mean that thing is there the history has shown that
01:02:08
almost every time we propose something that connects one house to another if those two houses themselves work do something between them connecting the two for example for example in 1930s we had this experiment with the 1930s quantum physics is in place we start probing the atom we find out there's a there's a there's a there's an atomic reaction a nuclear reaction where there's some missing energy we have for all it is and there's
01:02:40
something missing this much energy and then it's missing here and we swear we account for entering everything fermi comes up a famous physicist said i bet there's a particle that came out of that reaction that escaped with the energy before you had a chance to measure it equals m squared oh well that would have endowed that particle with its energy to do so the mass to do so and even squares in every one of these it's all over the place it's written with equals mc squared the point is
01:03:11
he hypothesized the particle gave it the properties that it would have to have to account for what was seen that's your that's your conduit between the two houses then he says gotta have this much energy and it's gotta be pretty hard to detect because we surrounded this and led and it just got went straight through the lead so i'm going to propose a particle it's hard to detect and it's got to be little because it's not that much mass and it has no charge so it's neutral so he called them neutrinos little neutral ones he hypothesized he
01:03:44
said let's look for them 20 years later they were found neutrinos and now we kept them coming out of these reactions he built he built the porch the the the the walkway between the two houses practically every time you have two working understandings of the world and they have to coexist in the same universe there's something that's going to connect them it's like electricity and magnetism previously discovered as separate things until faraday and maxwell said hey wait a minute this works and that works
01:04:16
and they kind of smell like each other though maybe they're the same thing so a whole theory came out to put the two together and it is the theory of electromagnetism you know this word you just take it as a single word but those used to be separate concepts so we're going good with this being with this we're on a roll here so why not continue that's right do parallel universes exist do parallel universes exist we don't
01:04:46
know um the parallel universes are losing favor to the multiverse we have some cogent theoretical expectations that our universe might be just one of many spawned from this sort of this hyperdimensional medium which we'll call the multiverse there's no data to support it but we have good theoretical um premise to think that it's there and we have philosophical precedent
01:05:16
we used to think earth was special and unique it wasn't we got eight nine eight planets we think that we thought the sun was special it's one of a hundred billion sun thought the galaxy was special those 100 billion galaxies we have one universe or do we the track workers said why should there only be one be open to the possibility that you don't live in the majority looking universe that's out there would it separate universe when you say different universe like slightly different laws of physics
01:05:47
which makes it oh yes well this is the this is the fun part because if you find if you manage to get a portal to another universe don't be the first one to volunteer to go through it because you you your atoms are working in this universe in the slightly different law of physics yeah you could implode explode come out with three heads who knows there's a different exchange right over here someone i'll go in the back in the middle and i think you have a white sweater on yes um is it possible to tunnel through a
01:06:19
black hole like quantum handling can a black hole be used to travel how about that can we say that no no it's a little different steve as if it creates a tunnel in space or time quantum mechanically quantum mechanically can you tunnel through a black hole i'm not going to try to interpret this one uh what i have to ask did you want to land someplace else when you're done or are you content with being dead when it's over
01:06:52
i need to know before i answer i guess it's okay if i die it's okay if you die um for science for science stephen hawking showed just recently that and for me this was kind of spooky amazing that black holes remember everything that they have ever eaten means it's not a tunnel to anywhere everything that it ate is sitting there at the singularity at its center now the spooky part that's not the spooky part the spooky part is
01:07:24
stephen hawking showed 40 years ago that black holes can actually evaporate the matter that's within a black hole can rise up out of the gravitational field that surrounds it and spontaneously birth a pair of particles that's just equals mc squared doing its thing equals mg squared the gravity field has high energy density out of that pops particles and those particles escape taking matter away from the black hole from the
01:07:56
from the gravity field of the black hole does that fly in the face of what how we think of a black hole in a black hole gone forever because nothing escapes because nothing has nothing can uh surpass the energy needed to go faster than the speed of light except quantum mechanics this quantum physics from the 1920s gets you out of that problem that's a classical understanding of black holes you layer quantum mechanics on it weird stuff happens completely legitimately weird stuff happens so you burst these particles outside the thing now here's what happens i'm dumping that sounds like that i'm not interviewing that sounds like
01:08:27
a science is making magical exceptions for itself it's quantum physics is kind of magic because none of it issues forth from your common sense particles pop in and out of existence one time it's a wave the next time it's a particle and it interacts with itself and pop and you measure it here but it shows up there if we were forged in that world then all that would be common sense and equals mc square would be a daily phenomenon you would need einstein to figure it out you'd be learning it in
01:08:59
elementary school but that is a foreign universe to us and so what goes on there you are prone to say that doesn't make sense you know something it's of no no obligation to make sense to you because your senses didn't come out of that universe out of that universe of tiny particles we don't live there if you let something go and it drops you say that makes sense if you let something goes up you say that doesn't make sense in quantum world that happens all the time it would make sense in the quantum world so i submit to you
01:09:30
that if i take your body and dump it into a black hole what stephen hawking showed is that all the particles that went into the black hole let's say it's stephen colbert black hole okay no other contaminating bodies but your atoms in the center of this black hole and i weighed around and out here in the gravity field particles pop into existence and i check make a check how many protons how many neutrons how many electrons how many neutrinos by the time this black hole was evaporated it would have been every single particle
01:10:01
that you were having fallen in in the first place extracted out of the energy field of the black hole so it remembers who you were even out in in the gravitational field that's spooky to me uh this pops out of existence evaporated it takes by the way it takes several trillion years for that so don't wait around for it right there how do you figure all this out how do you figure all this out uh it's an excellent question yeah that's a good one
01:10:39
isaac newton did it all by himself he was like really really really smart a quick as you knew the story he discovered he discovered laws of motion laws of gravity just shows that planets don't orbit in circles as copernicus had thought but in slightly flattened circles we call it ellipses and and so friend said i i why that may be quite overwhelming what why that shape and not some other shape he couldn't answer that question i'll get back to you goes home for two
01:11:11
months come back here's why it's that shape they're conic sections that cuts through the thing and so how did you figure that out and said well i had to invent integral and differential calculus to figure it out so some people invent their own tools and methods to discover the world most people learn the tools from someone else and then apply them to make incremental changes some people make huge changes like isaac newton and and and and einstein and others isaac newton once said if i can see farther than
01:11:46
others it's because i've stood on the shoulders of giants who have come before me but i've read isaac newton his stuff makes the hair on the if i had hair it would rise up on the back of my neck how plugged in he was to the universe and i'm saying to myself that quote cannot possibly have been honest what it really meant if i i'd re give that quote to him i'd say if i can see farther than others it's because i'm standing among among midgets that's why he can see farther than everybody else are you surprising
01:12:21
i'm afraid we me have time for one more question yes sir oh actually it was a great segue to my question we organized this all for your question sure early in the evening you brought up the the ideas of scientific literacy and technology manage management i'd like to hear your opinions of where the policy needs to go to make a positive impact in that area all right neil can you repeat that very much the question is we were talking earlier about scientific literacy and our approach toward science
01:12:51
as a nation in your opinion and you you serve on science advisory panels yeah where do you think we need to go as a nation what do we need to do to increase our scientific literacy uh to i'll go i'll answer two problems one is what do you do with your kids and kids need to be able to explore freely and if you look at most households they're not designed for that they're
01:13:21
designed to have the kid not explore the kid comes into your kitchen and pulls out the pots and pans and starts banging on what's the first thing you do as a parent stop that you're getting the dishes dirty yet these are experiments in acoustics that's what that is okay whatever the kid is doing if it has the chance of breaking something you're going to tell them to not do it without thinking that that's the consequence of an experiment that they are conducting and every time the kid wants to do something provided it doesn't kill them it's an experiment let it run its course
01:13:54
even if it makes something messy you agreed to have a kid in the first place fine clean up after them because it's those seeds of curiosity that is the foundation of what it is to become a scientist now i don't want everybody to be a scientist that'd be a boring word i want the poets and i want the musicians and the po we need that and i don't have but i'm talking about promoting science literacy and so the first step for the parent is to get out of the way allow the child to explore
01:14:34
if they start playing in the mud don't do that in the mud i just clean those pants you're getting in the way of another experiment they start plucking the pedals off the flowers you just bought from the from the florist and you say stop that i just paid ten dollars for the flowers how'd you let that continue they find in the middle the stamen and the pistol and they'd learn something about the flower for ten bucks that's cheap derrick bach one time president of harvard once said if you think education is expensive try the cost of
01:15:05
ignorance and so that's so that's got to start at home in the schools i don't have a problem with the fact memorizing but don't equate that with what it is to be wise or what it is to be smart smart should be some combination of that yes but also what is your lens on the world how do you figure things out and you promote that by stimulating curiosity and i don't see enough stimulated
01:15:38
curiosity in this world this is a famous school right here i saw the banner in the opening corridors so you probably don't have that problem here all right but the whole world is not educated in this building so a lot of change would need to happen in that regard now getting back to policy i have tried you do a simple google like youtube and tyson my name but put neal so you don't get mike dining on someone's ear half my half of what up what ends up thrown onto youtube
01:16:10
are talks i've given where i'm trying to convince people not only the public but lawmakers and people in power that investing in the frontier of science however remote it may seem in its relevance to what you're doing today is a way of stockpiling the seed corns of future harvests of this nation and those sea corns what they do is whether or not you know it today
01:16:42
advancing a frontier history has shown has advanced the culture ever since the industrial revolution got underway and we can speak more humanistically about it that anyone who has embraced the powers of technology has enjoyed economic wealth like the likes of which the world has never seen attendant with strength strength of security okay and so people say today they'll say suppose the next attack terror attack is like a chemical attack
01:17:13
do you call out the marines or do you get your best chemists to figure out what to do about that there's a point where your weapons are not as useful as the brain of the scientists who you could bring to bear on the problem and so i see science and technology and creative investments in it as the most significant in infusion to our economy that could possibly be conceived the problem is it's not going to boost the economy next quarter it's got a time horizon longer than most
01:17:44
people have the patience for and most politicians have the re-election cycle to be tolerant enough so what we need is a longer view on those investments i don't want to have to have nasa going hand in hand trying to get money to stimulate the frontier of cosmic discovery and that frontier now involves biologists in the search for life chemists in understanding the soils of mars aerospace engineers you know what i don't want to do i don't want to stand in front of 8th graders and say who wants to be an aerospace engineer
01:18:15
so that you can design an airplane that's 15 more fuel efficient than the one your father flew that's not going to get him but if i say who wants to be an engineer and design that airfoil that'll fly in the rarefied atmosphere of mars i'm going to get the best students in the class and you know it because that's an exciting project for smart people to work on motivated people to work on and when you have them they invent stuff they discover things they transform the culture in which we live on a time horizon that is not easy to just tell someone in a one sentence sound bite
01:18:47
and what i want is a level of science and cultural literacy that will allow the public to be able to think beyond the election cycle to think for themselves and say this is a good investment how many times have you heard people say if you're not among us here why are we spending money up there when we have the problems out here have you ever asked how much money we're spending up there ask that question you know what the answer is i've asked people how much money you think was spreading here's your tax dollar how much do you think 10 15 those are the kinds of answers i get you know how much is getting spent
01:19:18
the rovers the the space station the the the space shuttles all the warm vehicles all the nasa centers is six tenths of one pay on your tax dollars six tenths of one penny pays for it all and you're telling me why are we spending a month there down here if if if you need that money to solve these problems you got some other problems going on okay that's a whole other problem with society so i'm sorry i'm getting off
01:19:48
so my point is i think the greatest the greatest need is to be able to have the foresight necessary to make investments on the frontier of science even if at the time you make those investments you cannot figure out how that might make you rich tomorrow michael faraday in 1840s was the first one to pass a wire through a magnetic field and it made a little meter tick on on a it moved a a meter he hooked up to it that's going to do
01:20:22
this and this happens that's kind of cool if you're nerdy it's a to a nerd that's a cool thing right you do this and this happens and so what was happening is it induced a current through the wire he showed his colleagues it looked like just kind of a curiosity a toy showed it to paul they say why this is what we're funding we're funding this toy and this may be apocryphal but it is said of faraday in response to this inquiry said this because they asked what value is this to the british empire
01:20:53
and to the king he said i don't know what value it is today but i know one day you're going to tax it and in fact that is the foundation of how all electricity is made today and it would take another 60 years before electricity would come to homes but who could have known it at the time i don't want to be left behind i will not leave you behind nothing okay yes the biggest news story last year to me it was not the methane uh flatulence no
01:21:36
the biggest news story happened december 22nd something like that i forgot what day a press release comes out russia says they want to send a mission to deflect office the killer asteroid oh yeah by the way i said if that hits it's going to hit the pacific which affects us okay russia says we're gonna launch a mission we're gonna start designing it now we're gonna fund it oh by the way the united states is welcome to join us and people say that's nice the little international thing i'm
01:22:06
saying wait a minute something's wrong here aren't we the ones who are supposed to be starting missions and invite other people to join us isn't that how it's been so that was a sign one of many that our significance and meaning on the world stage is fading and it's fading fast and it's not a cliff it's just a fade and the day will come where the rest of the world just makes
01:22:37
their own decisions about the future of their own space exploration and technologies and we're sitting back saying hi fellas can we join the law neil we already proved we can deflect asteroids in the movie armageddon so there's our fantasy we don't do it in real we do it on the silver screen and we're happy about that maybe we got to fix that disconnect last question why is there something instead of nothing
01:23:13
10 words or less just because so i gotta do this in haiku then okay okay five seven five words that make questions may not be questions at all i am well rebuked neil degrasse tyson is honored to have you here and honor always to talk to you please come on
01:24:23
um dr tyson is going to be down here you will be signing books until 9 30 so if you'd like to come down have a book signed feel free and for the rest of you thank you all for coming and get home

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